Archive for the ‘QB Blasts’ Category

The QB Blasts: Three Key Plays That Doomed Bucs

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes
The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback. Plus, he’s a really cool dude.


Football 101 killed the Buccaneers in San Francisco, not the 49ers.

Sure it was a short work week and a cross-country trip after a big Monday night win against the Colts, but for as much as Jim Harbaugh had his team very well prepared for what the Bucs gameplanned, the Bucs simply made elementary mistakes that the Niners took advantage of each time.

I want to highlight three critical plays in the first half that doomed the Bucs to a 21-3 deficit at the break.

1) 49ers quarterback Alex Smith lined up three receivers to his right just outside of the Red Zone and the Bucs countered showing a Cover 2 look with Corey Lynch over the top.

Quarterbacks are taught to read the safeties’ movements at the snap and work away from their “roll.” Lynch back-pedaled away from the three receivers and to the center of the field, leaving a single LB underneath and cornerback Aqib Talib on the outside deep third.

In a sound coverage, the linebacker covers curl-to-flat (knowing he has to “carry” the seam enough to keep the QB hitting the seam route before the free safety can react.) With Lynch moving away to get to the center of the field, he had no chance at reacting when Smith threw the wide open seam route because the linebacker barely helped.  Rolling the safety away from the 3 receiver side must have had Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh licking their chops as they watched it unfold and laughing on the inside at how easy it was.

2) On the other side of the ball, the simple basics of football got away from Josh Freeman, something I haven’t seen many times. He has been slow to make decisions in the Red Zone in the first few games this year and they have gotten away with it while running their record to 3-1, but obviously they did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express before the game, because he made blatant rookie mistakes on his interceptions, one of which was returned for a Niners TD. 

Again, it was a Cover 2 look pre-snap, which should have automatically taken the “out” route by TE Kellen Winslow off the board. 

When the safety stayed on Winslow’s side of the ball, the Cover 2 corner did not have to worry about a deep threat and just stayed in his shallow coverage. Freeman should have recognized this two years ago and certainly now, but may have lost some confidence in his other receivers and forced a ball to Winslow, even though he should have known not to throw it before Faine ever snapped the ball.

3) Shortly thereafter, Freeman forced another ball that got picked off. In my yet to be released book on quarterbacking, one of my 10 commandments is not throwing to the single receiver side against Cover 2. 

Micheal Spurlock was out wide right and had a cornerback up in his face with a safety wide to his side. This is a Cover 2/Man pre-snap read. It is sometimes possible to blast a quick slant into that coverage, but on this play, it was much deeper and late.

It was a very good play by the corner to come under Spurlock and make the interception, but the safety was also right there to help break up the play and possibly put Spurlock to sleep. When the other team commits two defenders to cover one receiver, you should work the other side, where you have more potential options.

Even without these poor plays and basic mistakes made by the Bucs, I don’t think they would have won on Sunday. Jim Harbaugh’s team was superior in preparation all the way around and they made some great anticipation plays either through tendencies that were picked up on film and game-plan, or were just great aggressive plays. 

For the Buccaneers to win this Sunday against the Saints, they will need to shore up their pass coverage against receivers running in the seams, because Brees is far superior to Alex Smith in his anticipation and execution.

And Freeman will have to go back to the basics of simply throwing away from coverage or we will see many more ugly and lopsided scores.

The QB Blast: Bucs Look Very Dungyesque

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback. Plus, he’s a really cool dude.


They won’t be wearing throwback uniforms on Monday Night, but a few things will feel like the “good ol’ days” of the Buccaneers.

Jon Gruden will be in the broadcast booth remembering his time leading the Bucs to division championships and a Super Bowl, while the play on the field will look eerily similar to the Dungy-led, mid 90’s version of Buc Ball.

I fully expect specific references to Sapp, Alstott, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Ronde Barber and an early self-deprecating point about the last time these two teams got together at RJS.  Taking a swig every time Gruden references his era in some way would probably be a fun drinking game, but that may lead to an epidemic of absenteeism the following day across America.

This year’s version of defense hasn’t grown into the elite unit that Dungy and Kiffin built by the end of the 90’s, but they are a “youngry” group, and by the looks against the Falcons, they may be getting that swagger back pretty soon.

On the offensive side of the ball, I keep getting reminded of Mike Shula’s days calling plays (and that is not an insult). They are regularly running out of a standard Pro-I set, with the big back LeGarrette Blount deep at tailback, ala Mike Alstott. Alstott used to drop his shoulders and run over people, Blount literally runs over people, also by hurdling them with regularity.

Shula’s (and Dungy’s) offenses scored 20.3, 19.6 and 17.75 points from 97-99 respectively. They were 11-5 in 1997 and again in ’99 when they scored their fewest.

The 2010 Bucs scored 21.3 per game while going 10-6, but a smaller scoring differential than their predecessors. In the three games this year they are at exactly 20 points per game.

The scoring differential was higher in ’97 than in ’99 or 2010, while this year they have scored 60 and given up 60. So the run, play-action game that the Bucs are currently winning with is a trip back to the future of teams Dungy built almost 15 years ago that started a string of sellouts and waiting lists for season tickets, a good sign for all of us, especially those that will be watching our big-screens Monday night.

The offensive results haven’t changed much over the years regardless whether Shula, Gruden or Olson is designing and calling the plays, but the big difference between then and now is that the face of the Bucs was its defense (and Mike Alstott) and now it is its quarterback.

That was not the case for Dungy (Trent Dilfer) or Gruden (Brad Johnson), and I can’t wait to hear the accolades that Gruden has stored up for “No. 5″ and how he might not be in the “FFCA” (Fired Football Coaches Association) if he had a guy like that.

The QB Blasts: Camaraderie Doesn’t Win Games

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback. Plus, he’s a really cool dude.


Even after Sunday’s loss, the Bucs are the best team in the NFC South.  Well, at least they are tied for the best record — and the worst — in a division that went winless this weekend.

As one of the teams that got together for self-directed practice more than most during the lockout, all the Bucs’ offseason practice sessions didn’t add up to a win in Week 1 of the real season.

Extra offseason practice didn’t work out for the New Orleans Saints either, up against a Green Bay Packers team that didn’t get together at all during the lockout. So much for the importance of building team camaraderie in the offseason. 

The Saints fought to the last play on opening night against the defending Super Bowl champs and after going down the field in seconds, courtesy of Drew Brees’ arm, they chose to go up the middle to their rookie running back on an all-or-nothing play and ended up with nothing. That was a bad coaching decision, not just after the fact; you just don’t go “all-in” where one missed block discounts all the efforts of the previous three hours. Give it to Brees on the move where he will have two or three receiver options as well as a chance to run it in if need be. It’s good to know former Super Bowl winning coaches can make bad decisions too.

All coaching staffs spent the entire offseason with Sept. 11 circled on their calendars for the season opener, and without the daily interruptions of working with their players. The Bucs threw their gameplan in the trash at halftime to play a style of football for which they are not built.

And so, on their final play of the day, they played’ “hot potato” with Donald Penn and friends to finish up a rough day on both sides of the ball. 

The Bucs looked average to poor throughout the preseason, but I was sure they were just holding on to their good stuff for the games that count. I guess I was wrong or they are holding on to their good stuff for more important games than the first one of the season, where championships are not won or lost (all 16 teams that lose in week 1 always have the same opinion).

