This week's electronic conversation between Sports columnists Gary Shelton and John Romano:
GS: We know they aren't the Giants or the Titans. And we know they aren't the Rams or the Raiders. But here we are in the 10th week of the season, and I still can't figure out whether the Bucs are good. Can you?
JR: I'd say they ain't half-bad. And the half that ain't bad is the defense. The 11 guys on that side of the ball are just good enough to carry the Bucs to the playoffs. And the 11 guys on the other side are just average enough to make you wish Jimmie Giles was still a young man.
GS: I say Jimmie can still get deep. But if he does, would the Bucs throw to him?
JR: You've been listening to Jeff Garcia. And apparently Jon Gruden has not. Does Garcia have a legitimate gripe? Is the game plan too conservative because of Gruden? Or is Gruden being conservative because of the lack of talent?
GS: It's not the conservative moments that bother me. It's the cautious ones. It drives me crazy when the Bucs throw for 5 yards on third and 8 or for 2 yards on third and 4. It's like watching a football team do fractions. Put it this way: The Bucs usually have the better defense on the field, and other offenses still manage to attack them from time to time. Especially in the red zone.
JR: To me, the philosophy is sound. You can win most days with a good defense, so don't let the offense get in the way by being reckless. But, sheesh, don't you have to let the kids have the keys to the car occasionally?
GS: It depends. Do you want them to go somewhere? I think we agree here, John. I don't think anyone wants "reckless." But can it try out "ruthless" from time to time? How about "relentless?" Maybe a dash of "dangerous?"
JR: I don't know if they have too much faith in the defense or not enough in the offense. I mean, the Ravens won a Super Bowl with a modest offense. Heck, the Bucs did, too. But the defenses on those teams had a Godzilla-like quality to them. For these Bucs to advance in January, it's going to take more offense than they're showing.
GS: Absolutely. And if you remember, that 2002 Bucs offense blossomed in the postseason. Who knows? Maybe the return of Cadillac Williams will give them a spark. Is that possible?
JR: It's possible, but I would hope they wouldn't put that kind of pressure on a guy coming back from such a devastating injury. I still think Garcia is their best weapon in the huddle and the game plan has to revolve around him. Am I putting too much faith in an aging quarterback?
GS: Why should you be different? Jon Gruden has his faith in an aging quarterback, and in Minnesota, Brad Childress has his faith in an aging quarterback, and in Tennessee, Jeff Fisher has his faith in an aging quarterback. What is it they say? "Life doesn't begin at 40, but it beats the heck out of starting Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback."
JR: If only I had a nickel for every time a psychiatrist told me that. So let me get back to your original question. How good are these Bucs? Only three teams in the NFL have a better record. Does that mean the Bucs are heading to a conference championship game? Or is there a fizzle in our future?
GS: I think we may know more after today's game against the Vikings. But right now, I'd say the Bucs are a rung, maybe two, below the elite teams of the NFL. For them to have a shot at making noise in the playoffs, they're going to have to get as many home games as possible. That means overtaking Carolina in the NFC South. After that, it's a matter of health and getting hot at the right time. Your thoughts?
JR: I like their schedule, and I like their tenacity. I would just like them a whole lot better if the offense shows up today.