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Olson Almost Lost Two Games, Youth Not Helping

The vast majority of the game against Detroit was pathetic.  The Lions out-gained the Bucs by an ungodly margin in the first half, and the Vikings did the same on Sunday.  Tampa was able to steal one in Minnesota and that was against a bad team.  If they keep giving Adrian Peterson the ball, as they should, Tampa loses by at least two scores.  

A lot has been written about Olson's lackluster first half game plan, but a great deal can be said about the offense's first half performance.  The lack of an offensive line, or any experience on that side of the ball, has a lot to do with that.

We will first look at the problems up front, as they are many:

The offensive line has four legitimate veterans and a stand-in in Jeremy Zuttah.  Zuttah is not a starting caliber guard, and that position should be addressed early next April.  He understands the playbook well and is a quality back-up, no more.  The fact that Tampa Bay didn't pull in legitimate contenders for the spot in the off season shows an overestimation of both Ted Larsen and Zuttah's ability.  The Bucs have a huge problem running to the left side because Donald Penn is an average run blocker, and Jeremy is a poor one.  Jeff Faine does not provide push up the middle, so many more good runs will come from the right side.  

Farthest to the right woefully lies Jeremy Trueblood.  If you noticed him creating a great lane for Blount's 27 yard touchdown, that was the only good play he had all day.  He simply cannot pass block and that position should be upgraded with a high draft pick in April also.  Davin Joseph is the only starter who runs and pass blocks better than average, and the history that he has with Trueblood is well documented.  However, their chemistry in the running game is not good enough to outweigh Trueblood's faults when it comes to edge rushers.  

Tampa Bay has an offense that can run to the right and give Freeman enough time if the best DE faces Penn or if he rolls left.  Years ago this line was heralded as a great unit, but was never the same after Aaron Sears left.  Fortunately, I believe they are just one quality starter away from becoming very good.  Let's hope Mark drafts a winner at LG next year.

For now a very serious problem has emerged.  Mike Williams is not getting open.  His endzone catches have been stupendous, and that's because they had to be.  DB's were all over him and he managed to finesse his way in bounds.  People have been blaming Benn for the illegal shift, though it was Freeman who snapped the ball.   A touchdown was taken away because of a lack of synergy and experience; plays like that cannot happen.  Back to the point, Williams is not getting many catches and defenses are watching him.  Benn and Parker were able to make the Vikings pay.  Play out of those two will need to steadily improve off of those solid performances or there will be no one for Josh down the field.

Luke Stocker dropped what would have been a touchdown pass against Detroit, but showed his toughness as he was inverted last week.  His routes are solid and his blocking, from what I've seen, is adequate for a TE.  This makes him the most complete at his position on the roster and hopefully he'll see the field more to free up the playbook. 

Finally, the running situation looks precarious.  If Blount starts off slow and is abandoned, the game is over.  Earnest Graham has shown he cannot run the ball unless it's a draw, and he's looked slower than Blount when he runs.  Luckily he blocks and catches well- he just doesn't do much with the ball once he gets it.  LeGarrette Blount will get more passing opportunities, which is huge.  Having him out there on third down has been a big topic recently- it's just something that needs to happen soon for the sake of this season.

If the backup receivers can make opposing defenses take them seriously, and Olsen puts faith in Blount along with Freemans deep ball, there is no reason Tampa has to lose to Atlanta.  The defense performed admirably against the Lions before they got tired, and they finally got a couple sacks.  Sean Jones blew the coverage on the Lions fourth down TD pass but provided help over the top consistently throughout Sunday's contest.  Cody Grimm looked faster than in week 1 but still needs to get back to full capacity.  Let's hope Tanard Jackson is able to come back within the next few weeks- his presence alone will compensate for the weaknesses at linebacker.