Bye Week Doldrums: News and Notes

The Buccaneers enter the bye week with plenty of questions.
The Buccaneers enter the bye week with plenty of questions. /
The Buccaneers enter the bye week with plenty of questions.
The Buccaneers enter the bye week with plenty of questions. /

There really isn’t much worse than going into the bye week on a losing note. In one fell swoop all the excitement over the Bucs’ 2-0 start gave way to disappointment and doubts. Here’s a news flash, the Buccaneers were 3-13 all of last year, they’re heading into their bye week at 2-1. Why so glum?

There are three unbeaten teams left in the whole NFL, most pundits consider them frauds. Does anyone think the Chiefs are making the playoffs? Please. The tone in Tampa may seem a bit demure right now, but relax, this Buccaneers squad is heading in the right direction. And there are a lot worse things you can say about an NFL team than they’ve won the games they were supposed to.

Still, Bye weeks stink. The players love them but as a fan it’s like finding out what the NFL must be like for someone without affiliations or favorites. I understand what football must be like for my girlfriend when I watch the NFL during a bye week. Actually that’s not true, she doesn’t know what a running back even does, much less where he lines up in a formation. Which lends itself to the question, “what the hell are you watching when football’s on?” But that is another discussion for another time. At any rate, your fantasy team is about the most exciting thing going during a bye week. That’s never ideal.

So to help you deal with the lack of Buccaneers football, here are some news and notes from Tampa on the Buccaneers’ bye week.

Four Man Rush

A little bit of interesting stat-work here. Maybe blitzing isn’t the best route for the Bucs to go in their quest for a pass rush. When Tampa rushes four men or less, they hold the opposing passer to a league-best 56.1 passer rating. On the year, Tampa has allowed just 54% of the passes attempted against four man rush (or less) to be completed. They have notched 5 interceptions when rushing just four men.

This may be as a result of facing the Panthers and Browns in two of the first three games, but Aqib Talib‘s interception agaisnt Pittsburgh also came against against a four man rush. The lack of a pass rush is going to be more obvious now that Tanard Jackson is gone, with him the Bucs’ secondary was well equipped to drop 7, play the pass, and stop anything substantial from happening. But with Cody Grimm playing the Bucs may not have the luxury of rushing 4 and dropping the rest. The Bucs need to find a way to get to the passer.

Go Easy on Cody Grimm

Pat Yasinkas of has an interesting take on the Buccaneers’ safety problems. His point: Don’t judge the poor kid (Grimm) on the basis of one game. Obviously Bucs fans aren’t thrilled with the regression of the secondary after Jackson was suspended, but Yasinkas cautions the Bucs faithful against turning their back on Grimm too soon.

"The main reason I say this is because I’m reminded of a story from when I covered the Bucs back in my newspaper days. In 1997, the Bucs drafted a cornerback. He struggled so much that first season that he was only on the game-day active list for one game.The following year, he started playing the cornerback a little. I’m not sure if it was his first start or the first time he got significant playing time, but he ended up getting beat for three or four touchdowns and a whole bunch of other passes.That cornerback’s name was Ronde Barber. I remember being in the locker room after the game and having a Tampa Bay assistant coach pull me aside and say, “Have you ever seen anything more embarrassing than Ronde?’’The Bucs stuck with Barber and, all these years later, he’s a Tampa Bay icon. Some people even talk about him as a potential Hall of Famer. If the Bucs had given up on Barber after that one disastrous game, they would have missed out on all the great things that came later."

It remains to be seen whether or not Grimm will amount to a solid NFL safety, but Yasinkas’ point is a good one. No career is decided on the basis of one game. The Bucs asked an OLB transitioning to safety to make his first start against a top-notch NFL team. In what world would that have gone well?

Shotgun Suits Freeman

Josh Freeman is solid from the shotgun, but must improve his performance in the red-zone for Tampa to be successful.
Josh Freeman is solid from the shotgun, but must improve his performance in the red-zone for Tampa to be successful. /

Josh Freeman seems to like throwing out of the shotgun. On the season, Freeman ranks 12th in the NFL with a solid 87.7 passer rating coming out of the formation. As Freeman continues to progress it’s good to know that he feels comfortable in obvious throwing situations. Those are kind of unavoidable in this league.