The Detroit Lions are a team on the rise and looked like it throughout their preseason.  Matt Stafford, the former No. 1 pick in 2009, looked like an All-Pro this summer. His improvement thus far, following the first two injury-plagued seasons, is anticipating his throws and getting rid of the ball before taking the massive hits that ended both prematurely.

Raheem Morris agreed saying, “We just weren’t able to get there when he had the ball in his hands.” That is the challenge for every team isn’t it?

The Bucs racked up a total of zero defensive stat lines for sacks, hurries or hits on the QB. The change in Stafford’s game is all he needs to be a great one, and with a target like the massive Calvin Johnson, they become competitive in the NFC North immediately. 

Alternatively, Josh Freeman needs an effective running game to make this offense effective enough to compete week in and week out.  Defensively, they won’t compete in their own division without knocking Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and the record-setting rookie Cam Newton around quite a bit. They also need to find a weapon out of the backfield on third down, not just a good blocker. 

The preseason offense lacked movement and imagination and I simply chalked it up to saving the good stuff for September. But without motion to create favorable match-ups and change of pace plays to keep the rush honest, it will create too much pressure on Freeman to make plays down the field too often. 

All the important figures for Tampa Bay were right to say that one loss does not a season make, but another poor performance in Minnesota next week should strike serious concern for this team and for all of us hoping to see December home games that have significance, which also might help us see a home game on TV sometime this year.

THE QB BLAST: Preseason Is About Individuals

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.


Overreaction and hyperbole are not in my nature and I didn’t do backflips over the Bucs’ shutout win in the preseason opener and I’m not ready to kill myself after their ugly loss Saturday. 

The Indianapolis Colts just lost their eighth straight preseason game, and that hasn’t bothered their regular season final results too much, so the Bucs poor showing becomes a great teaching point for this extremely young crop of players and not much else.

“There’s no ‘I’ in TEAM”, except in the NFL preseason where everything is about ‘I” (individuals). Players trying to make a NFL roster for the first time, veteran players trying to make it through training camp healthy, others rehabbing and coming back from injuries are only concerned about themselves, not the good of the team or the scoreboard.

Any of those players would take a good personal performance over a team win in the preseason, so the hubbub about Gerald McCoy’s comments was a great example of much ado about nothing. He was appropriately sober while being interviewed on TV while the game was still in progress, but while specifically referring to his own performance, he was very happy to be back on the field and spoke about his own return from injury and how much fun it was to get back to playing again.

If the outcome of the game was so important, then LeGarrette Blount should not have been laughing and joking with him while he was being interviewed and Kellen Winslow should have played. The thing that caught my eye was Elbert Mack’s extensive endzone dance on his interception return. I was always taught through the years that when you score a touchdown while getting blown out, you don’t celebrate too much and that dance was a bit much while still down by three scores.

The saddest thing of the night was the flag thrown on Mason Foster.

Since that play is by rule a penalty, the NFL has significantly downgraded the game of pro football. It was a very nice reaction and play by the rookie linebacker and not being able to legally hit a receiver while he is stretching to catch a ball is simply sad. The talk of a fine for that is unfortunate and I’m sure it won’t draw one from the commissioner. 

On the other hand, and on a play that didn’t get any talk that I know of, but should have been flagged and possibly fined was Devin Holland’s blindside hit on the Patriots’ Danny Woodhead during punt coverage. It was a helmet-to-helmet hit and he exploded up into the defenseless Woodhead, who was knocked for a literal loop. It is that kind of hit that can alter and possibly end a player’s career, not the aforementioned hit on Ochocinco and even the former Chad Johnson agrees.

I promised myself I was going to stop bringing up options for getting Josh Johnson on the field with Freeman, but the preseason opener showed just what that extra dynamic could mean to the offense and the team.

The rule for having a third quarterback eligble and not eating an extra gameday roster spot is new this year, giving the Bucs more options in this regard. Also, Johnson was quoted not too long ago about his desire to be a starter in the league and not just a career backup. He is guaranteed to be a backup if he stays in Tampa, so Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik will have to either convince him or pay him to do that.

And if he really wants to be a starter, it will be impossible to keep him. So making life fun by getting him on the field for more special plays may be the only solution to keep Johnson around.And fun for Johnson would mean more fun for Bucs’ fans (and most assuredly more tickets sold).

Allowing Johnson to sit on the bench for another year and then leave the Bucs without using his unique and important talent for the good of the offense and helping the team win games this season (the stated goal of Morris) would be a sin.

Here’s to Greg Olson’s imagination working overtime to make that happen.

The QB Blast: Owners Cheering Players’ Workouts

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company,

America’s Best Quarterback.

Today, Carlson explains why he believes players are ultimately working against their interests by holding organized workouts.


As a young NFL player I didn’t care much about politics. But the older I get the more I care about the editorials in the newspaper and less about sports.

George Will is a baseball historian and political writer/television commentator with an article about the NFL labor strife that I saw in the Tampa Tribune (page 10) on Tuesday (June 7).

He chronicles the same arguments that have been made in my previous QB Blasts and other places about the financials of the owners and players dividing up over $9 billion in revenue. He finishes his article by stating the owners don’t realize the very nature of the NFL player is to endure pain, so losing paychecks come September may not send the players running back to the bargaining table.

Mr. Will unknowingly makes a critical mistake about professional football players and pain. Sure, the enduring physical abuse heaped on the body is engrained in players from their earliest days of Pee-Wee football, but these are the same behemoth “mama’s boys” that faint at the sight of a needle.

After so many struggle with nothing — unless you are Reggie Bush or Cam Newton (allegedly) — through their first 22 years of life, the feeling of a few bucks in your pocket is pretty addictive — and fleeting as their competitive juices work against their bank accounts.

Too many try to get just one more carat in their earrings than their buddies, a couple more inches on their 3D flat-screens and leave them needing the next season to begin for financial reasons, not necessarily competitive ones.

Republicans in political office have been finding it incredibly difficult to walk back the out-of-control government spending (even to 2008 levels) while Democrats think creating more government jobs and even more spending will fix the worsening deficit problems.

The owners are in a similar situation, but the NFL isn’t working from a deficit like we are as Americans.

To fix what they say is the problem, the NFL owners actually need the lockout to continue into the season to walk back the numbers from the previous deal (that saw both sides increase their wealth). The only way the owners get what they want is to make the players miss paychecks.

Under DeMaurice Smith, who is playing out the most important and critical negotiation of his career (past, present and future), the players won’t break before that (that is why they hired a lawyer to lead them instead of another former player) unless the owners give them the numbers that they want.

A few months ago I believed that they would wrap this thing up by August 15th or simply agree to go back to playing under the old agreement (like they did from 1988-1993) while continuing to figure it out. But after further review I realize the owners have to take this into the season for them to get what they want for the future, that is unless all the owners aren’t solidified on what they want for the future.

George Will calls the owners’ arguments for needing adjustments to the expired agreement paradoxical. They say they need more money for stadiums that 90% of their fans never or rarely use.

The players have a serious paradox of their own. ESPN, the newspapers and sites like this one tell us each day about the players organizing themselves for workouts. Josh Freeman is leading his team by organizing well attended group workouts, while Michael Vick is in Virginia, not leading the Philadelphia Eagles.

ESPN reported through Donald Driver that the Green Bay Packers haven’t put any of these training sessions together, and former players Tedy Bruschi and Mike Golic debated the importance and impact of missing them. Driver said they are still enjoying the Super Bowl win, even though we are in June, just a week or so before their ring ceremony for winning last season’s championship.

