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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Whoa: the Bucs Won? Amazing!

I had to rub my eyes when I saw the final score of Sunday’s Bucs game against the Redskins at FedEx field.

Tampa Bay beat Washington by 20 points? Yes, it’s true.

In this game, we saw a lot of things that we’ve been hoping to see from the beginning. The Bucs scored a defensive touchdown, a Jonathan Banks pick-six, one of three turnovers forced on the day. They sacked Robert Griffin III six times. That’s worth repeating: the Bucs had six sacks in a single game.

But the biggest headline has to be Mike Evans. The first-round pick out of Texas A&M had seven catches for 209 yards and two, long touchdowns. I was at Ray-Jay last week when he had a big game in a losing effort, and now he does this. He is a beast, and Bucs fans are glad to have him on board.

Sure, the Bucs were far from perfect. They had a whopping eleven penalties for over 100 yards. And they still don’t have a running game to speak of.

But, they won. And we, the fans, can smile, even if just for a short period of time.

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

They Blew It! Bucs Fall in OT

Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory….or however that old saying goes.

There were the Bucs, taking their first lead of the game with just over two minutes to go. But in “where-have-we-seen-this-before” fashion, they let Teddy Bridgewater march the Vikings right down the field at the end of regulation, and Minnesota tied the game with a field goal on the final play.

How many different ways can a football team find a way to lose? On the first play of overtime, Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught a pass, fumbled the ball, Anthony Barr picked it up and took it into the end zone for the Vikings’ victory.   Yes, Tampa Bay lost on the equivalent of a walk-off fumble.

It was another pathetic showing by the Bucs offense. Through the first three quarters, they had gained less than 100 total yards.  They finished with a paltry 225.  Doug Martin, who’s rumored to be on the trading block, had only 27 of the team’s 66 rushing yards.  The offensive line was awful once again; Mike Glennon was sacked five times.

And the defense, which was decent through 57 ½ minutes, couldn’t seal the deal when Tampa Bay finally had the lead. We’ve seen our fair share of that over the years (although there haven’t been many “close-out” opportunities in 2014.)  Dear Jonathan Banks: why couldn’t you pick off that pass on the final drive?

I really like Lavonte David, though. You could argue that he is the best player on this team, both offense and defense.  Dear Bucs: please don’t give him away if you do a fire sale.

Photo Courtesy: AP

 

Hey Bucs: About All Those Penalties….

It’s time to look back at how the Buccaneers blew a fourth-quarter lead in the Superdome, and allowed the Saints to eventually win in overtime.

There is one stat that stands out more than any other: penalties. Tampa Bay had every chance to win this game, but kept shooting itself in the foot with one yellow flag after another – 15 of them in all for 113 yards.

Early in the game, whenever Mike Glennon completed a big pass downfield, the Bucs were flagged. Or, his receiver dropped the ball (I’m looking at you, Austin Seferian-Jenkins.) The dropped passed are one thing. But it’s the penalties that cost the Buccaneers a chance to finish a tough, three-game road trip with a more-than-respectable 2-1 record.

The real killers came late in the fourth quarter and in overtime. How awful was that Bucs’ series after the Saints had cut the lead to five? They started on the 20. An offensive holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 10. The next play was an errant snap that sailed to Glennon’s right, which he fell on at the 2. That was followed by back-to-back fouls for delay of game and false start. Next play: Junior Gallette comes in untouched, and brings the Saints to within a field goal. New Orleans would tie the game on its ensuing possession after the free kick.

The last ridiculous (and in my opinion, questionable) penalty came in overtime, when Jonathan Banks was flagged for illegal use of hands to the face. I’ve watched the play over and over, and I still don’t see the penalty. Of course, the Fox crew didn’t exactly provide a conclusive replay, either. But regardless of how Bucs fans feel about the call, the point is this: the penalty came on third down. Instead of forcing the Saints to punt, the Bucs gift-wrapped a first down for them. We all know what happened after that.

Yes, the defense wilted in the fourth quarter and overtime. They had to be out of gas. But the Buccaneers didn’t help their cause with all of those mistakes. It’s a problem that needs to be fixed, in a league where the refs are now throwing flags on seemingly every other play. This game was there for the taking, and the Bucs let it slip through their hands.

Photo Courtesy: AP

The Good (and Bad) from the Bucs’ OT Loss to the Saints

Here are some thoughts on the Buccaneers’ difficult-to-swallow, 37-31 overtime loss to the Saints on Sunday.

 

THE BAD
The Bucs blew an eleven-point lead in the fourth quarter, and ended up losing in OT. That’s the short version. Now, for the long version…

The meltdown really kicked in after New Orleans had just scored to cut Tampa Bay’s lead to five. The Bucs got the ball back, and went backward via a botched snap and a couple of penalties. The “drive” ended with Mike Glennon getting sacked in the end zone for a safety, which essentially gave New Orleans the two points it didn’t get on the previous two-point conversion attempt. After the Saints got the ball back, they marched right down the field and kicked the tying field goal. When the game went into overtime, the Saints won the coin toss, took the ball, scored a touchdown, and that was that. The defense was obviously gassed at the end of the game, and allowed 511 yards of total offense.

And oh, those penalties: 15 of them in all for 113 yards. The biggest one came in overtime on third down against Jonathan Banks. If not for that penalty, the Bucs would’ve forced a Saints’ punt in the extra period. 15 penalties is way too many, whether you agree with the calls or not (and there were some questionable ones.)

I will have more on the disastrous fourth quarter in tomorrow’s write-up.

The Bucs still don’t have much of a running game to speak of. We have not yet seen the same Doug Martin who was a stud two years ago. He did have a couple of bursts on the Superdome turf, but he just isn’t the same player he used to be.

 

THE GOOD
Glennon had another solid day as the Bucs’ quarterback, going 19-for-32 for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. But unlike last week, he was unable to lead Tampa Bay on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

It was nice to see Vincent Jackson finally have a big day: eight catches for 144 yards.

As I mentioned, the defense gave up over 500 yards of total offense. And yet, Drew Brees didn’t even have his best game. The Bucs picked him off three times, and ran one of those interceptions back for a touchdown (by Danny Lansanah.)

 

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.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