1) For starters, it's official. There is no more Polling options on the Fan Posts menu. This means the wacky, half-baked polls I made to make my Fan Posts enticing for the Front Page are no more. I'm relegated to the kids' table. Again. (open weeping here)
Oh, and the Bucs had a miserable game today. If anyone will admit reading last week's post, you might remember I said there was something about a good loss being better than a bad win. I still stand by that statement: it's just that this game was a BAD loss.
2) To be fair, it's wasn't THAT bad of a bad loss. There was something salvageable from all this, and that's the inspired rebound of the Bucs' defense after the trouncing they suffered last week against the Giants. This week, the Bucs defense played almost masterfully, shutting down the Dallas' offense 4 out of 5 visits into the Red Zone (much like they did against the Giants: Bucs Red Zone is once again formidable in a bend-don't-break way), getting 4 sacks and forcing turnovers - 1 INT early to Talib, 2 fumbles on QB sacks that stopped key Dallas drives and gave Tampa Bay good opportunities - and above all giving this team every opportunity to win.
2a) But there were two larger factors that killed all the good effort by the D: poor offensive performance especially out of QB Josh Freeman, and even worse offensive play-calling by the team coaches Schiano and/or OC Sullivan. These two factors turned what looks on paper to have been a close game into a free-falling fiasco.
2b) First, Freeman. This is for all intents his third full year in the league: his rookie season doesn't entirely count considering how that year was so clearly a rebuilding, of-course-we're-losing-13-games type of year. And yet this season he's playing very much like he has degraded in the role of starting QB. Very bad habits are showing: he is failing to widen his field of vision, focusing on one side of the field on every pass play; he is not pump-faking to get DBs to bite early; he is standing too long in the pocket; and he is holding onto the ball for far too long. Previous years he was willing to scramble out and get whatever yards he could: right now, he's taking hits and sacks that are killing drives and causing game-ending turnovers.
Another thing which includes Freeman but also his Wide Receivers is how they are still seemingly not on the same page. In 2010, Freeman and then-rookie Mike Williams seemed to sync, both trusting each other's instincts and creating a ton of "can you believe that" touchdown plays. This year, there's almost nothing there: Freeman is forcing the throws too much and Williams seems to be either off-page or unwilling to play for the ball. As a third point, Freeman seems to love having a veteran WR in Vincent Jackson running routes out there, but once again Freeman and Jackson were not in sync with Freeman throwing it into the worst kind of coverage and Jackson failing to recognize which route he's supposed to be running. And Freeman kept throwing to him all game as though our other receivers didn't deserve at least a flickering look.
2c) That said, Freeman's woes pale in comparison to what fans are calling one of the worst play-called game in Bucs history. It harkened back to the Dork Ages of Ray Perkins' offense, that of "run-run-pass-punt". Our coaches kept calling running plays up the middle on nearly every First Down we had. It may work once or twice, but not 15 straight times. And then the Second Down play-calling was either an expected run play off-tackle which lead more often than not to loss of yards. Third Downs were so obviously pass plays that the WRs couldn't get open down-field, leading to bad throws and/or sacks.
This was the second game in a row that the Bucs had absolutely terrible Third-Down Conversion rates: 3 out of 15. The biggest problem there was that more often than not Tampa Bay was facing Third-And-Longs: and yet somehow our offensive coaches failed to draw up a passing scheme designed to garner First Downs, such as working a slot receiver or tight end to a spot close to the down marker. Every Third and Long looked to me like the Bucs were aiming for 20 yards downfield, not 10 yards and a fresh set of downs. We've got receiver-type TEs: what's horrifying is how rarely the TEs were called on to get open for First Down conversions (I saw one play to TE Clark in a short pass situation that could have made First Down if he caught it: but Freeman threw it too hard and a bit too far ahead).
