Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NFL Awards - Projected Defensive POY

With the majority of the season having been played, I don’t think it’s too early to start looking at prospective winners of the league’s postseason awards. I'll start things off with...

Defensive POY
James Harrison won this award last year, but I think it’s safe to say that the award will have a new winner this season. There are quite a few worthy candidates this season, and here are my top 5.

5) Darren Sharper (S, New Orleans Saints)
- 54 tackles, 8 INT (3 returned for TD), and ½ sack
- 8 INT are 2nd in the league
- 3 pick-6 lead the league
Key games:
Week 1 vs. Lions – 2 INT
Week 2 @ Eagles – 3 tackles and 1 INT returned 97 yards for a TD
Week 4 vs. Jets – 9 tackles, ½ sack, and 2 INT for 99 yards and a TD
Week 7 @ Dolphins – 4 tackles and 1 INT returned 42 yards for a TD
Week 9 vs. Panthers – 9 tackles
Week 12 vs. Patriots – 6 tackles and 1 INT returned 38 yards

The Saints are undefeated, and while the Drew Brees and the offense gets all the headlines, the defense has taken a big step forward this year. They still rank 23rd in passing yards per game as they did last year, but here’s the big difference. Last year the Saints gave up 21 passing TDs and intercepted 15 passes. This year, with 3 games to go, the Saints have given up 13 passing TDs and have intercepted 24 passes (2nd in the league). Acquiring the 13 year veteran was one of the best offseason moves in the entire league.

4) Elvis Dumervil (DE, Denver Broncos)
- 15 sacks in 13 games; 44 tackles, 3 FF, 3 PD
Key games:
Week 2 vs. Cleveland – 4 sacks and 7 tackles
Week 3 @ Raiders – 2 sacks and 5 tackles
Week 4 vs. Cowboys – 2 sacks
Week 6 @ Chargers – 2 sacks, 5 tackles, and a FF
Week 12 vs. Giants – 2 sacks and a FF

His numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he’s learning a new defense and plays at a whopping 5’11, 260. He’s easily overmatched size-wise by every tackle he encounters, but Dumervil still consistently finds a way to get to the QB.

3) Patrick Willis (LB, San Francisco 49'ers)
- 132 tackles (leads NFL), 4 sacks, 2 INT (1 returned for a TD), 3 FF, and 6 PD
Key games:
Week 1 @ Cardinals – 14 tackles and 1 INT
Week 3 @ Vikings – 10 tackles
Week 4 vs. Rams – 8 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1 INT returned 23 yards for a TD
Week 5 vs. Falcons – 12 tackles and 2 FF
Week 7 @ Texans – 10 tackles
Week 9 vs. Titans – 10 tackles
Week 10 vs. Bears – 11 tackles
Week 12 vs. Jaguars – 11 tackles and ½ sack
Week 13 @ Seahawks – 16 tackles
Week 14 vs. Cardinals – 9 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 FF

He’s the best LB in the league in my opinion, and it took him less than three seasons to get there. He’ll finish with over 100 tackles for the third year in three tries, and yes, he’ll make the Pro Bowl for the third time in three tries. He’ll win this award eventually, but I don’t think it happens this year.

2) Charles Woodson (Packers)
- 60 tackles, 8 INT (2 returned for TD), and 2 sacks
Key games:
Week 2 vs. Bengals – 10 tackles, 2 INT returned for 59 yards and a TD
Week 3 @ Rams – 6 tackles and 1 INT
Week 7 @ Browns – 3 tackles, 1 FF, and 1 INT returned for 25 yards
Week 10 vs. Cowboys – 9 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, and 1 INT returned for 3 yards
Week 12 @ Lions – 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 INT returned for 38 yards and a TD

The Packers rank 3rd in the league in passing yards allowed per game, and Woodson’s physical, lockdown style is a big reason. He’s won the NFC Defensive player of the month twice this year and will most certainly earn his 6th trip to the Pro Bowl this year. This will likely be the best year of his career.

1) Darrelle Revis (Jets)
- 46 tackles, 27 PD (leads the NFL), 6 INT (1 returned for TD)
Key games:
Week 6 vs. Bills – 5 tackles and 3 PD
Week 12 vs. Panthers – 2 INT returned for 67 yards and 1 TD and 3 PD
Week 13 @ Bills – 4 tackles, 1 INT, and 5 PD
Week 14 @ Bucs – 3 tackles, 1 INT returned for 54 yards, and 4 PD

It might be most accurate to summarize his season by pointing out the stats of his opponents:
Week 1 @ Texans – Andre Johnson: 4 catches for 35 yards
Week 2 vs. Patriots – Randy Moss: 4 catches for 24 yards
Week 4 @ Saints – Marques Colston: 2 catches for 33 yards
Week 6 vs. Bills – Terrell Owens: 3 catches for 13 yards
Week 11 @ Patriots – Randy Moss: 5 catches for 34 yards and a TD (a 4 yard quick pass; Revis was frozen at goal line)
Week 12 vs Panthers – Steve Smith: 1 catch for 5 yards
Week 13 @ Bills – Terrell Owens: 3 catches for 31 yards
Week 14 @ Bucs – Antonio Bryant: 2 catches for 22 yards

In a tight race, I give the edge and Defensive POY award to Revis. He’s become the league’s premier corner and, as the above numbers point out, he can shut down the finest in the league. It’s no surprise that the Jets allow the least passing yards per game and have surrendered the least passing TDs (7) in the league. He’ll earn his second Pro Bowl berth at the end of the year, and in my estimation, his first NFL Defensive POY award as well.

(Just missing the list: Jared Allen, Andre Carter, and Jon Beason)


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

4 Weeks Left - Where Will Tampa Bay Finish?

Barring a trade, we're looking at 4 teams in the mix for the top spot in the draft: Tampa Bay (1-1), St. Louis (1-11), Cleveland (1-11), and Detroit (2-10).

If my sources are correct, here are the current strengths of schedule (lowest gets highest pick):
Browns .451
Rams .467
Lions .470
Bucs .580

Cleveland – I don’t see the Browns beating the Steelers, despite how bad Pittsburgh is playing, but Cleveland’s last three games should be competitive. They play at Kansas City in what might be their most winnable game, and they close things out at home against Oakland and Jacksonville. I still don’t see how the Jaguars are in the playoff race. That teams simply isn’t that good. I’ll give Cleveland a win against either Kansas City or Oakland.

St. Louis – They won’t win this week at Tennessee, and they won’t win at Arizona in two weeks. Do they have a shot against the freefalling Texans at home next week? What about San Francisco at home in the finale? I think the Rams finish 1-15.

Detroit – I think the next two games are easy losses (@ Baltimore and at home vs. Arizona). Can they then win at San Francisco? Will they beat the Bears at home? I think the final game is the most winnable for them, but I see a 2-14 finish for the Lions.

Tampa Bay – I had this game as one of my three Buccaneer wins heading into the year, and I think this is their best shot at another win this year. Kellen Clemens starts for the Jets in what will likely be a very ugly and low scoring contest. Darrelle Revis will take Antonio Bryant out of the game, and Freeman will have little luck against the rest of the secondary. He’ll likely be blitzed all day and forced into bad situation after bad situation. I don’t see this team (given our history) going out west and beating the Seahawks next week. Regardless of the Saints’ mindset, we’re not beating them in New Orleans, and the Falcons beat us without Matt Ryan a couple weeks ago. If they’re still in the playoff hunt come week 17, we’re getting their A game.

So here’s how I have the top of the draft shaping up:
1) St. Louis – Jimmy Clausen (QB, Notre Dame)
2) Tampa Bay – Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska)
3) Cleveland – Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
4) Detroit – Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma) or Russell Okung (T, Oklahoma St - I have a feeling he won't be my highest rated tackle in the next month or two)

As long as we stay ahead of the Lions, I think we’ll have our shot at Suh.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Race For Suh

The Bucs’ ugly ’09 reached new heights this week with Jim Bates being stripped of his title of defensive coordinator. Hey, at least he lasted 3 months longer than Jagz. As a result, Raheem Morris assumes the role of DC (the job he should have started the season with) for the Bucs’ final 6 games. Of those games I think even the most optimistic Buc fan would see no more than 2 wins. After this week’s matchup against the Falcons, the following 3 contests should be somewhat competitive given how each of those teams is currently performing. I don’t like the Bucs’ chances of winning at Carolina or Seattle, but they might have a shot against the Jets if Sanchez and company continue their downward spiral.

Let’s say they win 1 more game to finish 2-14. As bad as that looks, sounds, and smells, the Bucs might have a bit of competition for the #1 pick. Who are those fortunate franchises?

Well, 5 of them sit at 3-7 on the year (Buffalo, Kansas City, Oakland, Washington and Seattle), and they all have at least 1 winnable game remaining on their schedules.
Buffalo – MIA, NYJ, @KC
Kansas City – BUF, CLE, and 2 against the plummeting Broncos
Oakland – WAS and @CLE
Washington – @OAK
Seattle – @STL, TB, TEN

Let’s assume that they each win one more game. With 4 wins, that removes any chance (IMO) of a tiebreaker with the Bucs.

That leaves the Browns, Lions, and Rams competing with the Bucs for the right to be the worst team in the league. Their remaining schedules:

Detroit (2-8) – GB, @CIN, @BAL, ARI, @SF, CHI
The Lions were a part of last week’s most exciting game, a contest which allowed them to earn their second victory of the season. Looking at their remaining opponents, it’s a good thing they got that win last week because I don’t see another one on the horizon.

Cleveland (1-9) – @CIN, SD, PIT, @KC, OAK, JAX
Man they’re bad, but if they play with the same energy they brought to Detroit last week, I could see them winning one of those final three games putting them at 2-15 on the season.

St. Louis (1-9) – SEA, @CHI, @TEN, HOU, @ARI, SF
Assuming (I know, HUGE thing to do) that the Bucs win another game, I think these guys are picking first overall. I don’t see the Rams beating any of those teams, especially with Marc Bulger out with a leg fracture. He’s not Peyton Manning, but he’s better than Kyle Boller.

Uh oh, Tampa Bay may not have an unimpeded path to making Ndamukong Suh a Buccaneer. There’s one team that I see standing in their way, and if the Bucs manage to win another game, things could get dicey.

St. Louis – Bulger shouldn’t and probably won’t be the guy in St. Louis beyond this season. Their biggest need is finding his replacement, and they will likely have a few options when looking to do so. I still think that Clausen, Bradford, or Locker will be the preference.

