It’s time to get down to business.
One week from today, the Buccaneers kick off the 2017 season against the Dolphins in Miami. Here are some things I’ll be keeping an eye on as the games begin to count:
THE OFFENSE: by all accounts, the Bucs are loaded. Jameis Winston is starting his third year in Tampa Bay, and does he ever have weapons. The names are many: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Doug Martin (after he finishes serving his suspension.) On that last note, I want to see how they’re going to run the ball in Martin’s absence. It appears Jacquizz Rogers will be the featured back, along with Charles Sims (who I’m not a big fan of.)
Here are two things to look for: can Winston cut down on his mistakes? And perhaps an even bigger question: can this team finish off drives with touchdowns? It’s one thing to move the ball at will down the field, but if you can’t finish it off with six, that’s disappointing.
THE DEFENSE: this is the group I’m most concerned about. I know what you’re thinking – ‘well, they looked great during the preseason.’ The key word there is the last one. This is a unit that gave up a lot of big plays last year, especially in the passing game. The Buccaneers play in a loaded NFC South – with quarterbacks named Ryan, Brees and Newton. The tackling has to be better. The secondary has to be a lot better than it was in 2016. I think the Bucs are going to score a lot of points, but I can also see them giving up a lot as well. We’ll see.
SPECIAL TEAMS: the kicking game was solved during the preseason. Nick Folk is the guy now. Roberto Aguayo was cut, and is now unemployed. He signed on with the Bears, but they let him go, too. Given all of the issues in the kicking game last season, Folk will be under intense scrutiny, and will surely hear about it when he misses a kick.
It’s playoffs or bust for the Bucs. They went 9-7 last year and missed the postseason by one game. There’s only way 2017 will be considered a success is if Dirk Koetter’s guys are still playing football come January.
Until then, it’s on to Miami for the season opener….
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Well, that was worth staying up late for a Bucs’ game that was actually on TV.
This was a game that neither team seemed to want. But in the end, there was beleaguered kicker Roberto Aguayo, who had already missed two kicks earlier in the game, standing out there on the field with :03 left on the clock and the outcome resting on his right foot.
And wouldn’t you know – he nailed it.
The Bucs picked up an important win over a division rival, beating the Panthers, 17-14.
There is so much to dissect. Just look at the last drive alone. Dirk Koetter’s play-calling continues to bewilder me. The Bucs got the ball back with just under 2:00 remaining, and Koetter called two straight running plays, the second of which resulted in the running back going out of bounds, allowing Carolina to save a timeout. Then on the 3rd down, the Bucs threw it to pick up a first down, and suddenly they’re not just trying to milk the clock anymore. They marched down the field, and caught a break when the Panthers were called for a personal foul facemask. They caught another break when the refs said Vincent Jackson went out of bounds after making a catch, when the replay showed otherwise. That stopped the clock when it otherwise would’ve kept running. It all resulted in Aguayo’s redemption kick – right down the middle – that set off a late-night celebration in my apartment.
Don’t worry – I kept it down. There are a lot of older people in my building who likely went to bed after Big Papi’s career earlier in the night.
All I heard about going into this game was Carolina not having Cam Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart. Well, the Bucs didn’t have running back Doug Martin, and were without three-quarters of their starting defensive front: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers.
Derek Anderson had beaten the Bucs twice before. It looked like he might do it again, but he made a critical mistake when Brent Grimes picked him off in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, one of four Tampa Bay takeaways.
As I said, this game was far from perfect. Jameis Winston is still making too many dumb decisions. Aguayo gives me a heart attack every time he steps on the field. You’d think the Buccaneers would decide to cover Greg Olsen every now and then. They’re still committing too many costly penalties and crucial times – whether it’s a 3rd and short situation, or the other team is punting it away and they decide it’s a good idea to knock the punter down to the ground right after he kicks it.
I mentioned Koetter’s play-calling at the end. What about that 3rd down call in the fourth quarter – a running play? The next play: Aguayo – wide left.
One thing that was great to see was the performance of Jacquizz Rogers, who rushed for over 100 yards, much of it in the first half. The Buccaneers put Charles Sims on IR earlier in the day (he’s been lousy anyway) so it was nice to have a running game in the absence of Doug Martin.
The Bucs are now 2-3, with both wins coming on the road against division opponents. They have their bye week next week, which gives them a chance to get healthy. Thank goodness.
Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com