LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears scores a touchdown during the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
SB Nation Tampa Bay takes a look at the 10 Things We Think We Learned About the Bucs after the loss to Chicago.
Well, it certainly wasn't a jolly trip across the pond for our beloved Buccaneers. Tampa Bay resembled spotted dick for most of the ball game against the Chicago Bears before waking up late and making a game of it, finally succumbing to the monsters of the midway, 24-18.
The Bucs are walking wounded heading into the perfectly timed bye week as the soccer pitch was unkind to the pirates of pewter pants.
Injuries to multiple players during the ballgame added to the growing list.
With a much needed bye week at hand, let's talk about the 10 things we learned heading into the bye.
1. Josh Freeman is NOT a Franchise QB....yet.
The accolades came a bit too quickly for number five as he's severely regressed this season. There's really no other way to describe it. We know there's few who can put up 25 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions every season and truth be told, Josh had about 8 or 9 interceptions dropped last season - which would have put him closer to 25 TDs and 15 interceptions.
The good news is just like Freeman is a second half quarterback, he also seems to be a November/December QB.
Through seven games last season, the Free-chise has 8 touchdowns and 3 Ints. Over the course of the next nine games, he'd improve on that ratio with 17 touchdowns and 3 ints.
Here's hoping Freeman finds himself during the bye week and realizes that focusing on Kellen Winslow, Jr. leads to bad things.
2. Speaking of Winslow, Jr. - what's with the attitude?
We all understand the competitor that Kellen Winslow, Jr. is. We know he thinks that for his football team to have a chance at being a winner, he thinks the ball needs to be in his hands. Still, the pouty behavior he's displayed the last few ballgames is going to need to stop.
Josh has enough on his plate without having to worry about keeping Winslow satisfied. If Winlows is truly about the team, he needs to swallow his pride and help his quarterback by not constantly whining for the football or complaining if the pass isn't perfectly thrown.
The highest percentage of Freeman's interceptions this season is when he forced the ball late over the middle to Winslow. Sooner or later, Winslow will no longer be Free's safety valve.
3. Running Game Woes
With the loss of Earnest Graham and the ongoing injury situation to LeGarrette Blount, you have to wonder about the Bucs' decision leave the running game neglected during free agency. How would a veteran like Darren Sproles look in the Bucs offense right now? Certainly a lot better than Kregg Lumpkin or Moises Madu.
If Blount's injury lingers, that decision may be the difference between a playoff berth and watching at home for the fourth consecutive season.
4. Defense's slow starts are on Rah.
We all know that Raheem Morris is sensational at half-time defensive adjustments, but you have to wonder what the heck is happening during the preparation during the week. How is it that the defense doesn't know to focus on the Bears top weapon - Matt Forte - until midway through the third quarter?
We know the Bucs were focusing on Forte but it certainly didn't look like it as he shredded the defense for a bundle of yards, including an embarrassing touchdown run where Buc defenders were falling all over each other like the Keystone Kops.
Then, from the third quarter on, Forte was a non-factor as the defense suddenly began forcing turnovers and three and outs.
It's not hard to understand that the Bucs are young and sometimes they need things beaten into them before they start doing it right but it still falls on the responsibility of the coach to have his team ready to play.
5. One bright spot - the kick coverage
Michael Koenen and the kick coverage did a tremendous job against super returner Devin Hester. Koenen's directional punting frustrated Hester, allowing his coverage team to get down the field and tackle him. Hester was limited to 1 kick return for just 14 yards and 5 punt returns for 33 yards (a 6.6 average). Koenen averaged 47.6 yards a punt and pinned the Bears inside the 20 three times.
6. The inconsistency of the defensive line rears its ugly head again.
As we mentioned, the Bears had their way with the Bucs' defensive line in the first half of the ballgame, pounding 150 yards on the ground in the first half. Jay Cutler, who had been under duress most of the season, was relatively untouched through the first two quarters of the game.
In the second half, the Bucs defense got after the quarterback and Cutler went down twice. He was hit 4 times, while the Bears running game was shutdown to just 27 yards.
7. Red Zone failures are killing this team.
Tampa Bay was 1-for-4 in the red zone, continuing a disturbing trend for the Bucs. The Bucs have scored a pitiful 35% of their trips into the scoring area, ranked 29th in the NFL in that category. Only winless Miami, St. Louis and the 2-win Jacksonville Jaguars are worse.
Last season, the Bucs weren't great but significantly better, scoring 52.7% of the time.
In 2010, Freeman threw 15 touchdowns and just 1 interception inside opponents' red zone, for a 100.2 rating and a 60% completion percentage. This season, Freeman has completed just 53% of those passes, throwing just 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for a rating of 62.8. Until Freeman gets better in this critical part of the game, the Bucs will have to fight tooth and nail for every single win.
8. Undisciplined penalties must stop.
Only one team - the notorious Raiders - have committed more penalties this season than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The sobering fact is that Rah's was one of the least penalized squads in the NFL last season. False start, illegal motion, off-sides, illegal formations - these are all concentration penalties. Personal fouls are just plain stupidity (I'm talking to you Aquib the hothead).
One of the disadvantages of having the youngest team in the NFL is they''re going to do bonehead things - things that will cause their coach to lose sleep.
For it to stop, Raheem needs show them that he's not going to accept this level of undisciplined play - that there will be consequences for hurting the team.
9. What to focus on during the bye
The Bucs need to have Freeman break down his mechanics and work on looking off his primary receivers. They also need to help him with his decision making - sometimes it's okay to tuck the football and run for a gain.
Defensively, we know Raheem loves his blitz packages but I don't believe that his team has the defensive backs to play a lot of man-to-man coverage. The Bucs desperately need to go back into their cover 2 shell and hope their young defensive line can get to the quarterback.
10. The Road from here gets a little bumpy.
As everyone knows, the first game after the bye is a rematch with the Saints - who were so angry they lost to Tampa Bay they took it out on the hapless Indianapolis Colts, who've seem to have checked out for the season already.
After New Orleans, the Bucs come home to face the 4-3 Houston Texans before heading to Lambeau Field to take on the Super Bowl Champion (and undefeated) Green Bay Packers. and then to Tennessee to face the 3-3 Tennessee Titans.
The Bucs come back home for the pesky Carolina Panthers, then head to Jacksonville to face the 2-5 Jaguars. The Bucs come back home for the nationally televised game against the Dallas Cowboys before wrapping up on the road at Carolina and Atlanta.
I'm still holding out on my 10-6 record prediction but folks, if the Bucs don't get better play from their quarterback, clean up the penalties and resuscitate the running game, that record may end up looking like a pipe dream.