The players’ paradox is that the more organized workouts these guys put together the more they put their whole labor battle in peril. We all know the owners can financially outlast the players, so the owners are probably cheering every time they see players spending their own money on lodging, airfare, restaurants to have these “team-building” exercises.

While the Packers stay at home and save their pennies, they are doing the smart thing by keeping financial reserves in their bank accounts for the future fight.

As fans we cheer Josh Freeman, Drew Brees and others showing their commitment and dedication (love for the game) to be prepared for the on-field fight whenever this thing concludes.

But unless they are footing the bill for their less financially prepared teammates, they are unwittingly weakening their ability to hold on for what they are ultimately fighting for.

The QB Blast: Bucs Employees Get Raw Deal

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

Today, Carlson explains why he sees no reason for Team Glazer to have sent home employees without pay. 


It was disturbing to read that Buccaneers employees will be forced to stay home from work without pay this week. The Bucs aren’t the first team in the NFL to announce different cost-cutting measures as the owners’ lockout continues. 

But what makes this disturbing locally and around the NFL is that as far as I know the league hasn’t lost any money yet (and are still nearly 100 days out from doing so).  On the contrary, NFL teams have saved a fortune this offseason.

Following the combine in February, free-agency usually kicks off in March and multi-million dollar bonuses are paid to myriad of players in signing bonuses. Jeff Faine, the oft-maligned (on this site) center was one of those a couple years back. Every team goes in at different levels (e.g. Albert Haynesworth), but every team has probably saved more than the entire cost of a week’s salary for its employees simply in signing bonuses.

Besides the bonus costs of free-agency, the process of courting free-agents is anything but free. Many players are flown in and put up in nice hotels and nice dinners are had at nice restaurants. I wouldn’t hazard a guess at this cost, but let’s just say that many “regular Joe” workers around NFL offices could pay their bills quite nicely on this line-item alone.

Right after free-agency opens, the offseason training program starts and the team starts spending wads of cash on paying its players to lift weights and run around. A number of these players (usually young guys like Gerald McCoy and Brian Price) have pretty big attendance bonuses (like $500,000 or so) worked into their contracts. I don’t have those figures, but they are available through agents or elsewhere, and that money is available to be used on employees’ salaries this week, since it didn’t go to more important things like jeweled-encrusted watches and Escalades with 22″ rims.

Besides the bonuses paid to some, everyone enjoys the daily pay for their spring sweat. The Bucs paid me $50 a day in 1990 and 1991. The Patriots paid me $100 a day in 1993. I’m guessing that offseason training pay has at least doubled from those days since minimum wage has sextupled (thought you would like me throwing in a sex reference to make my stories a little racier and exciting) since the days of minimum wage being $50,000. Aren’t football stories about sex and money incredibly exhilarating?

With the Bucs usually boasting about incredible participation rates by their players, they are saving more money this offseason than other teams. At 50 players at $200 a day, that’s $10,000 a day or $40,000 a month not flowing out of their bank accounts. In the “good-old-days” we used to eat breakfast before we came to work and paid for our own lunch after, but in these recent economic boon days for the NFL, teams have gourmet food available for both of those meals every day. While that food cost could range widely and wildly, it is a cost not expensed for the last three months by any NFL team.

OTA’s, or Official Team Activities, have been completed eliminated from the schedule and those usually add significantly to the offseason training budget because they put more players up in hotels and feed them dinner, the most expensive meal of the day or give them cash per diem.

Immediately following the draft, the race is on to sign the best rookie free-agents. Now that there are only seven rounds to the draft, more quality rookies are on the streets and can require higher signing bonuses to acquire their services. While these aren’t the multi-million dollar signing bonuses that will be paid to the likes of Adrian Clayborn when the lockout ends, they are still in the $10-25,000 range and would buy quite a bit of gasoline and groceries for the employees that never got a signing bonus like that in their lives.

From what I understand, NFL teams don’t start missing “real” money until games start dropping from the schedule, so am I missing something here?  The owners are making the hoi polloi miss paychecks in May, when they won’t miss any until the middle of September. At this point, training camp is a heavy August expense that won’t have to be incurred if things continue to stall in the legal process.

It would be great to get some clarification from One Buc Place on this perplexing matter, but that will have to wait a while. Because they’re on “vacation” this week.

The QB Blast: Owners Don’t Look Out For Game

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

Today, Carlson is angered by a syndicated columnist who claims the players’ role in the labor dispute is born from greed.

Throughout the offseason lockout I have listened to and been involved in many conversations with people of all walks of life and heard a wide variety of opinions on the causes and cures for what ails the NFL right now.

Then I read an idiotic story in Tuesday’s St. Petersburg Times’ TBT publication by guest columnist Ray McNulty, who surmised that the owners should prevail because they care more about the game than the players and that the players only care about themselves.

Let me shed a little light to this fight for Mr. McNulty and anyone that might have been swayed by this article.

The owners care more about the game than the players? Did the move of the Cleveland Rams (now doing business in St. Louis via Los Angeles and Anaheim) improve the game or help the ardent fans of Cleveland, while leaving the second largest television market void of football?

Was the midnight move of the legendary Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in the best interest of the game? When Art Modell left the city of Cleveland without a team for the second time really good for the game? Has the frequent travel miles of Al Davis and the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders been in his financial interest or for his love for the game and its fans?

Did the Bidwell family take the Cardinals to Arizona because they thought the dry heat was good for the game or was it simply the highest bid? Why did the Houston Oilers become the Tennessee Titans or the Dallas Texans the Kansas City Chiefs? All for the owners love of the game I’m sure.

The players only look out for themselves Mr. McNulty? Players are currently playing all around the country in the Arena Football League and other minor leagues for peanuts or less and they would play in the NFL for very little if that is what the market would pay.

Why? For the love of the game.

During the players strike of 1987, the owners put a poor excuse for a product on the field to pressure the players to break ranks (did they charge full price for those tickets,  I can’t remember?) and go back to work for the minimum wage of $50,000, which was really not a big wage even for that time and plenty of players played for just that amount.

In fact, while Hugh Culverhouse owned this team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have led the league in minimum wage players while also leading the league in profit margin. We can all agree that he was certainly looking out for the best interests of the game, right?

Before the ’87 strike, and even after, players would get injured and teams would simply cut the player and he would have no recourse for getting rehabbed or paid during that rehabilitation.

Union representation was necessary for many issues like this, as owners were looking after the good of the game. After the “Scab” players broke the ’87 strike, the players had no bargaining power. But over the next few years, they collectively bargained a deal with the NFL owners that increased revenues and franshise values exponentially over the last 20 years. After taking over the title of America’s Game the last decade or so, the owners extended that same contract in 2006.

From what I understand through letters that I have seen from NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the players weren’t asking for much change moving forward, but the owners wanted the players to give them an extra billion dollars (to go on top of the other billion they already get) before the revenue sharing began.

It seems reasonable that if one side of an agreement wants to make a significant change, they should at least give you some evidence of the reason why.

That is what the players have been asking the NFL for since 2009, trying to avert the current situation. The owners have rebuffed the requests to show their finances and I don’t blame them, but you better come up with something to justify that billion dollars.

That billion dollars ain’t about the fans or bettering the game, it’s about the money, which is what players are always accused of only caring about, just like in this silly column.

