The Other Side: Rick Stroud, St. Pete Times


IRVING, Texas -- As part of our weekly feature, The Other Side, we check in with Rick Stroud of the St. Pete Times for a look at what has happened in Tampa Bay this season.

Archer - After last year's success a lot of people looked at the Bucs as a team to make the next step. Obviously they haven't. What happened?

Stroud - The Bucs began the season 4-2 and had just beaten the Falcons and Saints before their trip to London to play the Chicago Bears Oct. 23. Since then, they have lost seven straight games.

It would be too simplistic to say that the youngest team in the NFL didn’t handle a week in London very well, but obviously, they left something overseas.

Injuries have played a factor. DT Gerald McCoy tore his right biceps at New Orleans and went on Injured Reserve for the second straight year. He tore his left biceps and missed the final month of his rookie season.

The three technique is such an important position in the Bucs defense, its importance can’t be understated. The Bucs really had no good replacement. Frank Okam was eventually released and re-signed to the practice squad. The Bucs signed former Bills No. 1 draft pick John McCargo, who lasted about two games before going on Injured Reserve. Finally, they claimed Albert Haynesworth off waivers.

When you’re starting rookies and second year players, there’s a big drop off to the undrafted free agents and waiver claims behind them.

Another factor has been the schedule. The Bucs beat one team with a winning record last season – New Orleans. During the second quarter of the season, in which they traveled 14,000 miles, they played San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, the Saints, Houston and Green Bay. Four of those teams will win their division.

A lot of the Bucs problems have also been self-inflicted. They’re one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Two weeks ago, coach Raheem Morris ejected DT Brian Price after he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, negating a sack against the Panthers.

Last week, the Bucs led Jacksonville 14-0 but turned the ball over seven times and allowed 41 unanswered points. This week, Morris is working on fundamentals like ball security drills.

In concluding, players that were counted on as rookie have found it tough to duplicate those performances. Defenses adjust. The three worst words in the NFL are ‘I got it.’ There’s been a lot of that going on in Tampa Bay this season.

Archer - Is Raheem Morris in trouble?

Stroud - If Morris doesn’t win at least one or two games in remaining three, it will be tough for the Glazer family to stick with him. They won’t be favored in any of their remaining games against Dallas, Carolina or Atlanta and finishing the season with a 10-game losing streak, 11 out of 12, with no post-season in three years would be hard to ignore.

The Glazer family has only fired two coaches since they took over in 1995 – Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden – and both had tons more success than Morris. But there’s a feeling the Bucs don’t want to spend money on another high-priced coach, who will likely insist on a big investment in free agents. More likely, if Morris can eek out another win, there will be changes to his coaching staff, like a new offensive coordinator.

Archer - What happened to Josh Freeman this year and could Tampa look for a new QB in the draft?

Stroud - No, the Bucs still believe in Josh Freeman. They don’t think 2010 was a fluke when he threw 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His eight comebacks in the fourth quarter or overtime are the most in the first two seasons of any quarterback in history.

Freeman is only 23, one of the youngest players on the team. And in his defense, players around him have not played well. WR Mike Williams, who had 11 TDs as a rookie, has only three this season and been plagued by dropped passes. Of Freeman’s 18 interceptions, eight of them were targeted at TE Kellen Winslow, which means Freeman is forcing the ball into coverage in a desperate attempt to get a big play.

Freeman also has played with a sprained right thumb and now has a shoulder injury. The Bucs believe that somehow he will learn from all this adversity.

Archer - Aqib Talib is a local guy. How has he played and how concerned are the Bucs of his long-term viability with his off-field problems?

Stroud - Talib has played okay when healthy. He has only two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns. He cost the Bucs a chance at a win in London against the Bears when his personal foul penalty cost his team about 90 seconds off the clock trailing by a touchdown.

The off-field problems are an issue. He has one year left on his contract and the organization was split about whether to bring him back after the shooting incident in Garland, Texas. Talib stands trial in March on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. If convicted of any crime, the NFL could suspend him for anywhere from four games to a season. Long-term? It’s more like day-to-day.

Archer - The Cowboys secondary is suspect, allowing 100-yard receivers in four straight games. Should Mike Williams be happy?

Stroud - Mike Williams has struggled to match his performance as a rookie when he led all first-year players in receiving yards and touchdowns. He’s had a number of dropped passes, as well. Typically, teams keep a safety over the top of Williams. With Arrelious Benn likely out with a concussion, it might make the Cowboys’ job easier on Williams.