Two of the top five were NFC South division-mates. Drew Brees rates first in the entire NFL with 125.4 passer rating out of the shotgun. Matt Ryan is fourth with a 108.5. Based on the stats, when the Falcons or Saints line up in the shotgun, the Buccaneers’ defense may be best-suited to just rush four.

Redzone Woes

Despite his proficiency passing out of the shotgun, Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers have been abysmal this season in the red zone. Freeman has just a 60 passer rating in the red zone this season. That’s a continued concern as it was just last season when Freeman threw five red-zone interception against Carolina in December.

But the problem is not just Freeman’s, the Buccaneers have converted just three of their nine red-zone possession for touchdowns. That’s enough to rank them just 26th in the NFL. A huge part of that is the Bucs absolutely pathetic running game. If your starter (Cadillac Williams) averages just 2.5 per attempt, you’re not going to get better in the red zone.

That’s why the Bucs are spending a good chunk of their bye week, including a large portion of Wednesday’s practice working on red-zone plays. Hopefully the powerful, hard-running LeGarrette Blount will realize his immense potential and become an elite goal-line back. That will take a lot of pressure of the broad shoulders of Josh Freeman. But regardless, 3-of-9 needs to improve. You don’t make the playoffs, or even a good impression, on 3-of-9.

Mike Williams Resting Ankle

Mike Williams could be the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft.
Mike Williams could be the steal of the 2010 NFL Draft. /

Mike Williams, the talented young receiver out of Syracuse sat out of yesterday’s practice while he nursed a sore ankle. Williams has already proven that despite a tumultuous tenure in upstate New York he is more than capable of being a solid, if not great, receiver in the NFL. The Bucs would be wise to make sure Williams maintains his health. Now if Arrelious Benn can just get on track the Bucs might have the most dynamic young tandem of receivers in the NFL.

Concerns About McCoy

There’s nothing wrong with Gerald McCoy, the OU product is going to be a stud and was well worth the top draft choice. But TBO’s Roy Cummings has a concern about whether or not moving McCoy between positions on the D-Line will stunt his development as a 4-3 Under-Tackle. The concern is legitimate, the Bucs have alternated between using the talented rookie as a 4-3 defensive tackle and a 3-4 defensive end. Bucs’ head coach Raheem Morris said on Wednesday:

"“If I was thinking selfishly and only about McCoy, I probably would say yes,” Morris said when asked if McCoy playing end could slow his growth as a tackle. “But thinking selfishly, from a defensive standpoint, it makes us better.“When three guys are blocking him and he still busts through and forces the quarterback up into (LB) Quincy (Black’s) lap and Quincy gets a monstrous hit on the quarterback, that’s pretty productive for me.”"

Gerald McCoy is going to be successful in the NFL, where he’s successful at is complete dependent upon to Bucs’ coaching staff. But having an extremely versatile, top-talent along the D-Line is hardly a problem.

Parting Shots

-Safety Erik Lorig has been brought up from the practice squad. While it’s unlikely he supplants Cody Grimm as the starter, the depth should help the Bucs. Remember if Corey Lynch or Sabby Piscitelli were a better option at safety, they’d be playing. Grimm is the best the Bucs have, but clearly they are not done addressing the position.

-The Bucs have signed JD Folsom to their practice squad. Folsom was a stalwart on the Miami Dolphin’s special teams unit and could provide solid LB and S/T depth for the Buccaneers. I was surprised to see the Fins sacrifice Folsom to the roster gods, but their loss is the Buccaneers’ gain. This guy is solid and will contribute sooner rather than later.

-And finally, O’Brien’s Pub in Tampa has drawn the ire of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. The bar apparently showed 200 people a grainy feed of the Bucs off of the internet and now may face punitive action from the league. I say grow up. If people are willing to spend top-dollar to watch a choppy internet feed, let them. The NFL banks, the fact people are willing to crowd in for an internet feed is more evidence that the NFL is stronger than ever. Roger Goodell needs to chill out and worry about the CBA. Not whether Bucs fans in Tampa are trying to support their favorite team.