NFC South: Charlie Batch

Barber, Gonzalez defying age

November, 21, 2012
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has a reputation for being a hard-edged guy. Some of that’s probably deserved (see his defense when another team lines up in the victory formation), but sometimes Schiano shows another side to the media.

He’s been known to crack a one-liner or two. On Wednesday, Schiano even showed a sentimental side when he talked about Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber and Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez.

“It’s amazing, we have one on our team and they have one on their team,’’ Schiano said. “It’s pretty neat that they are playing each other this weekend.

We all know that Barber and Gonzalez are veteran guys that still are producing at a high level. But until Schiano made the comment, I’d never really thought about what Barber and Gonzalez are doing in strictly numerical terms.

Schiano’s comment prompted me to look around the league at veterans. I’m not counting kickers, punters and long-snappers. I’m not counting guys like Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who is out with an injury and I’m not counting part-time role players, like Green Bay receiver Donald Driver. And I’m not counting Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch, who hasn't been starting, but appears headed for playing time due to injuries.

I’m only counting position players that have been starting all or most of this season and my research shows that Barber is the oldest player in that category. He’s 37 and is two months older than Washington linebacker London Fletcher, who currently is dealing with an injury. Green Bay center Jeff Saturday, also 37, is No. 3 and Denver linebacker Keith Brooking, who turned 37 three weeks ago, is No. 4.

Gonzalez, who will turn 37 in February, is No. 5.

“When you look at what Tony does, he is really a fine player,’’ Schiano said. “You have to account for him. At that age, that is something.’’
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees may not win the Most Valuable Player award, which will be announced the night before the Super Bowl. That probably will go to Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

But Brees is picking up his share of hardware. The latest came Friday night in Los Angeles as Brees was announced the winner of the 46th annual Byron “Whizzer’’ White Award during the NFL Players Association PULSE Awards.

White served as a Supreme Court Justice. The award is designed to honor a player who embodies White’s ideals of a “scholar, athlete, patriot, humanitarian and public servant." All 32 teams nominate a player and the list is then narrowed to three finalists. Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch and New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson were the other finalists with Brees.

“It’s such a tremendous honor,’’ Brees said. “As I look at the list of names associated with this award, and certainly the namesake, Mr. Byron 'Whizzer' White, this award stands for so much.''

Brees also got pretty philosophical about his role as a football player and citizen during his acceptance speech.

“My head coach, Sean Payton, is a Bill Parcells disciple, and something that he has told us many times -- you’ll actually hear Bill Parcells say it as well -- as an NFL player, you get asked to ride on that train, and you try and ride it for as long as you can,’’ Brees said. “At some point, you’re going to be asked to get off, but you’re going to be better having had the opportunity to ride on that train. I think also, the mindset should be not only is it going to leave you better than when it found you, but I think your mission should be to leave the game better than when you found it. Not only does that mean what you do on the field, but that means what you do off the field.”

Brees has been extremely active in charitable and community events since arriving in New Orleans in 2006. Even before that, he was involved in charitable activities. As a member of the San Diego Chargers in 2003, he started The Brees Dream Foundation to advance cancer research and help children in need.

Brees also received another award Friday night. As the result of fan voting, Brees was chosen as the winner of the “Heart of the Game Award. That’s designed to honor a player for his “determination, enthusiasm and overall passion for the game and his teammates."

Bucs letting Josh Freeman air it out

October, 6, 2010
One of the more interesting things I’ve come across in this week’s package of numbers from ESPN Stats & Information is the category “air yards per attempt’’.

It’s basically self explanatory – how many yards quarterbacks are actually throwing the ball on their pass attempts. When it comes to the NFC South quarterbacks, I think the numbers are pretty interesting and tell a lot about the different offensive systems.

Let’s start with Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman because he’s near the top of the list in this category. Freeman ranks No. 3 in the league, averaging 9.9 yards of air time per attempt. Only Charlie Batch (11.2 yards) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (11.1 yards) have higher averages. This makes a lot of sense, because Freeman easily has the strongest arm of any quarterback in the division, and the Bucs need to continue showcasing that arm and letting Freeman throw downfield.

After Freeman, there’s a huge drop in this category before you get to the rest of the NFC South quarterbacks. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is second in the division, but tied for No. 24 while averaging 7.8 yards of air time on his passes. I think Ryan’s numbers get brought down a bit by the fact the Falcons throw a lot of short stuff to tight end Tony Gonzalez and a fair amount of passes to their running backs. But Ryan probably has the second-strongest arm in the division and good downfield targets in Roddy White and Harry Douglas. I’d like to see Ryan take some more shots downfield.

After Sunday’s game, New Orleans defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis pretty much summed up Carolina’s passing attack when he said an offense with a rookie quarterback is going to throw a lot of short passes. The numbers back that up. Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen’s attempts have averaged 6.5 yards, which ranks him No. 31.

