Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Lots of questions about the struggling defense in today's edition of the Tampa Bay mailbag.
Chris from Roanoke writes: Hey pat. I have a question that no one can quite answer.What happened to the bucs? A couple weeks ago I was thinking bye week and hopefully super bowl, now I'm praying that the cowboys lose and tampa pulls out a win so we can get the 6th seed. I know everyone has been talking about the run D but the pass D has also been terrible. Offense is disappointing as usual but normally the D is there to save the day, not in recent weeks. SO tell me is the kiffin ordeal, overlooked injuries, or are the last 3 teams we played really that good?
Pat Yasinskas: Your question is being asked by a lot of Bucs fans, and I don't think there's a single answer that covers it all. Let me start by saying I don't think the pending departure of Monte Kiffin is a factor. Sure, the Bucs hate to lose him, but he's still been there through the slide and hasn't changed the way he coaches the defense. I think the injuries to Jovan Haye, Chris Hovan and Derrick Brooks have all been part of the defensive problems. I also think age has caught up to this defense in a lot of spots (that will be addressed in the offseason). Tampa Bay's offense also has played a role in the collapse. The offense hadn't been consistent all season and I think the Bucs were able to win a lot of games because of their defense and special teams. But when the defense became ordinary, the offense wasn't there to provide any help.
Chris in Vancouver writes: What are the chances of Gruden being fired? Perhaps I'm being to harsh, but it seems like an offensive genius should have been able to do better. The only successful (ie. not one and done) season Gruden has had was following on Dungy's coattails. I'm fed up with his inconsistency. Is anyone else?
Pat Yasinskas: I'm hearing from a lot of "fed-up" Tampa Bay fans. But I think Jon Gruden is going to be safe, mainly because he's got a lot of time left on his contract. That said, the ownership isn't the most patient and I think Gruden will head into next year very much on the hot seat. I expect a very busy offseason in Tampa Bay. The Bucs didn't do much last offseason and that showed down the stretch. I think you might see some big names retire or get released, and I think you will see the Bucs being one of the most aggressive teams in free agency. I'll throw it out there again: If Donovan McNabb's available, I think they make a big run at him.
Stephen in Charlottesville, VA, writes: We've seen the last few weeks that the Bucs' biggest flaw, at least on defense, is at DT. Do you think there's a chance that we could use all that cap room and go after Haynesworth? Or are there any good potential draft picks that might fall to us at DT?
Pat Yasinskas: I can definitely see the Bucs making a run at Albert Haynesworth. They've got lots of cap room to work with and, as I said above, I don't expect them to be quiet in the offseason.