To preview this weekend's game, I traded scouting reports with Sander from Bucs Nation. You can follow @Bucs_Nation on Twitter and make sure you follow Sander as well at @Sanderrp. Big thanks to Sander for taking the time to trade questions!
1. First off, it's a little shocking, in my opinion anyway, that a team with as much talent that Tampa Bay has on both sides of the ball, has started off 0-7. What do you think is the root cause of this? Coaching? Injuries? Is it a depth issue? Snowball effect of all of these things?
It's a mix of a lot of things, which is pretty common in these situations. Quarterback play has been sub-par throughout the season, whether that quarterback was Josh Freeman or Mike Glennon. Injuries hit the offensive line, which limited the running game and the result was a horrible offense. That led to three last-second losses in very unlucky/depressing ways over the first four games. I wouldn't say that the players have given up, but that can't have helped their confidence in coaches' schemes.
Those schemes are also part of the issue. The Bucs run a downfield passing game based on isolation routes, which places a very high demand on quarterbacks to make tough throws on almost every play. Their defense was very good early in the season, but has been dismantled in recent weeks: they can't get pressure with four rushers, and yet the Bucs insist on playing a lot of zone, which predictably leads to the holes in zone being exploited.
Overall, players are not playing well, coaches are being outcoached, injuries have hurt and the combined result of all of those things is a disaster.
2. What's your take on QB Mike Glennon and the decision to part ways with Josh Freeman? Does Glennon have the skill-set and attributes that you think will make him a viable franchise quarterback going forward?
I didn't mind benching Josh Freeman. He had steadily regressed over the past two seasons and was not playing well. The anemic offense wasn't all his fault, but it was pretty clear that he wasn't going to be the team's quarterback of the future. Of course, making that decision during the offseason when they could have gotten something in trade would have been a little smarter.
I also think that Mike Glennon has played a little better than Freeman this year, but he has to improve in a lot of areas as well. He does seem to have a lot of traits of a successful pocket quarterback: he's calm in the pocket, he can step up to avoid pressure and he seems to generally take what the defense is giving him. That said, his accuracy is concerning. His deep ball is completely useless, generally floating out of bounds, and he has a tendency to place sideline routes to the inside, which make them an easy target for cornerbacks. Small miracle those haven't been picked off more often, but if he tries that against Richard Sherman that's likely to change.
If Glennon can improve on his ball placement and anticipation he wouldn't be that far removed from being an early career Matt Ryan. But that's a really big 'if'.
3. The Bucs have some players that I've really liked on their defense - Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron, Lavonte David, Mason Foster, obviously Revis and Goldson, Bowers and Clayborn - what is your opinion on why it's a group that's ranked in the middle tier of the NFL? I'm guessing a lack of production on the offensive side of the ball is partly to blame, but are guys underperforming? Do you see issues with scheme?
Mostly I would blame scheme and a lack of pass rush. Over the first four weeks, the Bucs defense looked very good. It wasn't quite dominant, but it wasn't far off either. They managed to create frequent free rushers on blitzes and a mix of coverages seemed to confuse opposing quarterbacks. And then the defense got dissected by Matt Ryan with no weapons, a Philadelphia offense that has scored just three points in the following two weeks and Cam Newton and company. In other words: it seems teams have figured out how to best attack this defense.
The scheme has been....peculiar, to say the least. The Bucs traded for Darrelle Revis, and yet have barely used him in man coverage and practically never use his skills to shift coverage elsewhere. They've played a lot of zone coverage, but their only capable pass rusher is Gerald McCoy. Meanwhile, they limit McCoy's impact by running a lot of stunts that force him to occupy two linemen while Adrian Clayborn runs around looking for a free gap. This defense has the talent to be very good, but it's a mess of poorly fitting schemes and dumb on-field mistakes.
4. With Doug Martin out this week (I think), who gets the carries out of the backfield? Likewise, with Mike Williams now on IR, who steps up in his place behind Vincent Jackson?
Sixth-round rookie Mike James will be the main back, with Brian Leonard as the third-down back. James has been surprisingly good for looking like "just a guy" coming out of college, and given the fact that the team's running game wasn't doing much with Martin at the helm either I wouldn't expect a huge drop off. Tiquan Underwood will get most of Mike Willliams' snaps, but you should see a lot of Chris Owusu (if healthy) as well.
5. How as Tampa Bay's rookie class fared outside of Glennon? Any bright spots or underachievers?
I think it's been pretty much as expected, really. Johnthan Banks has been up and down, which is what you expect of rookie cornerbacks, especially those who lack deep speed. Mike James has looked good as mentioned before, which is nice. The biggest surprise is undrafted tight end/receiver Tim Wright. He played receiver at Rutgers but the Bucs converted him to (receiving) tight end, and he's been surprisingly productive. He does a great job beating linebackers and safeties in man coverage and has the speed to stretch the defense and attack the seams, too. He's not much of a blocker and he's still raw, but he's improving every week. If he can continue that improvement and still maintain his abilities as a receiver, he could turn into a very dangerous player.