Monday Column: It’s Time For Lovie Smith To Go

Bucs fans: have you had enough of Lovie Smith?

I know I have.

Sunday’s devastating collapse at the hands of the Redskins was the final straw. It was a game in which the Buccaneers blew a 24-0 lead.

When a game like that happens, the head coach has to be the fall guy. There are no exceptions. Smith cannot coach. His team is undisciplined. He is supposedly a defensive guru, but consider the quarterbacks he’s lost to so far this season: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and now Kirk Cousins. Ignore Newton, and focus on the other three.  Tampa Bay beat Blake Bortles, but even he put up impressive numbers against this sieve of a defense.

Please don’t tell me how the Bucs’ defense is in the top ten, in terms of total yards allowed. As I mentioned in a previous column, look at the points they’re giving up. Tampa Bay is giving up almost 30 points a game on average. The Buccaneers are tied for dead-last with the Bears in that category.  The secondary, in particular, has been awful.

But let’s get back to Lovie’s bad coaching. The debacle began to unravel in the third quarter. After Washington scored to make it 24-14, the Redskins pulled off a successful onside kick. The Bucs were not ready for that. That’s bad coaching. The ‘Skins went on to score another touchdown to make it a three-point game.

Let’s skip ahead to late in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin, who had another big game, had just ripped off a big run to the Redskins’ five-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, the Bucs run….a toss sweep….to Charles Sims? Are you serious? When Sims took the ball, 3rd and 1 just became 3rd and 5. Washington wasn’t fooled. Why does Sims even get the ball in that situation? Why not throw one up in the end zone for Mike Evans, who broke out of his slump in a big way? Anyway, Lovie’s team ended with a field goal and a six-point lead with about 2:20 to go. When Washington got the ball back, I knew the Redskins would march right down the field, with receivers running wide open, and get the game-winning score.

There’s one more thing that dawned me overnight: it was so nice of the Bucs to burn all of their timeouts before the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s bad coaching. What if they had one timeout left on that final desperation play? Instead of Sims trying a desperation lateral that resulted in a fumble (the clock would’ve run out anyway), Tampa Bay would’ve had the ball on the Washington 39. It’s possible Connor Barth could’ve saved the day with a 56-yarder at the gun. Who knows?

And then there are the penalties – 16 of them for 142 yards. Many of them were 15-yard personal fouls. That’s lack of discipline. That’s bad coaching. Lovie deserves the blame for that.

Lovie Smith has been Tampa Bay’s head coach for 22 games. His record is 4-18. After yesterday’s debacle, I don’t think he deserves to coach his 23rd game in Atlanta next Sunday. We’ll see if the Glazers feel differently.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

An Inexcusable Loss For the Bucs

This is the type of game that often costs the head coach his job.

The Buccaneers, up 24-0 at one point against the Redskins, gave it all away. You can add Kirk Cousins to the list of so-so quarterbacks that the Bucs’ defense makes look like a superstar. The clinching score came with just 24 seconds left.

Washington 31, Tampa Bay 30.

Blowing a 24-point lead is bad enough. Then there were the penalties: 16 of them for 142 yards, including more than handful of personal fouls. Then there is the defense, which once again failed to close out a game in the second half. If there is a worse secondary in the NFL, I’d like to see it. Then there is Lovie’s awful clock management at the end of each half. What the heck was up with that play call on 3rd and goal from the 1, late in the fourth quarter, clinging to a three-point lead?

All of that spoiled an otherwise great day for Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin. Don’t blame those guys.

Blame the head coach.

I’m calling for Lovie’s head, and I know I’m not the only Bucs’ fan who feels that way.

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

Monday Column: The Bucs at the Bye

The Buccaneers have hit their bye week with a record of 2-3. That is considerably better than they were at this time last season. But they’re still not nearly ready to compete with the big boys in the NFL.

That last statement is not a surprise, though. This is a very young team that only won two games in 2014. The biggest thing I’m looking for in 2015 is improvement.

