Behind Enemy Lines Part 1: A look inside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for Week 7
1: How big an impact have injuries been for the Buccaneers?
Tyler Frazier: A: While it's easy to say that injuries are the reason for the recent struggles of the Buccaneers, it would also be nothing more than an excuse. Currently, the Bucs have seven players on injured reserve, but only two, Jermaine Phillips and Angelo Crowell, were expected to make an impact this season. Sure, punter Josh Bidwell could be included in the argument, but Dirk Johnson has done a decent job as his replacement. Crowell had previous injury problems so it wasn't too surprising when he went down. Losing Phillips is a big deal for the Bucs defense as he was brought back in the offseason to be one of the leaders of a young defense, and the secondary suffered a major blow with his loss. The problem is that even with these players healthy, the Buccaneers would most likely still be winless at this point of the season.
2: The Buccaneers have gone 0-6 on the season. Has the team given up already or is the team still fighting every week?
Matthew Postins: The Bucs know this year is a wash for them. They jettisoned just about every aging veteran that meant something to this team, except for Ronde Barber, and I expect him to be gone in 2010. In addition, they've committed to playing second-year QB Josh Johnson for the forseeable future, at least until first-round pick Josh Freeman is ready. And, they traded DE Gaines Adams for a second-round pick to Chicago last week. The whole situation smacks of an expansion team, frankly, and that's what the Bucs have become at this point. I'm not sure we'll see a winner in Tampa Bay until at least 2012, unless they're willing to take advantage of the potential of an uncapped year in 2010 and spend, spend, spend. Otherwise, this team is committed to building through the draft, and that can be a painful process, as the Patriots know too well.
3: With issues on both sides of the ball, what was it about Gaines Adams that caused the Buccaneers to give up on him and ship him to Chicago?
Tyler Frazier: The biggest problem with Gaines Adams is where the team selected him in the draft. When the team used the 4th overall pick to select Adams, the Buccaneers figured they had found a franchise defensive end. He was able to make an impact with the team, but he was not able to make the type of splash one would expect from a top five pick. It didn't help that the player the Bucs passed over, Adrian Peterson, is now considered the top back in the NFL. While Adams was able to register 13.5 sacks being drafted, he appeared to run himself out of more than enough plays to draw criticism from fans and the media so many were surprised that the team was able to get such a high draft pick for Adams Even head coach Raheem Morris said during training camp that Adams would need to reach double digit sacks in order to not be considered a bust. Adams has the potential to be a heck of a player, but leaving Tampa and the high expectations may be a blessing in disguise for the young defensive end.
4: From the outside, Byron Leftwich looked like an odd choice to be handed the starting job at the beginning of the year. Was Leftwich really as bad as we thought, or were there other reasons to make a quarterback change?
Matthew Postins: Everyone knew Leftwich wasn't the long-term solution, but even I was surprised the trigger was pulled so quickly. Their offensive performance in the third game of the season against the New York Giants, in which they were held to less than 100 yards in total offense, was the end of the road for Leftwich, not that it was entirely his fault. The receiving corps really needs an upgrade and the offensive line struggled out of the gate. I think the decision was made more because the Bucs knew their season was over with rather than Leftwich's overall play. Remember – he threw three TDs against Buffalo the week before that.
5: Josh Johnson's numbers are nearly the same as Leftwich's numbers before Leftwich was benched. Is Johnson any better than Leftwich? Is it time to go back to Byron or to move on to the rookie yet?
Tyler Frazier: Byron Leftwich was originally named the starter of the Buccaneers because people within the organization believed that he gave the team the best opportunity for early season victories. The problem though is that there really isn't any upside for Leftwich since nobody expects him to be around after this year. Josh Johnson had earned praise from coaches and teammates for being one of the smartest players in the classroom and an extremely hard worker. In a season where the Buccaneers are seeing which of their young players are capable of playing in the NFL, it made perfect sense for the team to let Johnson take over the role as starting quarterback especially after Leftwich went winless in his starts. Remember, this is the same player that Morris said he wants to have around as a backup for years to come. When Johnson took over, the team actually came close to winning in two of the three games that he has started, The Buccaneers appeared to be a better team and play more inspired football under the young QB. Unlike Leftwich, Johnson is capable of making plays with his feet and he gives the fans a reason to cheer. It doesn't matter who is under center right now though because the future of this team rests on the shoulders of rookie Josh Freeman.
