What's Wrong with the Bucs?
So what's wrong with Chris Simms? That's the big question in Tampa. You could also ask these questions: What's wrong with Cadillac Williams? What's wrong with Simeon Rice and the Bucs' renowned defense? What's wrong with Jon Gruden?
Let's start with Simms. His six interceptions in two games have surprised the Bucs because he was so good down the stretch last season, when he led the team to the NFC South title. That was followed by a great offseason and strong training camp. Quarterback coach Paul Hackett said Simms wasn't throwing interceptions at all.
So why now? I checked with a few personnel people, defensive coordinators and former NFL quarterbacks I trust. Despite his impressive resume that includes a Super Bowl ring, Gruden received as much or more criticism as Simms:
â€¢ Gruden mishandled Simms in the preseason by having him throw just 26 passes, among the fewest of all NFL starters. In the second and third preseason games, when most starters get plenty of work, he threw just 21 times. Compare those two preseason games to the work of Tom Brady (50 passes), Peyton Manning (34), Eli Manning (34) and Rex Grossman (35). It was baffling to many, including Hall of Famer Steve Young.
"I don't care what anybody says, quarterbacks need a lot of work in preseason and I don't care if you're a 12-year veteran or a young quarterback," said Young.
â€¢ Gruden's scheme is susceptible to a lot of batted balls and tipped passes, which has plagued Simms.
"The guy runs a lot of quick game, a lot of three-step and five-step stuff and everybody knows it," said one personnel man.
"Everybody talks about the clock in a quarterback's head, but defensive linemen have their own clock, too," said a defensive coordinator. "Especially with (the Bucs), you see three-step, you teach your guys to get their hands up. Even in the five-step, if you don't have the penetration, get your hands up."
This defensive coordinator did suggest that Simms, for a 6-4 quarterback, has a relatively low delivery, but Young and former Eagles QB Ron Jaworski scoffed at that notion.
"That's baloney," said Jaws. "I don't care how tall you are. You get a defensive linemen with his arms extended and you're throwing a seven-foot guy. An inch or two here or there on the release point isn't going to make a difference."
One defensive coordinator pointed out, "There are a lot of batted balls in this league. (Simms) doesn't have exclusivity."
â€¢ Even though the Bucs did protect Simms well against the Falcons, it has been noted that they have had trouble blocking properly, especially on three-step drops.
"Those interior guys on the line have to block very aggressively, almost like a run play -- they have to attack the defensive line," said one line coach. "The tackles have to block the guy down or out ... take 'em hard where he's going."
Gruden is stubborn about his system -- there is no employment of the shotgun formation from his vast playbook.
"Almost all of those West Coast (coaches) have been slow to adapt with the shotgun but most of them have adapted," a personnel man said. "Gruden is one of the few who won't. When you've got an offensive line that is shaky, you have to create some space occasionally for your quarterback with the shotgun. He doesn't believe in it."
â€¢ There is also the issue of whether Gruden is playing to Simms' strength -- intermediate and long throws.
"The kid has one of the best arms in the league," said a coach. "I mean, they've added some big throws because (Joey) Galloway is healthy. It may not be as high percentage but you can loosen up some (defenses) and that's going to help the running game."
â€¢ Gruden is destroying Simms' confidence.
"Gruden is brutal," said a GM. "His body language is the worst in the league. Everybody sees it. The way he treats that kid on the sidelines is a disgrace. Sure, he did it with (Rich) Gannon but Gannon was a veteran and he dished it back. I don't care how tough Simms is, what Gruden has done in two games is a clinic on how to break a quarterback's confidence."
Said another GM: "It's one thing to ride your QB in practice but how can a coach expect a guy to keep his composure in a game when the coach can't do it himself?"
â€¢ Gruden doesn't show commitment to the run game.
"Gruden abandons it way too quickly," said a personnel man. "Maybe he ought to see what Brad Childress is doing in Minnesota. That guy gets it."
â€¢ The schedule has also worked against Simms and the Bucs. For a team with an average offensive line, not to mention one that has endured injuries early in the season, the fact that the Bucs had to open against the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons on the road was a worst-case scenario.
This week's game doesn't offer any relief. The Bucs play against a desperate Carolina Panthers team, with a great defensive line that has generally dominated Tampa during Gruden's tenure in the division.
Does this excuse Simms from some blame? Not at all. But a guy with that kind of physical talent, who showed real promise during a run to the playoffs in his first season as a starter, had a great offseason and has the admiration of all the players in his locker room, does not deserve to be "thrown under the bus," as one AFC GM put it.
Bucs missing guidance
The Bucs' defense also has slipped. For all the blame pointed at Simms, what can you say about a Bucs' defense that was spotty against the Ravens in Week 1 and allowed 306 rushing yards on Sunday to the Falcons?
Theories abound. One is some key players on the Bucs' defense have aged and lost a step. Another is that veteran defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has had his staff raided too much over the years, capped by the loss of valued defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to the Lions and secondary coach Mike Tomlin to the Vikings.
"Marinelli was the best D-line coach in football," said a GM. "He could work with difficult personalities. He motivated Warren Sapp to greatness. He also pushed the right buttons with Simeon Rice. That was a huge hit and so was Tomlin. The problem is that they're pretty inexperienced with the guys they've replaced them with on the staff."
A defense is a quarterback's best friend. There's field position. There's a confidence factor that you can make a mistake and the defense will have your back. Of course, a ball-control offense that can score points is also a defense's best friend.