I’ll get into breaking down the game a little bit more in-depth later today. But for now, before we get any further, let’s talk big picture. Things are never as good or bad as they look in the NFL, I say that all the time. The Bucs were not a 10-6 team last year, they were not that talented. People like to point to the injuries and say they were actually unlucky, that’s ridiculous. The Bucs had more than there share of luck last season, just go back and actually re-watch Josh Freeman and then explain to me how luck didn’t play a role in his interception figure. He should have had 20+, he threw six. That was the story of the Bucs’ season last year.
This year is a different story, they’re no worse than they were. They’re actually closer to the reality, but now for the first time you’re seeing bad decisions and mistakes actually come back to haunt this team. The schedule is harder, the bounces and breaks have gone differently and I think you’re beginning to get an idea of what Jeff Faine meant when he said that player-only workouts were great in theory but not all that effective.
We’ll get to all of that, but first, let’s deal with the cold hard fact that if the Buccaneers want to make it into the playoffs they absolutely have to win out, and even then there are no guarantees.
The Development of This Team
The mistakes and the lack of off-season workouts are very related. Our friends at JoeBucsFan were the first to haul off and slug Jeff Faine for saying the player-organized workouts weren’t all that useful, but the bottom line is they weren’t. Sure they built camaraderie, but that can be accomplished by a team bowling trip.
The bottom line is that nobody improved.
The team got together and practiced, and they seemingly re-iterated all the bad habits they started forming last season. Josh Freeman isn’t making better decisions than he did last year. He’s making the same decisions as he made last year but with less success. That goes back to the way the ball bounces, luck in some sense. Last year almost none of Freeman’s mistakes came back to haunt him. This year almost all of them are. But look week to week and he’s still tossing into the same coverages, making the same reads and really continuing on at a static level near where he was last season. The improvement comes from coaching, comes from the time he would have spent with Alex Van Pelt during the spring and summer.
Watching film is great, but if you don’t have the right guy sitting there with you pointing out what you need to look for it’s not always that useful. Josh Freeman is a very bright guy, but he still needs coaching. Leaving him on his own all off-season may have actually been detrimental if he didn’t look at the right things.
Need another example? Mike Williams is having a “down” year, but frankly he’s exactly the same guy as he was last year. He’s catching the same ratio of balls, about half of what’s thrown to him, he just isn’t as productive off the receptions as last year and with more receivers he gets fewer chances. He hasn’t digressed, but he also didn’t get better. Reports of him having a great training camp were prevalent earlier, and I’m sure he did look sharp after getting players-only reps with Josh Freeman, but that doesn’t translate to the games nor does it even mean they were working on the right things.
The long and short of it is this, it was foolish to think missing the entire off-season wouldn’t impact the youngest team in football. It clearly has. I just don’t think anyone realized how much.
But with the exception of a handful of players, there’s been minimal progression from this young Bucs team. It’s almost like they lost a year.
The Remaining Schedule
Fortunately for the Buccaneers the remaining schedule isn’t insurmountable. Starting with a winnable game at Tennessee, the Bucs finish out with Carolina twice, Dallas, Jacksonville and Atlanta.
I hate going through a schedule and picking games like something should or shouldn’t be a certainty, nothing is certain in the NFL. But what I can do is tell you that if the Bucs DESERVE to go to the playoffs, the only games that should be a struggle are Dallas and Atlanta. Tennessee is mediocre, but not a playoff team, you have to beat them. The Jags are downright pathetic, Carolina will be a challenge with Cam Newton making plays but they have a losing record for a reason.
That just leaves Dallas and Atlanta.
Assuming the Bucs win the games they’re supposed to, they should finish between 8-8 and 10-6 this year.
But one slip and you can stick a fork in them.