I'm a big coach Rah fan. I fully admit that I've bought into his shtick. I was youngry to see this team win the race to 10 wins. I felt even with the youth and lack of an influx of veteran talent, this young core of Buccaneers was ready to explode on to the scene and begin a steady dominance of the NFC South.
I wasn't alone in my belief the Bucs were on the cusp of taking the next step. Rah and GM Mark Dominik turned away from the largest and arguably most talented free agency class in recent memory believing that their recent drafts and current group would be enough.
The NFL thought the Bucs had some star power as well, giving Tampa Bay two prime time home games after years of not having night games at Ray Jay.
After rolling to a 4-2 start that included wins over both New Orleans and Atlanta, it appeared that it was all coming together for the Buccaneers.
Then the wheels came off the wagon.
Sure enough, things have been just a hair off with Raheem's youngry pirates of pewter pants. Suddenly, one of the least penalized team in the NFL in 2010 was in Raider territory in regards to penalties. Almost overnight, Josh Freeman reverted back to the 2009 version of Josh instead of the 2010 Pro Bowl alternate version. Mike Williams transformed into Mike Clayton. Regus Benn transformed into the invisible man. Greg Olsen decided that the Bucs offense didn't need to run LeGarrette Blount. Meanwhile, the young and improving Bucs defense suddenly became the worst in franchise history.
Some can point to the lockout as a primary cause but as coach is fond of saying, no excuses, no explanations. The lockout didn't hurt Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. It didn't hurt Detroit - another young and upcoming squad.
So here are the Bucs, mired in a 5 game losing streak (longest since that awful '09 season) and staring at their fourth consecutive season without a playoff appearance.
As a team, Tampa Bay is at a crossroads.
While we all love his Raheem-isms, his excitable nature and the fact that he's beloved by his players (although you wouldn't know it from the way they've performed in many of the games this season), the bottom line is has this team gotten better from the 9-7 veteran laden squad that Jon Gruden left behind?
I know, there was a paradigm shift in philosophy that caused this team to completely rebuild from scratch (and tick off the entire fanbase in the process).
Certainly, there's been significant gains on offense, especially at quarterback and running back. Defensively however - an area that Raheem himself coaches - the team is the worst it's ever been in franchise history. Some of the newer fans may not realize it, but that's a lot of bad history, folks. Statistically, they're the worst.
Yes, stats are for losers, we know, Coach.
However, when the stats say you can't get off the field on 3rd down defensively - you're the loser. When your team turns the ball over 5 times - you're the loser. When your team continues to be unable to stop the run - you're the loser. Statistics can go a long way in defining why you are what your record says you are.
In fact, it's been four years since a Tampa Bay Buccaneer defense could stop the run. You'd think through the accumulation of draft picks, coaching philosophies and free agent acquisitions that at least this problem could be fixed. This current group is collectively the worst tacklers in the history of the team.
As much as Morris hates statistics, its statistics that leads you to the make up of a football team. Last season, the Bucs defense was 9th in the NFL in points allowed, 17th in overall defense. This season, they're 29th and 31st respectively. Last season the Bucs were 20th in scoring, 19th in total offense. This season, they're 25th in scoring but did slightly improve in their yardage to 15th. In 2010, the Bucs had the 5th best takeaway/giveaway ratio. In 2011, the Bucs are 21st.
In every way you can think of, this team has regressed. Its closer to the 2009 3-13 version than the 2010 10-6 team. Some of that could be attributed to strength of schedule, which certainly has been more difficult this season. Still, unlike the 2010 team, this Buccaneer squad does have signature wins against division rivals New Orleans and Atlanta. Its the consistency has been non-existent.
One of Raheem's 'isms is for his football team to "play hard, play fast, play consistent and play smart."
Yet several times this season each of those areas have been subject to question.
So where do you go from here?
First, Raheem needs to fire himself as defensive coordinator. Its hard to imagine the defense being worse than it was under Jim Bates but under Raheem it is.
If Raheem refuses to relinquish those duties than it might be time for the Glazers to strongly consider the direction of the team.
Let's face it. Raheem's contract is growing short and the Glazers are no longer on the hook for Jon Gruden. With the fanbase's enthusiasm waning, the brothers may want to make a move to re-energize them.
Translation: the football team better put it together and finish strong the last five games of the season or you're going to start seeing names like Cowher floated around One Buc Palace.
There were several pundits who believed the Bucs would take a step back this season. Few saw the huge regression that's taken place. That's on Raheem.
You know the old saying, you can't fire all 53 players but you can certainly fire the head coach.
For Morris, the clock is ticking.