Cleveland – See St. Louis. Despite possibly finishing with a better record than the Rams, the Browns might arguably be in worse shape. They certainly will if Manjackass returns as HC. Even if they do hire a new HC and GM (as I 100% expect them to do), I don’t see the Browns spending any more time on Brady Quinn. I see them starting over there, and whoever the Rams don’t select should be options for the Browns.

Detroit – Here’s the Bucs biggest competition for Suh IMO. If the Bucs and Lions finish with the same record, the Lions will get the earlier pick due to a far weaker strength of schedule. They too could certainly use a guy like Suh in the middle of the front of their defense. That said I still think that LT is going to be their pick. How much longer are they going to trot Jeff Backus out there with Matthew Stafford under center? The rookie passer from Georgia might be the biggest factor that allows the Bucs to draft Suh.

Watch these final six weeks closely. If Detroit is able to somehow upset one of their remaining opponents, I think it’s a done deal, but if not, Bucs fans might be in for more disappointment. For what it’s worth, I’ve got my eye on Detroit's finale at home against the Bears as the game that could make this discussion a non-issue.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Lions!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Looking Ahead at the 2010 Draft

Yes, it’s really early, but you all know how I live for the NFL draft. This season hasn’t been one of the more enjoyable ones, but I think we’ve at least been able to evaluate a lot of the “talent” on the roster. Quickly, here’s a position by position current state assessment with some potential free agent cures. First, let me say that these are potential free agents, and the tenuous status surrounding many of them will be determined by the outcome of the CBA situation. Depending on how that works out, the market could be flooded with talented players whose teams are looking to dump inflated contracts without cap ramifications.

QB – Josh Freeman has performed admirably thus far. Some are more impressed with his efforts than others (me), but he looks like he might be worth building around given some decent coaching. Ideally they’d improve the backup position with a veteran, but Chad Pennington looks to be the best of a shoddy free agent class.

RB – Cadillac has performed unexpectedly well, but Ward has failed to provide much of a spark. Graham has been reduced to a FB. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I understand it, Cadillac is an RFA if we head into an uncapped year. Otherwise, he’s a UFA. One way or another, we might be looking for depth if nothing else at this position. Willie Parker, Larry Johnson, Chester Taylor, and LaDainian Tomlinson are the best current potential free agent options.

WR – Everyone not named Sammie Stroughter pack your bags. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Michael Clayton is going anywhere, so we’ll be stuck with him and his shitty play again in ’10. Stovall hasn’t been too shabby lately, and I’d be fine with keeping him as the last receiver on the depth chart; especially considering his special teams skills. The problem is he’s being asked to play a significant role. Bryant’s year has been wasted, and I have a hard time seeing him wanting to return or the Bucs really wanting to spend the money to retain him. We need at least 3 additions at this position, and there could be some decent options available in free agency (Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards, Kevin Walter, and Miles Austin).

TE – For better or worse, all three of our TE are under contract for ’10.

OL – Their play hasn’t been terribly inspiring, in part because of Faine’s extended absence, but I really don’t see us replacing any starters for ’10. I’m guessing the scheme will change instead. Zuttah has probably been the weakest link this year, but I think he needs more time with Faine. Jahri Evans (G, New Orleans) will probably be the best free agent lineman, so there doesn’t look to be any upgrade in free agency. Aaron Sears also just rejoined the team, so here’s to hoping he’s healthy and able to contribute in ’10, along with ’09 draftee Xavier Fulton.

DE – Wilkerson (a free agent to be) has been a real bargain, White makes a play every now and then, and Crowder has played well in spurts. Kyle Moore has been inactive most of the season, but you’d hope he’s ready to perform in ‘10. We still need a serious threat off the edge; someone who can consistently rush the passer from his blind side and make plays in the backfield. Ideally, Wilkerson is retained, and the Bucs upgrade in free agency and/or the draft. Julius Peppers, Elvis Dumerville, and Aaron Kampman are free agents.

DT – Miller has been a fine addition, but Hovan and Sims haven’t gotten the job done and should be backups at best next year. We need to see more of Dre Moore to find out if he’s worth keeping around in ’10. Needless to say, this is a real weak area. The free agent crop looks to be weak as well. Ryan Pickett (GB) might headline the list.

CB – My hat off to you Ronde. Thanks for stepping up and showing us you’ve still got something in the tank. Talib is well on his way to becoming one of the league’s top playmakers, so we’ve got one solid starter in ’10. Can Ronde be counted on again? We know that Mack can’t. Ideally, Cox’s spot is upgraded. Mickens and Biggers have potential but are questions. We can’t afford to go into another season with a “let’s check these guys out” attitude. Leigh Bodden will be on the market again next offseason as will Dunta Robinson.

S – Tanard Jackson is solid, but Sabby is still undisciplined. Our depth is injured, and Corey Lynch is a question. The best free agents (OJ Atogwe, Ryan Clark, and Antoine Bethea) are all FS.

By my guesstimation (not necessarily in order) our primary needs would be DT, DE, WR, CB, and LB, and to a lesser extent depth at RB, S, and the OL. Depending upon how committed the coaching staff and front office are to extending the Piscitelli experiment, safety might creep up the list of needs as well. As of right now the Bucs have 10 picks in next year’s draft.

R1 – TB
R2 – TB & Bears
R3 – TB
R4 – TB
R5 – Patriots (Alex Smith trade); Cleveland has ours as part of Winslow deal
R6 – TB
R7 – TB & BAL (Marques Douglas trade from last year)

The 10th pick would be the conditional pick from the Jags for McCown.

Here’s my current preference for how the first 3 of those picks are used.

Round 1
I think DT has to be the first pick. There’s not much value at other positions the Bucs would be looking at here (DE, T, WR, CB), and Ndamukong Suh (6-4, 302, Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (6-4, 295, Jr, Oklahoma) might be the top two prospects in the entire draft, not just at their positions. Suh is the more powerful of the two. He has huge upper body strength, great handwork, controls his man at the LOS, sheds blocks better than anyone at his position, and has shown a tendency to occupy and disrupt passing lanes. Dude’s name means “house of spears”, so you’ve got to love that. Collegiate linemen are no match for him, and he frequently blows up double teams. McCoy is the more versatile of the two, and he might have more explosion off the snap and be the better penetrator, but Suh doesn’t just clog lanes. Sure he’s big strong, but he’s also an intelligent, instinctive defender (as evidenced by his ability to disengage from blocks and bat down passes when he can’t get to the QB). Want some numbers?

’08 –
7.5 sacks
19 TFL
7 QB hurries
2 blocked kicks

’09 (through 10 games) –
5 sacks
13 TFL
19 QB hurries
3 blocked kicks

The pick – Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska)

Round 2
The Bucs have two picks in this round thanks to the deal that sent Gaines Adams to the Bears, and right now, Chicago is sitting at 4-5 (2-4 in conference). There are 14 other teams at 4-5 or worse at this point, so the Bears have some losing to do to get themselves to the top of the draft. Their remaining games:

Vs. Philadelphia
@ Minnesota
Vs. St. Louis
Vs. Green Bay
@ Baltimore
Vs. Minnesota
@ Detroit

That’s not an easy stretch considering how bad the Bears have been playing, and they could easily end up 6-10 on the year. Having 3 of the first 40 picks in the draft would put the Bucs in position to emerge with some real talent.

After going DT in the first round, I’m now looking at DE, LB, CB, WR, RB, and T. The first of the two picks should be in the 33-38 range, and below are the players taken with those picks in the last 5 years.

33 – Lions (Louis Delmas, S, Western Michigan)
34 – Patriots (Patrick Chung, S, Oregon)
35 – Rams (James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio St)
36 – Browns (Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio St)
37 – Broncos (Alphonso Smith, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Bengals (Rey Maualuga, LB, USC)

33 – Dolphins (Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson)
34 – Rams (Donnie Avery, WR, Houston)
35 – Redskins (Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan St)
36 – Packers (Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas St)
37 – Falcons (Curtis Lofton, LB, Oklahoma)
38 – Seahawks (John Carlson, TE, Notre Dame)

33 – Cardinals (Alan Branch, DT, Michigan)
34 – Bills (Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn St)
35 – Bucs (Aaron Sears, G, Tennessee)
36 – Eagles (Kevin Kolb, QB, Houston)
37 – Chargers (Eric Weddle, S, Utah)
38 – Raiders (Zach Miller, TE, Arizona St)

’06 –
33 – Texans (DeMeco Ryans, LB, Alabama)
34 – Browns (D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Maryland)
35 – Redskins (Rocky McIntosh, LB, Miami)
36 – Patriots (Chad Jackson, WR, Florida)
37 – Falcons (Jimmy Williams, CB, Virginia Tech)
38 – Raiders (Thomas Howard, LB, UTEP)

’05 –
33 – 49ers (David Bass, C, Michigan)
34 – Browns (Brodney Pool, S, Oklahoma)
35 – Eagles (Reggie Brown, WR, Georgia)
36 – Bucs (Barrett Ruud, LB, Nebraska)
37 – Lions (Shaun Cody, DT, USC)
38 – Raiders (Stanford Routt, CB, Houston)

Some hit, some didn’t, and so far DeMeco Ryans is the only one to have earned Pro Bowl honors. Here are the players I’m looking at right now as options with those two second round picks:

Brandon Spikes (6-3, 256, Florida) and Rolando McClain (6-4, 256, Jr, Alabama) are two guys that I’d love to see manning the middle of our defense, but I think both will be off the board in round one. McClain isn’t a sure thing to declare. If I’m still looking at LB, the guy at the top of my list would be Sergio Kindle (6-4, 255) from Texas. Regardless of the scheme, I think he can come in and be a big time producer. He’s a SLB with tremendous blitzing ability and a knack for making plays in the backfield. His versatility would be a huge asset here in Tampa where he would have the opportunity to line up as a DE on passing downs and give the defense another capable pass rusher. He’s what the Bucs were hoping Quincy Black would be. He’s quick and decisive, closes well, and has the strength to make open field solo stops. Last year Kindle averaged just under 1 TFL per game (12.5 in 13 games), totaled 10 sacks, had 5 QB hurries, and recovered 2 fumbles. Playing at DE this season, he’s accrued another 14 TFL and 3 sacks. Aggression is his game, and I’d love to pair him with Suh as our first two picks in the draft. I have a feeling opposing defenses would feel a bit more pressure by adding those two.

