NFC South: Recap

CAROLINA: 4-3 (DIV) 2-1
TAMPA BAY: 4-4 (DIV) 2-0
NAWLEANS: 3-4 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 1-6 (DIV) 1-1

First off, I am awesome. I have been participating in a blogger picks league organized by the SportsFrog and after an 11-2 week I am tied for the lead with The Mirl, who if memory serves is a Ravens fan. So the way I see I might as well be on a Mission from God to beat the Fan of God's Linebacker. (Although my memory is almost always hazzy so take the above with a grain of salt.)

It would be hypocritical to criticize the Panthers for getting humiliated by the Colts after something similar happened to the Bucs but I will do so anyway. The Panthers have yet to win a game at home and it is an absolut travashamockery that this team has a winning record. Sure they have lost Jake Delhomme for the season but Steve Smith's disappearance from this offense has been mystifying. For all his shortcomings at least Delhomme was skilled at getting the ball to Smith, something which Tesetverde and Carr have failed at.

Sure the Saints have won three straight but I would hesitate to say they are back. It helps when only one of those teams has a winning record (Seattle). I will give New Orleans this, out of all the teams in the NFC South they have the most potential to challenge the Bucs for the division title. The offense has apparently gotten back on track but the defense is still a mess, and it will be interesting to see how they fair against Jacksonville this weekend.


Gameday: Jags @ Bucs

Sticks game preview can be found here.

I like the Bucs in this game for the same reason as the rest of America, Garrad is injured and the Jags are starting a former PRACTICE SQUAD RECEIVER in Garrad's place. It doesn't help Quinn Gray that this is his first start at quarterback ever.

In response to Garrad's absence I'm sure the Jags will pound the rock even more so than usual which means we will see plenty of Fred Taylor and possibly injured Maurice Jones-Drew. The key for the Bucs will be their ability to stop the run.

Reason #195 the NFL is Retarded
There is only one early game on in the Tampa Bay area....the sure-fire blowout Giants game. I am in Tampa Bay this weekend for the Bucs game which means no Sunday Ticket for me. To be fair I have no idea if the NFL is to blame, more likely than not the TV networks are to blame. But the NFL makes a much more convenient target for my wrath, so screw you Roger Goodall.

JAGS 24, BUCS 23
Close does not begin to describe how today's game played out. The Bucs had multiple opportunties to win the game but failed to take advantage of those opportunities. This was a game which came down to a few plays which could have gone either way.

+ Ronde Barber had a few big plays including a 4th down tackle behind the line
+ Old Man Galloway bouncing back w/ 115 yards and a TD
+ Bryant has been quietly reliable w/ 3 field goals in this game
+ BJ Askew catching the ball, shades of the A-Train when he caught the ball
+ Ruud who came up strong against a Jags team which consistently pounded the rock
+ safeties Jackson and Phillips who did an excellent job of plugging holes in running lanes
+ was that a Maurice Stovall sighting? 5 catches for 47 yards plus a blocked punt
+ Jeff Garcia running the ball in the 1st quarter, which was the Bucs ONLY offense

- Jeff Garcia throwing the ball, yes he had 267 yards and a TD but he also had 3 INTs and under threw Hilliard (?) on the last drive for what would have been a first down
- Garcia again for his first INT for a TD, swear to God I called Galloway for a hook before the play which goes to show you there is a certain amount of predicatability there
- Galloway returning punts, he let a punt go over his head in the 4th which cost the Bucs at least 30 yards
- officiating, I normally hate to single out the refs but they missed some calls including a spearing against Garcia


NFC South Recap

CAROLINA: 4-2 (DIV) 2-1
TAMPA BAY: 4-3 (DIV) 2-0
NAWLEANS: 2-4 (DIV) 1-2
ATLANTA: 1-6 (DIV) 1-1

With a bye week the Panthers pass the Bucs for first place in the division. Shame the Panthers don't have a bye every week.

