I hope you'll all take a moment to peruse these five questions I posed to Patrick Kennedy, blogger over at the SBNation MLB site DRays Bay. Kennedy was nice enough to swap hats and answer my questions on his other favorite team, the not-so-mighty Bucs. Let's roll on:
Bruce Gradkowski has struggled mightily recently, and the Falcons proved effective against another young QB, Jason Campbell. What kind of game do you expect from Gradkowski on Sunday?
Patrick Kennedy: It honestly depends on the playcalling. Part of Gradkowski's problem is that Jon Gruden will not call plays that suit his style. Rather than go with the short, dink and dunk passes that he used with Chris Simms, he chooses to air it out six or seven times a game long, and that just isn't the type of passer Gradkowski is. If you look at his numbers at Toledo, he consistently had completion percentages in the high 60%ish range, and that was because they called plays to his ability. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, and Gruden needs to realize this for him and the offense to be successful. As for your question, I honestly can't say. Gruden befuddles me from week to week. He doesn't have a consistent gameplan at any point. I'm going to logically say that based on his struggles in the last four weeks, he'll throw 20-25 passes, one touchdown and one interception, while throwing for a total in the area of 150 yards. Atlanta to the best of my insight does not have a great secondary, so I don't think he'll be overmatched, but if Gruden is smart, he'll try to establish the running game early. The Bucs have never lost a game when Cadillac Williams has more than 20 carries.
Dave: Wow, neat stat there on Cadillac. It sounds like it's a very good idea to take him out of the game early before he works his magic voodoo curse on us. I'll be watching Gradkowski to see what kind of passes he's throwing early on.
The Bucs' defense was in the past few years on the most feared and difficult defenses in the league.What's changed to make them so susceptible to gruesome beatings?
Patrick Kennedy: They're old, to put it mildly. Sometimes certain players just hit a wall and it is that black and white. The defense I've seen is generally slow and old. I blame Simeon Rice for a lot of it. Before being injured, he was always relied upon to rough things up in the backfield and cause a disturbance. Then he just suddenly went MIA this year before getting hurt, and the trickle down effect really made other defenders carry more of a burden that they obviously have not been able to live up to. Injuries and the McFarland trade have also hurt the team, as inferior backups get playing time now and are exposed for the bad players they are, and certain players whose reputations have exceeded their actual value, like Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen, have been exposed. Quarles, Brooks, Barber, etc. are getting old. I will tell you this, and you probably know where I'm coming from. Juran Bolden is terrible, he is about the worst defensive back I have ever seen in a Bucs uniform, he is burned on every big play and No. 3 WRs routinely take advantage of him. How that guy, in his mid-30s, is a starting NFL CB (due to Brian Kelly's injury) I will never know.
Dave: It's funny how once great NFL teams can get old so incredibly fast. I wouldn't know, since the Falcons are neither great nor particularly old. Are the Bucs sure they don't want Morten?
What kind of moves does the team have to make in order to contend over the course of the next couple years?
Patrick Kennedy: Hmm, that is a tough question, and one that I honestly don't have the answers for. I know that with expiring contracts this offseason, the team has somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million of cap room to spend this offseason, which will mark the first time in my young life that the Bucs aren't pressed up against the salary cap, and this probably will mark the end of the annual beggings to Derrick Brooks for a salary cut to get under the cap. This newfound space will surely offer the team a lot of control over the path it wants/needs to take, but the question they must first ask is if they want Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen to be leading this effort, and that I am not so sure of. I think Cadillac will be fine, but the team needs to decide on a QB, be it Simms, Gradkowski, a free agent, or a draft pick (It had better not be Brady Quinn). The team has taken steps to get younger on the OL, good steps I may add, and this needs to continue. That also, however, has to spread to other parts of the team. Joey Galloway won't last forever, and most of the defense also needs to get younger. Without knowing or getting into specifics, however, that would be my general advice: Get Young, Quick. I'm not sure if Gruden and Allen want to do that however, considering their backgrounds in the Oakland Raiders nursing home of a football team.
Dave: Hey, a Raiders diss! Alright, I can get behind that! Seriously, though, I would agree with this strategy. I'd personally keep Gradkowski and spend the draft picks elsewhere, such as on defense and perhaps even at receiver. But that's why I'm not an NFL GM: common sense.
Is Cadillac for real, or was he a rookie fluke who will have trouble reaching his heights again? Do you blame the line for his problems?
Patrick Kennedy: I kind of gave away my sentiments here with my previous answer, but no, I don't think Caddy is a one year fluke. He has 3.7 YPC, which isn't great, but isn't too far off his 4.1 mark last year. He is on pace for close to 1,000 yards again, and that is with no QB threat, a work in progress OL, and a coach with no faith in him. It all comes down to Gruden. Williams will rarely be ready out of the gun, but he usually gets going around 12, 13 carries. The problem is, Gruden won't stick with him that long. Even if the team is down by just seven or ten in the first half, he immediately starts airing it out. This needs to stop. You may sacrifice some first quarter production, but it is worth it. Because when Williams is on, ready to go and with it, he is one of the best in the NFL, and that is evidenced by the stat I pointed out earlier, the Bucs are undefeated when he gets 20 or more carries. That has not been happening enough, the connection between that and the team's struggles is clear, however Jon Gruden apparently fails to see this and just gives up on him early. I believe that Williams is still an excellent running back, and would have a great year if the coach would merely commit to him.
Dave: So it's the playcalling and the line, then. Sounds awfully familiar to me. I really do think Cadillac's a premier back, but not even the greats have much luck behind crappy lines. I'm still wary about him on Sunday, though, so hopefully the Falcons will remove his will to run (but not his legs).
Can they beat the mighty (ha!) Falcons?
Patrick Kennedy: You hate to use cliches, but in the NFL, it is literally any given Sunday. In my time as a young Bucs fan (the last seven years or so), I can remember Atlanta beating the Bucs once at home, and that was by two points. I remember that game because Rich McKay had been forced out earlier that week, and became Atlanta's GM the week of the game, which stuck with me. This 1 loss record includes the awful 2004 season, when the team was only a little better, so I certainly think it can happen. Once you factor in the Falcons' recent woes, and it becomes darn near realistic. So CAN the Bucs win? Absolutely, but I just don't think they will. I think the Falcons have a 60-70% chance of winning, though if Gruden wises up and the Dirty Bird wideouts continue their aversion to catching passes, the Bucs have a shot.
Dave: I agree. The Bucs always play the Falcons well, but ultimately I don't think there's enough in the tank for them to pull off the upset. All bets are off if Greg Knapp calls 30 consecutive seven step drops followed by pirouettes. But he'd never do that, right?
Give a hand again to Patrick Kennedy for taking time out of his schedule to answer my important questions (debatable), and we'll see you tomorrow in the open game thread.