2013 NFL: Has Schiano begun to turn the ship? Plus other Week 11 thoughts

Fineartamerica.com
Fineartamerica.com

After a 0-8 start to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season, head coach Greg Schiano appeared to be the scapegoat for the franchise’s disappointing change of direction. There were some who believed this club could potentially challenge for a playoff spot before the season started. Mostly due to their prized offseason acquisition (Darrelle Revis) and their trio of offensive weapons (Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin).

If I told you before the season started that a Buccaneers running back was going to rush for 163 yards and score a hat-tricks worth of touchdown, you would assume it would have been a feat accomplished by the “Muscle Hamster”, not by a running back who was cut by the Browns this season.

If I told you before the season started that in seven starts the starting QB for the Bucs would have an 11-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, you would have believed Freeman was guiding to organization to an impressive start. You would have never believed that Mike Glennon would have broken the franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season (in just his seventh start) by a rookie, which was a record previously held by Freeman.

If I told you a couple weeks ago that Greg Schiano’s job might somehow be salvageable, you probably would have laughed, but that’s exactly the case after the Bucs steamrolled the Falcons 41-28 on one of the most unexpected performances this year from a running back that was cut because Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya were deemed good enough to handle the carries for the Browns.

Heading into the game I was curious to see how much Schiano used his former college favorite Brian Leonard at tailback. After Mike James went down with a fractured ankle against the Dolphins last Monday night, Leonard received the majority of the carries and it made perfect sense. Schiano felt comfortable giving Leonard the bulk of the work because he was familiar with Leonard’s skills, but Rainey’s ability to quickly hit the Dolphins’ next level on defense was something that was hard to ignore.

It’s easy to look at the Bucs roster and point out that six of the players on the roster are former Rutgers players and four of the offensive players who started the game against the Falcons, played under Schiano in Piscataway, so give credit to Schiano for recognizing that Rainey was ready to prove why he belongs on an NFL roster, after he broke a 43 yard touchdown run early on in the second quarter. Rainey carried the ball 30 times, which in this day and age is an eye popping number.

Here’s something to keep in mind when discussing the Bucs 2-8 record: eight of the games Tampa Bay has played have been against teams with either a .500 or better record. Five of those games have been against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Yes, the Bucs have only beaten a Dolphins team that was missing 40% of its offensive line and a Falcons team that is now TWO AND EIGHT! But Schiano might just be onto something here. A couple more wins down the stretch might just give the front office enough confidence in Schiano’s plan to keep him around for another season.

If the Bucs front office needs a blueprint for the future, perhaps they should look at the patience that has paid off in Carolina.

Speaking of disappointing teams…

So who had the Falcons and/or the Texans as their most disappointing team this season?

(Cut to a pissed off Arthur Blank on the sidelines in a fresh overcoat, because that’s what all owners should wear when they step onto the sidelines.)

It’s pretty easy to explain the problems on the field for the Falcons: their best offensive threat (Julio Jones) was lost for the year after a crushing loss to the Jets on Monday night in Week 5. Their Mr. Reliable on offense (Roddy White) hasn’t played one minute of healthy football this season and we’re now in the middle of November. Defenses have figured out how to stop the hall-of-fame tight end (Tony Gonzalez). Thomas Dimitroff’s prized free agent purchase (Steven Jackson) has only appeared in his desired form once this season (Week 1) and most notably Dirk Koetter’s offense appears to have finally hit a wall.

Seriously, he has to be close to setting the record for calling the most running back screens in a season.

Matt Ryan can’t be immune to this discussion. It’s clear at this point that Ryan needs Jones and White and not vice versa. Great quarterbacks figure out a way to survive without their number one or two options.

Aaron Rodgers made Greg Jennings and we’ve seen what’s happening to Jennings’ career now that he’s stuck with a cesspool of quarterback play in Minnesota (it also doesn’t help that he’s on the wrong side of 30). Ben Roethlisburger made Mike Wallace and has survived without him. Wallace hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire in Miami with Ryan Tannehill.

