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.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spotlight Matchup

Game 4 - Bucs @ Redskins

Josh Johnson vs. Washington Redskins Defense

It’s four weeks into the season, and Byron Leftwich has been replaced as starting QB of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What’s more surprising than the quick hook is who’s being called upon to take over the offensive huddle. It’s been long speculated by myself and others that Leftwich would hold things over until after the bye week (NFL week 8) when the Bucs would assumedly be well behind in the standings. At that point, the thought was that rookie Josh Freeman would finish out a sad season with hopes of laying the foundation for a much improved 2010.

Instead, career backup in training Josh Johnson gets the call. Last year’s 5th round pick is now the starting QB of the Bucs, and he draws the Washington Redskins in his first assignment. Sure, he’s inheriting an 0-3 team that’s converted barely half as many 3rd downs and rushed for less than half as many yards as its opponents, but there are some positives to take from the current situation. Even with Byron “the immovable object” Leftwich under center, the Bucs’ offensive line has only surrendered 2 sacks on the season. While Leftwich dealt with his share of pressure and possesses the veteran pocket presence that Johnson has yet to acquire, the first time starter shouldn’t be sent scrambling every time he drops back to pass.

When he is, Johnson certainly has the ability to use his legs to create plays, but he justifiably wants to be known as a passer who happens to be able to run with the ball. Remember his stated reluctance to be a Wildcat gimmick player? Johnson entered the league with a reputation as a heady, comfortable, consistent passer who doesn’t make the big mistakes (as his 42-1 TD-INT ratio as a senior demonstrates). His NFL experience is obviously limited, but as a fan of his coming out of San Diego, I’m confident in his ability to not look like a rattled rookie on the field Sunday.

I’ll watch to see if he’s able to read defenses at the line of scrimmage, if he recognizes blitzes, if he’s comfortable in the pocket, if his pocket clock is working, if he goes through his progressions, if he checks down too often, and if he puts the proper touch on his passes. I expect him to face a good helping of blitzes Sunday, and although I’d obviously like to get a victory, I’m more concerned with how Johnson responds to game action and to see if we’ve got one young QB capable of effectively leading the offense. Considering our lack of healthy and useful weapons, it shouldn’t be a stretch to expect a few designed QB runs this week.

Any chance the Bucs keep Johnson on a short leash, rely heavily on the run game, and do their best to restrict their own defense to the sidelines in hopes of winning a low scoring contest? Before you laugh, let’s look at some numbers. The Bucs lead the series 8-7 and won the last matchup 19-13 (11/25/07). The previous year, the Bucs won 20-17 in Jason Campbell’s NFL debut. Four of the last five matchups in this series have been won with a score of 20 or fewer points.

The fact that Washington was only able to score a combined 23 points against the Rams and Lions in their last two contests has me a bit encouraged as well. As poor as Tampa’s run the ball (86 yards per game), Washington ranks 22nd in the league defending it. In the Redskins’ last contest, the Lions rushed 36 times for 154 yards, and that was a week after the Skins surrendered 6 yards a carry to Steven Jackson and the Rams.

Even if the Bucs are able to open up a run lane or two, who’s going to carry the football? Derrick Ward is limited in practice this week, and Carnell Williams is dealing with a knee issue of his own. Johnson may call his own number quite a bit, and the Bucs might have to dust off Earnest Graham. The offense will be taking the field once more without their best lineman, Jeff Faine, so considering Sean Mahan figures to see a lot of Albert Haynesworth, the task will yet again be daunting.

On the positive side, the Skins’ pass rush is junk which isn’t much of a surprise to me considering the personnel. Combine that with Johnson’s mobility, Donald Penn’s dare I say brilliance in pass protection, and Jeremy Trueblood’s not completely sucking, and Johnson should have a good amount of time to get the ball downfield.

When he does drop back to pass, Johnson will frequently see Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall, and LaRon Landry covering his primary targets. While I’m not a big Carlos Rogers fan at this point in his career and am far less fond of the overhyped and overpaid DeAngelo Hall, Antonio Bryant is still obviously slowed by a knee problem, and Michael Clayton is horribly allergic to the football. It might be an ugly wash there. That said, I expect Kellen Winslow to be Johnson’s primary target come Sunday, and he’ll likely be shadowed by Landry. The 6th overall pick in the ’07 draft will match up physically with the Soldier and can run with him all over the field, but he lacks the ball skills to adequately contain him.

Call me crazy, but I’m predicting a Buccaneer victory this weekend. I’m expecting Johnson to connect with Winslow for one score and run another one in himself. With the Redskins seemingly sputtering nearly as bad as the Bucs and with the insertion of the exciting 2nd year passer, I see this Sunday as one of the rare chances for Tampa to pull out a W this season. 17-13 good guys!

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