A few more days have passed. The rage hangover from last weekend has almost lifted. Of course thereâ€™s the new ridiculousness of Jerry Jones making Jason Garrett look like a fool over Felix Jonesâ€™ role with the team to harp on, but thatâ€™s for another column.
No, itâ€™s time to take a look at the Tampa Bay Bucs as we â€śAnalyze the Enemyâ€ť in preparation for Sundayâ€™s game:
1) Gregg Schianoâ€™s Swagger â€“ Go ahead and try to categorize Raheem Morrisâ€™s final season with the Buccaneers as anything other than horrendous. I dare ya.
Tampa finished a 4-12 season on a 10 game losing streak. They finished 21st in offense, 27th in scoring, 30th in defense (32nd against the run), 31st in point differential, 32nd in points allowed, and 32nd in takeaway/giveaway differential.
Thatâ€™s quite a mountain of dung to overcome for a first year coach, but everything Iâ€™ve seen from Greg Schiano tells me that if anyone can do it, itâ€™s him.
There are signs that Schianoâ€™s hardnosed style is taking hold with the Bucs holding teams to just 104 total rushing yards through the first two games. That accomplishment is overshadowed just a bit by the 801 passing yards Tampa has allowed (174 more than the next closest team in the league), but heâ€™s a motivator. Not a miracle worker.
Whatâ€™s impressive is the way the head coachâ€™s swagger and confidence seems to have rubbed off on this team already. Josh Freeman (who weâ€™ll cover later) looks much more like the 2010 version of himself. The Bucs also took the defending champion Giants down to the wire on the road, a week after beating a favored Carolina team to open the season.
Arguably the most controversial play of the young NFL season displayed the never say die attitude that Schiano has brought to his squad.
As the Giants lined up in the victory formation with 5 seconds left in the game, Tampa aggressively approached the line and on the snap pushed forward in an attempt to cause a fumble. Perhaps the Giants didnâ€™t take them seriously, because the offense was overwhelmed after the snap, and Eli Manning went tumbling backwards as the clock expired.
Tom Coughlin was pissed, Eli whined, Giants fans bitched, but all in all thereâ€™s not much wrong with the play. It was a 7 point game and the ball was at the Giants 30. If Tampa is unsportsmanlike for trying to do all they can within the rules to get the ball, doesnâ€™t that make the Giants equally unsportsmanlike in doing all they can to keep it away?Â Of course it doesnâ€™t, but most NFL teams accept the kneel-down as the summarial end to the game.
Schiano and the Bucs do not.Â It is a breath of fresh air.
Schiano claims that his Rutgers team created 4 turnovers using the same play. If it works, then use it. This is football. Youâ€™re here to win games, not make friends.
2) Freeman to Jackson â€“ Tampa Bay hasnâ€™t had a 1,000+ yard receiver since former Cowboy great Antonio Bryant in 2008. In an attempt to change that, GM Mark Dominik went out and signed Vincent Jackson to a 5 year, $55.5 million deal ($26 million guaranteed).
Jackson wasnâ€™t always the model teammate in San Diego, but the Bucs are banking that the change of scenery and mounds of cash will convince him to fly straight.
Heâ€™s rewarded them two games into the deal with 175 receiving yards (12th in the NFL) at 19.4 y/c (6th), and 1 TD.
Jacksonâ€™s first two longest receptions of the season (both in Week 2) display the confidence that Josh Freeman has in his new weapon to go up and make the big catch. Especially when matched up on a smaller defender, which is often, considering Jacksonâ€™s 6â€™5â€ť, 230 lbs frame.
During Tampaâ€™s first drive of the game they line up at their own 28 on 1st and 10. Jackson has the 6â€ť0â€ť, 200 lbs Corey Webster across from him. Webster decides to try and run step for step with Jackson instead of jamming him at the line, and he pays for it as the extra step Jackson gets is more than enough for Freeman to hit him for a 41 yard gain.
This play isnâ€™t so much a result of Jackson physically overpowering Webster, but more Webster realizing he had no chance to out muscle Jackson. Brandon Carr is 10 pounds bigger than Webster, but both are considered physical defenders who work to adjust routes at the line.
It will be interesting to see if the strategy with Carr is to take a similar approach.
On 3rd and 11 with the ball at the Giants 29 in the 2nd quarter of the game, Freeman takes the snap from the shotgun position. The Giants get immediate pressure on Freeman as LB Jacquian Williams comes through the line unblocked.
