Let’s flash back to November 22 for a moment. The Bucs were in Philadelphia, and turned in their best performance of the season, a 45-17 thrashing of the Eagles. Tampa Bay improved to 5-5, and was very much in the playoff hunt in the NFC.
Today, the Buccaneers are 6-9, and will miss the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
So what happened? Since that impressive performance at Lincoln Financial Field, the Bucs have dropped games to the Colts, Saints, Rams and Bears. We’re not talking Patriots, Panthers or Cardinals here. We’re talking about games that were winnable, and yet Lovie Smith’s team didn’t get the job done, aside from a victory over a Falcons’ team that just knocked off Carolina.
The biggest disappointment down the stretch has arguably been the biggest one all season: the play of the defense. Now we know why Smith says he needs his defenders to force turnovers. When they don’t, the other team seems to march down the field at will, particularly through the air, regardless of whether the quarterback is Drew Brees or Case Keenum. The secondary is awful, regardless of who’s back there. There’s no question the suspension of Kwon Alexander hurts. But I can’t picture the loss of one player having that much of an impact.
Tampa Bay is -4 in the turnover ratio. Somehow it feels worse than that. Over the past five games, the Bucs have forced a grand total of one takeaway.
Should Lovie Smith be fired at the end of the season? I think he should, but my gut says he won’t. The team did triple its win total from a year ago. But consider this: Smith is calling the shots on defense this year, and I have seen absolutely no improvement in this unit from 2014. None.
Smith is 8-23 in two seasons in Tampa. His predecessor, Greg Schiano, went 11-21 before receiving his pink slip. If Schiano got fired for that record, then why should Smith get a free pass? There’s a growing “rumbling” (for lack of a better term) on blogs and social media that the fans would like to see offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter promoted to head coach. He has done a nice job this year with an offense that includes a rookie quarterback, and Jameis Winston wouldn’t have to learn a entirely new offense. So why not give Koetter a shot? You’d keep the rhythm on offense, and it would allow them to give the other side of the ball a much-needed shakeup. There is talent on defense (Lavonte David for one) but the scheme is not working out.
One final note: the Bucs’ season finale against Carolina is now scheduled for 4:25 p.m. instead of 1 p.m. Carolina is coming off its first loss of the year, and needs to win to clinch home-field advantage. Why can’t they just play the game at 1:00 and get the torture over with?
When a football team has a 2-10 record, there are many problems that can be singled out: quarterback play, no running game, bad play-calling, etc.
Then there are penalties – all those penalties.
In Sunday’s loss to the Bengals at Ray-Jay, the Buccaneers were penalized a whopping 13 times for 94 yards. Mind you, those are the infractions that were accepted by Cincinnati; it doesn’t count the penalties that are declined. And according to nflpenalties.com, the Bucs are tied for the most-penalized team in the NFL. Tampa Bay has been flagged 102 times, tied for most with Seattle (of all teams.) That’s an average of 8.5 penalties per game.
To me, penalties = lack of discipline.
As I mentioned in my last post, if we the fans slammed former head coach Greg Schiano for having an undisciplined football team, then we need to treat Lovie Smith the same way. Smith took the blame for that unacceptable 12-men-on-the-field penalty that cost the Bucs a chance to kick a game-winning field goal yesterday. While that was the most glaring mistake, penalties in the red zone cost the Bucs chances to score touchdowns against field goals (I’m looking at you, offensive line.) Anthony Collins and Demar Dotson are among the most penalized players in the NFL. Yep, they both play in the trenches.
There is plenty of yellow laundry to go around: offense, defense, special teams, you name it. Heck, these days the Bucs can’t seem to get a big play without having it called back.
Photo Courtesy: tbo.com
This was yet another game that was there for the taking for the Bucs.
It was sloppy (on both sides.) Yet there was Tampa Bay, appearing to be in position for a game-winning field goal with about 20 seconds left on the clock after Louis Murphy caught a pass down to the Cincinnati 20. The Bucs were rushing up to the line to run another play when everything stopped.
Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis wanted to challenge the previous play, claiming the Bucs had 12 men on the field. In the final two minutes of the game, all reviews come from upstairs. But what Lewis effectively did do, was give the replay official more time to consider taking another look. And upon further review, you guessed it: there was one too many Buccaneers on the field.
12 men on the field? That’s unacceptable. That’s bad coaching – plain and simple. Are you listening, Lovie Smith and Marcus Arroyo?
Instead of being in position for Patrick Murray to win the game, the Bucs were back to the 46. The next two plays went nowhere. Then on 4th and 20, our lovable quarterback, Josh McCown, threw a completion to Mike Evans that was well short of the first down. With only nine seconds left, why wouldn’t you just heave it toward the end zone at that point? Who cares if it gets picked off; you’re going to lose the game anyway.
14-13 was the final.