Let’s start with quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Through five games, he has an equal number of touchdown passes and interceptions (seven of each.) He’s completing 56% of his passes. Sunday’s win against the Jaguars was a nice bounce-back game for him, as he played mistake-free football after being responsible for five turnovers the previous week against Carolina.

The running game has been a positive so far. Don’t look now, but Doug Martin is tied for second in the NFL in rushing yards with 405. He had his best game of the season on Sunday, rushing for 123 yards and three touchdowns (one of them receiving.) That is the Doug Martin we all remember from his rookie year.

Is Mike Evans dealing with a sophomore slump? So far, the answer is yes. He has only 174 yards receiving, though he was injured earlier in the year. Still, the Bucs will need him to revert to last year’s form, and create a formidable tandem with Vincent Jackson.

How about the defense? Here’s an area where if I give a bunch of stats, you’d have no clue whether this unit is really good or really bad. On one hand, the Bucs are eighth in the league in total defense – i.e. yards allowed. They also have 15 sacks. But on the other hand – and this is the one that bothers me – they are dead last in scoring defense. They’ve given up 148 points in five games. They allowed two quarterbacks named Mariota and Bortles to combine to throw eight touchdown passes against them. The secondary in particular has been a sieve. How many times can Tim Jennings blow coverage? And how long can Lovie Smith continue to keep him in the lineup even though he keeps screwing up?

The kicking game was awful through the first four games. Case in point: Kyle Brindza is gone. Connor Barth is back, and he was flawless against the Jags. Thank goodness that issue has been resolved, at least for now.

Looking forward, Tampa Bay needs to keep running the ball, limit mistakes, and make some adjustments on defense, especially in the secondary.

Photo Courtesy: bucsnation.com

Yes! Bucs Finally Win a Home Game!

The Buccaneers did something today they hadn’t done in nearly two years: they won a game at Ray-Jay. They beat the Jaguars, 38-31.

The Bucs scored 38 points. 38!

Thank you, Doug Martin. He’d actually been running pretty well even before today, but it had been overshadowed by all of the negative stuff surrounding Lovie Smith and company. Today, Martin ran for 123 yards and three touchdowns – one of them receiving. He’s now rushed for over 400 yards through the first five games. He’s looking at a 1,000-yard season if he stays on this pace.

I’m giving Connor Barth a shout-out because of the mess the kicking game had been until now. He was 3-for-3 on field goals and perfect on PAT’s. Everyone take a deep breath now.

Another honorable mention goes to Bobby Rainey for his work on kickoff returns. One of them was a 58-yarder that led to Martin’s touchdown reception.. And for a change, the penalty flags stayed away for the most part on special teams (I think there may have been one.)

How about the defense? Well, at times they let Blake Bortles look like Tom Brady. But they also sacked him six times and picked him off once. And the key play of the game came in the third quarter, when Jacquies Smith recovered a Jacksonville fumble in the end zone to put Tampa Bay back in the lead for good. The Bucs had blown a 13-point lead, then a Barth FG cut the lead to one before the big play happened.

Jameis Winston had a decent day: 13-19, 201 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he did not turn it over. The latter is perhaps the biggest thing worth mentioning.

Sure, it was hardly perfect. There were still too many penalties. And I don’t understand Lovie Smith’s stupid play-calling at the end of the first half when he had all three timeouts and decent field position. Oh, by the way: this win may have saved his job for the time being.

A win is a win. We the fans will take them any way we can.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Welcome Back, Connor Barth

The Bucs took action this morning to fix their major kicking problems. Their new kicker is Connor Barth. Sound familiar? It should; Barth was the team’s kicker for the previous six years, and a pretty darn good one at that.  He is the team’s all-time leader in field goal percentage.

Below is the official release, courtesy of buccaneers.com

“On Tuesday, the Buccaneers announced that they have signed kicker Connor Barth. The moves comes after the team released rookie Kyle Brindza, who had been the team’ starter through their first four games.