Ryan is stuck in a completely lost season that has the potential to slightly tilt the fan base’s perception of their franchise quarterback especially if this winds up being something like a 3-13 or 4-12 season.

Yet somehow the Falcons aren’t the most disappointing 2-8 team in the league.

That award goes to the Houston Texans, who gave the keys to the car back to Matt Schaub midway through a 28-23 loss to the Raiders. It was a curious move as the game was happening live and it was still just as curious to me as I watched the replay of the game early Monday morning.

I would have understood the decision if Case Keenum had produced zero offensive momentum in the first half, but that was definitely not the case. Keenum made an incredible athletic play on his bomb to Garrett Graham in the first quarter. On the play, Keenum was chased to the sidelines by a Raiders defender, stopped just in front of the sidelines and flicked an effortless 50+ yard strike to a streaking Graham. It was Keenum’s third touchdown of 40 yards or more this season.

The decision was made to pull Keenum late in the third quarter, after three straight three and outs and an 80 yard touchdown by Rashad Jennings. (Out of the once believed to be extinct wildcat formation, eat your heart out Darren McFadden.)

So here comes Matt Schaub, the guy who was supposed to guide the franchise back to the playoffs for the third straight year, but instead was coming back into a situation that was crumbling. You almost have to feel bad for Schaub. The team’s offensive identity (Arian Foster) may never be the same again, but it’s the inconsistent play from the offensive line that has eroded the grindhouse nature of the offense. Keenum was running for his life out throughout his two and a half quarters of play against the Raiders. Schaub was inserted as a panic move because the thought of losing to the 3-6 Raiders at home was too much for Gary Kubiak to bare.

Sure, the wild-card race in the AFC is nothing short of ridiculous right now (go look for yourself), but the decision was made to move on from Schaub. The instant satisfaction of winning right now has ruined Keenum’s development for the rest of the season and has now reverberated throughout the organization.

Andre Johnson and Schaub’s spat at the end of the game will receive all of the attention this week, but that’s just because we as a culture love watching and discussing confrontations. The problem that was created with 2:38 left in the third quarter was much more severe than the one Johnson made when he walked off of the field with his helmet in hand.

It just seems so weird to say that Johnny Football might not be leaving the state of Texas come May.

So can anyone figure out the Lions?

Heading into halftime, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson had a full game’s worth of stats. Stafford had racked up 327 yards and two touchdowns, both to Megatron, who finished the game with the second most receiving yards for the week of anyone in the NFL and he did it in the first half.

THE FIRST HALF.

Stafford was 228 yards short of breaking the all-time record for most passing yards in a game, the new CJ2K was sitting on a 6/179/2 line heading into halftime. This was surely going to be the most memorable regular season game for Stafford right?

Nope.

The Lions almost put up a 30-burger in the second quarter (27) and then failed to score in the entire second half. A curious decision to run a fake field goal midway through the fourth quarter, on the Steelers 10 yard line with a four point lead ended up backfiring as punter Sam Martin, the holder on FG formations, fumbled the ball after being drilled by a much larger defender. Ben Roethlisberger promptly drove the offense down the field and gave the Steelers a lead they would not relinquish.

It’s certainly worth pondering what Jim Schwartz thinks of his defense after a call like this, especially at a time like that. The probability of David Akers making that field goal is above 95%. If the call had been made in say the third quarter, when the Lions would still have time to recover if the bold decision did indeed fail, then the punishment wouldn’t be so harsh.

This was a devastating loss for a Lions team that had finally looked like it was becoming the class of the NFC North. They do have the tiebreaker over the pesky Bears in their back pocket, but if Aaron Rodgers can comeback on Thanksgiving and the Lions end up losing the division by a game, this decision will haunt the organization.

Follow me on Twitter @Scottdargis

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