Observation Deck: Bucs-Lions review

How did the Bucs lose to the Lions? Well, two things stood out to me, aside from the critical turnovers. Find out in this "Observation Deck," which includes my game balls, disappointments and Gruden Heat-o-Meter.

I wouldn't be surprised if Jon Gruden woke up in a flop sweat before his alarm went off at 3:17 a.m. Monday morning.

That's Gruden's routine. Alarm. Coffee. Film.

He's not going to like this.

The Bucs gained 422 net yards. Jeff Garcia had a whale of day, throwing 45 times for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Earnest Graham came to play, racking up nearly 200 total yards. Even Maurice Stovall scored.

But it was all for nothing.

First quarter — The Bucs special teams blew a punt block scheme, allowing the Lions to block Josh Bidwell's kick. Result? Lions field goal.

Next drive — An Earnest Graham fumble gave the ball to the Lions in Bucs territory, leading the Lions to a Kevin Jones touchdown.

Second quarter — A personal foul on Bucs guard Davin Joseph derailed what looked to be the go-ahead drive. Matt Bryant then pulled a field goal attempt that would have tied the game.

Third quarter — On their first offensive possession, the Bucs did nothing, losing three yards and punting. That led to a 8:17 scoring drive and a Lions field goal.

Fourth quarter — With the game still manageable and at the Lions 1, Bucs QB Jeff Garcia fumbled the snap. The Lions drove downfield and scored a touchdown.

Two turnovers, 14 points. It's what scientists call a cause-and-effect relationship.

It's what Jon Gruden calls indigestion.

Two things stood out on Sunday. First, if the Bucs turn the ball over they're not going to win. It's that simple. It usually is this way in pro football, but for the Bucs it's especially so. They're not a good come-from-behind team, as Sunday showcased. Toward the end of the game the Bucs were unable to get downfield at all on the Lions, a sign that maybe they're not as confident going downfield on the pass as we thought. They were way too patient on that first scoring drive of the fourth quarter. I'm not sure this team can absorb one turnover these days. The Bucs, by the way, are 4-0 when they win the turnover battle, which is why Gruden emphasizes it so much.

Second, this Bucs run defense is definitely not as good as some might have thought. They entered the Lions game ranked 21st against the run. That's a middling number for a defense we considered a Top 10 unit just a couple of weeks ago. What I'm discovering in watching this defense is that if you'll commit to the run, you can wear it down. Mike Martz must have seen that during film sessions last week, because he committed to getting new starter Kevin Jones involved on the ground. The Lions ran (24) more than they threw (20) because they averaged 6.1 yards per carry and set an early tone by feeding Jones on their first two drives. Additionally, Martz made a master move by inserting T.J. Duckett in the third quarter to change the pace of the game and batter the Bucs' front seven even more.

The Bucs are 1-3 when the opponent rushes for 100 yards or more. And, in the other three games this season, the Bucs have allowed at least 90 yards. This is a leaky run defense that is relying on its superb pass defense to be successful.

It's certainly no time to panic if you're Tampa Bay. But if the Bucs struggle like this against a team that is statistically weaker than they are, then how will the Bucs do against a team that is statistically better than them this week when they face Jacksonville?

Let the debate begin.

Quick note: If Jacksonville QB David Garrard can avoid an interception on Monday against Indianapolis, Sunday's game will feature the only two starting quarterbacks in the NFL that do not have an interception yet this season.

Game balls

WR Ike Hilliard : He was the big threat deep for the second straight game, catching nearly 100 yards' worth of footballs and his first touchdown of the season.

RB Earnest Graham : This guy's going to be all right, if Sunday was any indication. He showed he could handle an increased workload — in this case 33 touches — and still be effective late. He had nearly 200 yards from scrimmage. Too bad he couldn't have scored once or twice.

DT Jovan Haye : He is quietly putting together a solid season as the under tackle. His sack on Sunday was his fourth this year, leading all Buccaneers.

WR Maurice Stovall: His first catch of the season was a touchdown. OK, now do that about 50 more times.

The disappointments

CB Brian Kelly : It's time to start talking about whether the Buccaneers need to take a cornerback high in next year's draft — or move Tanard Jackson to corner. Kelly's inability to stay healthy is a sign that his days in Tampa Bay are winding down.

QB Jeff Garcia : I guess the standard that he's set is too high. But, that fumble late in the game was inexcusable by any standard.

Bucs special teams: After six weeks of living up to the billing, this unit, overall, had a poor Sunday. Allowing that punt block was a game turner.

Bucs linebackers: For the first time this season, none of them had an impact play. That's necessary if this defense is going to be productive.

The Gruden Heat-O-Meter

Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden entered this season on the hot seat. Each week I'll take the temperature under that seat.

Last week: 2.5; Now: 2.5

Even with the loss, the Bucs are still 4-3 and only a half-game back of Carolina in the NFC South race. So it certainly isn't time to panic. But this was a winnable game for Tampa Bay and one that could haunt them if they lose to either Jacksonville next Sunday or Arizona the following week. Tampa Bay can still be 6-3 at the bye and in good position to stay in the NFC South race. But they'll need to bounce back from this loss with a great effort against a Jacksonville team that looks as if it's gathering steam.

The Scorecard

I made 10 predictions before the game. How did I do? Let's check, shall we?

Offensive predictions

1. Jeff Garcia will not throw an interception for the seventh straight game this season. True. And, statistically, Garcia had a superb day. If it weren't for that pesky and costly fumble.

2. Between Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett, the Bucs will rush for about 75 yards. Well over that, actually. Graham accounted for most of it, gathering nearly 100 yards himself. Bennett had one great carry that, in hindsight, the Bucs wish he would have scored on.

3. TE Jerramy Stevens won't take advantage of the opportunity left open by Alex Smith's injury, catching no more than two passes. Stevens had a better day that I expected, catching four passes for 19 yards. But they weren't meaningful.

4. Joey Galloway will catch another deep touchdown pass, going at least 50 yards. Nope, though he did clear 10,000 receiving yards for his career. But he didn't make an impact play, and his long was 16 yards.

5. The Buccaneers offensive line will give up two sacks, one by former Bucs DE Dewayne White. The Lions had three and White had all of them. Take that, Gruden.

Defensive predictions

Here are my fearless predictions for Sunday's game on defense:

1. The Bucs will pick off quarterback Jon Kitna twice. They actually got to him three times, but the sustained pass rush the Bucs hoped for didn't materialize.

2. Gaines Adams will play in a limited fashion due to his chest injury. I don't see him notching a sack. Guess who had more tackles than Gaines Adams? Earnest Graham. Heck, Jeff Garcia had two tackles. This guy is struggling.

3. The Bucs pass rush, which Larry Coyer said was the best it's been all season last week, will be about the same this week as the Lions have a solid offensive line in pass protection. Three sacks and four hurries a week after three sacks and nine hurries sounds about right.

4. Can we get a big hit out of Tanard Jackson for the third straight week? I think so. Big hit? No, but he nearly had his first NFL touchdown, if not for instant replay.

5. Kevin Carter will not get sack No. 100, but Jovan Haye will notch No. 4. Can I get partial credit. Haye did get No. 4, but Carter had to share his sack with Chris Hovan. Carter is sitting on 99 ½.

Prediction

I picked the Bucs to win, 24-21. So, like the Bucs, I'm 4-3 I picking the winner (three of those winners being the Bucs).


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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