Featured contribution by Buccaneers Gab expert analyst Chris C
There is a story – the source for which I cannot recall – about a man walking down the street late one night in Soviet Budapest. The man eventually crosses paths with another man, who is vomiting in a gutter. He turns to the sick man and says, “I know what you mean.”
Substitute Tampa for Budapest and set the date at November 13th, 2011, and the story would work just as well. We’d know what the sickness was about; we’d know what it meant: the Bucs, and their increasingly habitual displays of nauseating ineptitude.
There is not much to add to the points I’ve already made repeatedly in my previous posts. After yet another epic collapse, this time to the Texans, the only question to tack on to the usual ones about the coaching and the game-planning is whether or not we can really call this a collapse any longer. Perhaps this team cannot achieve much more than this, given what they have in terms of players, personnel, and system. Perhaps this is not a collapse, but a revelation.
While I’m quoting old stories, I might as well invoke the Roman poet Ovid, who famously said of himself, “I see the good and I like it, but nonetheless I do wrong.” Week after week, we are assured by our coaches and our players that they see the good and they like it. “Smart, tough, and consistent” has become a kind of talisman meant to fend of rational consideration of why the team is dumb, weak, and chaotic. The focus is off, as we fans have been crying for several weeks now. What needs to occur is a change in perspective, a paradigm shift. Someone, whoever is in charge (and who, exactly, is in charge?), needs to the see the bad and hate it, and then do good. Homilies to the good – otherwise known, euphemistically, as “accentuating the positive” – are not some magic charm that brings talent back from the dead. In football as in life, correcting problems requires ruthless clarity in defining them. Repeating endlessly that you know the solution is putting the cart before the horse.
Consider the oft-repeated claim by the team (including the coaches) that the main problem is “execution.” Really? Well, it would be nice if that were so, because then it would follow that the main problems are not systemic – a deranged antipathy to free agency, a lack of explosive play-makers, a dearth of understanding of the more mental aspects of the game, and so forth. If those are our problems, as I think they are, then chanting “execution” is missing the point entirely. Lack of execution is a result or a symptom of our real malaise, not the malaise itself. To get better execution, therefore, it will not be anywhere in the vicinity of sufficient to simply run the players in pads and punish them with gassers. It will require radical and painful change, up to and including changing such nebulous forces as the “culture” of the team. “Accentuating the positive” – which is what diagnosing “execution” as our main problem is – can have severely adverse consequences. Playing whack-a-mole with our symptoms is just one of them.
The fans are not innocent of this either, even the ones who see relatively well that the current situation is disastrous. In a previous post, I laid out as carefully I could the case for why running the ball is not the answer. Fans and usually astute commentators alike continue to demand 25-30 touches for Blount per game, and this itself is a way of missing the disease for the symptoms. I blame Olson for a lot of things, but abandoning the run is not one of them. Consider the past two games. Everyone who watched the Saints game – as opposed to just looking at the stat sheet – could see that running the ball would have been pointless. Not only was our offensive line about as hardy as saran wrap facing a pack of knives, but our penalties ensured that we were constantly playing between 5-15 yards behind the point where our running game had any chance of being efficacious. If one would like to believe that things would have been different running Blount on 2nd and 20, have at it. I think Olson should just go ahead and give this thesis a shot so we can settle the matter with some hard evidence. Until then, the fact remains that running religiously without heeding the facts on the ground is not going to work. True enough, the pass game didn’t work either, but at least the shift to it showed some situational awareness.
Now consider the Texans game. First, let me say that as someone who is not anti-run I agree that we should have run more on first downs earlier in the game. That is, I agree that we should see just what our offensive line and Blount are able to do right out of the gate. However, it was one of my warnings from my post on the run game that we do not run well against top ten defenses. We don’t pass well either, but that’s neither here nor there. It was as plain as day from what we saw on the field that our run game wasn’t going to be any more productive than our passing game. Once we fell behind it was a given, and in my view the right decision, that we would emphasize the pass.
The point is not that passing is a panacea. Our pass game sucks, period. But so does our run game, and I don’t know anyway to convince doubters of that than for Olson to just go ahead and go full-on run against the Packers next week. I hope he does it, so that we fans can obtain more consensus on the fact that our problems are, unfortunately, not that simple. Blount alone cannot sustain a come one, come all run attack. Our receiving corps cannot sustain such a pass attack either. To be sure, we could be better than we are with the tools we have, and that comes back to Olson and Coach Morris. But there is a ceiling, and that ceiling is not high enough, while the floor is beneath the seventh circle of the Inferno. We need more weapons. Sad, but true. You cannot expect excellence or any development thereto by stubbornly insisting that all achievement be overachievement. Be honest, fellow fans: even when we succeed, the feeling is distinctly one of playing above ourselves. It is of course admirable when we do so, but it is no kind of formula for continuous success.
Which is a point that returns us to what I called the “culture” of the team. “Youngry” has been emblazoned on the psyche of the players, and at this point there is no turning back. Live by the underdog mentality, die by it. We are dying by it. When we notice what looks like quitting and acrimony on the field, what we are actually seeing is a team that has defined itself by clawing back and surprising doubters losing its only self-conception. If we do not play in the underdog style, what are we? The problem is that excellence was never established as a possible self-image, so the players have no reference point by which to aspire to or expect it. This is the best argument for bringing in a new head coach. Raheem may have inadvertently rendered himself irrelevant by habituating his team to a self-defeating culture of underdogism. I love Raheem, and I want him to fix this. But I’m not sure he can.
All of that being said, this season, believe it or not, is not over yet. I am hardly one for optimism, but it is not metaphysically impossible for an upset victory against the Packers to spark enough belief in excellence among the players to carry us victorious over the relatively less challenging last third of our games. That is, at this point, a laughable “if,” but it is Raheem’s job to make it a reality.
I hope he can do it. I hope that next week we will see the good, like it, and do it. I hope that we will not know what the sick man means.
But hope is not a program, and this reliance on vaporous feelings needs to change.
Easier said than done.