Critical questions facing Bucs after loss in London
The Bucs have much work to do after Sunday's 24-18 loss to the Bears, but there are some particularly perplexing questions that come to mind. Let's address a few of them here:
What’s with Josh Freeman’s interceptions?
Freeman threw four interceptions on Sunday, and the Bucs are going to be hard-pressed to beat good teams if the trend continues. He’s now thrown at least one interception in five of the Bucs’ seven games. More and more, each appears to be the result of Freeman attempting throws that just aren’t there. He’s still completing 61.5 percent of his passes, which is right where he was last season. So, he isn’t suddenly an inaccurate passer. It’s his decisions that are the problem.
For those fans who often ask why offensive coordinator Greg Olson doesn’t dial up more deep shots and take the reigns off Freeman, I think the answer is right in front of you. Olson doesn’t have complete trust in Freeman because he continues to make ill-advised throws. The good news? He’s just 23 and has been a starter for less than two years, so none of this has to define Freeman.
When will Aqib Talib get his emotions in check?
His personal foul penalty in the final minutes cost the Bucs dearly, and it was – as usual – a result of Talib not being able to control his emotions. He has repeatedly displayed a failure to do this on and off the field, and now it’s starting to impact what happens between the lines.
Talib is not entirely to blame for the loss, but his mistake was arguably the most avoidable the Bucs made. Holding penalties and interceptions can happen when trying to make plays. Sticking your fingers into an opponent’s face mask is a choice – even if Williams showed aggression, too.
The penalty forced the Bucs to make another late defensive stand before holding Chicago to a field goal. That cost Tampa Bay more than a minute of clock time and forced it to burn a time out. As if the task before Freeman and the offense wasn't already hard enough.
Why did Dez Briscoe take Arrelious Benn’s snaps?
Briscoe made the coaches’ decision to give him expanded playing time appear smart as he finished with six catches for 73 yards. But Briscoe was targeted 10 times on Sunday, one week after Benn – the starting flanker, by the way – recorded the season’s longest play with a 65-yard touchdown reception against the Saints. Benn was targeted once, and finished without a catch. This is not necessarily a criticism, but it’s something I’m very curious about. Benn’s big-play ability and explosion is an important component of the Tampa Bay offense. So, why did the Bucs choose not to tap into it?
What is the health of the offensive line?
The injuries piled up on Sunday, and the status of the injured offensive linemen is a key issue moving forward. Center Jeff Faine (pulled biceps) has suggested he’d be able to return after the bye week. If he can’t go, that will create serious problems for the Bucs. We still don’t know the extent of Jeremy Zuttah’s ankle injury on Sunday. His loss would be a major one given his ability to fill in at three positions (center, right and left guards). And, remember, if Zuttah is lost for any length of time, that puts Ted Larsen back into the lineup – a player who Zuttah replaced because of the coaches’ performance evaluation.
Has Mike Williams lost some confidence?
It’s a fair question given Williams key drops. The first quarter pass to Williams that went from a possible touchdown to Bears interception is a play that a receiver of Williams’ talent needs to make – end of story. But he attempted to catch the ball with his body, seemingly more worried about the hit he was going to take. You could make an argument that Williams could have caught the two-point conversion attempt from Freeman in the fourth quarter, too.
Williams has mishandled too many balls lately, and if the Bucs can’t rely on him, it’s going to take a considerable toll on their passing game.
Why didn’t the Bucs add some backfield depth?
It was far from a secret that the Bucs were scary thin in the backfield during the past two weeks. With LeGarrette Blount out, they were fortunate to get a great performance from Earnest Graham against the Saints, the veteran surpassing 100 yards. But the Bucs opted to go another week with just two healthy tailbacks on the roster, knowing what the outcome would be if one got hurt.
And one did. Graham reportedly sustained a torn Achilles’ tendon, an injury that likely would end his season. That left Kregg Lumpkin as the only tailback. When he couldn’t get untracked, the Bucs didn’t have another option. They considered promoting Mossis Madu from the practice squad last week and added Chad Spann to the practice squad as well. But both players remained there on gameday, unavailable to the Bucs.