Bucs’ Midseason Report Card

Now that the Buccaneers have reached the midway point of the 2014 season, it’s time for a midterm report card. As you might expect, there are more bad grades than good ones on a team that’s 1-7. I’m not going to grade each and every player, because that would take forever.

 

LOVIE SMITH AND JASON LICHT: F
When the Bucs hired Smith almost immediately after firing Greg Schiano, there was a sense of hope among Tampa Bay fans, a sense that things would start to turn around. There was hope that Smith’s defense would be as fierce as what we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Licht and Smith brought in a ton of free agents on defense (while letting Darrelle Revis go.) They spent their entire 2014 draft on upgrading the offense. Eight games into the season, the Bucs are second from the bottom in both total offense and defense. Some of the pundits predicted the Bucs could be a sleeper team for the playoffs. I was just hoping for some improvement. It hasn’t happened. We should’ve known something was up when they dropped their first two games at home to backup quarterbacks. Even coming off a 4-12 year, the Bucs have been a major disappointment in my opinion.

 

OFFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D

QUARTERBACKS: D
The Bucs started the season with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback. In 2 ½ games, he threw two touchdowns, four interceptions, and put the ball on the turf a number of times. He’s been sidelined with an injured thumb suffered during the Thursday night debacle in Atlanta.

Enter Mike Glennon. He’s completed 57% of his passes so far. At times, he’s looked OK. Other times, like Sunday in Cleveland, he looked terrible. Now, he’s in danger of losing his job back to McCown. While the quarterback position is hardly the only problem on this team, it should be priority #1 in next year’s draft.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE: F
This group has also been a big disappointment. Remember back to just before the season began, when Tampa Bay acquired pro bowl guard Logan Mankins from the Patriots? That hasn’t helped a unit that has struggled in both the running game and pass protection. Left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith have not played well at all. The line has given up 21 sacks through the first eight games, and that doesn’t count all of the times the quarterback has been running for his life. It’s worth noting that Smith and Licht also overhauled this unit from last year as well.

 

MIKE EVANS: B
He was the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, and we’ve gotten a glimpse of what he can do. While he hasn’t been perfect, he leads the receivers in yards (460) and touchdowns (4) and is tied with Vincent Jackson for the team lead in receptions. He has the potential to be a star down the road, no question about it.

 

DEFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D-
Let’s think back to the defensive players Smith brought in: Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald come to mind. Have any of them made an impact? I don’t think so. I hadn’t heard Verner’s name much at all until Sunday, when he was beaten soundly for the winning touchdown in Cleveland. This is the guy who supposedly has to fill Revis’ shoes in the secondary. As mentioned early, Tampa Bay is 31st in the league in total defense behind only Atlanta. They’ve given up the third most points; only Jacksonville and the Jets are worse. They’re near the bottom of the league in sacks. And turnovers – something Smith prides himself on – have not come as often as the fans would like.  Oh, and former first-round pick Mark Barron is now with the Rams.

 

GERALD MCCOY: B+
I’m giving McCoy a grade, because he’s one of the leaders of this defense, and recently signed a 7-year, $98 million contract. He has been one of the few bright spots on defense. His five sacks lead the team. And this guy was playing with an injured hand for a few games.

 

LAVONTE DAVID: A
You mean there’s a player on a 1-7 team that deserves such a grade? Like McCoy, David is a leader on defense. He leads the team in tackles. This guy is everywhere on the field. I look forward to watching #54 in person when I travel to Ray-Jay this weekend to see the Bucs play the Falcons.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D

Rookie kicker Patrick Murray has been so-so this year.  He is 8-of-12 on field goals.  He’s had two kicks blocked, one of them coming in the most recent loss to the Browns.  The mistakes on special teams on Sunday actually caused me to lower this grade from a C to a D.

 

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

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Bri Breaks Down the 2014 Buccaneers

On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off a new season against the Carolina Panthers at Ray-Jay. What’s new about this year’s team? Well, just about everything. Here’s a breakdown of what to keep an eye on this weekend, and all season long.

 

THE OFFENSE
This is Josh McCown’s team now. He’s 35, and coming off his best season while filling in for Jay Cutler in Chicago. Still, he’s playing in a division where the other quarterbacks are named Brees, Ryan and Newton. So he has to prove himself almost right off the bat, otherwise Mike Glennon, who started most of last year, is waiting in the wings.

The Bucs spent their entire draft this year on upgrading the offense. That was a wise move, given that the offense last year was nothing short of awful. They also brought in a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Tedford, who may not even be around for the opener due to an undisclosed medical condition. It would be sweet if rookie Mike Evans became a formidable duo in the passing game along with veteran Vincent Jackson. The same holds true for rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, especially now that Tim Wright is in New England.

The offensive line is probably the biggest thing to pay close attention to. But this group got a boost with the addition of Logan Mankins. Mankins was a proven leader with the Pats who made multiple trips to the Pro Bowl. Still, this area is a huge question mark. The o-line must step it up in both the running game and in pass protection.

