While many posts and time have been spent this week getting to know the Chiefs new starting quarterback, Brady Quinn, it’s time to turn our collective attention on Sunday’s enemy: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Coming off a bye week, the Bucs have had an extra week to refocus and concentrate on the Chiefs.* The time off should also be used to clear their minds from what could have been. After winning their first game of 2012 against division rival Carolina Panthers, 16-10, they’ve gone on to lose their next three games by just one score each: Giants 41-34, Dallas 16-10, and Washington 24-22.
*They also hope the extra week off allows the media to forget about those two weeks when they were infamous for trying to blow up kneel downs. But, of course, it’s my job to remind everyone.
Lead by new head coach, Greg Schiano from Rutgers, the Bucs are trying to create a new attitude around the team. An attitude that needed implemented after the team lost their last ten games and visibly quit on then head coach Raheem Morris, which prompted his firing at the end of the season. After making a reported run for Oregon coach Chip Kelly, they decided to hire Schiano, and although they are 1-3, the team seems stronger now than they were last year.
A reason for that strength could be how Schiano began his job with the Bucs, and that is by “winning” free agency. A number of big name additions to the roster have increased the depth and talent across the board and made this team more dangerous* on both sides of the ball.
*But not nearly as dangerous as Bucs cornerback Aqib Talib.
In 2009, the Bucs took the 6’6” Kansas State quarterback and former Grandview grad, Josh Freeman, with the 17th overall pick. And much like the Chiefs, the Bucs want to get back to their 2010 ways. That’s because, in 2010, the Bucs went 10-6* and a big reason was because of Freeman. In his first full year as the starter, Freeman threw for 3,451 yards, 25 TDs and 6 INTs.
*Yet missed the playoffs.
It wasn’t just Freeman who had a good year in 2010. Wide receiver Mike Williams, the oft-troubled rookie out of Syracuse, had 964 yards and 11 TDs. And undrafted free agent LeGarrette Blount* had 1,007 yards rushing with 6 TDs, the first time a running back had rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season since Cadillac Williams in 2005.** At the end of the 2010 season, it looked like the Bucs were on the verge of reclaiming the NFC South with an assortment of young talent all over the field. Sound familiar?
*Any guesses on who the leading passer in 2005 was for the Bucs? Two hints: 1) it was the son of a legendary Super Bowl winning quarterback. 2) It’s not Brian Griese.
But like the Chiefs, the success of 2010 has not returned to the team since. In 2011, as I mentioned above, the Bucs lost their last ten games of the season. And the young talent that made every fan* in the Tampa Bay area excited about the future found themselves struggling. Freeman went from one of the league’s most efficient passers to throwing more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (16). Blount saw his rushing yards drop to 781, and besides the beastly run (I have to at least call it that) against Green Bay, seemed like a different runner. Mike Williams also saw his production fall to 771 yards but the biggest drop was his touchdown catches to 3.
*Dozens, if not hundreds of them. That joke is brought to you by these following blackouts.
Not wanting to risk another year of decline, the owner* opened up the wallet and improved the team’s circumstance with some big free agent acquisitions. Pro Bowl Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was brought in from San Diego, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks was brought in from New Orleans, and the team traded back into the first round to grab Boise State running back Doug Martin with the 31st pick. Oh, and let’s not forget free agent tight end Dallas Clark made his way over from Indianapolis to replace the loss of Kellen Winslow Jr.
*The Bucs owner Bryan Glazer, knows about opening up the wallet, seeing as he’s also purchased a controlling interest of England’s football club, Manchester United.
Jackson added firepower to the receiving corps alongside Williams and 2010 second round pick Arrelious Benn out of Illinois. Martin was drafted to bring a different dynamic to the running game, and, by being a more complete back than Blount, earned the role of opening day starter for the Bucs. Nicks, meanwhile, reinforced the offensive line while also making it the NFL’s most expensive offensive line, with Tampa devoting $168 million to the unit over the last three seasons. From left to right: 2010 Pro-Bowler Donald Penn, two-time Pro Bowler Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah, Ted Larson and Demar Dotson is filling in for an injured Jeremy Trueblood.
