After going through what we in the legal field call a "cooling off period", its a little bit easier to get over the BS officiating at the end of the first half and the sting of the late-game defensive collapse. Emotions aside, as usual, there are some things to take away from Sunday's game that left me nodding my head and grinning. Likewise, there are some things to look at that had me ready to chuck something at the TV. With a cooler head, let's take a look at some of those things.
3 things to take with us into Week 11:
1. Connor Barth. Need I say more? The cat booted THREE field goals of 50+ yards and launched some deep kickoffs, putting 2 of 3 second-half KO's from the 30 yd line into the end zone. His FG's carried straight through the middle of the uprights into the net, with plenty of leg to spare. Also, after kicking off from the 15 on the final drive after Winslow's boneheaded penalty, he punched a hard, knuckling line drive that streaked past Ginn, pinning the Dolphins inside the 20 with just over one minute to play. Game ball, sir, because Sunday you were the spark that set up...
2. A solid game by the Buccaneer special teams. The Buccaneers succeeded on one of the main factors I identified as a key coming into Sunday's game: contain Ted Ginn, Jr. On the strength of the deep kicks from Barth, the success the Buccaneers had in getting penetration in the initial Dolphin wedge, and the discipline to stay in their assigned lanes, the Buccaneer kick coverage team was as sound Sunday as in any game they played this year for certain. Miami averaged 18 yards per KO return and returned 3 punts for a total of 3 yards. Conversely, our weapon X, Clifton Smith, continued to provide a spark for the offense, finding a crease and returning a kick for 36 yards. He averaged 28.5 YPRet. Edge to our disciplined Buccaneer special teams unit.
3. Maybe, just maybe, this offensive scheme has some promise with Josh Freeman leading the way. Two weeks, two herculean comebacks by the rookie and a suddenly resurgent Buccaneer offense that has found a growing heartbeat in Olson's shotgun, multiple WR 60/40 pass/run offense. The offensive line (now even better with the return of Arron Sears) has actually done a pretty nice job protecting Josh Freeman, who has made plays mainly with his arm, but has also shown the ability to tuck and run... pretty darn well, actually... certainly better than I gave him credit for in my draft preview back in March. At one point, I recall him fighting through what appeared to be a sure sack and picking up positive yardage in a very Jared Lorenzen-like manner. Freeman gave double-digit targets to Kellen Winslow, who just can't be covered by anyone right now except good cover CBs and FSs. So far (and yes, it's early), you just have that feeling that when Freeman drops back and he has time, he's going to find an open receiver and make a play. We'll see what happens in the coming weeks, and it's of course possible he puts up a stinker, but his poise and level of play gives you a heckuva lot more confidence that he's got what it takes to succeed in this league than any other young quarterback this team has tried out in recent years.
3 things to leave behind at Landshark Stadium:
1. The continuing mental mistakes. As Paul aptly noted in his well-written piece today, good teams make plays and find ways to win games, and bad teams make mistakes and cost themselves chances to win games. The defensive breakdown on the final drive is obvious, but there were other mistakes during the game that contributed to the loss. FOUR fumbles by QB Josh Freeman, one of which was lost, another of which killed a potential TD drive in which Bucs had to settle for a long FG. Kellen Winslow had a big drop that hit him in the hands in the 2nd half, stalling a drive. He also had a selfish, look-at-me penalty after Caddy's go-ahead TD, setting the Bucs back to the 15 yard line. Think of your team, Soldja, and check yourself. Party on the sidelines after the extra point, guy. No, it may not have ultimately mattered in the end, but it could have if not for Barth's pick-me-up on the kickoff. Mo Stovall dropped a huge pass inside the Fins' 10 yard line, killing a drive late in the 4th quarter.
2. An anemic rush from the front 7. And I say "rush" to identify not just rushing on passing downs, but run blitzing off the edges on obvious rushing downs. As UNFNole and Buc Wild discussed before the game, the advantage gained through the extra blocker by the Dolphins' wildcat formation is suspect in some degree to a pass rush off the edge. My problem was not per se with the passing down situations, because I thought the secondary had a solid game, limiting the opportunities for passes over 15 yards by the pedestrian Dolphin receivers. Henne only completed 17 of 31 passes for a paltry 5.5 yards per attempt, the same ypc as the Dolphin rushing attack. It would have been even less if the defense had not gone into 'ole! mode on the final drive. As such, I don't think the lack of pass rush killed them as much today as it might when facing a much more potent passing attack.
Pretty conservative plan, alot of 4 and 5 man rushes. Not gonna get away with that next week against a strong Saints offense and all-world QB like Brees. Gonna have to take some chances.
3. More suspect tackling. This might upset me the most. This wasn't Week-2-in-Buffalo-debacle bad, but still... Forget the fact the Dolphins ran for 199 yards at a hearty 5.5 ypc gallop. The Buccaneer defense whiffed on some tackles that just simply had to be made. Good defenses have defenders who make plays in the open field when it counts. Unfortunately, the Buccaneer defense has some players who can't get it done play in and play out. Sabby not only lost his jock on Miami's first drive of the game, allowing Ronnie Brown to scamper from Dolphin territory into the Buccaneer red zone, but he took a terrible angle on the play. Instead of breaking down and at least forcing the outside-running Brown to cut it back towards the line of scrimmage and fellow defenders, he froze and let Brown get outside and into the open field. With the game in the balance, Ricky Williams ran right through an arm tackle from 300+ lb DT Ryan Sims on the final drive that sent the Dolphins from the fringe of field goal range to chip shot territory. Those two plays were game-changing plays at two important points of the game that set the Bucs back. No doubt there were more, but those two stuck out to me.
Chime in kiddos. What else did you guys and gals take as a positive from this game? What else do you want to leave behind at Landshark Stadium?