 

THE DEFENSE
This group showed improvement last year. And if the preseason is any indication, this could be a breakthrough year for Leslie Frazier’s squad. Players like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are poised to have pro bowl seasons. In the secondary, Revis Island is no longer there, but Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson and newcomer Alterraun Verner are. As far as Goldson is concerned, can he make the necessary adjustments to stop costing his team 15 yards every time he clocks a receiver?

Lovie Smith prides his team on forcing turnovers. It won’t be enough to just shut down the opposing offense. The defense needs to take the ball away.

 

THE KICKER
This will be another intriguing area to watch. Rookie Patrick Murray will handle the kicking duties, having beaten out Connor Barth for the starting job. Barth was the most accurate kicker in team history, but missed all of last year due to an injury he suffered playing basketball. If Murray struggled in the first game or two, how much will Bucs fans be clamoring for Connor?

I’m really looking forward to writing about the Bucs this season. The addition of Lovie Smith as head coach brought Tampa Bay instant credibility at least in the eyes of public opinion. It would be great to see the off-field excitement translated into wins on the field.

 

Go Bucs!

 

One final note: I will not be doing any breakdown of the Carolina game because I will be on vacation. My coverage will continue with the Week 2 game against the Rams.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

 

Busy Week For Bucs

What a week it has been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s not much of a surprising statement, given that the start of free agency always results in a lot of activity around the league. But I wasn’t expecting it to be quite like this.

It all started even before free agency began, when word leaked out that the Bucs were shopping Darrelle Revis. He ended up signing with New England. One year and $16 million later, he’s out of Tampa. That didn’t take long.

So who’s new? They picked up cornerback Alterraun Verner from Tennessee, and defensive end Michael Johnson from Cincinnati.  Verner had five picks for the Titans last season. And two years ago, Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks for the Bengals. Throw in former Seattle defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, and it’s clear Lovie Smith and Jason Licht are overhauling just about everything on the defensive side of the ball. A few extra sacks this season would be a nice return on this investment.

There is also a change on the offensive line. Donald Penn is gone, and Anthony Collins is now a Buc. Like Johnson, Collins spent the past few years in Cincinnati.

But the biggest surprise may have come at the quarterback position. Josh McCown signed a two-year, $10 million contract. Signing a QB may not be a shocker. What is surprising, is that Lovie Smith has pretty much named McCown the starter already. So there won’t even be any competition with Mike Glennon? Will the Bucs draft a rookie QB in the draft? Who knows if we’ve heard the last of this quarterback situation.

Photo Courtesy: tbo.com

Three in a Row? Yes! Bucs Upset Lions

Wouldn’t you know – it’s a winning streak.

After beating two teams with sub-.500 records, the Buccaneers went to Detroit on Sunday and knocked off the first-place Lions, 24-21. The Bucs forced five turnovers and blocked a punt. They didn’t have Darrelle Revis in the second half due to injury, and still hung on to win a game they probably would’ve lost earlier in the year.

Mike Glennon was solid once again: 247 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. One of those scores was a beautiful deep ball to Tiquan Underwood. Mr. Glennon will be a strong rookie-of-the-year candidate if he keeps this up.

But when you look back at this game, the 5-0 turnover ratio is what stands out. The Bucs picked off Matthew Stafford four times. One of them was returned for a touchdown by Leonard Johnson. It’s the second week in a row the Bucs have had a pick-six. Then there was Keith Tandy’s interception down by the goal line. And in the final minute, Calvin Johnson appeared to make a catch inside the 10-yard line, but Kelcie McCray knocked it out, and the ball popped right into Jonathan Banks’ hands.

Of course, the Bucs tried hard to give the Lions more lives in the fourth quarter. After Tampa Bay blocked a punt and got the ball deep in Detroit territory, Ryan Lindell missed a makeable field goal. After the Bucs picked off Stafford again, Lindell missed another FG.

Man, I miss Connor Barth. He was money.

The Bucs still commit too many penalties; they had nine of them in this game. Hey Greg Schiano: that’s coaching!

But they were able to win regardless.

Now it’s on to Charlotte to face the red-hot Panthers next Sunday.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Bucs Win!! Rub Your Eyes – It Actually Happened!!

Everyone take a deep breath and savor this one for a little while.

The Buccaneers finally had a lead in the fourth quarter and didn’t blow it. They beat a team that, right now, may have even more problems than they do. This was far from perfect, but these days we’ll take a win any way we can get it.

How did the Bucs win a game in which Mike James broke his ankle on the first drive? How did they win a game in which their two touchdowns were scored by Donald Penn and Bobby Rainey? How did they win a game in which they blew another double-digit lead?

I don’t care. The point is – they won.

Maybe we should’ve known it was going to be Tampa Bay’s night when Penn – yes, Penn – caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter, then proceeded to spike the ball over the crossbar. Then there was Lavonte David sacking Ryan Tannehill in the end zone for a safety to put the Bucs up by 12. The defense held the Dolphins to two yards rushing. TWO.