Barth, a seven-year veteran, spent most of his NFL career with the Buccaneers. He was the team’s kicker from 2009 to 2014 after playing with the Chiefs his rookie season. Barth has connected on 116 of 136 field goals in his career, 83 percent of his kicks. He’s missed just four times when attempting kicks shorter than 40 yards, converting on 63 of 67 attempts.

Barth was brought in by the Buccaneers during training camp to compete with Brindza, but the team ultimately decided to go with the rookie for the first quarter of the season. Barth had been a free agent until returning to Tampa Bay.”

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

Monday Column: Lovie Smith on the Hot Seat

We are ¼ of the way through the 2015 season. The Buccaneers have a 1-3 record. It’s time to ask the question: are they better at this point in the season than they were four games into 2014?

Looking solely at the record (1 win vs. 0), the answer is yes. But looking at the big picture, the answer is no. And that’s why I’m putting Lovie Smith under my personal hot seat.

He has now been the head coach of the Bucs for 20 games. He has lost 17 of them, including all ten at Raymond James Stadium. Many of those home losses – including the first two this year – have been by double-digits, and his team has not been competitive. That brings up a somewhat obvious statement: Smith does not have this team ready to play.

Sure, there are plenty of areas to point the finger at. He has a rookie quarterback whose five turnovers yesterday single-handedly gave Carolina a win. Many fans are already saying Tampa Bay drafted the wrong quarterback. I’m holding off on that for the time being.

The kicking game has been atrocious. In case you haven’t heard the news, Kyle Brindza was finally cut today. Who his replacement will be remains to be seen.

Smith is also calling the shots on defense. The result so far: the Buccaneers have the third-worst scoring defense in the NFL behind the Bears and Chiefs.

In the end, it all comes back to the head coach.

When the team is struggling, something has to change. If you believe what you read on social media, there is talk that Smith could get fired if he loses at home to the Jaguars next Sunday. Since he hasn’t won a home game in ten tries, that outcome is certainly possible. The Bucs have their bye week after that. Consider this: the Dolphins used the start of their bye week to kick Joe Philbin out of town. His overall record was four games under .500. If Philbin can get ousted for that, then it stands to reason why the Bucs should not be any more patient with Smith.

We, the fans, are angry. And most of our displeasure is directed right at Smith. This is his team, his players. If they are unable to turn this sinking ship around, then he deserves to go sooner rather than later.

Photo Courtesy: AP

It Gets Even Uglier for the Bucs

It was another dreadful game. We’ve seen so many in recent years.

On Sunday afternoon, the Buccaneers laid another egg in front of the hometown crowd, falling to the Panthers, 37-23, at Ray-Jay.

Who’s to blame for this one? Take your pick. The Bucs turned it over five times – four of them coming on Jameis Winston interceptions. One of them was returned for a touchdown. The Panthers scored (by my count) 27 points off those mistakes. You don’t need me to tell you that you’re not going to win many games when you turn the ball over like that.

The kicking game was horrendous for the second straight week. Kyle Brindza missed two more field goals and another extra point. Remember last week when Lovie Smith said Brindza is still his kicker? Dear Bucs: please call Connor Barth and get him in uniform. Better yet, call me. I can’t kick field goals that well, either, but I could use a bump in pay.

And don’t look much into this stat: Carolina only had 244 yards of total offense. This is one time where numbers are so deceptive. Thanks to all those turnovers, the undefeated Panthers didn’t have to go far on many of their scoring drives.

The Bucs are now 1-3. In two home games, their opponents have scored 79 points. Some of those are from “Pick 6’s” but you get the idea: Tampa Bay isn’t being very competitive in its home stadium.

Coming up in the Monday Column: the state of the Bucs’ through the first quarter of the season. I think you can guess what the tone will be.

Photo Courtesy: AP