Every week Patriots fans can ask questions about the Patriots' next opponent in the PI forums (link). An assortment of those questions are selected for use in a Q & A with an insider from the opponent's local media. This week our guest was Chris Harry from the Orlando Sentinel. Past columns can be found in the archives: here.
This week we asked Chris about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here's our Q &A.
PatriotsDynasty12189 asked: How do you think the weather will affect the Bucs?
CH: That's funny because the Bucs went their first 27 or so years without ever winning a game when the weather has been below 40'. The first cold weather game (below 40) that they ever won was Dec 29, 2002 when they defeated the Chicago Bears in Champaign Ill to clinch their first NFC South division title. Then three weeks later they beat Philadelphia when it was 26' for the NFC Championship game.
So from team headquarters they believe they've knocked down any barrier like that. But having said that it's a team that plays in warm weather. It was 72' down here and now they're going to go up there where it's going to be bitter cold and possibly snowing. So it's definitely an advantage for New England, as if they needed anything more.
NEsince92 asked: "How do they like the way Chris Simms has been playing; and will he be their franchise QB going forward?"
[Note: The topic on Simms came up 3 or 4 times in the interview. Here is Chris' short answer]
CH: Brian Griese was playing decently when he blew out his knee. I'm pretty sure the Bucs were on their way to winning their fifth when he blew it out against Miami.
It took some time for Chris Simms to find his way. In his first two games he threw four interceptions and he was sacked 11 times, and he looked bad. That's one of the things that hampered the running game. Nobody respected him. He wasn't much of a deep threat. Then came the Redskins game where he easily outplayed Mark Brunell in the battle of the left handed quarterbacks. He followed that up by rallying the team by 10 points in the last few minutes of the game against Atlanta and that was really where his coming out party happened.
The Bucs traded for Tim Rattay, and Griese's return isn't a sure thing at this point, coming back from major knee injury. They're going to have to make a decision on Simms in the off-season. He's a restricted free agent, and they could tender him at the highest tender (approx 1.8 mill), and see how he plays under that.
PatsNSox asked: "Can Cadillac Williams survive a 16 game schedule or will the Bucs always have to quality back up option?"
[Note: The actual question was changed to cover multiple angles on how well Cadillac Williams has looked and is he more of a one man show or will the Bucs use multiple backs like they have in the past]
CH: Cadillac's shoes and his gloves went to Canton because no running back in the history of the NFL rushed for three straight 100-yard games in his first three games in the league. He led the league in rushing those after those first three games then he sprained that foot in Detroit and it really hampered him over the next six weeks. His first game back against Atlanta, his first carry he ran for 30 yards, so it looks like he's back.
PI: Did he hit the Rookie wall yet?
CH: I think we've seen that already. Carnell Williams has 44 carries for 85 yards over a six game stretch. Now that was while he was nursing a sprained foot, but they thought he was good enough to have him out there. I think he may have already passed through that. The last 4 weeks he's been running very hard Like the Cadillac Williams we saw at the beginning of the season, busting tackles and making some people miss.. A couple of games when he was hurt he might have been resting. We saw some more of Michael Pittman and now we're seeing the Williams of old.
PI: Is Michael Pittman still part of the running game, or is it mostly just Williams job?
CH: Pittman's a solid guy. He's not going to make anybody miss. He's a very good blocker in pass protection and a receiver, but he doesn't have the same running instincts as someone like Carnell Williams. Michael Pittman is an ideal #2 back, but having said that, he did rush for over 100 yards when the Bucs won the Super Bowl in 2002-03.
PI: Is the Bucs rushing game more of a one-back show or will it be more than the Cadillac Williams show?
Pittman might be more of a third down back. They will be in the game at the same time sometimes, but if the Bucs want to run the ball it will be Cadillac Williams, unless it's short yardage or goal line then it will be Mike Alstott.
PatsNSox asked: "What has been up with Michael Clayton?"
CH: He had offseason knee surgery. It's a sophomore slump, which he doesn't want to hear about and Joey Galloway is having a solid season. Gruden had a three-receiver formation a couple of games ago, and Clayton wasn't one of them. I don't know if they were trying to send a message to him or what. He's dropped some passes; he's just in a funk. He was sensational last year, and now it just seems he's struggling. He just needs to play better.
PI: Is there any lingering feelings about the Tuck Game with Gruden or other members of the organization?
CH: Gruden has been very diplomatic about it. He's said man I don't want to talk about it. When it came up from one reporter he gave the guy a Chucky look and walked away. Bruce Allen still thinks it was fumble. It was a fumble when George Halas played, it's a fumble now.
PI: What is the state of the defense?
CH: It's the same defense that's been in place since Monty Kiffin arrived, the cover-2. Bill Belichick was on a conference call with Tampa reporters and was asked about the Cover-2 and said "No, it's not the cover-2, it's the Tampa-2." He said everyone around the league refers to it as the Tampa-2.
They have several players over 30, but it's still very good. They improved against the run. Ronde Barber is one of the best corners in the league. This guy wins games for you. Greg Spires is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. He's one of the reasons Simeon Rice had such a great year.
Belichick gets a lot of credit for his defense up there, but this Bucs defense is pretty good and has been for a while.
PI: Will McFarland play this Saturday?
CH: I don't think so. The next game coming up will be the 18th game he's missed over the last four seasons. He seems to have a pattern of getting injured as the season goes on, but he doesn't want to talk about that. His backup Wyms Ellis is a very good player and has been for the last five years.
PI: What is the biggest change the Buccaneers have had to face this year?
CH: The biggest change is the change in philosophy. In 2003 they thought they could pickup a few free agents to get themselves back in the playoffs. They signed veteran free agents like Charlie Garner, Tim Brown, Bill Schroeder and Todd Steussie. They started 0-4, and they really didn't' start to show improvement until the team started to play their younger players. Ike Hilliard, Anthony Becht and Chris Hovan were signed and have been big contributors.
Eight starters on the team are 26 or younger and a year ago they were the oldest team in the NFL. So the biggest change has been a move toward youth.
PatsNSox asked:. Final score prediction for the game?
CH: I think New England will win this one. I'd say 21-10. Now I'm assuming Tom Brady is playing.
PI: Thanks for your time Chris
Chris Harry covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the Orlando Sentinel. You can read about the Buccaneers here: link at the Sentinel's sports section. In addition check out some of Chris' latest columns.