Players will play and have always played for whatever the market will bear, just ask Jack Youngblood how much he was making when he came of of the University of Florida or while he was playing on a broken leg in the Super Bowl. It wasn’t a king’s ransom and if it was all about the money, he would have been on the sideline protecting his future earnings. 

Which one of us would tell a potential employer that he can keep his $100,000 offer, because you love his company so much you would rather work for $7.15 an hour?

I’m not even trying to make a case that the players are right and the owners are wrong, I’m just saying that the guest columnist getting space in the TBT might want to think about writing on topics he has better evidence for which to make a case.

He says that when the players win, the fans lose. I say that when we read his column, we all lose.

The QB Blast: Technology Can Help Bowers, Bucs

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.


Prospects falling down in the draft are nothing new for the NFL. 

Warren Sapp fell significantly for rumored drug use. Aaron Rogers fell for no good reason. And now that Alex Smith is basically a bust for San Francisco and Rogers is hugging the Lombardi Trophy, we all know it was for no good reason. 

There are plenty of those stories over the years, but maybe no other matches the fall of Da’Quan Bowers. Bowers was the early favorite at the top of most draft boards after Andrew Luck decided to stay in school. The question about the ACC Defensive Player of the Year falling from the top of the board to the middle of the second round, not because of drug use, which never became an issue for future Hall-of-Famer Sapp, is his physical health.

The most prominent or maybe the only issue is a surgically repaired knee that his college coach said didn’t respond as well as they had hoped to some kind of surgery.

The word on the street is that he has a degenerative arthritic knee and is “bone on bone.” If this turns out to be a single issue, I believe he will be able to overcome it through medical technology.

There are a number of products that “create” cartilage to give the knee back the cushiony space needed to have the joint move smoothly without the bone rubbing and wearing out on both the top and bottom of the knee. I actually work for the company (sanofi-aventis) that just bought the company (Genzyme) that is the leader in this kind of surgery called “Carticel.” I don’t know for sure if this is what he already had done, but it sounds like it may have been.

It is obvious that every team in the league saw more of an issue with his knee or other problems that made them pass on his outrageous potential, but the Buccaneers will not get any blame for giving this talented player a chance, even if he never becomes a significant contributor.

However, they will be given major credit if he turns out to be the player that was talented enough to be on top of draft boards, even if it was for only a short time and even if his career is shorter than it should be.

His highlights are more impressive than any other defensive lineman that went before him. 

Every team in the league has missed on first-round picks and subsequent picks. Da’Quan Bowers’ role model was fellow Clemson DE Gaines Adams, a miss by the Buccaneers at No. 4 overall pick in 2007 and traded by 2009. Another recent miss was wide receiver Dexter Jackson, a second round pick in 2008 gone the next year. Even with those misses, the Buccaneers are poised to be one of the better teams in the league next year and into the future, so taking Bowers at No. 51 was certainly worth the risk, because the reward could be off the charts.

On another note, the draft isn’t quite as exciting when your team doesn’t have a need at quarterback, but how comforting to know the Bucs have no need at QB. I don’t think I would trade Josh Freeman for any other quarterback in the league right now!

The QB Blast: Blackout Problem Won’t Go Away

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

In the week following the Bucs’ devastating home loss to the Detroit Lions and leading up to their explosive win last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, stories in the Tribune and Times (including the front page) surrounding the Buccaneers were more about the lack of attendance at Raymond James Stadium and a season-long blackout on local television than the team’s playoff scenarios.

Blaming the economy is the most popular answer to the problem, but I believe it is more complex than that and includes marketing, public relations, perceived value and a changing marketplace. It is the same problem that most businesses have to deal with to sell their products over time.

I grew up in Los Angeles with the Rams and later the Raiders as well. The nation’s No. 2 television market has been without a pro football franchise since the early 1990s.

Fans showed up late and left early and didn’t show up at all if the teams weren’t really, really good. The NFL has wanted to reclaim that massive market for years. (I really thought the Glazers were going to take the Buccaneers to L.A. before the stadium here in Tampa was agreed on.) And there are a few businessmen that have been trying to build a new stadium and bring football back to L.A. for many years, but there just isn’t a clamoring by fans to make it happen.

In Los Angeles there are plenty of other entertainment distractions and fans found they could live without pro football and, as it turns out, there is plenty of NFL football on regular television, as we have been forced to discover here as well. And if your football appetite isn’t quenched with that, you can buy the “NFL Ticket” if you really want more.

We in blacked-out markets can buy NFL rewind and watch the games in their entirety only a few hours after the real deal. So in a multi-entertainment spot like the Tampa Bay area, there is a limit to what the market will bear, especially with great options like USF football, the Rays and the Lightning vying for the same family entertainment dollar, not to mention Disney and Busch Gardens.

The Lakers win championships as often as any pro team, and fans still won’t fill their arena if they aren’t vying for the top spot each year. The “bandwagon” fan isn’t unique to Tampa, Florida. Every city is basically the same in that regard — everybody loves a winner –although some smaller towns with limited entertainment options (Green Bay comes to mind) may still sell out their stadium regardless of how the team is doing on the field. 

NFL Might Have To Enhance Fan Experience

Why haven’t the Bucs filled up the stadium once all year while enjoying a winning season from the start? The economy is important, but the “Redbox effect” is redefining the market (Redbox is the little DVD vending machine sitting at your local Walmart or 7-Eleven). Blockbuster already was struggling to fight off competition from mail-away movie companies like Netflix when Redbox started renting movies for a buck!  A buck?

The perceived value had been defined by Blockbuster for a long time at nearly $5 for a multiday rental and they had driven almost every “mom and pop” rental store out of the market. Who would ever spend $5 for a movie rental ever again?  Not many,as Blockbuster quickly found out.

The home video market had been redefined and Blockbuster has now followed the Redbox business model.  With the growth of the Internet and cable/satellite TV, the NFL has been morphing its market over time, just as “Hollywood” did when VHS home videos came out and as the music industry has with iTunes.

Going to the “Drive-In movies” was a way of life for me and millions of other Americans in the 1970s but has almost disappeared as part of Americana. As VHS movies started coming out in the late 1970’s, “Hollywood” started worrying that the end of the walk-in movie was close at hand as well. Why would people pay the big bucks for tickets, popcorn and cokes that go along with the movie theatre experience, when they could buy or rent the movie and enjoy themselves at home? 

The movie industry has had to reinvent itself over the last 30 years (remember double features?) as technology of television and surround sound has made the “home theater” experience better than going out. Movie makers have relied on star power to open movies and salaries for top stars skyrocketed up to $25 million per movie for some, much like the salaries for top performing professional athletes (Michael Jordan $30+ Million). 

People will always want somewhere to go to get out of the house, go on dates, etc., but they can’t or won’t pay the steep ticket price to go for average movies. You can trust Redbox with a $1 for average movies. To get me to the theater, the lure must be pretty good. The current trend is 3-D.  You can watch it in 2-D for one price and 3-D for a few bucks more.

The Buccaneers and other mid-market teams are at a similar crossroads now and I believe the NFL as a whole will deal with this moving forward. The Cowboys, Giants and Jets probably won’t feel it as much,  but even Jerry Jones will have to come up with interesting ways to fill all those seats and luxury boxes in his sparkly new house if his team continues to disappoint.

