In a recent discussion with some fellow Bucs fans, a question arose. We'll get to that question in a minute, but it centered around team management and ability to effectively game planinngthe moment. There are always a few plays each game for both teams that make you wonder what the coach was thinking. Us fans are given the freedom of hindsight and lack of accountability. It's easy for me to say going for it on 4th down was stupid when we don't pick up the first. It's also easy for me to say throw the ball more (or less) when I don't have to be accountable to anyone. It makes us easy to soundlikegeniuses because we can spout off on every play with a prediction and it doesn't matter the outcome.
But to tie this back in to the Bucsthis year, I've felt several times there were some key mistakes in game/clock/team management. Most of these occasions I've been lucky enough to put it in writing as it's happening. But with the Bucs in general, and more specifically the coaches coming under fire, I wanted to run through some of the curious decisions (in my eyes) that were made.
I will caution you and say I am going from memory and may not have the specifics (i.e. exactly what yard line or how much time was left to the second) but more wanted to get some of the glaring mistakes. I also am not talking about personnel moves as I am neither a qualified scout or am privy to certain details.
Bucs vs Cowboys
The biggest question mark to me was our second to last drive before the after the two minute warning. The Bucs received a punt at their own 14 at the two minute warning. We had moved the ball at a decent clip and were up 7-6. Two minutes is a long time, but having a young team, being up in the first game, I wanted the Bucs to sit on the ball and get into the locker room. Didn't happen. We completed a pass on first down for -1 yard which ran 40 seconds off the clock. On 2nd down, we ran a pass play in which Leftwich scrambled andgot pushed out of bounds for a yard. Stupid play to go out of bounds. On 3rd down we ran the ball with Clifton followed by a timeout by Dallas as we didn't get a first down. We punt, and two plays later, Romo and Austin go 42 yards for a TD. Of course, we then go down the field to miss a Nugent field goal. I thought it was pretty poor planning and resulted in giving up a TD and being deflated going into half time. We never sniffed the lead again.
Bucs at Bills
I don't have a specific instance in this game, but more the general flow. Not game planning to use Winslow or the middle of the field as well as not running the ball (though being down 17-0 early takes you out of your game plan) seemed to be the two biggest culprits.
Bucs vs Giants
Again, the failure to utilize the run. 7 rushes by running backs. Not going to get it done. Bates' decision not to bring pressure and just let Eli pick us apart was frustrating as all get out.
Bucs at Redskins
The most obvious decision in this game that hurt us was the decision to kick the field goal with 4:30 left if the 4th quarter. The historical play of our defense (2009 alone) didn't indicate we would get a stop and get the ball back. We of course did get the ball back, only to have Clifton fumble it away in another curious decision. The HB draw out of the shotgun inside 2 minutes. Baffling
Bucs at Eagles
Two general points here. The lack of preparation for the blitz (Philly has ALWAYS been blitz heavy) and the lack of pressure on the defensive side. 50 passing attempts for a young quarterback in the face of the blitz and not one be a screen pass is just stupid. This is game planning at its worst. Of course, in this game, we also went for it twice inside the Philly 30 on 4th down and failed both times. That's 6 points we left out there and went into half down 21-7 as opposed to 21-13, still in the game. The aggression is good at points, but a young team who struggles to score points needs to put something on the board. Would have allowed us to stay true to the run and not have Philly tee off on JJ.
Bucs vs Panthers
I was at this game (as I am most home games) and noticed two very disturbing calls. The first was right before the end of the 1st quarter. The wind was blowing North to South pretty heavily. In fact, in pre-game warmups, Andrus struggled from 42-45 yards going north (towards the ship) as the wind was just dead in his face.
Let me set the table for you. The Bucs are up 7-0 with 1:02 on the clock facing a 3rd and 9 from the Panthers 25 yard line. Before this play, I turned to my buddy and said, we need to run the ball here. If we run and don't get a first down, the quarter ends, we switch sides andkicka 35-43 yard field goal WITH the wind. If we convert the 3rd down run, then great. If we pass anditsincomplete, we face a long field goal into the wind. If we complete the pass it's a moot point as we either get a first down or the clock runs out.
Well, Morris/Olsen call a pass play. It falls incomplete and Andrus lines up for a 43 yarder. I said loud enough for about 8 rows to hear me that he'd miss it short due to win. I'm not touting the fact that I called it, but more the apparent disregard for the wind (planning in the moment), kickers range (not much into the wind) and the boost our team would get by going up two scores early. It just amazed me that Morris didn't think of this aspect (the wind).
Now remember that question way back from the beginning of the column I said I'd get to? Well here it is. On the last drive for the Panthers, the 8 minute drive, the 15 runs vs 1 pass drive, the personification of our entire season, yea, that drive. It became very apparent about 6 plays in or so that the Panthers were just going to pound the ball. And why wouldn't they? The first players to get winded on long drives are the lineman, particularly the fat ones. Well, Ryan Simswasn't subbed out once (though Hovan was, kudos to Suttree for pointing this out). Gameplan/personnel fail by Bates and Morris.
What makes it worse is the Bucs had 3 timeouts at their disposal. Rather than burn one to set up an actual defensive plan and give the players a break, Morris neglected to use any of his three timeouts. At the two minute warning, the Panthers were on the Bucs 17 yard line. We saw a run for 5 yards, then the first Bucs timeout. Of course, on the next two runs we also saw the second and third timeouts used, but even at that point, the defense was gassed and at best we were hoping for a field goal or a miracle.
I'm not a coach, I have never coached or discussed the methodology behind timeouts. But I know football. There are times to hold your timeouts and times to use them. When your defense is getting hammered at the end of a game, the score is tied and the other team is going to run both because of the inept defense and abysmal QB play, you have to give your guys, the defense, a chance to win. Waiting until the two minute warning with the Panthers inside the 20 was entirely too late. Those timeouts should have been used well before that. It may not have changed a thing, but I'd like to think you would have at least increased the odds for success (a stop).
Morris has done some good things and some bad things. The players have to play, but the coaches have to prepare them, game plan, and give them the best chance to succeed. Some of the above listed failures didn't matter. Some were freak happenings. But a few of these losses and decisions fall to the head coach. Is it solely Morris'fault? No, but the buck stops with him on a few of these.
There are a few continuing trends at this point. Lack of pressure on QB, which can be attributed to low blitz % in part, no commitment to any one phase of the game (particularly the running game), poor clock management, no preparation for obvious circumstances (i.e. screens against the blitz, attacking soft parts of opposing defense, how to game plan for an opponent, which I've already covered etc), ignoring basic substitution patterns, and a general failure to recognize the down, distance and situation at crucial parts of the game.
The glaring issues (the Redskins game and Panthers game) are what disturbs me. We had two games we were in until the final whistle. A play here or there is the difference, and while the players may not have performed their best, I felt the coaches had a chance to assist in some way. I'm not on the "fire Morris" bandwagon. I think he has to show some progress and learn from these issues. If he and the rest of the staff continue to show disregard for timely decisions, then we have a problem.