Freeman knows thatÂ Jackson is matched up on the outside with CB Michael Coe, who is giving up 5â€ť and 54 pounds in the matchup. All Jackson needs is the single step that he gets on Coe, and the rest is history.
Rookie Morris Claiborne is 1â€ť shorter and 2 pounds lighter than Coe, so it will be critical for the Cowboys to limit this matchup so as not to have the same result.
3) The Short Passing Game (When They Use It) â€“ In the 1st half of their Week 1 game against the Panthers, the Bucs utilized the short passing game masterfully.
They built their 1st TD drive of the season (covered in more detail later) primarily on Doug Martinâ€™s legs and short passes out of the backfield to Erik Lorig.
Lorig and Dallas Clark are relied upon to keep the offense moving, that is when itâ€™s moving. If those two get involved in the offense, then itâ€™s a fair bet that Tampaâ€™s sustaining long drives.
The problem is that Tampa hasnâ€™t sustained long drives since their first drive of the season.
1) Pass Coverage â€“ Donâ€™t be fooled by the Bucs 5 interceptions as a sign that they are a ball hawking secondary who are shutting down opposing QBâ€™s. Look no further than the 401 passing yards per game theyâ€™ve allowed to shoot that theory down.
Iâ€™ll give them credit for capitalizing on the mistakes that Cam Newton and Eli Manning made in the first two weeks, but the only impressive play made by the pass defenders was the 60 yard pick-6 from Eric Wright in the closing seconds of the 1st half in Week 2.
On that play, Wright was showing blitz but after making a great read of Manningâ€™s eyes he broke off the blitz and pounced on Eliâ€™s throw intended for Victor Cruz.
Other than that, the Bucs allowed Eli and the Giants to batter them over the middle and down field for 28 points in the 2nd half.
If Marty B can rack up 72 yards only catching 5 of the 10 passes thrown his way, Iâ€™m eager to see what Jason Witten can pull off against a LB core that is soft at best.
Iâ€™m also cautiously optimistic that Dez Bryant can have his first 100+ yard game of the 2012 season, as Aqib Talib allowed Hakeem Nicks to abuse him for an astounding 199 yards on 10 receptions.
That is of course if Dezâ€™s head is in the game, which it clearly wasnâ€™t against a physical Seahawks secondary in Week 2.
2) Vincent Jackson andâ€¦? â€“ Even with the addition of Vincent Jackson, the Bucs are 29th in total passing yards thanks in large part to the total lack of depth behind their star receiver.
If not for a fortunate bounce off of Justin Tryonâ€™s helmet caught by Mike Williams late in the 4th quarter last week, then these numbers would look even worse.
Dallas Clark and Erik Lorig are solid contributors, but neither is going to be relied upon to break a game open. The aforementioned Mike Williams had a breakout rookie season in 2010 (964 yds, 11 TD), but 2011 featured a drop off (771 yds, 3 TD) that leaves you wondering if he can consistently provide a downfield threat if Jackson falters.
This week alone, the Bucs have brought in Jordan Shipley, Tiquan Underwood, and Chris Owusu to replace Preston Parker (released) and Sammie Stroughter (injured reserve) as they continue to try to build a vertical passing threat.
Take away Jackson, and Tampa will not beat the Cowboys through the air. They just donâ€™t have a clear cut playmaker at wide receiver or tight end if you remove Jackson (a tall task for sure).
3) Field Position â€“ Last Friday night I tweeted the following while watching Tampaâ€™s first game of the season against the Panthers:
Through the 1st half of the TB v. Car game I’m more worried about Week 3 than Week 2. We’ll see what the 2nd half bring in the “morning”.
â€” DFW Fan Connection (@dfwfanconnect) September 15, 2012
Itâ€™s hard not to be impressed with the 1st (13 plays, 7:20 TOP for a TD) offensive drive the Bucs put together, but since then the offenseâ€™s longest scoring drive has been a 7 play drive for a field goal that lasted 4:01.
The average TD drive for the Bucs in 2012 is 50 yards, and theyâ€™re not likely to even get a FG if they start further back than their own 35. Compare that to the Cowboys, whose 5 scoring drives (4 TD and 1 FG) have all started from inside their own 25 yard line.
The Cowboys need to pin Tampa deep and often, and challenge them to put together quality scoring drives.
