We all saw the results of the Buc 'Em poll posted this week. Based on our readership, the glass was most definitely half empty on Morris and his coaching to date. For the sake of full disclosure, I voted as "Undecided" which came with the addition of giving him through (at least 2010) to prove himself. We've all debated and discussed his successes and failures to this point. What I want to focus on is a few points that are often overlooked that actually reflect positively on the Bucs.
Coaching is more than giving the General Manager your opinion on a player. As a head coach who has both an offensive and defensive coordinator, he does not generate the game plan, but oversees it. We've documented a few of the issues on the defensive side of the ball, the "lackluster" personnel for the current scheme being the chief issue. We've talked about the offensive coordinators (yes, plural) and some of the oddities in the play calling, namely not running the ball.
But the discipline, in regards to on the field play, has improved.
When we evaluate the team, and more specifically Coach Morris, I think it's warranted to note that the same missed responsibilities in the secondary, the freelancing have decreased. We've seen a more disciplined secondary, which is helped in part by Tanard Jackson's return. The offensive line has been more disciplined in maintaining their blocks, which Faine has helped with, but the improvements are there.
But with such a young team, there are sure to be growing pains. I've come away impressed with certain parts of our team, due to their age, their unfamiliarity with the new system and an entirely new coaching staff. This is a generalization, but I feel it's appropriate. Most young teams struggle with the new schemes and thus commit stupid plays and penalties. To get a look at how the Bucs were doing, I hopped over to NFL.com to do a quick look at two important stats. Turnovers and penalties.
It's hard to beat a team when you beat yourself, and I wanted to see where the Bucs stood in the grand scheme of things with these two categories. Penalties is split into offensive and defensive penalties and yards, and turnovers is a cumulative total. Plus (+) in the turnover department means your team has taken the ball away more than it has been given away and Minus (-) means it has given the ball away more than it has taken it away.
Let me first say that this does not include penalties that were declined or offset, so there is a chance we have been penalized more than is currently shown. But of those penalties that have been accepted, we sit right in the middle of the pack. I feel kind of silly celebrating this fact, but let's take it for what it's worth. A lot has been made of the discipline and "buddy" portions of Morris' personality. As far as penalties go, I don't see it reflected here in a negative manner. Can the Bucs improve? Absolutely, but sitting in the middle of the pack (and some teams have not had their bye weeks, thus pushing their totals lower than they should be on a per game basis) it seems that we have a good handle on penalties.
What makes it a bit more remarkable is this is in two new systems. My assumption, having never played professional football, is that the older the system, the more natural you play. You don't have to think about your assignments as much and can play freely. When you are in a new system, you play tighter, you react slower which can lead to flailing about, holding, committing stupid penalties as your reactions have been slowed. Again, these are assumptions, but if we take them as being correct, it makes the transition to the systems a bit more hopeful. As the assignments and play calls become more natural, you'll see less robotic thinking and more read and react. This is what made the old Cover 2 system in our heyday so great. Each player not only knew their assignment, but knew what the player next to him was going to do. They could read and react, not have to think about where they should be on the field.
To hit the turnover category, let me first say, a negative margin is not one I want to see. Obviously that means we either are turning the ball over excessively, not taking the ball away enough, or both. The Bucs 2009 turnover margin through 7 games sits at - 2. We've "erred" more on the side of interceptions, which I believe is expected. We've behind in more games (more throws) and we have had (at least for 4 games, soon to be 5+) a young quarterback making NFL reads. With a new system, playing from behind, throwing it at a higher rate than running the ball, and the experience level of our quarterbacks thus far, I'd day - 2 isn't terrible. Our defense sits tied for 5th in the league in interceptions which has helped offset our own quarterback's propensity for throwing to the wrong team.
I'll admit, penalties and turnovers aren't the most exciting things to look at and evaluate, but I think they are an important part of the overall puzzle. We all know penalties can kill a drive and turnovers against never help your team. To bring it full circle, I've heard the pundits blasting Morris for several things, with discipline being right up there. We haven't played a perfect game yet, we've made some mistakes that are in excusable. The Bucs miss a fair amount of tackles and still can be out of position. That falls on the head coach, as it does the position coaches and coordinators. But the measure that we can point to, turnovers and penalties, reflect an average ball club. When you consider the age, maturity, and experience level of our team and combine that with the new systems, I think you can at least take away some positive thoughts on Morris and team, at least for their on the field discipline.
In terms of the product you see on the field, do you think progress is being made on either side of the ball? Does the amount of penalties or turnovers concern you, or do you feel we're on schedule considering the make up of our team.