OK we are back with another breakdown of the game film from the Bucs extremely impressive win over the Patriots…the NFL gold standard for longevity of success. Belichick was pissed after the game which tells us he wasn’t holding back and expected his team to perform. The Bucs were more physical and more effective in so many areas that some of the ex-NFL coaches I spoke with this week were frankly shocked! Here are some main observations both pro and con.
The talent additions through the draft and free agency have dramatically changed the identity of the Bucs. Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Doug Martin, Mark Barron, Levonte David and Eric Wright are all significant upgrades at their positions and can consistently win in their individual match-ups. Ronde Barber once told me that football is the ultimate team sport but the winning edge in the NFL is how may “one on one” battles you can win on each play. All these guys can do that.
Josh Freeman’s accuracy is becoming a problem. He is wasting golden opportunities. This game was a microcosm of Freeman’s career. Extremely inconsistent. The first drive was spot on…the rest of the game was indifferent.
Adam Hayward should be the starting Mike. He was all over the field and played fast, physical and downhill.
The pass rush was the best we’ve since the days of the dancing Simeon Rice. Great pressure through blitzing the linebackers and safeties.
The run defense was excellent at times with Gerald McCoy and Mason Foster on the sidelines. Coincidence?
Talent Additions and Improvement
The first drive showcased most of the Bucs new weapons. LG Carl Nicks was dominating up front in the run and pass game. Vincent Jackson caught 3 passes for 48 yards. The first throw of the game was flawless execution. Great protection off the play fake, Freeman hits his plant foot and delivers with anticipation throwing before the out cut and on the numbers of Vincent Jackson…gain of 25. On 3-12 Freeman again throws before VJack curls up at the marker. His 6-5 230 pound frame shields the defender to covert the first down. On first down from a bunch formation VJack and Freeman hook up again on time and on the money. The final 6 yards Doug Martin gets in behind Nicks and scores in 2 carries. 7-0 Bucs…a Picasso of an opening drive using most of the Bucs new palate of weapons.
Martin showed some other flashes in the game getting 20 yards on a perfectly blocked shotgun draw play. Zuttah, Nicks, Joseph (pre injury) Penn all get a hat on a hat and Martin hits the hole with speed and power. In the second level he makes the first guy miss, runs through another tackle and carries a defender for the final 4 yards…at least 10 yards after contact! He’s special. On another staple run play the 5-9 Muscle Hamster hugs up behind a double team of Penn/Nicks (combined 690 pounds of athletic force) and gets 8 yards. He’s tough to find behind those guys. Martin also caught the ball well (in practice and in games) and picked up a couple line stunts quickly in pass protection. He allows the Bucs to do anything on any down…something they couldn’t do last year with Blount. He’s got a great football IQ from his Boise State days. Dallas Clark also showed his worth running a great route bouncing off a LB creating separation then breaking a tackle for 8 YAC yards and a first down. Mark Barron of course had the opportunistic pick 6 (thanks to Ronde Barber reading the eyes of Tom Brady, under cutting Gronkowski’s route and tipping the ball…we will see plenty of that) and also showed some great run support physicality. Free agent CB acquisition Eric Wright also flashed in run support and blew up Aaron Hernandez over the middle to deny a third down conversion. Wright has also played great one on one coverage allowing some of the Bucs blitz packages to get home. Rookie LB Levonte David also had some splash plays getting a vicious hit on Brady on the blitz and making some quick reads and hits in the run game. All this new talent makes the Bucs so much better. Add a more detailed and organized coaching staff and the building blocks are in place for a huge turnaround.
Freeman came out of the box with his best drive since the 2010 season. Virtually perfect! Three passes to Vincent Jackson thrown on time, in rhythm with laser like accuracy. He completed 5 of his first 6 then went 4 of his next 11. This is what we have seen in practice and the coaches are talking about it as well. His footwork seems to get lazy. Maybe after watching Tom Brady all week deliver with great balance, superior footwork and spot on mechanics…you notice Freeman’s inconsistency in this area. On a 1-10 bootleg, to a wide open Vincent Jackson, the throw is late and a little low. VJack drops it but the throw could have been better.
On the next play, 3-7, Free gets great pass protection, doesn’t let the play develop and dumps it down to Mike Williams three yards in front of the marker where he is dropped immediately. On the next series it’s 2-8 and Free throws behind a wide open Vjack on a cross! Lazy mechanics! He made the right read catching the Pats in a blitz and should have had a huge gain on a simple 10 yard throw. Now it’s 3-7 at 21 instead of a 1-10 at the 40 (assuming the catch and run). These are the little things that Schiano is talking about. Later on in the drive, Free throws into coverage but gets bailed out with an interference call on Dallas Clark. Then on 3-6, with great protection again, he misses an open Preston Parker for a first down. On a later series he rolls left and misses a wide open Doug Martin over the middle and almost throws a pick. On the next series it’s 3-4 and Freeman misses Parker again who had just a step on the defender…but a good pass makes a first down. Next series Freeman misses high and behind a wide open Dallas Clark on a crossing route. Then he forces one to Sammie Stroughter who wasn’t open. On most, if not all of these passes, he has great protection and open receivers. That rarely happens in the NFL. If you can’t make these throws consistently in this league you cannot be a franchise quarterback. He knows that, and the coaches know that. He simply has to get better and with some mechanical work he can do it.
Adam Hayward should be the starting Mike LB.
Foster was held out with a hamstring injury and Hayward made the most of this opportunity. He was much quicker to read and react than Foster has been and he plays downhill…moving forward which is what Schiano is looking for. He finished with 7 tackles and a sack of Brady but it was how he played that really stood out. On the Pats first series on 3-2, he flows quick to the ball and blows up the running play. On the 4th and 1 he keeps his legs clean as he flows to the ball and knocks Ridley back short of the marker! His finest play of the night was a perfectly timed blitz with so much speed Brady had no chance to even throw it away. He made so many key plays on third down the vaunted Pats offense had more than 14 yards only once in their first 8 possessions! And he did this while playing on special teams as well. Hayward is also the consummate professional on and off the field and the personification of the Buccaneer Way. Schiano will make a clear statement by sitting Foster. If you do things the right way and produce when you get your chance, you get rewarded. If Heyward doesn’t start week one then it’s not because he didn’t beat out Foster on the field.
Pass Rush Shows up!!!
Wow…this was maybe the most impressive part of the Bucs game because it is the most crucial key to their defensive success. Schiano put constant heat on Brady by sending 6 from his nickel and dime packages…and sending them from all angles. Brady usually eats the blitz alive but the Bucs got there with speed and an attitude. Yes Brady held the ball too long a couple times and the Pats were missing 2 starters on the offensive line but it’s still a huge step in the right direction. Michael Bennett continues to beat his man off the edge with a huge hit and sack/fumble. Hayward and Levonte David also got hits on Brady. Credit Myron Lewis and all the corners with some great man to man coverage to allow the Bucs to blitz.
Run Defense…good at times.
The Bucs gave up a couple of chunk plays in the run game but also did a great job in short yardage. With Gerald McCoy and Mason Foster out the Bucs stooped the Pats on 3rd and 1 and fourth and one. George Johnson was a monster at the point of attack and credit E.J. Wilson who filled in for McCoy. The Bucs had 5 tackles for loss! They were routinely manhandled up front all last year and last week by the Titans. Overall they did give up a 5.4 average to Ridley( the starter) and they need to be better but the first team made the plays to stop drives and get off the field.