Discouraging Families, Corporations

There will always be fans for football and the biggest markets and top performing teams will continue to sell tickets, but with better and better televisions the live product is going to have to be bigger and better than it has been in the past to get me and others off the couch (perfect weather, nobody standing up in front) and pony up $500+ for a three-hour entertainment experience for the family.

I have been to plenty of football games in my life and don’t care that much about being there in person anymore. My motivation for going out in the elements is simple and singular, to make my kids happy. 

My kids asked me if we could go to the Falcons game a couple weeks back, so I called for tickets. When I was told that the cheapest ticket started at $75 for the upper level and $105 for the lower, unfortunately I had to tell my boys that we wouldn’t be going to see the Bucs. I don’t know how many of those $25 kid’s tickets ($35 adults) that have been promoted all year are available or where they are in the stadium, but it makes me think of the airlines that advertise $49 plane tickets. 

I know some people and/or companies spend $300 for a single “Club” ticket and God bless them. But like many in Tampa Bay, I have to make choices about my family’s entertainment expenses. For me, a $500 investment for tickets in the corner of the stadium isn’t going to happen. With my playing history and broadcasting responsibilities, I have gotten into games for free for a long time, so I may not be a typical customer, but at that price, the game itself isn’t going to get my family to the stadium. I simply need more value for my money and it seems many others do as well.

The Tampa Bay Storm bring their players back on the field after the games to sign autographs. The Rays and Lightning have made post-game concerts a value-added program to increase attendance.  USF has lower ticket prices and a good atmosphere for “JoeFootballFan” to get his “live” football fix.  I don’t know if a Rick Springfield or REO Speedwagon concert will get me there either, but it might (actually neither of those artists would do it, but adding more value outside of the game is the concept).

Over 50,000 people decided to take the financial plunge for the divisional match-up of potential playoff teams, but only about 40,000 were interested enough in each of the final two home games. The local economy isn’t going to change dramatically soon, so there probably isn’t going to be a great clamoring in 2011 for new season ticket holders or luxury box owners even with the surprisingly good season the team has put together. 

Tampa is like the little town that could. We are not a big market, but we try to play with the big boys, and even though we have endured much ridicule over the years with all of our sports teams at different times, we have faired pretty well.

Baseball is a different animal without a salary cap. The Rays are outspent 3-to-1 every year (at least) by the Yankees and Red Sox and need ticket revenue to survive. Every team in the NFL shares in their television revenue, guaranteeing each club a certain amount. In 2010 the NFL didn’t have a salary cap or basement, meaning teams could spend as much or as little as they wanted. The Cowboys spent more than anyone and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent less.

According to a Sporting News article from November 22, the Bucs spent $30 million less than what the salary cap minimum would have been. Meaning they would have been forced to spend about $110 million if there was a cap. I’m sure they have plenty of answers to explain why they are spending so little in comparison to other teams, but news earlier this year that the Bucs invested the least amount of money in their team (in the entire NFL) over the last five years doesn’t make individual fans or corporations get too excited to invest either.

The blackouts are also a problem for the Bucs because guys like Jon Kitna, David Garrard, Chad Henne, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Mark Sanchez have spent as much or more time on our TV screen this season than the Bucs’ budding superstar QB Josh Freeman, and that doesn’t help sell more merchandise and other things that increase the overall perceived value of the franchise when those rankings come out each year.

With time off from work and school, my family was looking for something to do and my kids like hockey too. We watch portions of almost every Rays game and Lightning game throughout their respective seasons because they are on TV and their players become household names. I know the Lightning have 41 games to sell and the Rays have 81, but as I said, it is just a three-hour entertainment expense for me, so there is a small difference between a pro hockey game or pro football game — my family is getting the same value.

The difference is my wallet is much heavier when I go home from a hockey game.

So, this New Year’s Day, my family watched the Gators play at Raymond James Stadium all afternoon, and for $120 my family of four will be enjoying the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers all night. And for that $120 we also got the added value of four hot dogs, four beers (sodas) and four hockey pucks to take home. My family will be happy, I have $380 left in my back pocket and I’m home in plenty of time to catch the Bucs and Saints in Hi-Def.

THE QB BLAST: Another Call For Josh Johnson

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

Every road win in the NFL is difficult. A road win in bad weather is even more so. The Bucs survived in D.C. against a struggling Redskins team and notched another fourth-quarter comeback win and got their eighth overall. Simply surviving to win against a subpar team like Washington was just fine by me, especially with their recent close battles against good teams like the Ravens and Falcons.

Those two losses showed that they are competing at a higher level than in those bad losses earlier in the season. They also won Sunday while losing a couple more of their major contributors, this time it was Quincy Black and Gerald McCoy. 

Underutilized Weapon

I was happy to see the Sunday newspaper article that explained Raheem understands there is an entertainment aspect to the game and their offense, as they have implemented a few unique-looking plays over the weeks.

Greg Olson has rightly been given credit for coming up with some effective plays, but the people of Tampa Bay are scratching their heads over his short yardage play-calling (people that admit they know nothing about calling plays are stopping me on the street to ask what he is doing).

This week they went deep on their first third down of the game. Going into shotgun on 3rd-and-1 was curious enough in the bad weather (even though Freeman had a chance to throw a TD to Kellen Winslow after buying some extra time in the backfield and would have with a little better throw) and seems to make a statement that they don’t have much confidence in any of their running backs or offensive line in short yardage situations, as they went to shotgun again on their very next 3rd-and-1 situation.

The Bucs offense could become very entertaining and effective if they would implement Josh Johnson into the backfield as a receiver in motion behind the formation. 

Even though he won a Super Bowl here in Tampa while quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens, I was never a big fan of Trent Dilfer under center. But, as an analyst, I think he is really good, perhaps the best on the network. Recently he was talking about Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles offense and how impressive it is by stretching defenses to defend absolutely every inch of the field. This, of course, is because of Vick’s dynamism and diversity.

I know I have beaten this drum before, but because I know who reads this column, I am going to keep beating it so that the Buccaneers offense will be included in Dilfer’s conversation of dynamic offenses around the NFL, because the potential is there! Josh Johnson must do more than run a decoy route once a game.  He needs touches.

Not by pulling Freeman out of the game, but by moving Johnson across the formation behind Freeman and taking a pitch at full speed, thus pulling linebackers out of position and creating bigger holes for Freeman to throw into and for Johnson’s passes or runs as well. It will also help the running game, even though Blount has helped it immensely.

Redskins Executed

I know Barrett Ruud is the current poster-boy for what is wrong with the defense, but I must come to his defense a bit. Against the Redskins, the Bucs defense was being gashed because of their alignment and the other team’s execution, not because Ruud wasn’t filling the holes well enough. On early downs, the Bucs were regularly lining up a cocked noseguard on the center and an end outside of the tackle, virtually giving away both the “A” and “B” gap, which Ruud cannot defend by himself. This is allowing a guard to get onto the linebackers down the field. 

The television announcers called it “zone” blocking, but there was a lot more going on there than just zone blocking, as the Redskins pulled, trapped, kicked out different defenders to open huge running lanes for Torain. If the Bucs continue to line up like they did Sunday, there will be a few more running backs with big days on the ground, even if the Bucs were able to get Ray Lewis to step into the middle linebacker spot.

Still Competing Off The Field


Eight wins with three to play is really a fabulous situation for this team.

Unfortunately the stadium will not be filled again this Sunday as a win will guarantee them a winning season and triple last season’s win total, but the Tampa Bay market has legitimate, multi-factor reasons for spending its time watching other NFL teams on home TV screens.