No â€śNEWâ€ť Injuries For Tampa â€“ The Bucs come into this week relatively healthy. Relative because they already suffered a few big injuries prior to the start of the regular season.
Along with Vincent Jackson, Eric Wright, and Dallas Clark, Tampa added Carl Nicks in free agency to give Josh Freeman more protection in the pocket. Nicks was to join 7 year Pro Bowl OG Davin Joseph, but they lost Joseph to a broken knee cap in the third preseason game of the year.
No doubt that the injury hampers the OLâ€™s effectiveness, but theyâ€™ve had nearly a month to adjust and they were considered a top unit by many before the Joseph injury.
In other words, the Cowboys shouldnâ€™t have a field day getting to the QB like I thought they would last week against Seattle.
Game Changer To Watch:
Doug Martin â€“ Martin received some of the highest praise that can be bestowed upon a rookie RB coming into the NFL when he was compared to Baltimoreâ€™s Ray Rice as far as his potential impact on the Bucs offensive attack.
The superlatives make more sense when you factor in that Greg Schiano did coach Rice at Rutgers, and Tampaâ€™s counting on him to recognize that type of talent when he sees it.
Martinâ€™s college numbers suggest that heâ€™s a more polished pass catcher out of the backfield than Rice was entering the league, since he averages almost 2 yards more per reception with Boise than Rice did at Rutgers. Martin was also given the role as Tampaâ€™s full time back, while Rice was stuck behind Leâ€™Ron McClain and Willis MacGahee in his first season.
I have little doubt that Martin is going to be a stud in this league for years after watching his first 44 carries. While not quite as quick as Rice, heâ€™s got the ability to get up to speed fairly quickly, and when he does get a head of steam itâ€™s going to take multiple tacklers to bring him down.
The Cowboys have a disturbing trend of giving up 100+ yard rushing games stretching into last season (5 in their last 7), and of the 9 100+ rushing yard games theyâ€™ve allowed in the last 18 games theyâ€™ve won just 2.
Buccaneers 13 vs. Cowboys 23 â€“ The trick with analyzing teams this early in the season is that the sample size is small. Itâ€™s easy to look at a teamâ€™s struggles in Week 1 and assess that theyâ€™ll be just as susceptible to the same schemes the following week.
The Cardinals chased Russell Wilson all over the field in their first matchup, and I thought for sure the Cowboys could do the same. That just wasnâ€™t the case. Was that because Seattle made adjustments that I didnâ€™t predict they could, or was it that this Cowboys defensive unit and coaching staff put together a horrible game plan? Was it both?
Only time and more games will tell.
On the same token, I was blown away with the Buccaneersâ€™ first drive of the season. It was a drive that coaches and teams keep on hand to remind themselves that THIS is how we control a football game when we have the ball.
The Bucs start with the ball on their 20. The longest pass play on the drive is a 15 yard gain to FB/TE Erik Lorig out of the backfield. Doug Martin shines making a spectacular leaping catch while falling backwards on an 11 yard pass that Josh Freeman places perfectly over Carolina rookie Luke Kuechlyâ€™s head, and a solid 11 yard run to the 6 yard line on a pitchout that sets up a Mike Williams 6 yard TD catch on the next play.
Zero penalties. Zero negative plays. A thing of beauty.
Tampa desperately needed that kind of drive on their first possession of the 4th quarter against the Giants last week.
Up Â 27-19 following a Giants FG, the Bucs start at their own 26. The momentum has clearly shifted to NY, and the home crowd is as loud as theyâ€™ve been since the start of the game.
The drive begins fairly promising with a 14 yard gain on 3rd and 7 to put Tampa at their own 43, but the drive sputters from there. After a 3 yard pickup on 1st and 10 by Martin, Freeman is slow to get the Bucs out of the huddle and is forced to call a timeout before the play clock expires. Martin loses a yard running on the next play, and the rhythm of the drive is broken. After a 7 yard pass to Mike Williams, Tampa is forced to punt the ball away.
The Giants score a TD on 80 yard TD pass to Victor Cruz and tie the score on a 2-point conversion.
I struggled with this one to start the week, but in the end the Bucs arenâ€™t nearly as put together as the Seahawks are. The Giants gave Tampa 21 points off of 3 Eli interceptions, and STILL won the game.
I donâ€™t expect the Cowboys to play as poorly in their first home game of the year as they did last week in Seattle, but even if they do Iâ€™m not convinced Tampa has enough ability to send the Boys to a 1-2 record.