Monday Column: Tampa Bay’s Defense Needs To Step It Up

We have reached the halfway point of the season, and the Buccaneers have a 3-5 record. They’ve already eclipsed their win total from all of last year, and there are signs of optimism, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Still, this team has more losses than wins. That means there are problems that still haven’t been fixed. The biggest one involves Lovie Smith’s supposed calling card: the defense.

This unit does not appear to be much better than 2014, if it all. You can look at all the stats you want. The Bucs are allowing nearly 29 points per game. That’s a lot. They have not shown the ability to come up with the big play late in the game. The most glaring examples came when they blew double-digit leads in the second half to Washington and Atlanta (they did beat the Falcons in overtime.) Then in yesterday’s game against the Giants, Tampa Bay could not stop New York from chewing up precious time off the clock after the Bucs had pulled to within two points.

In the past month, we haven’t seen much of a pass rush. From what I’ve read, Gerald McCoy is taking a lot of heat from the media down in Tampa for his lack of production. He is one of the leaders on this defense, yet he does not have a sack in 2015. And he only has 18 tackles through eight games. Those numbers are staggering, given what the Bucs are paying him.

But the worst part of this defense has to be the secondary. Maybe someday they will learn how to defend the slant. Maybe one of these they will fight receivers at the line of scrimmage. Maybe one of these days they will stop allowing the opposition to get wide open in the middle of the field and beyond.

Lovie Smith is supposedly still calling the plays on defense, unless I’ve missed something. Who knows what defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer is doing these days, or whether he would even be able to make a difference. Smith benched starting cornerbacks Jonathan Banks and Mike Jenkins against the Giants. It’s about time.

On to Dallas next Sunday….

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

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A Frustrating Loss For the Bucs

If you’re a Bucs’ fan, you’re shaking your head over what could have been.

Instead of pulling out a game that was arguably winnable, Tampa Bay fell to the Giants at Ray-Jay, 32-18. The game was much closer than the final score indicates.

There is a lot to talk about in this one. Perhaps the biggest headline coming out of this loss was the performance of Mike Evans. If you didn’t see (or listen to) any of the game, you’d think he had a great game: 8 catches for 152 yards. And yes, those are very good numbers. But – oh, those dropped passes. I lost count of how many he had. And a number of them would’ve given the Buccaneers a third down conversion. Doug Martin – who lost a fumble in the first half – also had a big drop in the third quarter that could’ve gone for a touchdown.

Jameis Winston did everything but put the team on his back. If you didn’t see him leaping through the air and into the end zone in the 4th quarter, you should. At the time, it cut the Giants’ lead to two. Tampa Bay missed the potential game-tying, two-point conversion when Russell Shepard couldn’t get the second foot in-bounds. Winston looked like a budding star against New York. Imagine how good his numbers would’ve been if his receivers had hung onto the ball a bit more.

And then, there is the undisciplined nature of this team. It’s a story just about every game, and it was a factor in this one. The penalties continue to kill them. The biggest one was the personal foul on Akeem Spence late in the fourth quarter when the Bucs were trying to get the ball back. You just can’t make undisciplined plays like that. You also can’t keep lining up in the neutral zone. That’s bad coaching.

Another problem: burning two of your precious timeouts way too early. The Buccaneers would’ve had a bit more than 20 seconds (or whatever it was) to mount a last-gasp drive. The Giants’ final touchdown came on a desperation lateral that was fumbled and scooped up by the defense.

The three turnovers (including the last desperation one) all led to Giants’ points.

This was a frustrating game for Tampa Bay. The Bucs had a chance to get back to .500, playing a pseudo-road game at Ray-Jay with tons of Giant blue in the crowd. But it didn’t happen.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

Monday Column: Kwon Alexander’s Inspirational Performance

There are always storylines that emerge from every NFL game, every Sunday. Some make you jump for joy. Others make you want to fire the head coach. And there, there are the inspirational stories, like the one involving Buccaneers’ rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander.

The first-year pro from LSU had the game of his life on Sunday against the Falcons. He was responsible for two turnovers, and had a third called back by a penalty. His eleven tackles led Tampa Bay.

And he did it all under heartbreaking circumstances.

Alexander’s 17-year old brother was shot on Friday night, and died the next day. Kwon said he wanted to play, because that’s the way his brother would’ve wanted it. And to do what he did in the Georgia Dome is nothing short of remarkable.

Kwon was given a game ball after the overtime win. If you haven’t seen the video yet on the Buccaneers’ official website, you should. It will bring a few tears to your eyes. Here’s the link. It’s just over a minute long.

http://www.buccaneers.com/videos/videos/Watch-Kwon-Alexander-Gets-the-Game-Ball/bfd10859-f573-4922-abd6-889f08bda231

God bless you, Kwon. I am so sorry for your loss.  You’ve earned a lot of respect, and not just from Bucs’ fans.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Bucs Win in Overtime: Amazing!

For a moment, I was getting to write about how the Buccaneers blew another double-digit lead and suffered a devastating defeat.

Well, they did blow the lead. But instead of losing, they found a way to a win the game this time. The Bucs beat the Falcons in overtime, 23-20. Connor Barth kicked the winning field goal on the first possession of OT, and the Bucs defense followed that up by doing something they hadn’t done the entire second half: stop Matt Ryan.

Jameis Winston had another solid day in which he did not turn it over. He threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score on a broken play in the third quarter. He hasn’t turned the ball over in three straight games now.

Sure, Tampa Bay’s defense still stinks. Besides blowing another big lead, they let Ryan throw for nearly 400 yards. The Falcons were just shy of 500 yards in total offense on the day. But – and this is a big “but” – they turned it over four times. The Buccaneers turned those mistakes into points, and that was the key.

The bright spot in this unit was rookie Kwon Alexander, who picked off Ryan and also recovered a fumble. It turns out he had just lost his brother a couple of days earlier to gun violence. Man, for him to play like that after what happened…..what an inspiring story that should not be overlooked.

The bottom line is, the Buccaneers improved to 3-4 with their second road victory over an NFC South opponent. Instead of talking about the awful secondary, or why in the world Lovie Smith went for it on 4th down on his side of the 50 late in the fourth quarter, I choose to focus on the end result.

If you like fantasy stats, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones probably got you some serious points. But I don’t play fantasy football. The Bucs won the game. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com