Missing Persons Tampa Bay's offense continues to struggle because Jon Gruden doesn't have the personnel to make his system work

October 28, 2002

The Buccaneers have changed coaches, offensive coordinators and
plans of attack, and if you listen closely enough, their excuses
have a different ring too. But in the wake of a 20-10 loss to the
Eagles on Sunday, Tampa Bay's fourth straight setback against
Philadelphia, the Bucs' offense looks as feeble as ever.

Tampa Bay was unable to sustain drives, and the play-calling
lacked imagination--the same deficiencies that led to Tony
Dungy's firing last January. The Bucs had only 207 total yards,
committed two turnovers and allowed six sacks. Their touchdown
came on linebacker Derrick Brooks's 11-yard fumble return.

In recent years it was easy to blame Dungy's conservatism--Tampa
Bay never finished higher than 21st in the league in total
offense during his six seasons--and when the organization paid the
Raiders a king's ransom to hire away offensive-minded coach Jon
Gruden, it was assumed that the Bucs would finally have an
offense to rival their high-powered defense. But this team
doesn't have the personnel to execute Gruden's West Coast attack.
The receivers don't have enough speed, and a mediocre line can't
protect immobile quarterback Brad Johnson or open running lanes
for Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott. This unit was built to
preserve leads, not win shootouts.

The bottom line is, Tampa Bay has to establish a rushing game
before Gruden's scheme will click--it was key to his four
successful seasons in Oakland. Looking to add some pop to the
ground game, the Bucs in the off-season signed the free agent
Pittman (late of the Cardinals). Still, they rank 25th in the
league in rushing yards per game (93.0) and 28th in yards per
attempt (3.6). With such a predictable offense, Johnson faces
heavy pressure, including lots of blitzing, and his receivers
find the middle of the field congested by defenders. "It would be
nice to run after the catch," says wideout Keyshawn Johnson, "but
every time I get the ball, I have three or four guys around me. I
thought [this offense] was getting beyond that."

Early on, some of Tampa Bay's mistakes--missed assignments, bad
reads, poor timing--could be attributed to the fact that there
were a dozen or so new players on offense. "Playing together
helps any offense, but we're seven games into the season," says
wideout Keenan McCardell, who played for the Jaguars last
season. "We need some chemistry, and we need it right now."
--Jeffri Chadiha

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO ATTENTION-GETTER Keyshawn Johnson (19), who has one touchdown catch in 2002, always draws a crowd.

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