Welcome back, Cadillac. I think I can speak for everyone in Bucs Nation when I say, "We missed you."
Did you expect Carnell Williams to rush for nearly 100 yards and a touchdown on Sunday against Dallas? If you did, then perhaps the History Channel should be doing a documentary on you instead of Nostradamus. As I watched Sunday's game, I was astonished at not just Williams' production, but the authority with which he ran. In short, he ran like the Carnell Williams of 2005, the rookie who led the Bucs to a division title and claimed the Rookie Offensive Player of the Year award. He ran how we expected him to run before he basically lost two years to knee injuries that would end the careers of lesser players.
Now, one game is one game, and it's senseless to get too excited about Williams' performance. Even if that isn't the norm this season, if Williams can run with 80 percent of the effort he showed on Sunday, the Bucs can be elevated to one of the better running teams in the league this year. Consider that the Bucs have three solid backs in Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham. Then consider how thoroughly the Bucs front five whipped the Cowboys' run defense.
This is the perfect scenario for a team that has one of the most precarious quarterback situations in the NFL. And it makes Raheem Morris look like a pretty good coach right out of the gate for making Williams his starter, a move that raised eyebrows everywhere last week.
Anyone think that Morris will, at some point this season, find his way onto the field and into the middle of a defensive play? You don't see many NFL head coaches exchanging flying chest bumps with their players after big plays.
My assessment of Morris as a head coach after one game? I was impressed with the game plan on both sides of the ball. Morris didn't try to use gimmicks or gadgets to mask any team deficiencies (and there are a few, to be sure). He had his teams play straight ahead football and let their talent dictate what the team did. Both coordinators – Jim Bates on defense and Greg Olson on offense – did solid work, especially Olson, who was pressed into service 10 days before the Cowboys game. It's hard to fault the game plan. It's also not hard to figure out why the Bucs lost on Sunday. They're not talented enough yet to keep up with teams like Dallas. The effort was there, even if the overall talent wasn't.
As I expected there were growing pains in the secondary. Or did you miss the fact that all three of Tony Romo's passing touchdowns came on long touchdown passes? Those are the kinds of passes many offenses didn't get against former DC Monte Kiffin's old Tampa 2 system. They're also the types of plays defense that base themselves in man-to-man principles will give up from time to time. As these Bucs are converting to more of a man-to-man defense, keep an eye on which players make the transition sooner. They'll be easy to spot – they'll be the ones making interceptions and leading the team in pass-break ups. Right now, it's clear the secondary is still on the steep end of the learning curve.
I don't have many problems with what QB Byron Leftwich did on Sunday. He completed more than 50 percent of his passes, threw for nearly 250 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he didn't throw an interception against a Dallas defense that is supposed to be more aggressive. The passing game opened up more than I expected, since the Bucs running game kept the Dallas defense out of heavier pass coverage sets. He didn't have much rust, considering it was his first start in nearly two years. But that long delivery will get him into trouble down the road. More weeks like Sunday will keep Leftwich upright and keep Josh Freeman on the sideline, which is good for everyone vested in the future of this team.
Sunday's leading receiver? Michael Clayton. I swear that looks like a typo. I liked the way Olsen used Clayton, though, moving him more vertically down the field. You'll notice that the former offensive coordinator, Jon Gruden, relegated Clayton to shorter routes, trying to turn him into more of a catch and run receiver. It could be that the former regime simply misused Clayton. We'll find out as the season goes along. But for the first time in a long time, I can't complain about him. And it feels weird.
The strained left triceps to C Jeff Faine can be a big blow to this offense. There aren't many tougher centers around than Faine, whom the Saints missed in the run game after he left for Tampa Bay last year. How his replacement plays the next several weeks will be key to the team's fortunes, especially on the ground. Jonathan Compas is in line to be the starter, per the depth chart. But this was what Jeremy Zuttah was being groomed for – the swing guard-center – until he was pressed into starting for Arron Sears. That's how valuable depth gets sapped. I wouldn't be surprised if someone other than Compas starts there down the road.
My jury is still out on Geno Hayes. He had a solid game, netting six tackles, according to NFL.com. But considering he was bumped from the starting lineup because he failed to show up on time for the home opener, that's an issue worth keeping an eye on. I mean, you've been thinking about this your entire life. How are you late for your first opening-day NFL start? If I'm him, I'm there 90 minutes earlier than I have to be. Hayes is lucky. At least he doesn't work for Tom Coughlin. He's probably out of a job right now if that were the case.
My prediction last week was Dallas 35, Tampa Bay 17. Hey, I was pretty close (34-21 was the actual final). I didn't think the Bucs had a chance to beat Dallas last week. I actually think there's a chance to beat Buffalo this week, as long as they stick to the formula they set last week – run the ball efficiently, mix in a deep passing game and do just enough on defense to keep the Bills from exploiting their secondary with Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. The Bucs have to improve in pass defense before they can take a logical step forward in competitiveness. The Bills offer them a chance to do that. The thing is, I think the Bucs will take a small step back this week and I think the Bills take a step forward. I'll take the Bills in a squeaker, 23-20.