In case you have not seen wide receiver and worst player in Madden Mark Jones is out for the season. Which makes Jones the fourth player on the offense to suffer injuries knocking him out for the season. And while Jones' absence at the receiver position will barely be felt his loss will impact the kick return game. The Bucs primary kick and punt returner the Bucs will have to turn to some combination of Ike Hilliard, Phillip Buchanon, and/or Torrie Cox. I don't like using Ike Hilliard as the punt returner, he's not very effective and is far too important to an offense which is already thin at receiver. (Speaking of receiver depth, where the hell has Maurice Stovall been? He was supposed to blow up this season but has been a bust.)

Side note: I know every team suffers injuries but it seems like the Bucs are suffering a good deal of injuries this season and an especially high number of season ending injuries.

New Orleans 22, Atlanta 16
I'm not sure the Saints are back as I am certain that the Falcons are really, miserably bad. I had soured on Reggie Bush this season since I think he is vastly over rated for a few big plays while his flaws are over looked. (Maybe I would have more reason to doubt myself if the sports media didn't have the habit of over rating players similar players, see Vick, Michael and Hall, Dante.) Bush makes a few big plays but he typically does so by running to the outside as opposed to a back like Maurice Jones Drew who gets his big plays by running up the middle of the defense and breaking tackles. It seemed to me like Bush had shied away from contact which didn't bode well for his future. But then his tough touchdown run against the Falcons made me doubt my theory so now I'm back on the fence on the USC back.


That Was Ugly

By every single statistical measurement the Bucs should have won today's game. Instead the Bucs committed a litany of mistakes and gave the game to an inferior Lions team. Let's count the way things went wrong.
  1. Fumble by Jeff Garcia which was fortunately reversed
  2. Lions block Josh Bidwell punt
  3. Garcia fumbles AGAIN, this one was not over turned
  4. Garcia fumbled a third time, this time at the goal line
  5. Bucs defense allows Calvin Johnson to run 30 yards on reverse for a TD
  6. A total of 6 penalties on the offensive line including 3 on Jeremy Trueblood
It's painful to focus on the Calvin Johnson play since he was so close to being a Buc but that 30 yard run touchdown really stands for me as the difference between the Lions and the Bucs. Obviously if Megatron does not get that touchdown the Bucs win the game but more imporantly it points out the lack of play makers on the offense for the Bucs. With the exception of Mr. Grey Beard aka Joey Galloway the Bucs don't have an offensive weapon who can turn the game around a la Calvin Johnson. Chris Collinsworth commented on NBC's over produced Football Night in America that the Bucs reminded him of the Jets, a team that dinks and dunks but does nothing outstanding. (Tiki Barber disagreed with that sentiment but then again as Eli Manning pointed Tiki's opinions aren't worth the paper they're printed on.) Garcia has been effecient but with the loss of Cadillac, Michael Pittman, Alex Smith and now Michael Clayton the Bucs don't have a lot of play makers left on the offense.

+ Earnest Graham making a surprising showing as a receiver w/ 13 receptions for 99 yards
+ Ike Hilliard, whom the Lions went w/ the unusual strategy of leaving uncovered
+ the Bucs D which did well limiting the Lions offense to 23 points
+ on side kick #1: 1st time i've seen that kick formation and surprisingly it worked

- everything i listed above
- where was Joey Galloway? only 5 catches for 46 yards

I'm heading down to Tampa for the Jaguars game next week, a matchup I'm not feeling at all confident about the Bucs chances to win.


Welcome Michael Bennett

With little depth at the position the Bucs traded for Chiefs back Michael Bennett. BucStats speculates that at the most the Bucs gave up a fourth rounder since that was Minnesota's asking price for Mewelde Moore. Which is not a bad deal for the Bucs as Bennett has the speed and hands to compliment Earnest Graham's power running.

And while Bennett appears to be a replacement for Michael Pittman for the next six or seven weeks, the new addition could end up taking over Pittman's duties for the long term. The two have very similar skill sets and fill the team's role as third down backs. Pittman has done an excellent job in that role for the Bucs but in the NFL all it takes is one injury to loss your job.