So far in 2012, the Bucs are 29th in passing yards per game (185), and 23rd in rushing yards per game (91). Freeman is 65/119 (54.6%) for 790 yards, 5 TDs and 4 INTs. Doug Martin has 247 yards off 71 carries (3.5 ypc) while Blount has been limited to 44 yards off 13 carries (3.4 ypc). Free agent addition Jackson is leading all receivers with 16 catches for 304 yards and 2 TDs while Williams has 11 catches for 219 yards and 2 TDs. Dallas Clark is the third leading receiver with 81 yards.
Offense wasn’t the only side of the ball that needed a facelift. The 2011 Bucs defense finished 30th in the NFL in yards allowed per game, and were the absolute worst in points allowed per game at 30.9. Not easy to win a lot of games giving up that many points. The ironic part of those statistics is that the Bucs have historically been known for their defense.*
It can’t be denied that’s what the team has been trying to get back to. The team’s first selections in the last three drafts have been on defense with DT Gerald McCoy in 2010, DE Adrian Clayborn in 2011, and S Mark Barron in 2012. In fact, eight out of ten draft picks taken in the first three rounds since 2010 have been for the defensive side of the ball.
And with all these draft picks, a young defense is the result. McCoy* and 2009 3rd round pick Roy Miller out of Texas make up the defensive tackle positions. At the defensive end position, it becomes a little more complicated. In a perfect world, I’m sure the team and Bucs fans alike would love to have defensive ends Clayborn and 2011 2nd round pick Da’Quan Bowers** line up on opposite sides. Unfortunately for the Bucs, both are injured. Bowers is out with an Achilles injury (with a return late in the season possible) while Clayborn is done for the season with a knee injury suffered in the loss to Dallas. That forces Michael Bennett and George Johnson into action. Bennett started 10 games for the Bucs last season.
*Who is just trying to stay healthy this season. Hopefully he’s fixed his tackling technique.
**If you follow the drafts, then I’m sure you recognize this name for a player that was a unanimous first round pick until an injury was discovered and he continued to slide down the draft board until the Bucs took a chance on him.
At the linebacker position, the Bucs have Mason Foster, their 2011 3rd round pick, at inside linebacker. To Foster’s right is Lavonte David, the 2nd round pick rookie out of Nebraska. To the left is Quincy Black, the 2007 3rd round pick out of New Mexico, who has started at least 10 games every season since 2009. While there is not a lot of experience amongst the group, the group is performing well with Foster and David leading the team in tackles.*
*Which one should expect but I remember those bad Chiefs years when our safeties were leading the team in tackles. Not good.
The defensive backfield for the Bucs is one that should be better. Aqib Talib*, the 2008 1st round pick out of KU, and free agent pick up Eric Wright from Detroit, man the corner positions, while 2012 1st round pick Barron and the ageless wonder Ronde Barber** make up the safety positions. But despite this talent, the Bucs are last in the league in pass defense, allowing a staggering 345.3 yards per game through the air. In comparison, the team is 4th in the league at rushing yards allowed with 73.8 yards per game. Then again, why run when teams are having such success with the pass. Unless, of course, you have Jamaal Charles as your running back and Brady Quinn*** as your quarterback …
*Who’s own mother isn’t even a fan.
**Who my former roommate and avid Bucs fan ensures me will be a Hall of Famer and I see nothing that would disagree with that notion. He’s been good for a very long time. Wish I could say the same for his brother.
Kicker: Connor Barth* – 9/9 on FG attempts
*Yes, I’m also surprised it’s not another Gramatica.
Punter: Michael Koenen – 43.6 net punt average
As far as this matchup is concerned, I will say this: the toughest part of the Chiefs schedule is behind them, and if they want any chance of salvaging the season, it MUST start on the road in Tampa Bay, where my former roommate made sure I informed everyone that the cannons in the stadium don’t just fire on points, they also fire every time the Bucs enter the redzone. So let’s hope we don’t hear the cannons tomorrow.