Josh Freeman came twisting down to the turf for the second time at Raymond James Stadium Thursday night and I’m sure every Bucs fan had the same thought flit through their head, “time to get him out of here.” That’s hardly the sentiment most expected when they were anticipating the matchup between the Bucs and Patriots just hours earlier.
Tampa Bay entered the game with a great deal of optimism and viewed a veteran Patriots team as a great measuring stick of their progress. Unfortunately, the Bucs didn’t measure up, losing 31-14 as their first team got slapped around 21-0 in the first quarter. Offensively, things looked pretty bleak. The starters managed just 17 yards, punting the ball four times and failing to generate any momentum on any of their first quarter possessions against an aggressive, blitzing Patriots defense.
If Josh Freeman was poised to have a big game, we’ll never know, because it seemed as though every play had him dodging a Patriot defender before he could ever even turn his eyes downfield. Twice the Bucs talented young passer was sacked, and he was hurried nearly a half dozen more times. Andre Carter specifically gave the Bucs left tackles fits, first Donald Penn and then later James Lee. But the whole Patriot defensive line had little trouble collapsing the pocket, shutting down the Buccaneers run game and chasing Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson around the backfield. The offensive line also tossed three holding penalties in for good measure, assuring the Bucs offense would go no where.
While this isn’t a time to panic, it is just the preseason after all and the Patriots utilized more than a few blitzes, the performance from the Bucs offensive line does leave some cause for concern.
It may be something as simple as alignment, who is in what position, if this is the best group to line up together, if they have their blitz pick-up installed completely yet etc… But it also could be indicative of a bigger problem all together. Maybe the Buccaneers offensive line has been a little over-hyped. Last season the Buccaneers did not sport great numbers metrically speaking. While Jeremy Zuttah had a solid season at center and guard, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph, Ted Larsen and Jeremy Trueblood all ranked amongst the worst pass-protecting linemen and were not much better as run-blockers. This is according to metrics done by Pro Football Focus.
Bucs fans sort of dismissed that because the Buccaneers finished ranked 7th in rushing in the entire NFL and LeGarrette Blount had such a prolific rookie campaign, but it’s also worth noting the Bucs didn’t always face the best defensive lines either.
This season the Bucs may find that they should have upgraded their offensive line. It’s early, it’s much more likely that the line just needs to be tinkered with and several players (such as James Lee) just had bad days. But it’s also worth nothing that the first quarter of this game was the first significant test the Buccaneers’ offensive line faced this season, and it failed.
It may get better, it may not. Just keep an eye on the line.