It was said before the season began that the coaches wanted to establish the run. With rookie sensation Doug Martin on the roster (and LeGarette Blount SUPPOSED to be the power back to help in short yards and rotating with Martin to keep both fresh), that may have made sense on paper. But in-game? You can't establish the run if your opposing defenses KNOW you're going to run... and KEEP running... WITH THE SAME RUN PLAYS. But the coaches seem DETERMINED to make the other teams pHear our run. Not happening. In this Modern NFL, you gotta move the ball by keeping defenses guessing: not every First Down has to be a run play, a decent short yardage pass to a WR on the sideline does just as well. If we're not making defenses second-guess themselves, we're not moving the ball one inch let alone ten yards.
The capper to this coaching fiasco? Late in the 4th Quarter, Bucs down by two scores, two minute warning coming up, Tampa deep into their own side of the field, and the Bucs' idea of an offensive drive? Handoff to Martin (1 yard gain), incomplete pass play to Martin, and on 3rd-and-9 a DRAW RUN PLAY TO MARTIN AGAIN? Even Troy Aikman in the booth exclaimed "What are they THINKING?" (Granted, the Bucs went for it on 4th down and actually made it, but this is what our coaches are doing: BEING BONE-HEADED AND STUBBORN)
3) That said, there were outstanding individual performances this game that deserve recognition. Above all, huge and major props to two guys on the D-Line rebounding from an otherwise quiet game last week against New York. Both guys - DT Gerald McCoy and DE Michael Bennett - contributed to 2 sacks each (4 sacks total for the team) and a key fumble off QB Romo each for a total of 2 fumbles caused. Not to mention a good number of run-stopping tackles.
3a) Before the sacks started piling up, the guy have a great game was MLB Mason Foster, who had a ton of tackles, good run stops, and a heads-up play on Special Teams snagging an unexpected onsides kick by the Cowboys. The Bucs' performance against the run this year is already well above the terrible defensive play of the last 3 years, certainly showing signs of rebounding from that terrible collapse in December 2008 when the Bucs D couldn't stop a rampaging sloth.
3b) CB Aliq Talib recovered from getting picked on by Eli last week by snagging an INT and showing better awareness in the backfield this time around.
3c) OLB Lavonte David is still showing signs of turning into an excellent defensive play-caller on the field (it's also helping Foster, who had trouble his rookie year making the same calls, but can now focus on tackling tackling and even more tackling). If this keeps up we're seeing the best LB tandem since Nickerson/Brooks... and they're both just starting in the league.
3d) Considering the Bucs called on him 8 times to punt it away, Michael Koenen is still a GOD AMONG MEN.
4) Goats of the game: I've said what I did regarding Freeman, but while he's having trouble the game wasn't ENTIRELY his fault. To that, Head Coach Schiano and Offensive Coordinator Sullivan deserve the smackdowns this week.
4a) Something I missed last week was how Schiano called on the defense to play at full power at the end of the game when the opposing offense went into "victory formation" (the snap to QB who then kneels to burn out the clock when they've got a lead). He did it again this time with less than a minute on the clock, not only sending the defense in full throttle but calling time outs to keep the clock from running out.
Schiano's public stance - to keep playing as each play matters - may make sense to him and may give him the attitude of being a badass, but dude. You're developing a reputation getting compared to the evil martial arts teacher ("Kobra Kai!" "Sweep the leg, Johnny!") from the Karate Kid movies. Being a badass may count in pro football: but you gotta WIN games first to earn that reputation. Otherwise, you're just a bully. And I hate to think of what kinds of injuries our thin-talent defense could incur going full throttle during what are basically junk seconds leading to game's end: the odds of forcing a fumble just aren't there.
4b) The Bucs on Special Teams still have not settled on a go-to guy for punt returns. Sending out just-signed-again WR Shipley to catch the punts wasn't a good idea: he fumbled in open space and killed a key moment of the Bucs' D forcing a three-and-out. The fumble led to Dallas recovering and getting the ball into FG range... I thought the Bucs had kept RB Michael Smith for a reason, I.E. being the kick returner. What the hell happened?
4c) The Bucs' offensive line didn't have a good day overall: they failed to get Martin clear running lanes, and disastrously failed to keep pressure off Freeman on obvious pass plays. It may be up to Freeman to get that ball out of his hands inside of three seconds, but there were a couple of plays where Freeman didn't get those three seconds anyway...