The Bucs had 13 penalties in this game. Same old story there. I don’t know the official stats, but Tampa Bay has to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. It is unbelievable how often this team shoots itself in the foot. If Greg Schiano deserved to be blasted for his players’ lack of discipline last year, then Smith is worthy of the same amount of criticism.
The defense only allowed 14 points to a high-powered Bengals’ offense, including three interceptions of Andy Dalton. Cincinnati had less than 300 yards of total offense, just like the Bucs. But Tampa still couldn’t win a game they had a chance to pull out at the end.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
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
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
The Buccaneers have mercifully made it to the bye week with a record of 1-5. Just about everything that could go wrong through the first six weeks, has.
Remember back to the draft, when Tampa Bay used all of its draft picks on the offensive side of the ball? Maybe the Buccaneers should’ve thought a little bit about the defense, which has been shredded so far in the first six games. Consider these numbers:
The Bucs rank dead last in scoring defense, allowing 34 points a game. Twice in the last month, they have been blown out, giving up 56 to Atlanta and 48 yesterday to Baltimore. They have given up a whopping 165 points in the past four games. They are worst in total yards allowed per game (422.) They have the second-worst pass defense, and are 25th when it comes to stopping the run. They’re not getting any pressure on the quarterback; they only have nine sacks through six games. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Many fans are already calling for Lovie Smith’s head. That’s not going to happen to a first-year coach. But here’s a question: how does defensive coordinator Leslie Frazer still have a job? If I could only make one change during the bye week, it would be to send him packing. It wouldn’t fix all of the problems in Tampa, but it would at least send a message. It’s one thing to have a bad defense; it’s another thing for opposing teams to consistently run the ball down your throat, and for quarterbacks to play pitch-and-catch with wide-open receivers all day long, which is what we’ve seen so far in 2014.
Lovie says he’s not changing his defensive scheme. Okay, then….
The offensive side of the ball is no better. The Buccaneers are ranked 28th in total offense. They have no running game whatsoever. Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey or anyone else who takes handoffs is not getting the job done. The offensive line has been awful in terms of opening holes or protecting the quarterback.
Speaking of the QB position, I really think Mike Glennon is an adequate quarterback – not a superstar by a long shot, but not terrible, either. He’s thrown seven touchdowns compared to three interceptions. And consider this: he’s doing it with no running game or decent pass protection. His receivers often drop his passes. Anyway, he’s the best the Bucs have right now, so you might as well stick with him.
While Smith won’t get fired this season (or so I think) he definitely needs to be held accountable for this mess. He brought in some high-profile defensive free agents during the offseason. That plan hasn’t worked out. If we, the fans, turned up the heat on Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano when they were on the sidelines, then we should absolutely treat Smith the same way.
In the meantime, enjoy the bye week, knowing that Tampa Bay can’t lose next Sunday.
Photo Courtesy: tampabay.com
The Buccaneers have a new head coach – and he’s someone very familiar to Tampa Bay fans.
Welcome back to Tampa, Lovie.
Lovie Smith was a defensive assistant assistant under Tony Dungy, so he knows how things used to be in Tampa when the Bucs had a nice run during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Not only that, he has previous NFL head coaching experience – something Greg Schiano did not have. Smith took the Bears to the Super Bowl seven years ago, and was 81-63 in nine seasons in Chicago. In other words, he knows how to win. From a public relations perspective, this is a great move – one that I agree with 100%. Whether it translates into success on the field remains to be seen.
Lovie’s staff is also starting to come into focus. According to ESPN, former Vikings’ head coach Leslie Frazier will be the Bucs’ new defensive coordinator, and former Cal coach Jeff Tedford will be running the offense.
We’re still waiting to see who the Glazers will choose to be the new general manager. That will be the next big move they make. In the meantime, Smith will be formally introduced at a Monday afternoon news conference.
Photo Courtesy: AP
I’d love to sit here and write, “I told you it was coming.” But with the Glazers, you can never tell.
On Monday, “it” did happen. The Buccaneers fired head coach Greg Schiano, who went 4-12 in his second season and 11-21 during his two-year tenure. The axe didn’t stop there; Mark Dominik is also out after five seasons as general manager. During those years, the Bucs were 28-52.
Yes, it was time for a change.
Remember back to last year, when the Bucs were 6-4 after ten games and right in the middle of the playoff hunt? Since then, they’ve gone 5-17. Schiano will be more remembered for incidents like telling his team to rush Eli Manning during a victory formation. Then there was the ugly saga involving former quarterback Josh Freeman. The Bucs got off to an 0-8 start, and never recovered.
Then there’s this: Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs in six years. The Bucs haven’t won a playoff game since they won the Super Bowl.
So who are the potential candidates for the head coaching job? One name I see mentioned a lot online is former Bucs’ assistant coach Lovie Smith, who also has head coaching experience with the Bears. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get the job. But who knows; the Schiano hire came from out of nowhere.
Photo Courtesy: Getty Images