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 4-2 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 4-2 (DIV) 2-1
NAWLEANS: 1-4 (DIV) 0-2
ATLANTA: 1-5 (DIV) 0-1

If there has been any kind of a consistent theme in this space it has been the criticism directed towards "Offensive Genius Gruden" for failing to upgrade the offense, which is why it warmed my heart (and possibly cockles) to see the emminently readable BucStats take up the same cause. Just looking at the stats the offense has been stagnant if not regressive since Gruden took over. The best explanation I can find for this is that the offensive talent has not been there at the same level that it has been since the Dungy days. Yes, Gruden has invested draft picks on the offense (Clayton, Simms, Joseph, Trueblood, Buenning, Sears, Cadillac, Alex Smith, Stovall) but the Bucs have also lost a number of players on the offense through either free agency/being cut (Keyshawn, McCardell, Griese, Thomas Jones, Warrick Dunn) or injury (Simms, Alstott, Griese again, Joseph, Cadillac, Pittman, Petitgout, Buenning).

What am I getting at? The Bucs are about even, if not worse off, than they were under Dungy when you only consider offensive talent. The line has been slightly upgraded, as has the quarterback position. But the runningback position (even when Cadillac was healthy) and the receivers are worse under Gruden than when Dungy was in town. Which is no fault of Gruden since with the exception of the Griese release the moves have made sense or not been his fault.

Point of the story?

Gruden is deserving of a pass when you take a look at the offense. The play calling is clearly superior to when Mike Shula was in town, and The Garcia Renaissance is in full effect. The offensive line is young and talented and on its way to gelling into the dominant line Gruden had in Oakland. Anyway, if you're going to go after Gruden for anything, criticize him for his questionable drafting.

The $8 Million Dollar Man proved that you can rebuild him, you can make him stronger. In the battle of two former Bucs quarterbacks Rattay lost and Testaverde won. Which begs the question, does anyone really win when you have to watch these two quarterbacks play?

Was that a Drew Brees sighting Sunday night? In notching their first win of the season the Saints further laid claim to the tenet that the NFC is garbage by laying waste to a reeling Seahawks team. It remains to be seen if the Saints are back or if Sunday was an aberration (I'm banking on the latter).

We're six games into the season and already the Falcons have given up on their coach. And Petrino doesn't have Vick to take the blame, although I'm sure the fans in Atlanta will find a way to make Vick the scapegoat for this season's woes. Atlanta is horrible and if they some how beat the Bucs this season I may have to commit seppuku.


Gameday: Titans @ Bucs

Sticks preview can be found here.

Despite the commonly held belief I'm not a big fan of Vince Young, he's not nearly developed enough as a quarterback to pick apart defenses with his arm. What I would be worried about if I was Jon Gruden is the Titans defense, which is vicious, like sid vicious. I think the Titans have the better defense and what with the all the backs Gruden has been losing Jeff Garcia will have to carry the offense.

Brian Kelly is doubtful to play. Kelly has been struggling with injuries all season, but thankfully Phillip Buchanon has been a diamond in the rough for the Bucs.

It doesn't show up in the stats but Earnest Grahams having a really good game. On the last drive before half time he did a good job of reaching behind him to grab a bad pitch by Garcia when the play could have easily been a turnover in the Titans favor. He also made a very nice catch where he got hit as soon as he caught the ball. The Titans defense has done a great job of getting to Graham at the goal line which has limited his rushing yards but if Graham plays like this the rest of the season the Bucs will be in good shape.

Where has Joey Galloway gone? He has only two catches for 14 yards, and has disappeared from the offense the last few weeks.

Bucs 13, Titans 10
Today's game was a great rebound win for the Bucs, especially considering how close it was the entire time. Credit the Titans defense for limiting a tough running Earnest Graham while constantly putting pressure on Jeff Garcia. But today's game is why Gruden wanted Garcia so badly in the offseason, if that had been Chris Simms or Bruce Gradkowski back there the Bucs would have lost today's game.

+ Jeff Garcia w/ season high 274 passing yards & a HUGE game winning drive at the end
+ Matt Bryant, who has quietly been making game winning field goals
+ Bucs defense which swarmed a Titans team which loves to run the ball
+ Tanard Jackson doing his best John Lynch impression
+ Joey Galloway making the Titans secondary his bitch
+ Phillip Buchanon making people forget about Brian Kelly
+ Ronde Barber putting himself in position to make plays

- Ronde Barber THRICE failing to make the above mentioned plays
- Alex Smith's ankle injury on an offense which was already injury plagued
- Bucs defense on the Titans last touchdown drive
- Pass rush is a STILL a mess, Bucs sacks have all been coverage sacks


This is why you don't get drunk in Tijuana (or possibly Ybor)

Good to see Vince Young is not disproving that Wonderlic score.

