Tampa Bay's problems bigger than coaches
The Bucs' decision to fire coach Raheem Morris and his entire staff after a 4-12 record and 10 straight losses may have been justified. But once that layer of the onion was peeled, what lies beneath is a young, undisciplined team that lacks veteran leadership and is overrated in terms of its talent pool.
In fact, the surprising thing about Morris' departure is not that he had two losing seasons in three years. The shocker is how he managed to go 10-6 in 2010 and mask all the problems in the first place.
Despite a rare opportunity to invest in a saturated class of free agents, general manager Mark Dominik elected to bring in one veteran from outside the organization -- Falcons punter Michael Koenen.
Key players such as linebacker Barrett Ruud and running back Cadillac Williams were allowed to leave via free agency against the desire of the coaching staff. Season-ending injuries to defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and running back Earnest Graham further depleted leadership and depth.
The Bucs were the youngest team in the NFL in 2010 and decided to get younger. The problem with that plan is when you start rookies and second-year players and have no veterans to serve as backups, it means you're turning to undrafted free agents or pulling players off the waiver wire.
That's how you wind up taking players off the couch like former Bills No. 1 pick John McCargo, or sacrificing character concerns to claim Albert Haynesworth off waivers from the Patriots.
|The Patriots gave up on Hanyesworth after evaluating his performance as a bad fit. Tampa Bay didn't do the same.|
Offensively, running back LeGarrette Blount was one-dimensional and could not play on passing downs. Coaches didn't trust him with protections and he wasn't a good route runner. Once Graham tore his Achilles in London against the Bears, there was no leadership in the running back room and the Bucs had to lean more heavily on Kregg Lumpkin, the anointed third-down running back.
The Bucs also lacked speed at receiver. Mike Williams, who led all rookie receivers with 11 touchdowns last season, had trouble getting separation and struggled catching the football last season. He was among the league leaders in dropped passes. Fellow wideout Arrelious Benn, who was coming off a torn ACL, never got into great shape and was limited by some nagging injuries, including a concussion.
All of this had a dramatic impact on quarterback Josh Freeman. Only a year ago, Freeman played like an emerging superstar, leading the Bucs to a 10-win season with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His eight comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first two seasons still is a league record.
But Freeman had no speed receiver to stretch the field and normally reliable tight end Kellen Winslow clearly lost a step or two. With a defense that set a franchise record for points allowed, Freeman often found himself behind two or three scores in the first quarter. As a result, he put too much pressure on himself to make plays and wound up throwing only 16 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
It's no surprise why the Bucs seem to be focusing on experienced NFL head coaches, most of them 55 and over. While the Bucs say they don't want to be 'pigeon-holed' in their coaching search, it's clear they're looking for someone to instill better work habits and accountability.