It seems that up until Sunday's game against Green Bay, we had been hearing one thing, but seeing another. We had heard how our team would be a violent hitting machine. We were told we would out-hit and outwork opponents each and every Sunday. We heard how we would play a go for broke aggressive style. Each of these items referenced seemed to play a different way on the field. A lot of people may say Morris was blowing smoke or engaging the media in the usual double talk required of a coach.
I think he was just looking for his own style.
Having not served as an NFL coordinator left Morris a bit under prepared and inexperienced when it came to his head coaching gig. But he embraced it and vowed the team would play with full guns blazing. But as a first time head coach, it's not always easy to pull the trigger on said game plan.
Like so many coaches and players, it takes time to find your voice, to figure out what kind of coach/player you are going to be. Will you be the motivator, the tactician, the guy who rants and raves on the sideline, or the stoic coach? Each have their benefits and downfalls. Morris has come across to many as too much of a buddy. We've seen several debates on this very blog that discussed Morris and his relationship with the players. But while games were moving along, Morris was trying to find who he was, who this team was.
That brings us to Sunday against Green Bay. He and Dominik decided it was time to push the chips in the middle and start Freeman. I may or may not agree with a decision, but if you are going to do something, go 100% for it. They did, starting now with Freeman.
The big change into his aggressive style seemed to come right before halftime. With the Bucs driving and time running out, Freeman completed a short pass to Sammie Stroughter who was tackled in bounds. Freeman spiked the ball to stop the clock and the decisions was on. Sitting on the Green Bay 20, a field goal was all but assured, but with 11 seconds left, it seemed a shot at the end zone would be taken by the team. Morris neglected the touchdown try and elected to kick the field goal. The kick was good but the decision was showered with boos from the home crowd.
I don't know what went on in the locker room, but being down 21-17, Rodgers having not been touched in the first half, and the apparent passive play on the field goal try seemed to kick the time in another direction.
Coming out in the second half, the Bucs would total 6 sacks of Rodgers, and utilized all 8 available defensive lineman. This showed me that perhaps Morris was finally understanding the depth and rotation at a key position that had been so weak for the Bucs.
The biggest change seemed to stem back from the Washington and Philly games. In the Washington game, as we all remember, with about 4 minutes left, and down by 6, Morris opted to kick the field goal (which was made) instead of going for a TD from inside the Skins 6 yard line. End result - Loss by 3. In the Philly game, Morris elected twice to go for it on 4th down in the early going where points would have kept us in the game. End Result - Loss.
So on this Sunday, with the fans feeling another loss coming, with a game being close but slipping away, Morris seemed to find the right calls. On 4th and 4 from the Green Bay 7, trailing by 5 with just over 4 minutes left, it seemed like the Washington game all over. But this time, Morris elected to go for it, putting the game essentially on the line for one play. Freeman dropped back and threw a pretty arcing pass in the corner of the end zone to Stroughter who got both feet in. Touchdown. After the two point conversion, the Bucs were up 3.
The next critical play came with 1:48 on the clock. After 3 straight runs, the Bucs had it 4th and 1 from the GB 31. A first down here and the game would be over. Morris deliberated and elected to go for it. I assume he was going to use his mammoth first round pick Josh Freeman in a QB keeper to utilize his 6'5" frame, but we'll never know as Zuttah committed a false start. After the penalty, Morris elected to punt instead of the field goal, again, the right call.
The game was salted away after the punt on a T-Jack pick 6, but those two play calls showed a maturation and growing understanding of game and situation by Morris. That's not to say he didn't understand the game before, but he understands the error in judgement from earlier in the season, and corrected them.
What we as fans have to realize, is that whether or not we want or like Morris as our coach, he's here for the foreseeable future. What we also have to understand, that like an inexperienced young QB, we have to give our head coach some leeway. That doesn't excuse him from mistakes like the Jags hire but at the same time, he is finding his way. This doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye and declare this a lost season, because as Morris showed, their is room for growth in each and every game.
I admitted in the past that I was unsure on Morris, but I wanted to give him the time to be properly evaluated. To me, that's at least 2 seasons, barring something horrible along the lines of 1 win over those two years. I may not have agreed with 100% of what Morris has done, but by the same token, he has taken a bad situation, made some mistakes, but learned from them. I've always said, progress is the key. If you finish off better than you started, that's a good sign. He's on that road now.
So much like the latitude we all seem to give Freeman, I encourage you to give it to Morris also. Feel free to call out what you see as mistakes or errors in judgment. He certainly, like any coach will not call a perfect game. But lets also be quick to admit when he corrects himself, when he does make the right call. Morris is in a tough situation, some of it not his doing, some of it is his doing, but he seems to be on his way to finding his voice.
Lets give Morris the opportunity to learn as a coach, to find out who he is, how he operates and what tactics and style best fit him and this team. We saw Dungy come of age with his stoic demeanor, his even keel that led us to many playoff berths. I'm not suggesting Morris is the next Dungy, but perhaps we should give Morris that same latitude, the chance to develop a style that will transform him and the Bucs into winners.