Mistaken Identity? T
By Ira Kaufman | Tribune StaffAMPA - In six years under Jon Gruden, the Bucs have overhauled personnel, changed facilities and altered the way they allocate resources under the salary cap.
Published: August 31, 2008
Published: August 31, 2008
But they can't seem to change their football DNA.
Although Gruden was hired specifically to invigorate an offense that appeared stagnant under Tony Dungy, the Bucs have won a Super Bowl and two additional division titles since 2002 primarily on the strength of a suffocating defense.
Through an equal number of regular-season games (96), the Bucs are averaging fewer points and offensive touchdowns during the Gruden era than in Dungy's tenure. In six seasons under Dungy, the team averaged 18.9 points and scored 180 offensive touchdowns, compared to 18.7 and 177 under Gruden.
"That does surprise me, because Tony wasn't necessarily viewed as an offensive mind," said ESPN NFL analyst Floyd Reese, former GM of the Titans. "But Tampa plays such great defense every year that any smart coach like Jon Gruden is bright enough to adjust. The same thing happened to Brian Billick in Baltimore. He came in as an offensive guru, but the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl they had Trent Dilfer at quarterback."
Like Gruden, Billick harbored ambitious plans to build a dynamic attack, only to discover the Ravens couldn't shake their defensive identity.
"You learn very quickly the minute you become a head coach that you are no longer an offensive or defensive guy," said Billick, now working as an NFL analyst for Fox. "I had to learn that. I had a bias that you couldn't win a championship that way, but Jon and I both had the luxury of phenomenally great defenses."
Buc fans have grown to expect superior defense from Monte Kiffin's unit, which has ranked in the Top 10 every year but one since 1997.
"Tampa's a defensive team in a defensive city," said former Buc quarterback Brad Johnson, who excelled in the 2002 postseason, when Tampa Bay scored nine offensive touchdowns in three games.
The sheer numbers suggest Tampa Bay hasn't made much offensive progress in the past six seasons, but Bucs players are quick to point to a bigger picture.
"At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is you have more points than the other guy," said quarterback Brian Griese, in his second stint with the Bucs. "For a lot of years, we spent a lot more money here on defensive players. C'mon, let's be fair ... I was part of those teams."
With the departures of Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Simeon Rice, the Bucs have been able to shift more money to the offensive side of the ball.
Since Gruden's arrival, 12 of Tampa Bay's 19 premium draft picks (first three rounds) have gone toward offensive players.
"We've done some good things on offense, and we've had some great days, so I feel excited about it," Gruden said. "We try to accentuate the things we do well. We've had two different quarterbacks Johnson, Jeff Garcia make the Pro Bowl here, we've had the Rookie of the Year in Cadillac Williams, and Joey Galloway has had career years here.
"We've got the youngest offensive line in football and we see development there. I would like to open it up a little more, certainly, but I feel confident about some of the things we've done. As a matter of fact, I feel pretty good about it."
Limiting The Mistakes
The Bucs are counting on continuity at quarterback to provide stability at the game's most critical position.
Few passers in league history have been more difficult to intercept than Garcia, and Gruden has ample confidence in Griese, who set a franchise record with a 97.5 passer rating in 2004.
"I just played with my first Pro Bowl quarterback," said veteran wide receiver Ike Hilliard, "and Jeff has another year under his belt in our system. I think we do a good job of creating good matchups for our offense, and we don't make many mistakes. We know that when you think Buc football you think of Cover 2, but we've got better personnel on offense than at any time since I've been here."
Gruden, 48-48 in the regular season with the Bucs, has been unable to replicate the effectiveness of the Tampa Bay offense down the stretch in 2002, when he crafted three impressive postseason game plans.
Linebacker Cato June arrived last year after winning a Super Bowl with Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning annually directs a high-powered offense.
"I see good things going on here," June said. "I see backs that can run people over, quarterbacks that don't turn the ball over and a very physical group up front. When you control the clock and don't turn it over, that's how you win games."
At least that's how they do it in Tampa Bay.
The Bucs have won only eight of 39 games during the Gruden era when Tampa Bay opponents score 21 points or more.
"We've won some 31-27 games over the years," said cornerback Ronde Barber, "but we need to do it more often."
The Raiders averaged 24.3 points per game during Gruden's four years in the Black Hole, but he has struggled to put his stamp on the Buccaneers attack, unable to establish an offensive persona.
In Oakland, Gruden was surrounded by playmakers like quarterback Rich Gannon, running back Charlie Garner and receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, all operating behind a big, nasty offensive line.
"Would you like to be a 65 percent passing team sometimes? Maybe. That's the lifestyle I grew up in," Gruden said. "But that's not where I think we are at this point."
More Than Numbers
Gruden leaves it up to others to analyze Tampa Bay's personnel over the years.
"Jon and I didn't have the luxury of having that guy at quarterback," Billick said. "This is a quarterback-driven league now, and if you don't have the right guy, it's a hard grind. Jon also hasn't been blessed with many true impact receivers or backs. This game always has been and will be about talent. If I've got more talent, I'm going to beat you nine times out of 10."
As Tampa Bay's offensive line coach, Bill Muir is entrusted with developing a young, talented unit that could open up Gruden's imaginative playbook.
As offensive coordinator, Muir has heard skeptics wonder why Tampa Bay's production under Gruden isn't significantly better than the numbers put up by his predecessor.
"I don't want to sound defensive, but I really think that what we do offensively, the plan we have, is as good as anything I see on tape," Muir said. "Obviously, we don't have the stats that we'd like, but we know the system works and we feel good about the players we have. We're not into statistics ... we do whatever we've got to do to win football games."
Like Muir, receivers coach Richard Mann was on Gruden's original 2002 staff in Tampa.
"I've been here the whole time, and if I remember right, we did all right in those playoffs the year we won the Super Bowl," Mann said. "And I think we've done all right offensively over the years. When you're moving the ball, not turning it over and you're winning, that's what I call good offense."
Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833 or email@example.com.