Eric Norwood (6-0, 252, South Carolina) and Sean Weatherspoon (6-1, 245, Missouri) are two other guys I really like. Norwood would be more in Kindle’s mold of a SLB with the ability to rush the passer while Weatherspoon is a very athletic, active, instinctive WLB. Norwood has been very productive at South Carolina where he headed into this year as the school’s all time leader in TFL and third in career sacks. Through 11 games this year, Norwood has 7 sacks, 10.5 TFL, 2 INT, 9 QB hurries, and an impressive 3 blocked kicks. Weatherspoon had 18.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INT, 6 QB hurries, and 7 pass break ups last year, and through 10 games this season, he’s added another 12 TFL, 3.5 sacks, and 1 INT. His 93 total tackles are also almost double that of the next highest total on Missouri’s defense.

Man do we need someone who can rush the passer. At DE, I’m looking for the Freeney/Dumerville type rusher; the shorter, quicker guys. In other words, I’m avoiding the lanky, rangy Gaines Adams types. It’s not solely because of Adams’ lack of success, but I want to get a guy who can burst off the edge and get into the backfield consistently without having to tap dance with a tackle. Thankfully, there are quite a few prospects that fit that build – Brandon Graham (6-1, 265, Michigan), Everson Griffen (6-3, 280, Jr, USC), Jerry Hughes (6-3, 257, TCU), and Brandon Lang (6-4, 255, Troy) are four guys on the radar. Each is going to be considered in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, so the Bucs will have extra competition for their services.

Graham is a hustler who I expect to go in the first round. Through 11 games, he has a whopping 21.5 TFL and 8.5 sacks after totaling 20 and 10 respectively last year. Griffen, a teammate of ’09 pick Kyle Moore, is an extremely quick junior with a ton of potential. His numbers (8 sacks and 9.5 TFL) won’t match those of other prospects, but his athleticism is undeniable. He’s really quick for a guy who sits 6-3, 280 and is impressive to watch in pursuit in the open field. Griffen, like Graham, could easily be a first round pick.

Hughes might be the most likely 3-4 player at the next level, but he could have a future as a 4-3 RE with his ability to fire off the LOS and zero in on QBs. His ’09 numbers (10.5 sacks and 13 TFL) won’t match last year’s 15 sacks and 19.5 TFL, but he can (in part) thank his reputation and increased attention from offense blocking schemes for that. A former RB, speed and agility are his game. I like his relentless pass rush and explosion off the snap. Lastly, Lang will be a bit under the radar playing at Troy, but he’s a consistent threat off the edge. His ’09 numbers (6.5 sacks and 9.5 TFL) are down a bit from last year’s 10.5 sacks and 17.5 TFL, but the things I like most about his game are his lateral movement, how he uses his hands to gain leverage, and his utilization of various pass rush moves in addition to a solid speed rush.

Jason Pierre-Paul (6-6, 260, Jr, USF) might make me change my mind about the lanky type end because that dude has been a menace all year long. Definite upside there. I like Willie Young (NC State) too, but at the moment, I think he’s a 3rd rounder.

My work on this position is far from done. To be honest, it’s gotten less attention than every position except for TE, G, C, and S. That said, here are my very fluid top 10 rankings as of right now:

Joe Haden (5-11, 180, Jr, Florida)
Donovan Warren (6-0, 185, Jr, Michigan)

Both of these guys will be first round picks if they come out, and both are projected shutdown corners at the next level. I wish Haden was just a smidge bigger, but that’s my biggest gripe about the guy. I really like his willingness and consistency as a tackler. The rest of these corners have a good shot of making it through the first 32 picks unselected.

Patrick Robinson (5-11, 194, FSU) – athletic, instinctive, speed, and hands; could improve tackling

Amari Spievey (6-0, 190, Jr, Iowa) – really nice size and physical play; lacks elite speed

Trevard Lindley (6-0, 179, Kentucky) – great cover skills, gambles, ball skills; not terribly strong

Kyle Wilson (5-10, 186, Boise State) – aggressive, cover corner, ball skills; not much of a tackler

Jerome Murphy (6-1, 185, USF) – tough, active, high effort, closes well; I’d like him to be thicker

Javier Arenas (5-9, 198, Alabama) – accomplished return man, productive; aggressive; better off in zone

Ras-I Dowling (6-2, 200, Jr, Virginia) – ideal size, nice jam, physical; lapses of inconsistency, slow recovery

Brandon Ghee (6-0, 190, Wake Forest) – closes really well, aggressive, jam; lacks instincts, hits better than he tackles

A couple others:
Myron Lewis (6-2, 205, Vanderbilt) – I like his size, but he looks like an NFL safety
Alterraun Verner (5-11, 180, UCLA) – cover skills, intelligence; lacks elite speed, limited potential
Perrish Cox (6-0, 198, Oklahoma St) – nice size but don’t like his press skills in our current scheme

I’m not a big fan of this receiving class, but picks 2a and 2b will likely be our best chances to land a quality starter. Let’s safely assume that Dez Bryant is off the board. I’m not saying he’ll be the only one picked in the first round, but he’s got the best shot of going first IMO. Damian Williams (6-1, 190, USC) and Brandon LaFell (6-3, 210, LSU) are two who could join Bryant as first rounders. Williams is polished and does all the little things right, but on the heels of Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, I’m a bit gun shy of USC receivers. He’s a very accomplished route runner for a college WR and attacks the football rather than allowing it to play him. LaFell is a guy who you can line up in multiple spots. He’s really quick in the open field and has a knack for finding space and making himself available to his QB. He consistently gets good ball-you-man position against defenders, but I’d like to see him do a better job of regularly catching the ball with his hands rather than his body.

Mardy Gilyard (6-1, 180, Cincinnati) and Golden Tate (5-11, 195, Jr, Notre Dame) are my two favorite receivers in this class (assuming Tate declares), and they should both be available with our second pick. In addition to Gilyard’s explosiveness, reliable hands, and excellent body control, I think he’s got the best vision in this class. I love his upside and think he’d be a great weapon for Josh Freeman. Adding Gilyard to Stroughter would give him two promising, young wideouts at his disposal. Tate is usually the one on the receiving end of Jimmy Clausen’s deep tosses. I love his speed, concentration, and the way he catches the ball in stride. He’s really strong for his size, but I have some concerns about his ability to be a premier receiver at the next level. Gilyard’s easily my favorite of this year’s class. I like Jordan Shipley (6-0, 195, Texas) too, but I think he can be had in the third round.

A sneaky pick might just be one of the tackles that falls out of the first round. I keep going back and forth with Bryan Bulaga (6-6, 305, Jr, Iowa) and Russell Okung (6-5, 300, Oklahoma St) in the top spot, but regardless, both will be early 1st round picks and unavailable when we choose a second time.

Bruce Campbell (6-7, 310, Jr, Maryland) might be the best of the bunch, but he’s missed some time this season with knee and foot injuries. I suspect he returns and tops next year’s list. I’ve got Anthony Davis (6-6, 325, Jr, Rutgers) right there with Matthews. He’s an impressive combination of size and athleticism, but his focus/commitment has been questioned on more than one occasion. He’s a solid run blocker who, if focused, has the skill set to develop a complete game at the next level.

Charles Brown (6-6, 295, USC) and Jason Fox (6-7, 310, Miami) are two really athletic type tackles with a lot of potential. Brown’s quick feet and length help him excel in pass blocking, but he needs to get stronger and more physical to be a force in the run game. Fox has been a fixture on the left side of the Hurricanes’ line, and I think he’s a bit underrated by the reports I’ve seen. He won’t be the most talented guy in the league, but I think his package of experience, athleticism, and intelligence will allow him to be a productive tackle in the NFL.

Two of the better known tackles that I’ve got down on my list are Ciron Black (6-5, 330, LSU) and Trent Williams (6-5, 305, Oklahoma). Black is a really strong, durable run blocker, but I don’t like his footwork and think he’s too inconsistent in pass protection. I think he ends up a RT in the NFL where he’ll be better than Gosder Cherilus but not as successful as Jeff Otah. Call it overreacting, but from what I’ve seen this year, Trent Williams is going to watch his draft stock fall. I don’t think he’s an NFL LT, and because of that, he’ll likely be a late 1st round pick.

Tony Washington (6-6, 300, Abilene Christian) is really athletic and shows nice technique on the edge. His run blocking could use some work, and his biggest question will no doubt be the level of competition he’s faced in the Lone Star Conference. He’s someone to really keep an eye on. Washington seems to have the makings of a quality NFL LT, and it will be interesting to see how he does against top competition in the end of season All Star games.

Selvish Capers (6-5, 295, West Virginia) has nice footwork and lateral movement, and he’s a guy I could see excelling at the next level if he stays in a ZBS. He gets a good set against the pass rush and plays with balance. He’s got a pretty decent ceiling, but can he get stronger?

It might not appear to be a need, but we still have a ways to go before our season is done and our situation is settled. Is Cadillac going to be a free agent? Does Graham return? Is Peanut going to be used more out of the backfield? Come April we just may be looking for a back, and there’s going to be some talent available when the Bucs pick in the second round.

Jahvid Best (5-10, 194, Jr, California) is still my favorite of the bunch. I could go on and on listing his skills, but to keep it simple, I’ll just say see Chris Johnson. Wow! I don’t know if he’s leaning towards returning, but if he comes out, he’s going to be one of the first 32 players chosen. CJ Spiller (5-11, 193, Clemson) is another player likely to go in the first round. There’s not much on the football field he can’t do. Spiller runs, catches passes, and returns kicks with the best of them. He’s not going to be an inside runner in the NFL, but he’s not a guy who shies away from contact either. He’s a playmaker and would look really good in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Baltimore, Miami, Green Bay, and Atlanta just to name a few teams.

A guy I’m really intrigued by is Ryan Mathews (5-11, 215), the junior from Fresno State. This kid runs hard every carry, hits the hole well, runs with good pad level, doesn’t hesitate in traffic, keeps his feet moving after contact, and displays impressive vision both inside and outside. He’s not very shifty and doesn’t have breakaway speed, but he’s likely the top lead back if he declares. I think he’s a surefire first rounder.

