While Raheem Morris is coming under fire for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' six-game slide, General Manager Mark Dominik is starting to hear some criticism too. The most relevant question right now: are the Bucs losing and playing increasingly worse because of their lack of talent or because of coaching?
Well, I can give you my answer: it's both. The key is this: one is excusable, while the other isn't. Yes, the Buccaneers lack talent at some position.
On defense their depth at cornerback is failing them, the safety position has been a weakness for years, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black have fallen off a cliff after solid 2010 seasons and with Gerald McCoy out there are precious few competent players at defensive tackle.
On offense, Josh Freeman has struggled, the wide receivers have been inconsistent at best, Kellen Winslow seems to have started his decline, Luke Stocker has failed to contribute and the Bucs have found no competent backup at running back since Earnest Graham's injury. And some of those positions could easily have been addressed in free agency this year, with a class of free agents that had more quality and depth than arguably any free agent class in the history of the NFL.
That part of the problem is on Mark Dominik - but it is only a small part of the problem, and it is excusable to a point. Hit the jump to hear my explanation.
When the Glazers appointed Mark Dominik in 2009, they supposedly had a vision of how they were going to re-build the Buccaneers: through the draft, re-signing their own players. That kind of process works in the long term. It's how the Steelers have been a dominant franchise for so long. It's how the Dallas Cowboys built their dominant team in the '90s. It's how the Green Bay Packers have built their current team (with just two unrestricted free agents on their roster).
But that kind of thing takes time, and it's apparent that it's going to take a little more. Mark Dominik could have accelerated the process by dipping into free agency this offseason, as plenty of young free agents were available. Instead, he decided to limit his signings to a punter. And while that punter has been very valuable, any punter's impact on a team will be limited.
Can you fault Dominik for that approach? Yes, but that was the plan they implemented, with the Glazers' support. While the slide might cost Raheem's head, it would have to take more than that for Dominik to be fired. Especially so because the GM received a four-year contract extension this past offseason.
And looking at the Bucs' talent level, they could have won a lot more games than they have. Losing to the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers had very little to do with talent level. While the Bucs are a worse team than the 49ers and Texans, the scoreline does not reflect the difference in talent level.
Worse yet, the team has regressed throughout the season. Injuries have happened, but have been relatively minimal. Injuries happen to every NFL team, and the Bucs haven't been hit particularly hard. Yet despite that, and despite a consistent talent level, the Bucs are faltering as the year progressing.
Are the Buccaneers a finished team? Absolutely not. But are the Bucs playing to their talent level? No. And that, to me, is a result of coaching.