6: The Trade for Kellen Winslow seemed to give the Buccaneers a serious weapon on offense. How has he done this year, and do you think the trade was worthwhile?
Matthew Postins:: Well, he's their leading receiver by far this season, with 29 catches for 286 yards and 4 touchdowns. The next-leading receiver is RB Carnell Williams. Right now, Winslow is the passing game and is Johnson's only reliable target. This is one of the few offseason moves that worked out for the Bucs, and Winslow appears to be a target the passing game can build around in the future. But he needs more help. I was against the trade when it happened, but after six weeks, I'd say he's a keeper.
7: Aqib Talib was a controversial player entering the 2008 Draft. Some thought the Kansas product didn't have the appropriate character to be selected high in the first round, but the Buccaneers took a chance on him anyway. How has that paid off for the team?
Tyler Frazier: Aqib Talib has been one of the bright spots on a defense that has struggled this season. In fact, Talib is one of the few first day draft picks that have worked out in recent years. So far this season, the team has parted ways with a former top five pick in Gaines Adams and a second round selection in Dexter Jackson. The Bucs most recent game shows the type of impact Talib has had on the roster. While the Panthers were able to run all over the Bucs, the one player's name you never head was Steve Smith, who caught one pass for four yards and was coincidently covered by Talib. Take a look at the Eagles game as well. While Philadelphia did beat the Bucs 33-14, DeSean Jackson, who was being covered by Talib, was held to only one reception for one yard.
8: Antonio Bryant is another player who had some "issues" in the past, earning a plane ticket out of town despite his on-field production in Cleveland and San Francisco. Bryant notched a 1,200 yard season his first year in Tampa Bay. He's on pace for less than half that. What's his story?
Matthew Postins: His injury and subsequent surgery didn't help, as he missed all of the preseason and wasn't able to build a rapport with either Leftwich or Johnson. More importantly, though, Bryant gets the double teams because there is no other receiver on the team that warrants such consideration. Bryant only has 14 catches and a touchdown this year and his performance won't justify the $10 million the Bucs gave him by putting the franchise tag on him. He was a case of buyer beware in my opinion. He had never been a consistent receiver in the NFL and wasn't worth putting out that much case. But after releasing WR Joey Galloway, the Bucs had few options at the position and needed to keep him. So they overpaid. At the end of this season, it is likely Bryant will be a free agent and the Bucs won't work as hard to re-sign him. They're better off looking for a younger receiver who can eventually become a No. 1 option. Maybe that extra second-rounder from the Bears will help. Bryant, to me, is not in this team's future plans.
9: The Titans had serious issues covering the Patriots receivers last week. Obviously weather was a factor, as well as injuries to their secondary. How well do you think the Tampa defense matches up with the Patriots targets?
Tyler Frazier: The Buccaneers secondary matches up nicely with the Patriots offensive weapons. Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber and Tanard Jackson have the ability to limit Randy Moss and Wes Welker as long as the defensive line can get some sort of pressure on Tom Brady. If Brady is given all day to throw the ball against the Bucs secondary, it will be a very long afternoon for the Bucs.
10: As a rookie head coach, changing a team isn't a simple task. At 0-6 is Raheem Morris on track, or does his plan need to be revisited? Does he have the staff in place to get it turned around?
Matthew Postins: After six games, I'm beginning to wonder if Morris is overmatched for this job. He was a great position coach, but the Bucs made the move because they were worried he would get a head coaching offer from another team. At just 31 years of age, he's been handed a great amount of responsibility. He talks tough and he's called out several players and position units during his short tenure. But so far that hasn't produced results. He did assemble a solid veteran staff, including defensive coordinator Jim Bates. But his original choice of offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, was fired before the season and replaced by QB coach Greg Olsen, and I think that derailed the offensive train to a large degree. Morris is, to some degree, a victim of a talentless team and an organization that knows it won't be good for a while. But when it comes to these things, it's always the head coach that gets the blame. I told Fox Sports Radio last week that if the Bucs lost to Carolina last week, they would start 0-11 and I'm sticking by that. If they do start 0-11, I would begin to question whether Morris will be around next year. This team will start losing season ticket holders in droves, there will be questions about Morris' ability to do the job, and with great veteran options like Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher available, Morris could end up being a victim of circumstance.
Matthew Postins is a contributor to BucsBlitz.com. Tyler Frazier is the co-pubilsher of BucsBlitz.com