If Mathews does return, the honor of top lead back could go to Toby Gerhart (6-1, 235, Stanford) or Jonathan Dwyer (6-0, 228, Georgia Tech). Gerhart’s back to back banner performances against Oregon (223 yards, 3 TD) and USC (178 yards, 3 TD) alone will earn him a lot of recognition and consideration. He’s incredibly light on his feet for a 235 pounder and is a very balanced runner. He’s really hard to bring down (especially on initial contact and in the secondary), and he keeps his feet moving the entire time the ball is in his hands. His vision is top notch (even more noticeable at the second level), and his ability to provide solid pass protection will give him a leg up on most NFL rookies. Gerhart’s also an outfielder on the Stanford baseball team. I hate that Dwyer is stuck in a gimmicky offense, but I like his skillset at the next level. He’s really strong, runs with authority inside, breaks tackles, has a powerful lower body, possesses impressive cutback vision, and shows decent speed for a big guy. Neither is used much in their team’s passing game, but I think it’s more an issue of scheme than ability in both cases. They’re both durable backs. Dwyer sustained a shoulder injury this year against Clemson and was limited in his next game against Miami, but he put up 158 yards on 19 carries against UNC the following week. Gerhart did tear his ACL in the second game of the ’07 season, but he came back the next year and broke Stanford’s single season rushing record and earned second team Pac 10 honors. In addition to Tampa, I think these guys would look good in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Houston, and Cincinnati.

The picks –
Sergio Kindle (LB, Texas) and Mardy Gilyard (WR, Cincinnati)

(alt) Everson Griffen (DE, USC) and Eric Norwood (LB, South Carolina)
(alt) Patrick Robinson (CB, FSU) and Toby Gerhart (RB, Stanford)

So after two rounds I’ve given the Bucs the best player in the draft, a force at LB who doubles as a pass rusher, and a playmaker at WR. Defensive end and corner would be next on my radar, but I think we’re off to a good start here.

Rounds 3-7 at a later date

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Got Parity?

We’re about halfway through the season, and man, there are some shitty teams in this league. I can’t remember there being a year when this many teams were marginally competitive at best. I’ll leave Carolina out because, while they’re having a really down year, they showed last week that they still have the talent to beat playoff caliber teams. Below are the 11 teams that I feel fall into the “Damn, they’re bad!” category. I list their remaining schedules and mark in red the games that they are likely to lose.

Washington Redskins (2-5)
Why they’re bad: Poor play from Jason Campbell; a porous offensive line; can’t blame the defense
Remaining games: @ATL, vDEN, @DAL, @PHI, vNO, @OAK, vNYG, vDAL, @SD
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13

Detroit Lions (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Bad offensive line; breaking in a rookie QB; no receiving threats outside Megatron; pass defense has allowed 18 TDs (Tennessee worst at 19)
Remaining games: @SEA, @MIN, vCLE, vGB, @CIN, @BAL, vARI, @SF, vCHI
Possible/Likely final record: 2-14

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)
Why they’re bad: Uncommitted ownership; miserable offseason planning and implementation; wretched coaching; horrid tackling on defense; 3rd worst in the league with 162 rushing yards allowed per game; also 3rd worst with 11 sacks on the year; very little receiving talent
Remaining games: vGB, @MIA, vNO, @ATL, @CAR, vNYJ, @SEA, @NO, vATL
Possible/Likely final record: 0-16

Seattle Seahawks (2-5)
Why they’re bad: One of the worst offensive lines in football; Matt Hasselbeck’s injury; relying on Julius Jones as a starting RB;
Remaining games: vDET, @ARI, @MIN, @STL, vSF, @HOU, vTB, @GB, vTEN
Possible/Likely final record: anywhere from 6-10 to 3-13

St. Louis Rams (1-7)
Why they’re bad: Really bad defense; no receivers; Marc Bulger has a worse QB rating than Trent Edwards
Remaining games: vNO, vARI, vSEA, @CHI, @TEN, vHOU, @ARI, vSF
Possible/Likely final record: 2-14 or 3-13

Buffalo Bills (3-5)
Why they’re bad: Trent Edwards can’t get the ball downfield; worst run defense in football; Dick Jauron needs to go
Remaining games: @TEN, @JAX, vMIA, vNYJ, @KC, vNE, @ATL, vIND
Possible/Likely final record: 4-12 at best IMO; I think they lose 2 of those 3 unmarked road games

Cleveland Browns (1-7)
Why they’re bad: Mangini sucks; shoddy QB play; a defense that allows a league worst 401 yards per game
Remaining games: vBAL, @DET, @CIN, vSD, vPIT, @KC, vOAK, vJAX
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13 at best but likely 2-14; I see them losing at least 2 of those unmarked games

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
Why they’re bad: Very little talent at WR; really bad pass defense; NFL worst 5 sacks; I like Del Rio, but I think they need a fresh start
Remaining games: vKC, @NYJ, vBUF, @SF, vHOU, vMIA, vIND, @NE, @CLE
Possible/Likely final record: 5-11 or 6-10

Tennessee Titans (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Kerry Collins is the 29th rated passer in the league, and the defense allows more yards per game than any team other than the Browns; they’re worst in the league vs. the pass
Remaining games: @SF, vBUF, @HOU, vARI, @IND, vSTL, vMIA, vSD, @SEA
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13; it will be tough for them to get to 3 wins let alone 4

Oakland Raiders (2-6)
Why they’re bad: Al Davis is still alive; JaMarcus Russell has been the worst starting QB in the league since he got his job; NFL worst 215 total offensive yards per game; piss poor run defense
Remaining games: vKC, vCIN, @DAL, @PIT, vWAS, @DEN, @CLE, vBAL
Possible/Likely final record: 3-13 or 4-12

Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
Why they’re bad: Very little talent across the roster; big WR talent drop off after Dwayne Bowe; Larry Johnson is done; OL has allowed an NFL high 27 sacks; 3rd worst yards allowed per game on defense; equally bad against the run and the pass
Remaining games: @JAX, @OAK, vPIT, @SD, vDEN, vBUF, vCLE, @CIN, @DEN
Possible/Likely final record: 4-12

How I see them ending up (with possible 1st round draft preferences):
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-16) - DT
2. Detroit Lions (2-14) - OT
3. St. Louis Rams (2-14 or 3-13) – QB
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13) – QB
5. Tennessee Titans (3-13) – QB, T, safety to pair with Michael Griffin
6. Oakland Raiders (3-13) – who the hell knows?
7. Washington Redskins (3-13) – QB, T
8. Kansas City Chiefs (4-12) – T, WR, DL, LB
9. Buffalo Bills (4-12) – DL, QB
10. Seattle Seahawks (6-10, 3-13) – T, RB
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11) – DE, DB, WR, QB

Going by this list, that’s over 1/3 of the league that isn’t competitive on a weekly basis, and if my numbers turn out to be close, this will be the worst groupings of bad teams that I can recall. The records would be even worse if a lot of these teams weren’t playing each other down the stretch.
So is parity out the window, or are there just some chronically bad teams? Is it the coaching? Is it the talent in front offices? Is it the financial situations of owners? More importantly, what does Tampa Bay do to rectify the slop that is the '09 season? Do they pretend to contend once again? It ain’t pretty folks, in more cities than just Tampa.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Don't Worry, We've Got Freeman!

Eight weeks into the season, and the Buccaneers are the only team yet to win a game. Now we all thought it was going to be a long year, but even I figured we’d somehow manage three wins. That looks like a monumental reach at this point seeing as how we’ve already lost to the Bills, Redskins, and Panthers and have yet to play even one of our four matchups with the Saints and Falcons. Frankly, I see maybe one win on the remaining schedule.

vs. Green Bay – not a chance
@ Dolphins – might be their best chance at a victory; still see Miami winning
vs. Saints – ha ha ha
@ Falcons – ha ha ha ha ha ha
@ Panthers – not if Carolina plays half as well as they did in winning @ Arizona
vs. Jets – yeah they’re up and down, but they’ve yet to be as “down” as the Bucs
@ Seahawks – we can’t win out west with decent teams
@ Saints – ha ha ha ha ha ha
vs. Falcons – ha ha ha

So with the Rams and Titans winning this past Sunday, the Bucs are in the driver’s seat for the first pick in the ’10 draft. Too bad they don’t need, or should I say won’t take, a QB with their first pick. No, after the blunder that was drafting Josh Freeman over Jeremy Maclin or Michael Oher, the Bucs won’t spend a first round pick on a QB for the second year in a row even though there could be at least 7 QBs better than the one Raheem picked this past April. My order of preference (some significant reshuffling included):

1) Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame)

He’s the #1 QB on my list, and it really isn’t close. I think the junior from Notre Dame throws the best deep ball in the game and just seems to have the “it” factor. He sees the entire field, knows where all his receivers/options are, and is extremely accurate (his 56% completion rating against USC was his worst of the season). My biggest knocks on him are his attitude (seems more cocky than confident) and lack of mobility, but I don’t see either one prohibiting him from being one hell of a successful pro. I think he’s flat simply the best passer in this year’s class, and as long as he doesn’t stumble down the stretch, I think going pro might be too hard to pass up. What might work most in Notre Dame’s favor is that Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph should all return next year. Tate is the only one eligible in this bunch, and I lean towards him coming back.

2) Jake Locker (Washington)

Locker is probably the most athletic QB in this potential class, and if Clausen returns, I think he’s probably the undisputed #1. He’s a proven run threat and under Steve Sarkisian’s tutelage, is becoming a feared passer as well. The junior has a huge arm and is looking quite impressive in Washington’s pro style offense. I think he’s got a great head on his shoulders and will continue to improve when surrounded by coaches who can further develop his passing skills. I wasn’t quick to move Locker up the list of QBs because, despite having a ton of potential, I hadn’t seen “it” yet. I still don’t think I have, but I’ve seen enough to grasp the possibilities. The biggest turnoff for me when it comes to Locker is the lack of victories under his belt. He only has 6 career wins in 2+ seasons at Washington. I know he doesn’t have a ton of support out there, but I haven’t seen a headline game from him yet. The talent is obviously there, and while I can absolutely see it translating well to the NFL (why I have him this high), I think he needs to put together a couple of big games in his last 4 contests to cement his status as a top QB.

3) Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)

For me, there’s a noticeable drop off after a healthy Sam Bradford. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner injured his throwing shoulder not once but twice this year and recently underwent surgery which will be followed by 4-6 months of rehab. If all goes well, he’s expected to forgo his final year of eligibility and turn pro. Funny thing is, entering the season he was the most pro ready QB of this class, but he’s turned into a bit of a question mark at this point. He’s an extremely precise passer who goes through his progressions like a pro and is mechanically consistent, but he’ll have to pass some serious medical tests to show he’s still worth a top 5 pick. I’m still a huge fan of this kid, but until I see that his shoulder is stable, he’s not getting any higher than #3 on this list.

4) Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)

The sky seems to be the limit for this 6-7, 238 redshirt sophomore. There’s not a throw he can’t make, but I’m a bit bothered by his poor accuracy against strong defenses (34% vs. Alabama, 44% vs. Florida, and 35% vs. Mississippi). His receivers have had their share of drops, but you’d still like to see those numbers be higher. Mallett has as much potential as any other passer in this class, but I think he’d be doing himself a huge disservice by entering the draft after the season. He had only started 3 games in his career prior to this season (all at Michigan while filling in for Chad Henne), and I think he’s far better off returning for another year. I want to see him with more game experience, staying in the huddle and taking on the pass rush. If he returns, we might be talking about this guy as the #1 pick in the ’11 draft.

5) Colt McCoy (Texas)

First rounder? Possibly, but I still don’t think he’s an elite prospect. He’s still completing over 70% of his passes, but his TD-INT ratio isn’t going to be anywhere near his remarkable 34-8 from last year. He looked uninspiring in his one contest against a decent defense, the 16-13 victory over Oklahoma. McCoy is extremely intelligent, mobile, experienced, and accurate, but I think his negatives are too glaring to warrant elite status. He’s got an average frame (the smallest 6-3 I’ve ever seen), has zero experience operating under center, and has questionable deep arm strength. A lot of his timing routes will/would be picked off at the next level. At his absolute best, I think he’ll be a poor man’s Drew Brees, but unfortunately I see a lot of Alex Smith too. Somewhere in the middle is most likely, but I don’t see an elite NFL passer when I look at Colt McCoy. Can he be a successful pro? Absolutely, but I wouldn't take him in the first half of the first round.

6) Jevan Snead (Mississippi)

Big time drop for Snead as there’s only so much apologizing I can do for a guy. His arm rivals any other passer’s in the country, but I absolutely haven’t seen “it” from him this year. He’s making some really dumb throws, and he just doesn’t seem to play with a ton of energy/passion. After setting a nice foundation as a sophomore in ’08, I expected Snead to harness his talent and take a huge step forward in ’09. That certainly hasn’t happened. The Ole Miss team was overrated coming out of the box, and maybe Snead was as well. He looked downright awful at South Carolina, completing just 7 of 21 passes and barely topping the 100 yard mark. Numbers aren’t everything, but Snead has only topped 200 yards passing in 4 of his 8 contests. After a pretty good performance against Arkansas, I figured we’d see more of the same against an Auburn club that had struggled to contain Jordan Jefferson, the much maligned passer from LSU. Against the Tigers, Snead flopped after getting out to an early lead and finished with a sad 45.7 completion percentage and only 1 TD. The fact that he’s struggled in all four of his road matchups this year isn’t encouraging. He should light up Northern Arizona, but the following two home contests against Tennessee and LSU will go a long way in determining his ’10 draft fate. He might be better off returning.

7) Christian Ponder (FSU)

Don’t laugh. I’ve never been a guy that you’d call a homer, as I’m generally far tougher on Nole prospects than players from other universities; thus my omission of his name in any of the limited draft discussions I’ve had so far this year. Look at this kids’ numbers: just under 2500 yards passing (average of over 300 per game), a 13-3 TD-INT ratio, and a completion percentage that rivals Colt McCoy’s for best in the country. Beyond the numbers, Ponder seems to impress more and more in each contest. He’s confident, intelligent, mobile, makes all the throws, calls his owns checks at the line (something most college passers don’t do), and consistently goes through his progressions. Like Locker he’s lacking in the win department, but I seriously think he’s going to sneak his way into first round draft discussion before this thing’s over. If I had to guess right now I’d say that he’ll return for another season, but with the way he’s rising, I may have to change my mind in a couple of months.

I’d like to think that there will be some interest in the Bucs’ #1 overall pick by a team like the Rams, Browns, Bills, and Redskins. Each of these clubs has a tenuous QB situation, and all are expected to be drafting fairly early in April. Might one of these guys distinguish themselves enough to spark a bidding war for the top selection? For now I’ll sit here and anticipate Ndamukong Suh being the #1 overall pick, but wouldn’t it be nice to trade out of the spot and still get him with the 3rd, 4th, or 5th pick? I’d be much happier trading dealing down and accumulating additional selections, but that might be wasted effort if the same clowns are calling the shots next April.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Postseason Reassessment

As we sit here a third of the way through the 2009 season and with the Bucs’ situation being too pathetic to write about, I figured I’d take a look at some of the successful teams around the league. At the 7 week mark, here are my top teams in each division, the teams I see winning them in the end:

AFC East – New England
AFC North – Pittsburgh
AFC South – Indianapolis
AFC West – Denver
NFC East – NY Giants
NFC North – Minnesota
NFC South – New Orleans
NFC West – Arizona

I’d say that at this point there’s a clear leader in every division except the NFC West. From the remaining teams (bottom feeders aside) here are my pretenders, contenders, and revised playoff predictions (green=win and red=loss):


1) San Diego Chargers (2-3) – After the MNF loss at home against Denver, sitting 4 games (or 5 depending on how you look at it) games behind the Broncos, I think they’re done. They’re not going to turn it around this year, especially with the questions they have in the run game and on defense. Only the Raiders, Panthers, Browns, Bucs, and Bills allow more yards on the ground per game than San Diego.

Remaining games: @KC, vOAK, @NYG, vPHI, @DEN, vKC, @CLE, @DAL , vCIN, @TEN, vWAS

Final Record: 8-8 (2nd place, AFC West)

2) NY Jets (3-3) – What a difference 3 game can make. After starting the year 3-0 and looking like a serious contender, the Jets have dropped 3 straight contests (@ New Orleans, @ Miami, and vs. Buffalo). Mark Sanchez is showing his youth, throwing 8 interceptions in his last three games, and the defense hasn’t been as dominant. They look more like a .500 team than a contender, and even if they have some strong games, I think they’re too inconsistent to be a factor in the end.

Remaining games: @OAK, vMIA, vJAX, @NE, vCAR, @BUF, @TB, vATL, @IND, vCIN

Final Record: 8-8 (2nd place, AFC East)

3) Miami Dolphins (2-3) – The Wildcat will only take them so far, and they’ve got a tough 3 game stretch coming up. Chad Henne looked comfortable against the Jets at home in week 5, but he’ll be tested in the next 3 contests against the Saints, Jets (road), and Patriots (road). Their receivers are junk, as Davone Bess leads the group with 23 catches for 175 yards. Only 5 receivers have scored, and none has more than 1 TD. I don’t see them having enough to make a run.

Remaining games: vNO, @NYJ, @NE, vTB, @CAR, @BUF, vNE, @JAX, @TEN, vHOU, vPIT

Final Record: 7-9 (3rd place, AFC East)

4) Dallas Cowboys (3-2) – Folks are already reaching for the panic button with Jerry’s boys, but I simply don’t think they’re that good. Tony Romo is too inconsistent for a QB that gets as much praise as he does, 2/3 of their RB arsenal is banged up, and they lack a #1 receiver. They’re 26th in the league against the pass and 23rd in the game with only 10 total sacks on the season. I think they’ll struggle and stumble the rest of the way, raising questions of “what happened to the Cowboys?” Again, they’re simply not that good. Wade Phillips out at the end of the year to the surprise of no one.

Remaining Games: vATL, vSEA, @PHI, @GB, vWAS, vOAK, @NYG, vSD, @NO, @WAS, vPHI

Final Record: 8-8 (3rd place, NFC East)

5) San Francisco 49ers (3-2) – Even with the addition of Michael Crabtree, I think this club is heading down in the standings. They’re a run first team that sits 28th in the league with a meager 161 passing yards per game despite having faced the Cardinals, Rams, and Seahawks, teams that rank 31st, 27th, and 17th in the league in passing yards allowed per contest. Will Frank Gore pick up right where he left off prior to the ankle injury he sustained against the Vikings? They may make things interesting, but I don’t think their bark will have bite much longer.

Remaining Games: @HOU, @IND, vTEN, vCHI, @GB, vJAX, @SEA, vARI, @PHI, vDET, @STL

Final Record: 7-9 (2nd place, NFC West)


1) Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) – I’m not completely giving up on them, but after a home loss to Houston, I think the luster is wearing off a bit. Sure, they “should” be 5-1 if not for the Stokley miracle, but I don’t see them maintaining the pace of a serious playoff contender for the rest of the season. Their largest margin of victory is 7 points, and that came at the Packers. Will the defense finish 4th in the league in sacks (as they currently are with 16)? They’re among the worst in the league against the pass, averaging 255 yards allowed per game, and are 8th worst in the league with 381 plays/snaps against. Their defense has been on the field a lot, and that’s not a recipe for success going forward. Hats off to Cedric Benson for his impressive performance thus far, but is he really going to finish 3rd in the league in rushing? I’ll go with history and say the Bengals fall short.

Remaining Games: vCHI, vBAL, @PIT, @OAK, vCLE, vDET, @MIN, @SD, vKC, @NYJ

Final Record: 9-7 (3rd place, AFC North)

2) Atlanta Falcons (4-1) – Matt Ryan certainly isn’t suffering a sophomore slump, and their defense epitomizes bend but don’t break, ranking 25th in the league with 360 yards allowed per game but sitting 4th best in the only category that matters, points allowed per game (15.4). Due to a steady run game, Ryan “only” averages 232 yards passing per game. What’s impressive is that due to a combination of his offensive line’s protection and his intelligence, Ryan has only been sacked twice this year. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they’re in the same division as the seemingly unstoppable Saints and looked to be forced to settle for a wild card spot in order to make the playoffs. I see enough winnable games on the schedule to get them to at least 10 which should be good enough for a postseason spot.

Remaining Games: @DAL, @NO, vWAS, @CAR, @NYG, vTB, vPHI, vNO, @NYJ, vBUF, @TB
(Lose at Tampa? Hell, why not?)

Final Record: 11-5 (2nd place, NFC South)

3) Baltimore Ravens (3-3) – I think they’re the best 3-3 team in the game and in the end will finish ahead of the Bengals. The defense isn’t among the elite anymore. They’re still steady against the run at 8th in the league (91 yards per game), but they can be thrown on. The Ravens sit a surprising 22nd in the league with 242 yards passing allowed per game. The 7 interceptions they’ve collected (5th best) has helped, and I’ve got to think they improve upon their 22 points allowed per game (12th worst). On offense Ray Rice has sure been something to watch, and he just seems to be getting started. Joe Flacco struggled a bit at New England and at home against the Bengals, but the second year man sits 11th in the league with a 93.8 passer rating and 6th overall with 11 passing TDs.