Fortunately, the Bucs recognize the need to increase the entertainment value of their ticket. Because they are competing for entertainment dollars, and in this market’s economy, those dollars are scarce or nonexistent for many and must be used wisely.

THE QB BLAST: Sage Morris Might Need 11

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

The Bucs’ “Race to 10” is 70 percent fulfilled with 37 percent of the season remaining (six games to get three wins) for Raheem Morris’ mantra to come to pass.

The season began with discussions on this website and other media outlets about the number of wins and/or the perceived improvement that would allow Morris to keep his job following 2010. By all accounts, 10 wins was beyond reach and quietly laughable, sans one young coach and his remarkably young football team. With seven wins and six games to go, as well as a schedule that still has three teams with .500 records or less, “The Race to 10” makes Morris more sage than propagandist. 

Through 10 games, the Bucs have won every game they should have won or could have been expected to win. No games have fallen through their hands and they almost pulled off a divisional road win at Atlanta. In that game, the goal for the pundits was to see this team simply “compete” against a decent team, something it didn’t do against Pittsburgh or New Orleans. It definitely did that and a little bit more.

Slim Chance, Major Test In Baltimore

Following Sunday’s impressive shutout of the Niners on a long west coast road trip, they now go back on the road and up against a team with an equally strong record and one of the best defensive teams in the entire league. 

To get to their team goal, the final six must also have no mistakes or they must win an unexpected game along the way. There is no expectation (from me) for them to win in Baltimore, other than to see if they have grown to competing with playoff caliber teams, and especially against a team that can put major pressure on, and confusion into, every quarterback in the NFL.

As Josh Freeman continues to be lauded and applauded for his heroic efforts thus far, the elemental question that still remains is his ability to handle a defense like the Ravens. All third down situations will be the critical aspect of the game to watch this weekend. How he and the offensive line handle those difficult adjustments will be key to their handling the rest of the games on the schedule and potential not only for racing for 10 wins, but for actually competing in a playoff scenario.

What?  That concept seemed absurd a couple of months ago, but that is where this team has come in just a couple months.

“Expecting 11″

Even with 10 wins though, making the playoffs will still be extremely difficult. They could accomplish their season goal and end up third in the NFC South and behind other Wild Card hopefuls like the Bears (7-3), Packers (7-3), Eagles (7-3) or even the Giants (6-4) to miss the playoffs. To succeed so far beyond expectations and then fail to make the playoffs, would truly be a shame.

For this scenario to not become reality, “Expecting Eleven” needs to become the new team catchphrase, because 10 may not be enough to get into the dance, even though dancing in January wasn’t on the card in September.

Expectations have increased for everyone with the maturity of their MVP-caliber QB and other pleasant surprises (Mike Williams, LaGarrette Blount). To reach 11 will require four consecutive wins down the stretch. Do not expect a win at Baltimore Sunday, but if they do, God bless them and watch out, because that will simply prove they are on a crusade from above.

But, when they do come home 7-4, they will play host to the Atlanta Falcons the following week and this is the game they really need for those playoffs to materialize.  There will still be scenarios that keep their hopes alive (beating the Saints in the New Orleans finale), but they will be greatly diminished.  Three more wins must be reeled off against the .500 Redskins, the lowly Lions and the mediocre Seahawks so that the regular season finale is not a “must-win” to get in. This scenario makes them 11-5 and secures a well-deserved playoff spot.

Any mistake along the way will most likely make them miss the playoffs and leave us applauding their ability to overcome the low expectations from the outside (of One Buc Place) world and give us much fodder for the offseason of much greater expectations in 2011.

Through the first 10 games they have taken care of business perfectly, winning all the winnable games.  Beating Washington, Detroit and Seattle are the remaining games that satisfy their coach’s hope of the improbable.

With the success thus far, renaming and refocusing their goal to “Expecting 11” secures the playoff game that would put the cherry on top of this quite unexpected season that has the QB and coach in the “Player Of The Year” and “Coach Of The Year” conversations as well as a couple of rookies that should be up for postseason honors.  I guess Morris’ “Race To 10” has also secured his place for 2011.

The QB Blast: Huge Gaffes By Penn, Playcaller

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010
Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson

Ex-Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

Last week I wrote about the importance of performance in all three facets — offense, defense, specials teams — for the early season success of this Buccaneers team. There was no better example of this concept than this past Sunday against the division leading Atlanta Falcons.

Without the outstanding performance of the kickoff return team, they would not have been very competitive in the Georgia Dome.

After falling just inches short of winning on the road against a quality opponent, the youngest players on the team were mentioned as “the problem.” Well, the youth of this team can’t be blamed for the lack of success when it is just that youth that is responsible for their unexpected success.

There is a problem, however, with some of their veterans. Second year quarterback Josh Freeman threw an interception when he was hit while throwing by an unblocked defensive end. This was a simple “brainfart” (brainfart: (noun) a mental mistake made on a routine play) by veteran offensive tackle Donald Penn.

On that particular play, the Falcons had four down defensive linemen and a middle linebacker over center, while the Bucs had an empty backfield. There was no way to be confused in this set, but inexplicably Penn turned right to the inside and blocked nobody, because everybody was being blocked already. This left Josh Freeman, the second year QB, without a clue that his veteran left tackle just left him vulnerable to a potentially season-ending blindside hit and the team vulnerable to both losing their star quarterback and also to the resulting turnover. Pass protection assignments and proper reactions by QB and receivers is one area that needs continued attention for this offense.

On the right side of the line, Jeremy Trueblood missed his second straight game and the Buccaneers enjoyed their second straight game without a personal foul or illegal block in the back or illegal procedure call by their big, veteran right offensive tackle. Trueblood’s replacement James Lee was serviceable, but is probably not the long-term answer to securing the right side, as his lack of strength is reminiscent of Kenyatta Walker.

Now to the key play of the game which could have won the game and left the Bucs tied for the best overall record in the entire NFL and alone atop the NFC South.

The offensive line had been struggling regularly throughout the game as the Falcons’ defensive linemen were getting through the gaps before the offensive line could get there. The noise factor with the loud crowd should have been the deciding factor for the quarterback sneak, a play that Josh Freeman is currently sitting at 100% success rate.

And since Raheem Morris likes Rays’ Manager Joe Maddon’s style, which depends heavily on percentages, it would seem Freeman’s perfect past would have led to giving the “savior” the opportunity to save yet another game.

This is not “Monday Morning Quarterbacking”, Dave Moore, former player and radio analyst, was saying this before the play was called. I agree with him whether the Blount play worked or not. The defense is used to reacting to the ball movement and with the crowd noise they are far less likely to jump offsides with the quarterback’s snap count drowned out by the crowd.  So, getting the QB, and in this case a QB bigger than the big RB, to move forward immediately is the best call. 

Dropping games, especially road games, that are within your grasp are hard to swallow, but fortunately the Bucs are only a game out of first place at the halfway point and will get another shot at the Falcons at home.  If you asked Raheem Morris or his coaches or players in August if they would take 5-3 and one game out for their first half of the season, I doubt any would have a problem with that call.

The QB Blasts: Great Win, Lousy Fade

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

T.E.A.M — Together Everyone Achieves More — is an old acronym that has been used by teams and printed on t-shirts to keep the philosophy top of mind. 

I don’t think the Bucs have had any printed up this year, but this team epitomizes the concept.

