Who are the Bucs? That was a leading question coming into the 2009 season. With all new personnel manning the sidelines, a few free agent acquisitions, new playbooks and new schemes, none of us were sure what we would see or what are defining trait would be. Thus far, that defining trait has been inconsistency.
With the announcement of Morris and Dominik taking over the team, and the "Great roster purge of 2009" taking place, we knew it was a youth movement. With the hiring of Bates' we figured our defense would hang their hat on man to man coverage and pressure up front. With Jags being the new OC, we heard zone blocking, heavy emphasis on the run and a vertical passing game. None of that has come true.
So who are the Bucs?
It's a team who's identity changes from week to week, but never for the better. Many people have said it, I'll echo it; you need something to hang your hat on at the end of the day. Let's start with the defense first.
As I mentioned above, Bates brought with him certain expectations, along with what thus far has been a disastrous new system. The identity on the defensive side was supposed to start up front with the front four pressuring the quarterback. This would allow man to man defense to be played behind it with secondary only having to cover a short time until the pressure arrived. The obvious problem comes when the pressure doesn't arrive, and lo and behold, that's where the Bucs are.
Now, a porous pass defense that can stop the run can at least focus on one area. The opposite is also true. But this Bucs defense has no identity. They don't rush or pressure the passer well, they aren't able to stay with their man assignments (or zone for that matter) and aren't making the splash plays, outside of Talib, that we are used to seeing.
They also can't stop the run. The defense is ranked 30th after 4 weeks in rush yards per game (171.8) and 25th in YPC against (4.8). The rankings themselves aren't good, but when you couple that with the inability to stop the passing game, well, that's a recipe for disaster. (29th in Passing Td's allowed and 17th in passing yards allowed, which is low until you realize we face the FEWEST pass attempts a game. Curious). Teams are having their way with us both through the air and on the ground. The defense has no identity, nothing it does well at this point. We all remember the Bucs D of yesteryear. They were gashed by big physical backs and the short pass, but the big play was typically shut down and until recent years, we had a pass rush. We could always hang our hat on that.
Now to the offense. This is an area that is just baffling to me. You're paying three running backs good money. All three could start or split carries in any other backfield. They all have their unique styles, though none of them is the "scat back" or change of pace back you hear so much about. You pay a wide receiver a high price tag due to his blocking skills so he can assist in the run game. But then you get away from the run quickly.
Now some of this has been predicated on falling behind early in games, but the Washington game is the perfect example of inconsistency. The run game was working and working well, but Morris and Olsen got away from it. After 4 weeks the Bucs are 23rd in yards per game and 30th in attempts per game. Good thing we have a run-centric offense and young quarterbacks.
There will obviously be some collateral damage from the Jags to Olsen switch, but the switch was made to attack down the field more, which Jags didn't seem to understand. With Olsen as the OC, we've seen a pass or two down the field, but with the lack of pass protection, the routes aren't given enough time to develop. With a young quarterback, the tendency is to pull the ball down too fast. So our vertical game is AWOL, again.
This is a replay of Gruden's offense, just executed in a much worse way. We throw short passes more than deep passes, the QB scrambles (at least in Week 4) more than necessary. The run game is abandoned early and for quizzical reasons, and field goal attempts end drives more than touchdowns. There is no identity.
Until Morris and company decide to stick with a strength, or develop a strength, the season will continue to be painful. There isn't a commitment to any aspect of the game on either side of the ball which leads to the Bucs being porous and below average in every aspect. If you want to be a tough, physical team that pounds the other team, then run the ball 35 times a game come hell or high water. If you want to stop the deep play, then drop a linebacker into a deep zone, or keep the safeties back. The philosophies that have been discussed in public by the coaches aren't practices on Sundays.
The players aren't executing, but neither are the coaches. For all the talk we heard about a running game being established to set up the long ball, I've seen very little of that. You lose a little with JJ in there now, but if you have an offensive philosophy that has been preached since July, when does it get put in place.
When the Bucs begin to commit to a certain philosophy (any one at this point), you will see improvement. Until then, expect more haphazard, subpar performances. You can't be a master of everything but can excel at certain schemes and ideas, right now, we are a master of nothing.