Remaining Games: vDEN, @CIN, @CLE, vIND, vPIT, @GB, vDET, vCHI, @PIT, @OAK

Final Record: 10-6 (2nd place, AFC North)

4) Houston Texans (3-3) – My “high hopes” team for the season is hanging in there at .500, alternating wins and losses in each of their first 6 weeks. A healthy Matt Schaub the rest of the way keeps them in contention, but the defense has to do at least a piece of its part. Their 125 yards per game allowed on the ground ranks them 9th worst in the league, and their 23 points allowed per contest has them 11th from the bottom. Steve Slaton has been a monumental disappointment this season, failing to rush for more than 76 yards in a single game and scoring only 1 time on the ground this year. Having offensive weapons like Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels can hide some deficiencies, but Slaton has got to get it going for them to hang in this thing.

Remaining Games: vSF, @BUF, @IND, vTEN, vIND, @JAX, vSEA, @STL, @MIA, vNE

Final Record: 10-6 (2nd place, AFC South)

5) Chicago Bears (3-2) – I think it’s going to be tough for the NFC North to get two teams into the playoffs, but I see the Bears keeping their noses in this thing the whole way. Jay Cutler seems to have found his groove in Chicago, throwing 7 TDs in his last 3 games, winning 2 of those contests. He’s not getting a lot of help though from second year RB Matt Forte, who aside from his 121 yard outburst against the doormat Lions, has failed to reach 70 yards rushing in any other contest. His last performance, a 15 carry for 23 yard effort against the Falcons which included fumbles on back to back goal line rushes, wasn’t one for the scrapbook. He’s rivaling Steve Slaton for most disappointing RB of the year honors. As much as I have dogged Gaines Adams, his addition could only help the team on the field this year, but they’re going to struggle without Brian Urlacher the rest of the way. Still, they’re 6th in the league against the run and 14th vs. the pass. I see the late season stretch of games doing them in.

Remaining Games: @CIN, vCLE, vARI, @SF, vPHI, @MIN, vSTL, vGB, @BAL, vMIN, @DET

Final Record: 9-7 (3rd place, NFC North)

6) Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) – The loss at Oakland was an ugly one, but there’s too much talent on both the field and sidelines to think they won’t contend. They’re one of the better defensive squads in the game (ranking 5th against the pass with 179 yards allowed per game), have multiple explosive offensive weapons (Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek), and line up the veteran McNabb behind center. I was really high on this team prior to the start of the season, but with shoddy performances against the Saints and Raiders, this team has shown they can be beat on any given Sunday. With a very tough remaining schedule, I think their playoff fate will once again come down to the final week of the season and that they’ll be contending with this next team for the final spot.

Remaining Games: @WAS, vNYG, vDAL, @SD, @CHI, vWAS, @ATL, @NYG, vSF, vDEN, @DAL

Final Record: 10-6 (2nd place, NFC East)

7) Green Bay Packers (3-2) – Here’s the hardest team in the league for me to get a read on. They haven’t looked too good or too bad in any one area thus far this season but seem to have adjusted well to the switch to the 3-4 defense. They’re sneaking around statistically defensively at 10th against the pass and 17th against the run, and Aaron Rodgers is once again among the league leaders in passing at 291 yards per game. Donald Driver looks to once again be putting together a fine season, but Greg Jennings (17 catches and 1 TD) has really struggled to improve upon his 80 catch 9 score ’08. Ryan Grant is another Packer who has struggled to get it going in ’09, failing to rush for 100 yards in any of 5 games thus far, ranking an unimpressive 18th with 69 yards per contest. Jennings and Grant are going to be big factors in determining Green Bay’s fate, but if these guys get going, they’re going to be hard to keep out of the playoffs.

Remaining Games: @CLE, vMIN, @TB, vDAL, vSF, @DET, vBAL, @CHI, @PIT, vSEA, @ARI

Final Record: 10-6 (2nd place, NFC North)

I can’t possibly go against Brett Favre in his gargantuan return to Green Bay. Dude always shows up when the spotlight is on him. Green Bay’s December 13 contest at Chicago could decide their fate. I’ve got them coming out on top and giving them a shot at making the playoffs despite a 1-2 finish.

So who gets the final spot????

The 6th seed in the NFC playoffs goes to the……………………Green Bay Packers.

Since the two teams don’t face each other this year, the tiebreaker will be conference records. By my projections, the Eagles end up with 4 conference losses while the Packers finish with 1 less.

How do I see the playoffs playing out?

1) Indianapolis Colts
2) New England Patriots
3) Denver Broncos
4) Pittsburgh Steelers
5) Baltimore Ravens
6) Houston Texans

Round 1
Houston @ Denver = Denver
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh = Baltimore (after two regular season losses to the Steelers)

Round 2
Baltimore @ Indianapolis = Indianapolis
Denver @ New England = New England

AFC Championship
New England @ Indianapolis = Indianapolis

1) New Orleans Saints
2) Minnesota Vikings
3) New York Giants
4) Arizona Cardinals
5) Atlanta Falcons
6) Green Bay Packers

Round 1
Green Bay @ NY Giants = Green Bay (huge upset)
Atlanta @ Arizona = Atlanta

Round 2
Green Bay @ New Orleans = New Orleans
Atlanta @ Minnesota = Minnesota

NFC Championship
Minnesota @ New Orleans = Minnesota (Favre hits Shiancoe with under 30 seconds to go to win it)

Minnesota vs. Indianapolis
In a contest that lives up to the hype, the Vikings withstand three Peyton Manning touchdowns and put this one away late in the fourth quarter. Adrian Peterson wins MVP honors and caps the game off with his second score of the game which takes Minnesota to a 30-24 victory.

Here’s a far too early look at how I see the 2010 draft order playing out (with current records):
1) St. Louis Rams (0-6)
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-6) - Ndamukong Suh, DT (Nebraska)
3) Cleveland Browns (1-5)
4) Detroit Lions (1-5)
5) Tennessee Titans (0-6)
6) Buffalo Bills (2-4)
7) Kansas City Chiefs (1-5)
8) Oakland Raiders (2-4)
9) Washington Redskins (2-4)
10) Carolina Panthers (2-3)
11) Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3)
12) Seattle Seahawks (2-4)
13) Miami Dolphins (2-3)
14) San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
15) NY Jets (3-3)
16) Dallas Cowboys (3-2)
17) San Diego Chargers (2-2)
18) Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
19) Chicago Bears (3-2)
20) Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)
21) Green Bay Packers (3-2)
22) Houston Texans (3-3)
23) Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
24) Atlanta Falcons (4-1)
25) Arizona Cardinals (3-2)
26) Denver Broncos (5-0)
27) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
28) NY Giants (5-1)
29) New England (4-2)
30) New Orleans Saints (5-0)
31) Indianapolis Colts (5-0)
32) Minnesota Vikings (6-0)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Spotlight Matchup

Game 5 - Bucs @ Eagles

Donald Penn vs. Trent Cole

I began this week’s edition with the thought of doing a Carnell Williams vs. Philly Front 7 matchup, but the further I got into it and the more Eagle film I watched, the more I knew there was another matchup that warranted discussion. What stood out to me when watching the Eagles’ ’09 contests was how Trent Cole made plays all over the field. The man is a rush end who will chase you to the locker room in order to make a play. I knew he was good (predicted him as my ’08 NFL Defensive MVP), but he just continues to get better as a pro. I thought, wow, we’re going to have our hands full slowing him down. In this week’s contest, the majority of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Donald Penn.

Penn, in his 4th year as a Buccaneer, has allowed 2 sack this season, but none of them came at the hands of DeMarcus Ware (20 sacks in ’08), Aaron Schoebel (a sack in each of his other 3 games this year), or Osi Umenyiora (sacks in 2 of 4 games this year). No, those 2 sacks came from Ryan Denney (Buffalo) and Brian Orakpo (Washington).

During the Buffalo game, Denney recorded a garbage time sack with under a minute left in the contest. It was an awkward 2nd and 1 play where Bills defenders were scrambling around at the snap. Penn was trying to call out a blocking assignment when Leftwich called for the ball, and the left tackle never looked set on the play. Denney got free when Leftwich stepped up in the pocket, and he did a better job of finishing the play than did Penn.

Last week with less that 30 seconds left in the first half, Orakpo bested Penn and forced the Bucs to settle for 3 points heading into the break. Orakpo beat him to the outside with speed and Penn lost the leverage battle which allowed the rookie to step inside and take Johnson down as he stepped up in the pocket. That was a sloppy play by Penn in a critical situation, and it’s something that I believe he saw replayed more than a few times this week. He was too receptive to Orakpo’s approach and needed to establish a perimeter for his QB to comfortably make a play. Instances like this really frustrate the great ones, and I’m hoping this lapse in play got to Penn. He’s not going to get any breaks this week facing off against Trent Cole, the 5th year defensive end from Cincinnati who has 2.5 sacks in 3 contests.

In the first game of the season, Cole sacked Jake Delhomme, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Victor Abiamiri for a TD on the first play of the second quarter. The Eagles were already ahead at that point, but the defensive score kept them in front for the rest of the contest. On the play, in an odd alignment, Cole and fellow DE Juqua Parker lined up about 3 yards deep in the middle of the defense. On the snap, Parker attacked the middle of the line, drawing the attention of center Ryan Kalil, which allowed Cole to get an uncontested running start at Delhomme and take him down while dislodging the ball at the same time. The alert Cole was even ready to pick up the football and take it into the endzone had Abiamiri not been there.

In his next game Cole got a 1st quarter sack on the first play following a DeSean Jackson TD. The Saints were in a 3 wide set, and Cole lined up wide of LT Jermon Bushrod, the third year tackle taking the place of Jammal Brown. On the snap, Cole went about 14 yards into the backfield, outrunning Bushrod and sacking the hard to catch Drew Brees. That play set up a 2nd and 19, and on the next snap, Cole was once again in Brees’ face, forcing him to throw high and wide of TE Jeremy Shockey. He’s a frequent factor in plays whether or not he gets to the man with the football.

Facing the Chiefs, Cole got half a sack in the latter moments of the first half, combining with Chris Clemson to take down Matt Cassel as the Chiefs tried to get into the locker room trailing by only 17. To go with that half sack, Cole finished the game with 5 tackles and 2 assists, again showing his ability to be a significant factor against the run. Cole gets tremendous penetration, will test you on every single snap on the game, and there aren’t many in the league who can contain him for long.