(HT: fanIQ.com)

NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 3-2 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 3-2 (DIV) 2-1
NAWLEANS: 1-3 (DIV) 0-2
ATLANTA: 1-4 (DIV) 0-1

Sometimes you hit the road and sometimes the road hits you. Sunday's road trip to Indianapolis would qualify as the latter. The Colts, even without Addai and Harrison, were the model of efficiency. Frequent commenter t.k. sums it up the best...
The Colts just dinked & dunked the defense to hell, and the key stat of [the Colts was their ability] to complete 75% of their third-down plays shows it. 12 of 16, and the four they didn't make were followed by field goal, punt, fourth-down conversion, and field goal. We played it totally clean but even that's not enough against these guys. Aiyiyiyiyi...
I'm not so sure what that last aiy... part was about but I agree with the above sentiment; the Colts with Peyton Manning are an offensive juggernaut. The Bucs secondary played well but the front four have to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback. A good number of the Bucs sacks or qb hurries have been because the secondary is blanketing receivers, not because the defensive lineman have been getting to the quarterback quickly enough. The key to the Tampa Two is the ability of the front four to get to the quarterback, something which the Bucs have struggled with this season. Gaines Adams has been a dissapointment and is clearly not ready to play in the NFL. He has all the physical skills to be a top tier defensive end but looks uncomfortable playing the position.

If the Bucs pass rush is hurting then the run game is on life support. The Bucs only chance to beat the Colts the was to establish the run, something which they failed miserably to do. The first four runs all lost yards and the Bucs finished the game with only 17 yards rushing. On the flip side the passing game was efficient (Garcia went 18 for 23) but with Michael Pittman now out 2 months the Bucs are going to be in trouble if they can't find a run game (or a runningback).

If the Bucs have any competition for the division title it will come from Carolina, although right now the Panthers don't look like much in the way of competition. I don't believe David Carr is a big step down from Jake Delhomme but at least Delhomme was on the same wave length with Steve Smith. Smith is the Panthers only offensive weapon, but he has struggled since Carr became the starter.

The Falcons had a very good chance to win this game at the end but as has been their MO this season they failed to capitalize on the opporutnity. With about 2 minutes left in the game the Falcons had the ball in the red zone and couldn't score a touchdown to tie the game. Bringing in Byron Leftwich at the end was a horrible move and if I didn't know better I would have thought Petrino was trying to throw the game. On the bright side, this game gave me a lot more faith in the Bucs chances against the Titans next week.


Gameday: Bucs @ Colts

My Sticks preview is here.

If Addai is really out then I like the Bucs to upset the Colts. Both teams have been bitten by the injury bug but the Colts have been hit harder, especially on defense. With Bob Sanders (and to a lesser extent Rob Morris) out the Colts will have a difficult time stopping the run. Hopefully Gruden will not repeat his mistake from New York last season when he forced the pass when it was to his advantage to run the ball. I like Graham up the middle and then Garcia working off the playaction to Galloway deep.

I'm in Arizona today so my access to the internet (and possibly the game) will be limited. Might have to wait until late tomorrow for a recap.


Better Know a Potential Draft Pick

Facing the very likely possibility that Cadillac Williams' career could be over, I figured now would be a good time to introduce a new gimmick here at the BBB. Throughout the season we will take a look at college players playing a position of need for the Bucs. First up, runningbacks which it now looks very likely to Bucs will have to draft on the first day.

164.3 yds/game, 6 TDs
The manbeast. If you haven't seen McFadden yet you are missing out on one of the best players in college football. He's a lock for a top five draft pick which would put him out of the Bucs reach as well as they have been playing.

STEVE SLATON (West Virginia)
111.2 yds/game, 9 TDs
Overlooked coming out of high school, Slaton fell to West Virginia. An undersized runner with an extra gear Slaton can also catch balls out of the backfield. Slaton's 54 yard performance against South Florida is a little discomforting but then again he was limited to 13 carries for 4.2 yards a carry against a very good Bulls defense.

