By JEFF CARLSON
Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at JoeBucsFan.com. 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.