Earlier I detailed a couple of Penn’s lapses this year, and he can’t afford a single one of those against Cole and still keep Johnson upright. Philly’s RE is one of the most up tempo ends in the league and has the ability to both overpower and outquick any tackle he lines up against. What’s scary is that in addition to his 2.5 sacks, despite having a bye week in the first month of the NFL season, he’s still in the top 10 in tackles for 4-3 defensive ends with 14. This guy plays sideline to sideline, snap to whistle.

The Bucs are 0-4 and head into hostile Philadelphia this week with a QB making his second NFL start. As well as Sean Mahan played last week, I expect him to struggle quite a bit against Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, two of the game’s toughest tackles. That means that the Bucs are going to have a hard time running the ball up the middle and that Penn isn’t going to get any help against Cole. If the Bucs are to have any hope at pulling out a victory, Donald Penn needs to keep #58 out of the backfield.

Even without the departed Jim Johnson, the Eagles are an aggressive, attacking defense. They still come at you from every angle and aren’t afraid to put 8 in the box with regularity. If Penn is able to contain the electrifying Cole, the Bucs might be able to attack the edges against this blitzing defense. If he’s not, this one could turn ugly early.

Keep an eye on this matchup and see who emerges victorious.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Talbuc's Take

Week 4 – Bucs @ Redskins

The Bucs took the field in Washington against a team coming off an embarrassing loss last week at Detroit, and the Redskins wouldn’t lose to a winless squad two weeks in a row. The Bucs blew a 10-0 halftime lead, surrendering all of Washington’s 16 points in the third quarter and failing to score more than two field goals in the final 58 minutes of the game. Although they fell to 0-4 on the season with the 16-13 loss and have a trip to Philly coming up next Sunday, there were some things Bucs fans can take from this loss and feel good about going forward. What caught my eye?

Buccaneer Offense
Tampa’s offense executed their best drive of the game late in the 2nd quarter. Starting on their own 21 with 4:34 left in the half, Josh Johnson led a 12 play drive that resulted in 3 points for the Bucs and more importantly kept the ball away from the Redskins for the remainder of the first half. 6 points would have been preferable, but Johnson led the Bucs to four 1st downs on the drive, completing passes to three different receivers, and running a keeper for a big 15 yard gain. This helped the Bucs head into halftime with a 10-0 lead and seemingly all the game’s momentum.

Josh Johnson
Following a timeout, the first time starter threw his initial pass of the game into the endzone for six points on 2nd and goal from the 8. It was put only where Antonio Bryant could catch it, out in front of him and far out of the reach of Carlos Rogers. That was Tampa’s first opening drive TD in nearly a year (since 10/19/08 against Seattle) and got Johnson off to a much needed good start.

On the second play of Tampa’s second series, Johnson dropped back to pass, avoided a sack, and ran up the middle for 4 yards. He ran for another 4 yards on the following play, but a holding penalty by Jerramy Stevens backed Tampa up and put then in an unmanageable hole. Penalty aside, good footwork by Johnson kept the Bucs ahead of the sticks in favorable situations.

The following series saw Johnson call an audible at the line of scrimmage on 2nd and 9, checking to a quick pass to Michael Clayton. It was well-read by the defense, and Carlos Rogers blew it up before Antonio Bryant could get in position to take him out of the play. Had Johnson not had to work so hard in getting Clayton’s attention (a subtle signal may have worked if Clayton was paying attention), that could have set up a decent gain. Instead, the Bucs went backwards, and Nugent kicked a 49 yard FG attempt off the right upright.

To open their 5th offensive series, Johnson hit Antonio Bryant on a 27 yards strike, again throwing the ball where only his receiver could get to it; away from Rogers and in front of safety LaRon Landry; great touch.

On Tampa’s final first half drive, Johnson did a nice job of reading a Redskin blitz on 3rd and 2 and finding Kellen Winslow in a mismatch against the undersized Justin Tryon. He was smooth in his setup and calmly threw a very catchable pass for the first down. Had he not converted that play, the Bucs would have been forced to punt from inside their own 30 with over 3:00 left in the first half. They would not have ended the half with FG, and there’s a good chance they head into halftime tied at 7 rather than up 10. Later in that drive, coming off the two minute warning, Johnson again connected with Winslow, throwing a perfect pass out of the reach of both Chris Horton and Carlos Rogers for a 15 yard gain. Very nice touch on key passes by Johnson.

On a 2nd and 10 with less than 90 seconds to go in the half, Johnson took off up the middle of the field for a gain of 15, eluding both Rogers and London Fletcher at the sticks and picking up an additional 5 yards. He did get away with one a couple plays later where he and Clifton Smith weren’t on the same page. Johnson was anticipating a stop/curl by Smith, but Peanut proceeded downfield. The pass should have been picked off by Rogers.

To start the second half, Johnson threw a sloppy (high) pass to Stevens. Instead of giving him a catchable pass and gaining 5 or so yards, the Bucs were in second in long. Carnell followed with a two yard gain, and then on 3rd down, Johnson threw a horrible pass into double coverage that was intercepted by DeAngelo Hall. It was a bad throw, a bad read, and a bad job of locking onto Antonio Bryant. Hall was playing zone and dropped off of Stroughter after reading Johnson the whole way. Johnson needs to review this play (defensive alignment and his reads) quite a few times this upcoming week. He also needs to watch the play on 3rd and 3 towards the end of the third quarter where he scrambled for what seemed like 15 minutes. He avoided a big loss on a couple of occasions and had at least three opportunities to get rid of the ball. Be smart with the football.

Following Talib’s 3rd interception of the game, Johnson led the Bucs on a 12 play 48 yard drive that resulted in Nugent’s second FG which pulled the Bucs to within 3 points at 16-13 with 4:30 left to go in the game. Johnson led the offense to three first down conversions, but once they got inside the 10, they sputtered with three runs (one each by Graham, Williams, and Johnson). I blame the end of that series on the play selection, but I want to see Johnson make progress and convert more of those FGs into TDs going forward. On that drive, Andre Carter beat Donald Penn pretty bad on a 2nd and 5, and instead of wilting under the pressure, Johnson stepped up and tried to hit Carnell on the move. The pass was incomplete, but I liked that he didn’t make a bad play worse.

He didn’t make all the right reads/calls, but he had a pretty good mental clock of when to run and when to get rid of the football. He did throw a lot of short passes, but that was more a matter of taking what the defense gave him rather than unnecessarily checking down. The one ugly Hall interception aside, he didn’t force any passes, and I really liked that. On a 2nd and 16 to start the second quarter, Johnson rolled left, looked downfield, and when he saw nothing there, he checked down to Earnest Graham for a 5 yard gain. It wasn’t a big play, but it was a smart decision by a first time starter. On the following play, Johnson was sacked for a 4 yard loss by Justin Tryon, the nickel corner who came in untouched. Josh saw him presnap, even pointed to him just before taking the shotgun snap. I believe that if he was more experienced he would have been a bit more decisive in adjusting his protection or at a minimum calling out defenders. That promising drive started at Tampa’s 46 but ended quickly in a three and out. They need to capitalize on field position like this, and I believe with more reps and more exposure to game speed, Johnson will extend more and more of these drives, resulting in more points on the scoreboard for the Bucs.

Gaines Adams
Have a day big boy! On the second play of the game, the much maligned DE sacked Jason Campbell. On the following play, he forced Campbell to step up into the pocket and into the arms of Jimmy Wilkerson. Wilkerson forced the fumble, and the Bucs recovered at Washington’s 10 yard line.

On Washington’s second series, on 3rd and 7, Adams did a fabulous job reading the QB, settling back in a passing lane and getting his hands on a Campbell pass. Very good attention to detail and execution by Adams on that play. In the second quarter, in a 2nd and 4 situation Adams was tackled by Casey Rabach, and the Redskins were penalized 10 yards. On that play, Roy Miller did a really nice job of rushing from the outside, disrupting Campbell’s rhythm and at least contributing somewhat to an incomplete pass.

On a 1st and 13 late in the second quarter, Gaines shed TE Fred Davis like he was nothing and stuffed Clinton Portis in the backfield for a loss of a yard. Early in the 3rd, he made a nice tackle on Portis in pursuit, holding him to 3 yards when the gain could have been significantly greater. Two plays later, on 3rd and 6, Adams again got good pressure on Campbell. He forced the QB to get rid of it early, and while Betts caught the pass, he was short of the first down.

It was a nice, nearly full effort by Gaines Adams and a performance many of us Buc fan have been waiting a long time to see. The Redskins offensive line wasn’t at its best, but as this game showed, there’s no excuse for Adams not being a consistent factor in each and every game. Let’s hope this was the start of a trend. Solid job by #90.

Geno Hayes
He had both positive and negative highlights to take from this game, but overall I was again pleased with his performance. On Washington’s second series, Clinton Portis got the ball on a draw on 2nd and 6, and he was met in the backfield by the Bucs WLB. Hayes showed great recognition and burst and completed a textbook one-on-one tackle on the strong back.

On Washington’s 2nd drive, Hayes again shot the gap on 2nd and 5, but this time he whiffed on Portis. Fortunately there was nowhere for Portis to run, and he was held to a gain of 1. Hayes again had good recognition, but he needs to be a consistent finisher. Two plays later, Hayes did just that, exploding through a crease and stuffing Portis in the backfield for a 1 yard loss. Very heads up play by the young LB.

Geno missed another tackle on Portis on 2nd and 14 late in the second quarter. Instead of holding Portis to a 3 yard gain and setting up 3rd and long, Geno couldn’t finish. Portis picked up another 5 yards after contact, and Campbell converted a 12 yard pass to Ladell Betts on the next play. In the third quarter, on a 3rd and 6, after Adams disrupted Campbell’s timing, Hayes was unable to take Betts down in the backfield. It could have been a 5 yard loss, but instead it allowed Betts to make it 4th and manageable. The Redskins converted a 4th and 2 on the following play and proceeded to score 5 plays later on a TD to Cooley, a play in which Hayes was beaten in coverage. Cooley ran an in and out route on the play, and, due in part to no help from Will Allen, Hayes was lost and beaten for the score.

It’s real simple with Geno. His athleticism and potential is very apparent when you watch him play. He’s always around the action and has shown the ability to consistently get free into the backfield. Now he just needs to finish more of those plays and help take pressure off the back of the defense. Lots of good stuff to work with here.

