TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 04: Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers #91 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers closes in on running back DeAngelo Williams #34 of the Carolina Panthers during the game at Raymond James Stadium on December 4, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
With three quarters of the season in the books, SB Nation Tampa Bay checks in with their quarterly awards for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As the drumbeat of changes in the front office gets louder and louder, let's take a brief opportunity to reflect on the three quarters of the season that was.
To say I'm stunned by this season's developments would be an understatement. Despite my 10-6 prediction at the beginning of the season, I was fully aware that this young club could take a step back in 2011 - much like the young '98 team had to be served some humble pie after making the playoffs in '97.
Yet, I don't think anyone envisioned this level of a collapse. We knew the middle part of the schedule was going to be extremely difficult. Throw in the trip to London and it was going to be downright painful.
Yet you would think when the fog of war cleared that the Bucs would have won at least one of those difficult games and been able to focus their gaze for the stretch run.
Instead, they're mired in a 6 game losing streak that's included back-to-back blowout losses at home - one to a now 4-8 Carolina Panthers team.
What in the world has happened to our youngry Buccaneers? They've played fugly. I'll let you figure out that combination of words (hint: the first word is one Raheem uses in his press conference).
Overall Record: 4-8
Quarter Record: 0-4
Current Pace: 5-11
Best Performance of the quarter (Team): Green Bay 35, Tampa Bay 26
They say there's no moral victories in the NFL - you either win or lose. Still, picking one loss out of four losses is like trying to pick the least rotten egg - they all still stink. Yet in the Green Bay game, the Bucs gave perhaps their best effort of the past month and a half with a spirited battle on the road against the undefeated Super Bowl Champions.
In the end, the better team won but you left with the sense that the Bucs - when they play consistently - can compete with the best in the league. Unfortunately, consistency has been few and far between with this team.
Worst Performance of the quarter (Team): Carolina 38, Tampa Bay 19
The Houston game was easily leading in the clubhouse until the Bucs put this awful display on the football field. It's one thing to get your doors blown off by first place teams like Houston and San Francisco - it's another to mauled by a 3-8 team.
Yes, the Panthers are rapidly improving and they will certainly be a team to watch out for if they ever put a defense together but the lack of effort the Bucs displayed on Sunday was simply disturbing.
Most Valuable Player: LeGarrette Blount, Running Back
This has been Freeman's award for most of the season but to be honest - this offense goes as the Blount Forced Trauma goes. If Blount is hurdling defenders or punishing them into submission, the Bucs can score points and compete with anyone.
If he's being underutilized, being asked to do things he simply isn't good at (why oh why Greg Olsen do you constantly try to run him to the edge?), or isn't running with the authority we're used to seeing, this offense stinks.
Most Improved Buccaneer: DaQuan Bowers, Defensive End
After starting out the season playing sparingly, Bowers is Wally Pipp-ing Michael Bennett. Bennett has missed the last two games, giving Bowers the start and the rookie 2nd round pick has simply been a terror. 1.5 sacks (and another taken away by penalty), 7 tackles for loss and 3 QB hits have shown the skillset that had draft gurus talking him up as one of the top picks in the draft before it was revealed he had a condition with his knee.
The list for this one could be a mile long on both sides of the football but probably the most disappointing aspect of the Bucs' defense not only this past quarter but all season long has been the play of their outside linebackers. Both Black and Hayes have played terribly, especially during the team's slide.
Arm tackling, being in the wrong fits, failing to get off blocks, blowing pass coverage assignments - you name it, the Bucs' linebacking core has screwed it up.
Hayes has been benched multiple times this season while the only reason Black hasn't is there isn't another option right now.
This off-season, the Bucs will definitely be in the market to upgrade the linebacking core. It may not just be outside either. Tampa Bay could decide to replace Mason Foster at MLB and kick him outside to his natural position.
Of course, that would mean Foster's training (and growing pains) at MLB this season would be for naught.
Rookie of the Quarter: DaQuan Bowers, Defensive End
As we mentioned, the past couple games Bowers has broken out and become a force for the Buccaneers' defensive line. If he can continue to improve, the tandem of Bowers and Clayborn could terrorize quarterbacks for years to come.
Quartebacks - D
Freeman has lost his fourth quarter mojo and continues to throw the inopportune interception. He has really regressed to rookie Free levels.
Running Backs - C
When utilized, LeGarrette Blount is every bit the running back we saw last season - unfortunately Bucs' offensive coordinator Greg Olsen hasn't figured that out yet.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends D
Mike Williams seems to finally be coming out of his season long funk, but he's had little help from the rest of his receiving core. Kellen Winslow, Jr is starting to become a problem for the QBs, constantly whining, taking himself out repeatedly. Perhaps he's playing hurt and it's just the passion of the game getting to him.
However, his constant calling for the football seems to have effected Freeman, who has thrown the majority of his interceptions trying to force the ball in to Winslow.
Offensive Line C
The offensive line's grade has fallen because of penalties. Too many false starts, holding and other drive killing miscues are happening for the most veteran unit of the team.
Defensive Line D-
Despite the production of Bowers and Clayborn as well as a few flashes from Albert Haynesworth, this defensive line continues to get knocked off the line of scrimmage and is ripped through against the run. The pass rush has been inconsistent at best
Linebackers - F
As we discussed, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black have been abysmal all season - this past quarter is no exception. Mason Foster continues to make mistakes, especially in the passing game but he's also got a high motor and seems to be the only member of the linebacking core busting his backside to make a play.
Since the rest of the linebacking core is a non-factor, teams are focusing their second level blocking schemes to take out Foster.
Defensive Backs - D-
A couple big plays against Green Bay and Tennessee doesn't mask the horrible coverage the Bucs secondary have been exhibiting this season. The one piece of a porous defense the Bucs could always count on was their secondary - but this season they're surrendering 252 yards a game through the air and have given up 20 touchdown passes.
Specialists - A+
Both Connor Barth and Michael Koenen have been absolutely tremendous the entire of the season. Koenen is such a vital weapon for the Bucs and perhaps the best signing of Mark Dominik's tenure with Tampa Bay.
Barth continues to be reliable as ever.
Coaching - F
Could it be anything but an F at this point? Morris' team lacks motivation and are just going through the motions to get to the end of the season. His defensive schemes are suspect, Greg Olsen's offensive play calls are confounding (when can we end the Benndaround (thanks Tampa Bay Times)?).
They don't utilize the talent they have and put their players in the best position to win - then fill the microphones with excuses like the lockout or harder schedule or Freeman's hand.
Many fans have lost their belief in this coaching staff. Its not hard to wonder if some of the team has as well.
Raheem Morris may just be coaching for his job this Sunday in Jacksonville. Another loss to the lowly Jags, who've already fired their coach, could send the team into the death spiral of a 10 game losing streak that would all but end Morris' tenure in Tampa Bay.
Revised predicted finish: 6-10
How do the Bucs Improve for 2012?
Stay the course, keep to the plan (5 votes)
Keep the current staff but add some veterans (13 votes)
Clean house, hire a big name to re-engerize the fanbase (50 votes)
Clean house, but look for a young up-and-comer instead of a re-tread. (16 votes)
84 total votes