If you've got a weak heart, don't read this article.
They say "Home is Where the Heart Is." Maybe somebody needs to put that sign over the door to the Buccaneer locker room, because they sure haven't shown much heart at home this season. There's no other way to sugar-coat Sunday's debacle. No gameplan. No inspiration. No nothing. The result: another home blowout loss to a decent, but not great opponent from the Big Apple. Back in Week 3, I thought that the Buccaneers hit rock bottom in all phases against the New York Giants. One red zone trip in the final minutes. No first downs until end of 3rd quarter. Blown coverages. Missed tackles. Leftwich couldn't complete a pass to an open receiver to save his life. Just dominated on both sides of the ball.
Sunday's game at the Jets just reeked of many the same old problems.... plus a new one that's reared its ugly head recently. Our Face of the Franchise Josh Freeman carried over his myopic tunnel vision from last week on the game's first play, trying to force the ball into a blanketed Antonio Bryant. AB ran a skinny post with a cornerback slightly trailing, where a safety was ready to step in front of the already covered Bryant if the flat-footed ILB David Harris had not had the ball gift-wrapped for him. Again, like last week, Freeman locked onto his #1 wide receiver from the snap, enabling the safety to slide over and get what would have been a pick or break up if the underneath LB zone coverage had whiffed. Freeman has to show better awareness, as there was no way Bryant could have caught that ball.
The playcalling was suspect. 40 passing plays against 16 rushes... with all 3 running backs and all 5 offensive linemen active and available? With a struggling rookie quarterback who's locking onto wide receivers, having problems recognizing simple NFL zone coverages? With Darrelle Revisconsistently locked in between the "8" and "9" on Bryant's jersey? Yes, I understand the Bucs were trailing, but they came out throwing and never made a serious attempt to match the physicality of the Jets defense and establish a consistent, serious ground attack, especially into the second quarter, when the Bucs were trailing by 6 and 9 points. (When your offensive line is getting whipped on each play, I can understand you've got to try something else. Then again, when your rookie QB is taking sacks and tossing picks, trying to establish the run can at least limit some negative plays that set up Jet scores.)
From there, things just got worse. Zero first half yards. No, that is not a mistype. Zero yards. Even with the immovable Kris Jenkins on IR, Jeff Faine and the guards got NO push against the interior of that Jet defensive line, leading to a porous 1.4 YPC for Caddy, Ward, and Graham.
The aggressive Jet defense got in Freeman's face early and often, bringing him down and/or forcing some ill-fated throws. As I noted in my game preview, the Jets love to blitz multiple guys from the same side, and they did just that. Their blitz of choice was to overload the right side of the Buccaneer offensive line and go after Freeman, mainly on 2nd and 3rd down. One drive-killing sack put the Bucs back deep at their own 6 yard line, which eventually led to a Jay Feely field goal. A 4th quarter blitz off the left side collapsed the pocket, contributing to Freeman's off-target mid-range throw and Revis' game-clinching pick. Unfortunately, as I also discussed in my preview, the Buccaneers failed to make the aggressive Jet defense pay... to wit, by failing to run some running back screens, wide receiver bubble screens, and delayed swing/flat passes to the running backs and tight ends. Granted I didn't see everything in between trips to the beer stand, but I don't recall seeing them run a screen or designed play to get behind the blitz once.
Really, with very, very few (if any) positives coming out of this game, where does the onus of the blame lie for this debacle? There are plenty of culprits...
Offensive line: It's just so baffling that an experienced group of veteran lineman on this roster could be so ineffective as a unit this year. In keeping with the season-long trend of the Bucs inability to establish a ground game, the Buccaneer running backs managed a meager 22 yards on 16 carries... less than a yard and a half per tote. It's tough for a back to run through a wall, and the holes just weren't there at all. As Davin Joseph said on his radio show last week, the Buc line has gone from a primary zone-blocking scheme to a mixture of zone and assignment-blocking schemes. I've got to go back and watch a little bit more, but the two-gap system clearly gave them fits and I've got to wonder if playing against the Jets' defense, which switched between base 3-4 and 4-2 nickel fronts, confused our guys and led to an increased number of missed assignments. Regardless, to put things into perspective about this line, when's the last time this offense executed an interior run, where a large hole opened up and our back got to the second level and ripped off a 20-40+ yard run??? This unit just isn't getting the push needed to hit some big plays on the ground and consistently move the chains.
Coaching: It's the same coach-speak, week in week out, and this week was no different. The coaches were going to make a conscious effort to be physical... to run the football consistently and establish a running game. That plan might have been nipped in the bud by the halftime score, but I don't think they created enough plays to overcome the Jets' blitzes. Same spread formation, same mid-to-deep range passing plays. No screens or swing passes to negate the blitzes. Raheem Morris admitted today at his presser that he didn't have the team ready to go Sunday. I think that's true with both the milquetoast offensive game plan and lack of urgency, hustle, and toughness that was noticeably absent on Sunday. Even though the offensive line is underperforming, it's incumbent on Morris to find a way to get some balance into this offense and some success on the ground. It's just not getting done. To be fair, the defense has played better with Raheem running the defense and their gap penetration has limited the gaping holes to the linebackers and secondary for opposing backs (even a little better than the Bucs did in the last four games of the 2008 season), but at the end of the day, the numbers continue to demonstrate this being a defense that yields alot of yards.
Josh Freeman: For the third straight week, he looked like the rookie he is. It's starting to look like defenses are figuring out that Freeman locks onto receivers and that if you keep an underneath 3-LB basic zone coverage (not even a zone blitz where they drop an end or 3-4 OLB, but a simple drop zone coverage), you can break up the mid-range pass or turn him over. First pass of the game was an unmitigated disaster to a completely blanketed AB. Whenever AB, Brian Clark, or Kellen Winslow managed to get a slight bit of separation, Freeman continually missed them. His pass behind AB in the first half killed one drive and his pass behind Brian Clark in the 4th quarter led to the final Jet score that salted the game away. He looked every bit as green as he is and appears to be regressing since exploding onto the scene. Time will only tell if his dropoff can be attributed to the dual role of Olson as coordinator/QB coach (check out BucWild's article from today... fantastic read), or if his NFL production can be expected to be as inconsistent as his college numbers turned out at Kansas State.
Defense: Well, what can you really say when you're on the field the entire game? Our overworked D held Thomas Jones to just under 100 yards rushing on 24 carries. Not terrible, considering the Jet front pounded our front 7 with 39 designed runs to the Jet running backs and wide receivers... but still... 175 rushing yards and 4.4 YPC is not particularly great. Missed tackles in the middle and a bad angle from Tanard Jackson led to a 33-yard TD run from Thomas Jones, putting the Bucs in a huge hole early. The Bucs also were beat in coverage in one-on-one situations and were lucky that Kellen Clemens missed some open receivers. By contrast, the Jets' defense was a pillar of consistency on each play and showed what great defenses do... execute on every single play. The longest Buccaneer run of the game was 6 measly yards, and the Bucs failed to hit any big play in the passing game that could turn the tide of the game or even flip the field a time or two.
What were your impressions from Sunday's game?