5) After a full week of speculation and an absence from the playing field, the Bucs faithful were rewarded with LeGarette Blount sightings halfway through the game. Reports of Blountgasms were rampant. And then just when it looked like the Bucs would be using a balanced approach to their running game... he vanished. Like Keyser Soze.
For some godforsaken reason, the coaches STILL are not trusting Blount for carrying a major load of running plays even though he's a proven power-back who can get the yards Martin can't. He's done something to p-ss the coaches off, and while we fans know Blount is no saint the coaches haven't proven to us yet that they know what they're doing. FREE BLOUNT!
6) In other NFL news, THE TEBOW ABIDES (and if Freeman doesn't improve by the end of October, we may see a trade for QB Sanchez or something).
6a) Minnesota Vikings beat the 49ers. Yes, Any Given Sunday normally applies. BUT THIS IS THE VIKINGS BEATING THE SCARIEST LOOKING TEAM OF THE FIRST TWO WEEKS. This is like FIU beating LSU. Or USF beating anybody in the Big East.
6b) The Eagles finally lost, considering how their first two weeks were bad wins this was expected. But they lost to Arizona, which combined with the Vikings beating the Niners is proof that the Sixth Seal has been broken on the countdown to Dec. 21 2012. Well played, Mayans, well played.
6c) The best game of the day proved to be Lions vs. Titans. A huge back and forth battle with Tennessee scoring every possible way (except for a safety, I think) and the Lions still making it an overtime thriller with a tipped Hail Mary pass into the end zone. And thanks to the new rules on overtime, the Titans were able to score a FG but the Lions were given their chance to score as well, and they got it all the way down to the 7-yard line before the Titans stuffed the QB on a sneak draw. Proof that the rules replacing the old "Sudden Death" makes for a more exciting OT.
7) In college football news, South Florida has agreed to give Florida State home-field advantage for the next Saturday match-up, even though the game will still be held in Raymond James. The fact that 80,000 FSU fans are about to pack the Ray Jay may have something to do with it.
7a) Rutgers is doing just fine without Schiano at coach. In fact, they're right now the best team in the Big East (Louisville barely won over FIU) having smashed a credible SEC team (even though Arkansas is looking weaker than expected).
7b) I *really* hate it when Notre Dame looks like an honestly good team.
7c) All the major Florida programs - FSU, UF, and Miami - look good right now. Florida St. and Florida in particular look back at BCS-caliber level play. So some semblance of the norm has returned.
7d) Dear SEC: are you sure adding Missouri was a good idea? Instead of a better team like, oh, Louisiana Tech?
8) In NHL news: hockey is once again shooting itself in the foot with the owners forcing yet another lockout, this time for what looks like sheer spite. Not spite for the players, spite for the fans who have to put up with this crap. Seriously hockey fans, f-ck the owners. Get on Kickstarter and get some funding going for starting your own hockey pro league with local ownership like they got it in Green Bay. With the NHL forcing itself shut, who's gonna stop you? Get the players union to sign with you, get about 10-12 teams going in markets where you can get hockey arenas not owned by the owners. If you can get this up and running before January you can have a half-decent hockey season from January through April and get your playoffs done by May. DO THIS. You have the numbers. There are more of you fans (millions) than there are of those dumbass owners (about 30 give or take a consortium of minority partners).
9) In Baseball news, leave it to the Rays to try and get our hopes back up with a 4-game winning streak. Problem is, there's 9 games left, and the Rays need two of these three teams - Angels, As, Orioles - to royally choke in order to make the Wild Card. The odds of winning the East division - with the Yankees required to choke about as bad as Boston did last year - are way harder.
10) Next week, the Bucs return home to a half-empty stadium to face the Redskins. The only way Raymond James will be filled is if Florida State fans decide to hang around on Sunday and change the Seminole make-up for Algonquian...
Bonus: Pretend the Comments section is the Polling. Select your Player of the Week among this list:
- Gerald McCoy
- Michael Bennett
- Mason Foster
- Aliq Talib
- Lavonte David
- Michael Koenen