The offense hasn’t been good enough on a regular basis to win the five games that they have notched thus far. The defense hasn’t either, and they’ve needed Josh Freeman’s late game heroics to pull out most of their wins. Special Teams encompasses both offensive and defensive contributors and has been pretty good generally (not counting Sammy Stroughter’s muffed punt this week). Parity between the offense and defense is a good thing because when one facet of the team is much better than another it can cause little dissensions in the locker room. Knowing they need each other is a positive thing for this team.

Now to the reality of the big picture: The Bucs are 5-2 and won again on the road. They are one game from the midway point of the season and are tied atop their division. Their current record is ahead of most anyone’s prediction, although when the schedule came out in the spring, the case could be made that eight wins was not out of the question with non-division games against Cleveland, St. Louis, Arizona (without Kurt Warner), Seattle, San Fransisco, Cincinnati, Detroit and Washington, none of which was expected to be fantastic.

One or two division wins against the Matt Moore led Panthers or the Falcons could be expected as well, so they are taking care of business with a favorable schedule and that is what has to happen in the NFL. Even Pittsburgh, with Ben Roethlisberger suspended, should have been a competitive home game with Charlie Batch throwing for the Steelers.

On Sunday, network broadcaster and former offensive guru/Super Bowl winning Head Coach Brian Billick called the Bucs defense “a very basic defensive package.”  A package that neither the Steelers nor the Saints had little trouble with and even the Cardinals put up what should have been enough points to win if Max Hall didn’t throw two first half TD’s to Bucs defenders.

The Cardinals started the little undrafted QB that Ron Jaworski said — among other less than stellar comments — didn’t have the skill set to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. He was starting his third game and in his team’s 25 drives with him at quarterback had not registered a rushing or passing touchdown.

In fact, he had never thrown a TD pass before he got that on their second offensive drive to Larry Fitzgerald for the first points of the game Sunday.  The Bucs first touchdown came on a safety blitz that the little QB didn’t see and Sean Jones knocked him around enough to give Geno Hayes a “pick six.”  Max Hall would get pulled in the second quarter for a QB (Derek Anderson) that played so poorly they pulled him a few games ago for the little undrafted QB. 

The Bucs “very basic defensive package” was able to get four interceptions on the day and put two of them back in the end-zone for 14 of the team’s 38 points.  These two Cardinal QB’s were able to put up 28 points against this defense (and failed to score from inside the 5 before the half).

Following the defensive stop, the Bucs offense delivered a very impressive drive to kill the first half clock with a field goal. While they added three points, a big mistake was made that I hope will never happen again.

The ball was on the 3 yard line and Freeman backed up into a shotgun formation. He caught the snap and took a quick 3-step drop and then threw a “fade” route to Maurice Stovall. 

Some were surprised that they would throw it to Stovall since he hasn’t had much noticeable action this season. But the problem with the play is that it will never work no matter who the receiver is. The timing of a fade with only 13 total yards to the back of the endzone can’t work from the shotgun and especially with any time taken to drop back. The ball must be taken from under center and be put up in the air immediately. Stovall or any other receiver (even Mike Williams) will run out of room and any “run of the mill” defender should be able to knock it away with that much time to see the ball coming his way.

I’m surprised that the goal line fades from the shotgun formation weren’t nixed in practice.  If they keep that in the gameplan going forward, don’t expect success.

As a team the Bucs have a -27 point differential. This is not typical for teams that are 5-2, but is directly attributed to the blowouts from the Steelers and Saints and from the fact that four of their wins have been by a total of 10 points. That final stat is really amazing and something to be excited about. Winning close games more than every great once in a while cannot be considered luck, and the confidence that Josh Freeman, the rest of the team and coaching staff are building through winning close games and coming from behind can’t be underestimated for this season and beyond. 

The Bucs are tied atop the NFC and should be proud of that accomplishment and humble enough to realize it is a razor-thin difference to 2-5.

After losing their 10 point halftime lead to an average Cardinals team and needing another fourth quarter comeback for the win, Raheem Morris should have enough material for his T.E.A.M. to keep the “Us vs. The World” mentality going for a while. 

A win against the Atlanta Falcons (+36 point differential) would go a long way to making believers out of any remaining holdouts and may even put enough butts in those empty seats to get a home game or two on TV before the end of the year.

The QB Blasts: Improvement Falls On Olson

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
By JEFF CARLSON analyst 

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

The Bucs can’t run the ball very well and the head coach says the runners, blockers and playcaller are all a part of the problem.

They really can’t do much to change the runners or blockers at this point and I’m not for changing the playcaller again, so what could be the possibilities for improvement? 

Raheem Morris says they are going to go back into “the lab” to work on improving. I first heard “the lab” used in reference to football experimentation when Jon Gruden was working to improve Josh Johnson’s knowledge and skills, and it was a fun and interesting concept because of Gruden’s reputation for his in-depth playbook and Johnson’s lack of exposure to big-time football. Johnson also had a different and unique skill set that Gruden’s offense hadn’t really seen before, so saying he was going into “the lab” with the mad — offensive coordinator —scientist made sense.

But now, according to the head coach, everything the Bucs do is in “the lab.” This is the kind of rhetoric that seemed far too common last year and hearing much less of it this year was one of the improvements I thought Morris had made in his maturation process. We had been hearing less of this fluff stuff each week and more substantive football material on a regular basis and it was good for the fans and the media covering the Bucs.

Using such undefined terms is just a simple way of generalizing problems with no real plan to deal with any of it.  Players and coaches have always deflected criticism of their play or the team’s play by saying they have to, “Go back and watch the film.”

They are basically the same thing. But by calling it “the lab” just makes fixing the issues less credible because you experiment in the laboratory and you make corrections and call people to account in the film room.

By the way, Morris said that the defense was also exposed as not being able to stop the run and guess what they are going to do about it?  That’s right, they are going back into “the lab.” 

So if you can’t change the runners or the blockers, what are the playcaller’s options for better success? 

The New Orleans Saints could make Cadillac Williams a fantasy football star running back next Sunday if he was running with their offense.  The same goes for the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots.  Why?  Because their three wide receiver packages and quick decision making and accurate passing by their great quarterbacks keep defenses from loading the box with defenders, thus giving any running back on their team more room to find holes to run through and more daylight to run to.

The Bucs are lacking the receiving corps to be as effective as the aforementioned teams, but with Williams, Sloughter, Winslow and Benn, that has high hopes of improving. They also lack a QB that makes decisions as fast or as well as Brees, Brady or Manning, but that is improving as well. So the hopes are high and within sight, but they must play again Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, albeit a lesser team than the Steelers or Saints, but a team that has been able to score at times, has a strong runner in Steven Jackson and a franchise QB only a few starts behind Freeman.

While the Bucs are in “the lab” this week will the play-caller make it easier for the offensive line to open holes by keeping players out of the box with more receivers spread out across the field? Or will he keep things tight and try to block each guy and hope each guy does his job and Caddy creates his own space? 

As Morris says, it only takes one guy not doing his job to mess up the whole thing. I really don’t know what kind of a scientist Greg Olson is at this point, but unless there is some experimenting with different ingredients in the potion, the result will be very predictable, especially when they run into the upper 50 percent of the league.

And since the Bucs’ runners and blockers are relatively set, the play concepts are the only variables that can really be tinkered with in the lab. 

Will this week’s tinkering be that little change necessary to take us to a better product or an explosion?  Stay tuned.