124 yds/game, 5 TDs
RYAN TORAIN (Arizona St)
102 yds/game, 5 TDs
I have not seen either on of these guys play but Phil Steele is high on them and rates them as the #3 and #4 backs in college football. Maybe if ESPN has decided to play the Cal/Oregon game on the east coast I would have some more info on Stewart. Torain, good luck getting on the east coast until you play USC and their shut down defense.

117 yds/game, 9 TDs
The only Pac-10 back I've seen, Forsett is another speedster. Impressively, Forsett had his best game (156 yards, 1 TD) against a very good defense in Tennessee.

MIKE HART (Michigan)
152.2 yds/game, 7 TDs
An Emmitt Smith type back, Hart has excelled despite less than impressive physical attributes. Not the fastest back or the biggest, Hart has exceptional vision and patience. He has been Michigan's only offensive weapon and leads the NCAA in carries by a signifact margin, 157 to the next closest of 139.

RAY RICE (Rutgers)
132 yds/game, 9 TDs
A similar back to Hart, Rice has been the engine for the Rutgers resurgence machine. He is a better athlete than Hart and, again, very similar to Emmitt Smith.

With the obvious exception of McFadden there is no back that jumps out at me as an obvious selection. I was high on Slaton until his game against USF, although USF was very lucky to get out to an early lead in that game thus negating Slaton as a back. Whomever the Bucs potentially select I hope they draft a back who can catch the ball. Pittman has done a good job filling in obvious passing downs but the Bucs need a back who stay on the field no matter the down. In Gruden's west coast offense it would help if the back could be involved in the passing game.

There might be a few guys I add onto this list, and a few I take off as the season progresses. Additionally, I will take a look at other positions in the college football realm.


NFC South Recap

TAMPA BAY: 3-1 (DIV) 2-0
CAROLINA: 2-2 (DIV) 1-1
NAWLEANS: 0-3 (DIV) 0-1
ATLANTA: 1-3 (DIV) 0-1

One last word on the Caddy Tragedy (seeing as how I've nearly exhausted the subject); as interchangable as backs are I have serious doubts about the Michael Pittman/Earnest Graham combo. Pittman has had multiple opportunities to establish himself as the primary runner and except for the Super Bowl game has never had a memorable performance. Pittman really excels when you don't ask much of him, i.e. when he was getting spot duty as the third down back and spelling Caddy. I imagine Pittman will see an increased workload but will continue to be the secondary back. Earnest Graham is somewhat of a question mark for me seeing as how until this season the only time he received any carries was in the exhibtion season. Graham looked good two weeks ago but failed to punch the ball in from the goal line when given four attempts on Sunday.

It appears the biggest change from the Mora Regime to the Petrino Regime is that Atlanta has gone from a rushing team to a passing team. Petrino has managed to make Joey Harrington into a servicable quarterback and those Atlanta receivers who were supposedly holding Vick back all of the sudden look good. Speaking of Vick, the whole dog-fighting charges may have been a blessing in disguise for Petrino. It gave him a valid excuse to get rid of their formerly most popular player without either paying Vick any money or incurring the wrath of the fans. Not just that but Petrino is basically given a one year pass no matter how badly the team sucks seeing as how they lost their "star player."

Caddy, Petitgout Out for Season

In case you haven't heard both Cadillac Williams and Luke Petitgout are out with season-ending knee injuries. Which, to use the vernacular of our times, sucks.

Caddy appears to have suffered a torn patellar tendon, which has much the same recovery time as an ACL tear. Which means Caddy could come back next season but he would not be fully recovered. It would likely take two years for Caddy to get back to 100 percent. Which means the Bucs should highly consider drafting a back in next year's draft (more on that later in the week).

As for the debate over which player is the bigger loss, I fully agree with BucStats on this one. Runningbacks (and linebackers) are a dime a dozen in the NFL. Back and backers are the most common athlete types. Every year we get a story about some late-drafted back (Willie Parker, Terrell Davis) who blows up when given the chance. At the other end of the spectrum are top tier left tackles who are one of the rarest types in the NFL, 300 pounders with cat like quickness and agility (Michael Lewis what what!). Petitgout falls into that category and Donald Penn, who is normally the third string left tackle, is a poor replacement.