Carnell Williams
On Tampa’s 2nd offensive series (3rd overall play from scrimmage), Carnell took the ball and ran left; eluding London Fletcher on a gain of 15. I mention the play because of Carnell’s nice acceleration through the hole but also to point out that the play would have gone for a loss had Albert Haynesworth taken the right direction. He ran completely passed Jeremy Zuttah on the play.

Williams finished with 77 yards on just 16 carries and again demonstrated the determined running style we’ve come to love as Bucs fans. On the first play of the Bucs second to last drive of the game, Carnell took the ball off the right side and picked up 5 yards. It wasn’t a huge gain, but I loved the way he fought for additional yardage after having his forward progress initially stopped. Through no fault of his own, Williams didn’t touch the ball once on 17 second quarter offensive snaps, and I think his exclusion from those three series was a key factor in the Bucs not putting up more first half points. This was after compiling 38 yards on 7 first quarter carries (5.4 per). Williams was quieted in the third quarter, rushing for just 10 yards on 5 carries. He turned it back on again in the final quarter, contributing three very impressive carries of 7, 8, and 17 yards. Williams also added 4 receptions for 22 yards in the passing game. It was a solid, high effort performance from the 5th year back, and I couldn’t be more pleased with his contribution thus far in ‘09.

Offensive Line
In what I expected to be a one sided affair in Washington’s favor, backup center Sean Mahan did a fine job creating running room for Carnell Williams. On the opening play of Tampa’s 3rd offensive possession of the game, Mahan and Jeremy Zuttah double teamed Kedric Gholston off the snap, and then Zuttah got downfield ahead of Carnell and blocked tough veteran London Fletcher to the ground. The result was a 9 yard gain. On the following play, Donald Penn perfectly sealed Phillip Daniels, BJ Askew stepped into the hole and eliminated Brian Orakpo, and Gholston was again neutralized by the combo of Mahan and Zuttah. Carnell took the ball for 4 yards.

On Tampa’s second to last drive of the game, Mahan again produced some positive film. On a 2nd and 4, he got a nice initial seal on Cornelius Griffith and then headed downfield to take London Fletcher out of the play. Carnell took the carry for a gain of 7. Later in that drive on 2nd and 8 from Washington’s 28, Carnell ran off the right side and picked up just enough yardage for the first down. What was impressive about that run was the two blocks by Davin Joseph and Jerramy Stevens. Joseph did a great job of taking Jeremy Jarmon out of the play, and Stevens stoned the LE. Those were two very key blocks that setup an 8 yard gain. One last play is worth mentioning. After a Jeremy Trueblood false start set up 1st and 15, Carnell too the ball and headed off the right side. Manhan negated Griffith, Trueblood stood up Carter, and Clayton laid a pop on Reed Doughty. Carnell continued downfield, causing Landry, Hall, and McIntosh to look foolish attempting to tackle him. This kind of consistent execution is what Tampa needs to stay ahead of the stick and allow Josh Johnson to be in manageable situations.

Aqib Talib & Ronde Barber
One play after nearly being intercepted by Will Allen, Jason Campbell went to Malcolm Kelly matched with Talib out to the right. The Redskins went for it on 4th and 4, and Campbell tried to hit Kelly on a short crossing route over the middle. Aqib made a great diving catch, jumping in front of Kelly, and then he alertly got up and ran the ball back 16 yards. Also deserving recognition on the play was Ronde Barber. The veteran corner was manned up with Antwaan Randle El but broke off coverage when he read Campbell’s eyes. Barber was right there to make a play if Talib hadn’t.

Coming off a timeout, with 10:15 left in the second quarter on a 3rd and two, Campbell again tested Talib against Kelly and again was intercepted. Kelly attempted to beat Talib’s press coverage outside deep, but Talib had no problem playing the bump, turning his hips, running step for step with the receiver, being in perfect man-you-ball coverage, and turning to play and pick off the pass in stride. He then got up and streaked down the sidelines 32 yards giving him 48 return yards on 2 first half interceptions.

Following Cooley’s TD, Barber lined up on the right side of the line and came flying in to block Shaun Suisham’s extra point attempt. Another big play by the veteran. He’s looked FAR better than I expected so far this season.

It wasn’t ALL positive for Talib. Near the end of the third quarter, Santana Moss got him to bite on an out and up, and once he did, Talib was trailing him all the way down the sidelines on a 59 yard score. Aqib got caught in his turn, and Santana executed a perfect pattern. It wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t happen often.

What’s most important is that Talib responded. On the following Redskin drive, Campbell tried to pick on Talib with Moss deep again, but this time the corner didn’t buy the fake and stayed in perfect position to get the turnover. Great job of going up and grabbing the football out of the air like a receiver. He got up and added another 13 return yards, giving him 61 for the day on 3 interceptions. Bravo big man!

Sammie Stroughter
He only caught one pass, but it’s quality over quantity in his case. The rookie receiver nabbed a quick pass from Johnson and muscled himself past the bigger Rocky McIntosh to pick up 10 yards. Stroughter was decisive and physical in his running. Hopefully he’ll start drawing Michael Clayton’s targets going forward.

Defense (general)
With under five minutes to go in the first half on a 3rd and 10 from Tampa’s 34, the Bucs perfectly executed their defense with Mack, Talib, Ruud, and Barber all having excellent coverage on their receivers. Campbell was flushed to his left, and sacked by Quincy Black for a loss of 4. Black played it perfectly, staying in position and attacking Campbell at the proper time. The four man rush, which included Geno Hayes, did its job flushing Campbell from the pocket. That was nice all-round execution.

What didn’t I like?

Sabby Piscitelli
I’m really sick of putting this guy’s name here, but his play isn’t getting much better. On the first play of Washington’s 4th offensive series, Chris Cooley split the seam for a 17 yard gain. On the snap Sabby ran up to the line of scrimmage like he was going to take Ladell Betts in the flats, but when he saw the Geno had him, he circled back around and met up with Cooley 15 yards downfield where he whiffed on a weak tackle attempt. Another missed assignment for the often overmatched safety.

Late in the second quarter, on the play where Campbell’s pass went off the Umpire’s dome, Talib was going to the ground ready to cradle in his then 3rd interception of the day until Sabby ran in front of him and fumbled the ball to the ground. It’s becoming very frustrating to watch him play, and I cringe whenever I see him as the only defender in the frame. Bad things usually happen.

Offensive Line / Blocking
On the Bucs first offensive play, Antonio Bryant missed a block on Rocky McIntosh, and Jeremy Trueblood struggled to move Phillip Daniels out of the play, holding Carnell to a 2 yard gain on a play that could have resulted in a score. Tampa was in scoring position on their 3rd offensive series, when they were called for delay of game on 3rd and 9 at Washington’s 26. Mahan wasn’t able to get the ball off in time, and the Bucs were backed up. 2 plays later, Nugent kicked a 49 yard attempt off the right upright.

At midfield on a 2nd and 6 in the first quarter, Josh Johnson scrambled right and picked up first down yardage, but Davin Joseph held Cornelius Griffith on the play. Instead of possibly having their second scoring drive of the opening quarter, the Bucs were backed up to 2nd and 16, and two plays later the Bucs were forced to punt.

Barrett Ruud
He looks too hesitant or indecisive too often. One example was on 3rd and 13 for Washington early in the game. The Bucs blitzed both Hayes and Ruud, but while Hayes was fighting to get into the backfield, Ruud sauntered up the line of scrimmage and took himself out of the play. I want to see him play with more decisiveness and aggression.

3rd Quarter Defense
The 3rd quarter is where things fell apart for Tampa, where they allowed the Redskins to score all of their 16 points. The defense started the quarter by allowing Washington to convert one of two 3rd downs on their opening drive which resulted in a 42 yard Shaun Suisham FG. On the second play of that drive, Campbell completed a short pass to Cooley, and Quincy Black, Geno Hayes, and Sabby Piscitelli all proceeded to whiff on the tackle.

The Skins second drive, which started on Tampa’s 41, was the Bucs D’s worse showing of the game. On that drive, the Bucs stopped the Skins on a third down conversion attempt but yielded a 13 yard run by Jason Campbell on 3rd and 11. Following a false start penalty, Campbell found Chris Cooley for a 17 yard TD. They capped things off in the 3rd by allowing a 59 yard score to Santana Moss.

Other than that poor 3rd quarter performance, I have no huge defensive gripes. They overpursued at times, Chris Hovan overran a play or two, and Ryan Sims was single handedly taken out of a play on 2nd and 10 by RG Chad Rinehart that led to an 8 yard pickup by Ladell Betts. Sims was bailed out by Talib’s 2nd interception of the game.

Michael Clayton
On a 3rd and 10 in the second quarter, Josh Johnson threw a nice ball in front of Rocky McIntosh that hit Clayton in the hands in stride. Predictably the pass fell to the ground. Clayton would have likely been a yard short of the sticks, but the extra yardage couldn’t have hurt things. On the following play, Nugent missed his 4th field goal of the season. Hasn’t he done enough to get benched yet?

Mike Nugent
The kicker made only 2 of 4 field goals. The ones he did convert were of the short variety (37 and 22), but his two misses should have been makes. The first miss had plenty of leg but clanked off the right upright. The second miss, the 48 yard attempt, started with an “imperfect snap”, but the kick still should have been made.

I’m certainly not blaming the loss on them, but I wanted to point out a key play they missed. On 3rd and 7 early in the second half, the Bucs pressured Jason Campbell, and as he scrambled, Derrick Dockery reached out as far as he could with his right hand and grabbed Stylez G. White’s facemask in what appeared to be clear view of Ed Hochuli. Campbell picked up just enough yardage on the run, and 4 plays later the Shaun Suisham kicked a 42 yard FG, bringing the Redskins within a score at 10-3.

The Bucs had a long way to go in under a minute, but you hate seeing the game end on a fumble. It was a disappointing end to a contest that gave Bucs fans some hope. The 3rd quarter changed the entire game. The Bucs allowed all 16 points during that frame, and the offense was held to just 22 total yards. I want to see better red zone play calling, as I believe the three run plays called inside the Washington 10 yard line in the 4th quarter was weak. You’d like to get more than 13 points in a game where you create 3 interceptions, but the offense wasn’t able to make the necessary play often enough. Your kicker missing two kicks which were the difference in the game doesn’t help either.

There was plenty to take away from this game, both positive and negative, but I was very impressed with the overall effort from the team. It was a nice starting debut for Johnson, and if they play with similar focus and effort going forward, that first win won’t elude them much longer. Maintain perspective. Not many fans were expecting much this year, but as I said in my preseason preview, I just want to see guys playing with heart and making positive strides. Today was a start.