The QB Blasts: Coordinators Having Major Impact

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

Let’s give the coordinators of the offense and defense some credit for the Bucs’ winning record.

While it isn’t perfect on either side of the ball by any means, there have been a few standout designs or calls that have given Bucs players opportunities to make plays. And the great news is, the players have stepped up and made the plays to make the difference.

A few weeks back against the Carolina Panthers, in their first division game and on the road, Ronde Barber had his second interception in as many games and got the deserved credit for always being in the right place. But Raheem Morris must get much of the credit for that critical interception because it was the design of the coverage that had Barber had in the right place at the right time.

Carolina came to the line in a three-receiver “bunch” group to the right side. As a quarterback, I’ve never liked the bunch look much, simply because it gives the defense too much power to disguise blitzes and/or coverage. The Bucs dialed up something I hadn’t seen before and, with the outcome of the play, probably something Matt Moore hadn’t seen either.

As the receivers came off the line and scattered in different directions as usual (seam, curl and flat), Tanard Jackson, who started in the regular safety position for a Cover 2 look (deep in the seam), faded all the way outside to the flat area. Aqib Talib faded back from his outside flat space and covered the  curl from behind. Ronde started the play faking a blitz and dropped back as the underneath and inside defender, holding the seam as Jackson went wide. The backside safety also gave Ronde help deep over the top, allowing him to sneak outside to the curl.

Moore was right to think that the curl would be open–and he would have been if Barber stayed with the seam route. But that help from the other safety allowed Barber to jump in front of the curl in what may have been one of the easiest interceptions of his career.

The “cool” design that allowed Barber to once again be in the right place at the right time needs to be recognized. Most defensive coordinators get famous for designing up blitzes and create big pressure to confuse blocking schemes and cause quarterbacks havoc before they throw the ball. This single coverage shift isn’t like designing the “46” Defense that made Buddy Ryan famous, or the Tampa 2 that Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin put on the map, but there aren’t that many opportunities to see a coverage that confuses the QB so that he throws the ball right into the chest of the defender. 

Ronde gets the stat added to his illustrious career, but give the defensive coordinator the assist on that one. 

On Sunday, Cody Grimm evened the score against the Bengals by taking his first career pick “to the house” because Morris designed up a look that had his safety close to the line of scrimmage at the snap and immediately after the snap had him turn and sprint to the flat, where Carson Palmer thought he would have a safe completion with no underneath coverage.

Normally, a linebacker is out in the curl area and squared up to the quarterback, so he just throws to the outside of the LB, but the Bucs covered it with a safety that was out of position at the snap. By sprinting to the spot and turning around at the right time, it allowed him to steal the pass and score.  Again, this credit has to be shared between player and coordinator.

On the offensive side, there is much to be concerned about with pass protection and blitz recognition by Josh Freeman.

Beating the blitz by throwing it up deep is great when it works, but is a low percentage proposition in general. The Bucs will certainly need to be better prepared to address quick pressure, and Freeman needs to recognize when there is one too many blitzers than there are blockers. They got away with a few balls that spent too much time in the air as Freeman got pressured from different angles.

What I liked was the “Dig” call to Mike Williams that resulted in a wide-open catch (even though the ball floated in the middle of the field) that would have set up a score if Williams didn’t fumble. This was a very good changeup after his success outside. It is great to know the Bucs have a guy that will go up, fight for and win the ball, but this can’t be the plan week in and week out.

This coming week will be very interesting to see how the Saints defense decides to attack the issue and how the Bucs’ week of practice time was used to fix the problem. 

The Saints have to be getting a bit nervous over their average start, while the Bucs can play with confidence over their unexpectedly hot start, but I think New Orleans will bring the pressure again this Sunday and make the Bucs prove that they can make the big plays when they count once again.

Let’s hope both coordinators have another little wrinkle up their sleeves to stop the defending World Champions.

The QB Blasts: Play Johnson & Freeman Together

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Former Bucs QB Jeff Carlson


Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.

The Buccaneers ran into a better team on Sunday. They were beaten soundly by a team playing without its best quarterback directing the offense.

If the Bucs and Steelers played 10 more times, no one would be surprised if the Steelers won all 10, even though beating a team twice in a row is quite difficult. Luckily for all of us, they don’t have to see Pittsburgh again, but they will have to see New Orleans and Atlanta twice, as well as the Ravens. Playing other teams that don’t have it quite all together (Rams, Cardinals, Lions, 49ers) give us hope that there are a few more wins to be had this year.

 But, what to do about competing with the better teams in the league? Pound the rock more?

I read and hear that message from some and always think to myself it sounds good, but how many times can you pound yourself into the same wall and leave yourself in long third-down situations before you realize something must change?

I can’t imagine many people making the argument that Cadillac Williams is better than the defenders coming at him. Titans running back Chris Johnson is better than his defenders. Johnson can create space and yards on his own. Cadillac needs help. The Bucs’ offensive line needs help to create gaps in the defensive front seven defenders. That happens through effective play-calling and deceptive play design.

Currently, the Bucs aren’t incorporating much deception into their running game. Thus their personnel isn’t good enough to line up and run downhill effectively enough to give Josh Freeman and his youthful receivers short third-down-or-less situations — or fewer third-downs altogether by actually running for a first down once in a while and giving the play-caller more flexibility on first and second downs for good play-action passing.

What is needed is Josh Johnson to be incorporated into this offense to bring some jazz and pizzazz.

And even if it doesn’t work, at least it will be more entertaining than the status quo. I brought up this subject in the past and obviously haven’t been listened to, but the Bucs messed around with Johnson in some “Wildcat” situations in training camp and were successful against the Bucs’ defense, which I would suppose might give them hope that it could work against others, as well.

Again, I am not advocating taking Josh Freeman out of the game or out of the QB position. The Jets are taking their star QB out and using Brad Smith (former Missouri quarterback with qualities very similar to Johnson) very successfully and the Philadelphia Eagles are reaping the benefits of using Michael Vick’s elusiveness to create massive holes in the defense and a whole heck of a lot of excitement for Eagles’ fans. I am specifically talking about using Johnson in motion from a receiver position.

The Bucs’ running game would immediately improve, if they started bringing Johnson behind the formation quickly and either tossing it to him for a run/pass option, putting linebackers and defensive backs in bad positions of having to choose to tackle the elusive Johnson, thus leaving receivers open for big plays or Johnson open to pick up big gains with his legs.

This threat would also help the offensive line create more creases and cutback lanes for Cadillac Williams, as the defensive line has to help stop more wide running plays and tiring as the game goes on when Williams seems to get better. The defensive line would also have to slow its pass rush to deal with the fast east/west movement of the offense, which would see the quarterback moving the pocket around more often.

For a few years now, the NFL has been evolving into a QB dominant league (Colts, Saints, Cardinals, Patriots) and pounding the rock has diminished as teams have found moving the ball a bit easier by design than by brute force.

I don’t see the Bucs being very successful as a brute force kind of offensive line, even though they do have some “nasty” in them at times.

Giving them a little help with a little misdirection now and then sure can’t hurt their rushing average, but it sure would help a lot of things, including keeping the ball out of the other team’s hands and improving defensive statistics, as well.

Now even a defensive head coach could get down with that. Getting Josh Johnson on the field against the Bengals will help take the ball out of Cincinnatti’s receiving dynamic duo and could give the Bucs their own dynamic duo.