Finally, it’s kind of stunning to look at any quarterback category and see New Orleans’ Drew Brees at No. 33. But, in this case, it is what it is. Even when everything’s working, Brees isn’t going to have a high average in this category because the Saints throw a lot of short and medium passes. This year, the Saints have admitted that defenses are throwing more soft zones at them to try to eliminate big plays. Brees has been throwing underneath more than usual and is averaging just 6.1 yards per attempt.

Wrap-up: Steelers 38, Buccaneers 13

September, 26, 2010
What it means: All dynasties have to end sometime. Come on, did you really think the Bucs would keep winning? They beat two bad teams -- Cleveland and Carolina. Against a good team, we found out what we already knew. The Bucs probably aren’t headed for the playoffs this year. They’re improving and they’re going to keep improving, but there’s still a lot to be done before they’re ready to play with the big boys.

Could have seen this coming: Sitting in Tampa International Airport, which isn't Josh Freeman International Airport just yet, on Saturday afternoon, I saw the plane I was going to board unload passengers. It was coming from Philadelphia, which isn’t exactly Steelers territory. But, if you know anything about airline hubs these days, you could figure that a lot of people on that flight didn’t begin their day in Philadelphia. I saw at least 25 people wearing Steelers gear. Sounds like it was more of the same inside Raymond James Stadium as Pittsburgh fans had more of a presence than Tampa Bay fans.

Big revelation: There had been a lot of talk about how good Tampa Bay’s defense was. But that came after the Bucs beat Jake Delhomme and the guy who (momentarily) replaced Delhomme (Matt Moore). They got Charlie Batch on Sunday, and I don’t know that anyone has ever called Batch a big-time quarterback. But he has good players around him and that meant a reality check for Tampa Bay’s defense. If you’re letting Batch hang 30-plus points on the board, you have room for improvement.

What’s next: The bye week. Yeah, it’s early and some fans were griping about the fact it might stop Tampa Bay’s momentum. Well, Pittsburgh took care of that. The Bucs can take the good things from their two wins and try to continue to build on them as they get in a little extra practice time before going to Cincinnati on Oct. 10.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- I’m heading down to the locker rooms and will be back with extensive analysis a bit later. In the meantime, here’s my Rapid Reaction on Tampa Bay's victory over Carolina.

What it means: For the Buccaneers, they now are 2-0 and that’s not a misprint. Yeah, the victories have come against Jake Delhomme and the guy who replaced Delhomme (Matt Moore). But, hey, they’re still NFL victories and the Bucs now have only one less win then they did all last season. They could match last season’s win total with a victory at home against Pittsburgh, which could be starting quarterback Charlie Batch next Sunday. I don’t think selling out Raymond James Stadium will be a problem this time. Sure, the Pittsburgh transplants are going to help, but the Bucs might have sold some tickets and won back some fans with their first two wins.

For the Panthers, you don’t want to ever say a season is over after only two games, but this one’s hanging by a thread. Let’s be real honest: coach John Fox is a lame duck, the quarterback situation is no better than it was a year ago, the defense got shredded by Josh Freeman and it’s going to take one incredible turnaround for the Panthers to make anything of this season. Fox’s résumé already is showing up in mailboxes around the league.

What’s next: After the Steelers, the Bucs have a bye week. That means they’re going into the bye at 2-1 or 3-0. For a young team, you can’t ask for a much better start.

For the Panthers, I think you can say the countdown to Jimmy Clausen starting is ticking rapidly. There was a time when I thought the rookie quarterback would take over for Moore after Carolina’s open date (Oct. 17). With Cincinnati, New Orleans and Chicago coming up before the bye and Moore not showing much, we could see Clausen starting at any time.

Tomorrow's Talker: Are the Bucs the surprise team this season? Come on, let’s keep things in perspective. They’ve defeated a pair of dysfunctional teams in Carolina and Cleveland. This is a very nice start for a team that was 3-13 last year, and there also are encouraging signs popping up all over the place. But the season’s still young and so is this team. The arrow’s on the rise, but it’s not quite pointing to the Super Bowl in Dallas just yet.

Hero: Freeman. This kid is for real. He went out and won a game Sunday with his arm, legs and head. How many times in team history has that really happened? The Bucs now have a franchise quarterback.

Goat: Moore. This team has bigger problems than just the quarterback play, and it’s been that way for over a year now. But, still, the Panthers knew what they had in Moore, a former undrafted free agent. He never was the answer, and Fox’s stubbornness probably is going to result in the end of his time in Carolina.

Trending: Sales of Freeman jerseys at malls in the Tampa Bay area and sales of Clausen jerseys and Bill Cowher chins throughout the Carolinas. Just a prediction here: Sometime this season, Carolina fans will be chanting for Tony Pike.

Unsung Hero: Quincy Black. The Bucs were raving about young outside linebackers Black and Geno Hayes all during the preseason. They weren’t lying. Black put a vicious hit on Moore on a third-quarter blitz and he and Hayes were part of the reason Tampa Bay’s defense is starting to look very good again.