Happy Thanksgiving! This week we have Patrik from The Pewter Plank. Although the Bucs are 7-3, you’ll see that Patrik isn’t so confident about this game. Anyway, enjoy and give him hell before the game.
1- Raheem Morris has been getting the love over the national media. Does that spread throughout the fan base?
That’s really only come about in the past several weeks. If you’ll remember when Morris made his “best team in the NFC” proclamation a lot of people around the country scoffed and rolled their eyes. Raheem wasn’t as popular last season, but few coaches are when a team goes 3-13. He also made some personnel choices (along with GM Mark Dominik) that riled the fan base, most notably to let go of Derrick Brooks. It’s funny what winning can do though, now all of the sudden people really like Raheem Morris. He’s likely to get a fat extension at the end of the season and the team has completely bought into what he’s saying. He’s a perfect coach for this type of team, he’s young and brash and it rubs off on the players. The Bucs really seem to revel in their underdog, us-against-the-world mentality and that all comes from Morris.
2- 7-3 is impressive…. What did you think were the chances of this happening at the beginning of the season?
Zero, I’m not going to pretend I had this Bucs team pegged for anything better than five or six wins coming into the season and that may have been optimistic. On paper none of this makes any sense. The Bucs are the youngest team in the league and they start two rookie receivers, a rookie tailback, a rookie left guard and rely heavily on a rookie fullback. Not to mention the quarterback is only in his second season and his first full year as the starter. You take that to Vegas and no one’s going to bet on that team, but somehow the Bucs have managed to put themselves firmly in the playoff hunt with that line-up.
3- Where do you suspect the Bucs are going to find their biggest success against the Ravens defense?
On the ground. The Bucs ground game was bottom of the barrel for the first six or seven weeks of the season, but it’s all the way up to 12th in the NFL since LeGarrette Blount took over as the main back and the Bucs shuffled their line. A couple of weeks ago I watched Ronnie Brown of the Dolphins go for 45 yards on six carries on the opening drive, then inexplicably Miami stopped running the ball entirely. Last weekend Mike Goodson ripped off 120 yards and he’s a third-string back. The Bucs need to run the ball anyways to keep the Ravens pass-rush from bearing down on Josh Freeman, but I think there is room to work there on Sunday. Blount is a big (6’0 250) physical runner and he can wear down a defense with enough carries. He could have a big day if the Ravens don’t shore up what has traditionally been a very good run defense.
4- While the Bucs have shown some success against the pass, they are ranked 29th against the run. Can they stop the 3 headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain?
Probably not, no. To their credit they did manage to hold Frank Gore to just 23 yards on 12 carries last weekend while sacking Troy Smith six times, but up until that point the Bucs front seven had been absolutely miserable. Coming into the San Francisco game the Bucs had just 8 sacks on the season and were regularly getting pushed back off the line. The Ravens have a very good line and three quality backs, I don’t know how well the Bucs are going to be able to get penetration and contain the run game. The problem really starts with the D-line, it rarely manages to set the edge and they oftentimes struggle to even take up enough space to occupy their blockers. The Bucs linebackers are a bit undersized and they don’t shed blocks well at all. If the Ravens line can get into the second level they’ll be able to run all day. I’m not optimistic about the Bucs shutting down the Ravens’ ground game.
5- What is/are the biggest storyline(s) heading into this game?
The Bucs haven’t beaten a good team all year. Part of why they have managed to go 7-3 is that the NFC is, frankly, terrible and the Bucs have a very easy schedule. The best teams they’ve played have been the Falcons (lost 27-21 on the road), the Saints (lost 31-6 at home) and the Steelers (lost 38-13 at home). These are the only good teams they’ve seen all season, heck they’re the only teams over .500 the Bucs have played all year and they’re 0-3 in those games. If Tampa wants to prove it’s legit, they need to beat a quality opponent. What’s insane is they can lose the rest of the games on their schedule to the teams that are above .500, and as long as they beat the teams at or below that mark they’ll finish 10-6 which will get them into the playoffs in the NFC. Still, if they’re looking to prove themselves a legitimate contender they need to pick up a win either this weekend in Baltimore or next weekend when Atlanta comes calling. If they can’t win either of those games they’re going to be labeled as frauds.
EC- I finally figured out why the Glazers fired Jon Gruden. They were tired of hearing him talk. If and when Raheem Moore is let go, will we have the pleasure of hearing him in the booth? How would he do?
Heh, the reason for Gruden’s dismissal has more to do with the Glazer’s ineptitude as owners than anything else. But criticism of the ownership aside, I’m not sure how Raheem Morris would do in the booth. On one hand he’s a very football savvy guy, extremely bright and well spoken and he’s a pleasure to listen to in his interviews because he’s one of the few coaches in the NFL that actually answers questions candidly. On the other hand I think that would get him in trouble if you asked him to call games. Not to mention he sometimes fails to make any sense whatsoever. Take for instance his post-game press conference after the Bucs beat the 49ers last weekend. He starts off the press conference by stating that stats are for losers, then the very next thing out of his mouth is ‘so, how about Ronde Barber’s 40th career pick?’ I’ve found in my time covering the Bucs that a lot of times with Raheem your only response is, ‘huh?’
Prediction: Ravens 24 Bucs 20