Buccaneers Report Card
Kellen Winslow (Getty Images)
Kellen Winslow (Getty Images)
Bucsblitz@gmail.com
Posted Nov 4, 2009


After opening the season with seven consecutive losses, don't expect the Bucs to take a timid approach for Josh Freeman's first career start on Sunday. Read on to find out why the road is only going to get tougher for the Buccaneers, why some of the players didn't enjoy the trip back from London, and how the Buccaneers graded out after the first seven games of the season.

--The Buccaneers had 14 players with the flu following their return from London. But at 0-7, it meant the Bucs had to wait at least two more weeks to get their first win.

"The bye week never comes at a good time when you don't have a win," coach Raheem Morris said. "You're looking for your first win, that's the only thing we're concerned about. The bye week's always good to get a little healthier, to get a little better, to get a little bit more in shape. But right now it makes Sunday just as miserable as it was last week for us."

--Earnest Graham was the Bucs' leading ball carrier when he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards two years ago. But now he has been relegated to fullback and he never has complained about it.

"He's been through the ringer, he's been through it all," Morris said. "You're the third tailback; you get one series instead of two like the other guys; OK, now you're getting two series because Derrick Ward is down; wait a minute, you're back, now we're going to put you at fullback because B.J. Askew's out. No, he doesn't complain about anything. That's who he is. That's the kind of guy you're looking for, those selfless-act types of guys."

--It won't get easier for the Bucs. Of their nine remaining games, six are against clubs that have a .500 record or better. They play the undefeated Saints twice and have a pair of matchups against the 4-2 Falcons. They must travel to Miami to play the Dolphins, who are heating up. They must cross the continent to play at Seattle a week before Christmas, when the weather won't be in their favor. With a slate of remaining opponents with a combined record of 36-22 (.611 winning percentage), finding that first win won't be easy.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Josh Freeman has a good grasp of the Bucs offense, and the attack won't be scaled down against the Packers, according to offensive coordinator Greg Olson.

--QB Josh Johnson will serve as the Bucs' No. 2 quarterback against the Packers.

--RB Earnest Graham will continue to start at fullback and provide blocking for Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward.

--RB Clifton Smith, who missed the game in London with a concussion, is expected to return kicks Sunday against the Packers.

--TE Kellen Winslow leads the Bucs in receiving with 31 catches for 295 yards and four touchdowns.

REPORT CARD AFTER SEVEN GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Two changes at quarterback before Week 8 is a big problem. The Bucs wasted reps on a futile quarterback battle between Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown in the preseason and training camp. Leftwich went 0-3. Backup Josh Johnson went 0-4 while throwing eight interceptions. Now the Bucs turn to first-round pick Josh Freeman. Tampa Bay has been victimized by too many dropped passes from Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The loss of C Jeff Faine for four weeks took a bite out of the running game. It also forced a change at quarterback. Backup Sean Mahan, who did not make the 53-man roster and was released after Faine returned, was a horrible replacement. There were breakdowns and little push. Cadillac Williams has been the Bucs' most consistent back and is coming off knee surgeries the past two seasons. Derrick Ward has not been a factor, and Earnest Graham has been moved to fullback. So much for the committee approach.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Bucs have given up nine plays of 40 yards or more in the passing game, eight of those for touchdowns. It doesn't get much worse than that. The pressure on the quarterback has been poor. The Bucs traded first-round pick Gaines Adams. The lone bright spot is CB Aqib Talib, who leads the team with four INTs and did a good job against Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson, Carolina's Steve Smith and New England's Randy Moss.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Bucs rank last in the NFC in rushing defense, allowing 162.4 yards per game. It starts up front. The Bucs haven't gotten much from DTs Chris Hovan or Ryan Sims in terms of stopping the run. Missed tackles have been an issue, particularly with young linebackers like Geno Hayes and Quincy Black. If a team can't stop the run in the NFL, it can't win.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- The Bucs cut K Mike Nugent after he started 2-for-6 on field-goal tries. They signed Shane Andrus, who has yet to make a field goal in the NFL. P Dirk Johnson has been inadequate at best. The Bucs have had some success returning kickoffs with Clifton Smith and Sammie Stroughter.

COACHING: D -- The Bucs have the only winless record in the NFL, and rookie coach Raheem Morris has to take some responsibility for that. Changing offensive coordinators 10 days before the season opener was a problem. The revolving door of quarterbacks has hurt the continuity. The defense has been slow to make adjustments. Morris has to get a win soon.



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