Still, these are the Bucs, and by the end of the third quarter a 15-point lead had turned into a four-point deficit. But Tampa Bay rallied in the fourth quarter with an 80-yard drive, punctuated by Rainey’s long run and short scamper into the end zone. And with the clock winding down, the Bucs sacked Tannehill twice, and Darrelle Revis sealed the deal with an interception downfield. It’s about time they closed out a game.

This was far from perfect. The Bucs had less than 300 yards of total offense. Mike Glennon’s numbers were “meh.” They still had far too many dumb penalties. For much of the night, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden focused on the bullying scandal within the Dolphins, something I will not get into here. And one win does not change my opinion that Greg Schiano should be fired. But for the first time all season, we the fans finally get to celebrate a victory.

Next weekend, I’ll be at Raymond James Stadium for the game against the Falcons. Next Monday, I’ll be posting my annual (or so I hope) “My Day at Ray-Jay” here on the blog, complete with photos and whatever else I can get my hands on.

Photo Courtesy: AP

Bucs Blow It Late Against Cardinals

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Buccaneers had a 10-0 lead over the Cardinals on Sunday heading into the fourth quarter. The Bucs were starting a rookie quarterback, who played like…well, a rookie. Yet with the game on the line, Tampa Bay found another way to blow it.

Jay Feely’s 27-yard FG with 1:29 remaining proved to be the difference as the Bucs lost, 13-10.

There is one play in particular that has Bucs fans calling for Greg Schiano’s head (again.) With just over three minutes remaining, and nursing a seven point lead, the coaching staff called a pass play with Tampa Bay deep in its own territory. Mike Glennon picked a bad time to throw his first career NFL interception. Patrick Peterson picked it off, and on the very next play, Carson Palmer found Larry Fitzgerald for the game-tying touchdown.

Glennon had a chance to mount a comeback in the final minute. But he was picked off by Peterson again, and that was that.

Glennon finished 24-of-43 for 193 yards and a touchdown to go along with the two picks. He had some good and some bad moments, typical of what you’d expect from a rookie making his first start. Mike Williams caught the scoring pass in the first quarter. Doug Martin could only muster 45 yards on 27 carries against a Cardinals’ defense that’s among the best in the league in stopping the run.

The defense is not the problem here. This unit has been playing fairly well, and Sunday was no different. They intercepted Palmer twice, including the first by Darrelle Revis as a Buc. When you only give up 13 points, you normally have a good chance of winning. But these are anything but normal times in Tampa.

So now, the Bucs are 0-4, and fans are furious with Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. It’s hard to argue with that, since Tampa Bay has scored a measly 44 points through the first quarter of the season. Will we see another change soon?

The Bucs have their bye week next week. Praise the Lord for that.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Doomed By Penalties, Bucs Blow It Against Jets

That was pathetic. That was disgusting. There are other words to use, but those two will suffice for now.

The Buccaneers lost to the Jets in the season opener Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands, 18-17. The Bucs seemed to have the game wrapped up when Ryan Lindell kicked a 37-yard FG with 34 seconds left. Heck, the ensuing kickoff went for a touchback. But then Jets quarterback Geno Smith hit a long pass play. Then came the stupid play of the game: Lavonte David hit Smith as he was running out of bounds. The personal foul put New York in field goal range, and Nick Folk took care of that with 2 seconds left.

There are many people to point the finger at. Let’s start with the penalties: 13 of them for a whopping 102 yards, including the costly 15-yarder by David at the end. I do question the two personal foul calls on Dashon Goldson. Hey refs: are you not allowed to pop receivers anymore? There was no helmet-to-helmet contact, and that claim of a “defenseless receiver” was garbage.

But I digress. 13 penalties=lack of discipline. Lack of discipline=bad coaching. Greg Schiano deserves the blame for that.

Let’s move on to Josh Freeman. He was so-so. He completed just under half of his passes, he threw an interception right to a Jets’ defender, and he was sacked three times. And what the heck was up with the play-calling communication at the very beginning of the game? Don’t you need to have a backup plan when the device inside the helmet isn’t working? The Bucs burned two timeouts during that debacle, and were flagged for delay of game after one of those stoppages. Yet through it all, Freeman led the Bucs into field goal range in the final minutes, and gave his team a chance to win the game before the last-second meltdown.

Defensively, the Bucs played pretty well – well, aside from the final 34 seconds. They sacked Smith five times and forced two turnovers, two areas that were a concern going into the season. Darrelle Revis had a strong game against his former team. But the meltdown – topped off by the stupid penalty by David – is what we’ll remember more than anything.

Doug Martin couldn’t get much going against a good Jets’ defense, though he did find the end zone following a Jets turnover. Vincent Jackson had a monster game: 7 catches for 154 yards, including a huge play on the Bucs’ final drive. He hasn’t missed a beat from last year. Mike Williams caught a TD pass.

FINAL THOUGHT: it may have been David’s stupid penalty that ultimately cost the Bucs the game. But it was ALL of the penalties that stand out to me at the end of the day. That’s a coaching problem, and it needs to be addressed.

NEXT WEEK: the home opener against the Saints.

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times