An Ugly Day Across the Board in Minnesota

In my season preview a couple of weeks ago, I opined that the Bucs’ defense was the unit I was most concerned about heading into 2017.  They showed some promise against Chicago in the opener.

 

So much for that.

 

The Buccaneers’ leaky, unable-to-make-a-tackle secondary showed up again in Sunday’s 34-17 loss to the Vikings.  This is the third straight time they’ve made Case Keenum look like a superstar (the last two were when he was with the Rams.)  And while the secondary kept springing leaks, the pass rush was nowhere to be seen.  Yes, the two go hand in hand more often than not.

 

The offense doesn’t get any good grades, either.  Jameis Winston was picked off three times – once in the end zone, the other near the goal line when he threw into triple coverage.  Hey Jameis: it’s not a good idea to throw the ball to an area where there are three purple-clad defenders lurking.  You tend to do this a lot, and I’m begging you to stop.

 

 

Tampa Bay only had 26 yards rushing.  That’s not going to cut it, either.  Part of that, of course, is being forced to throw because the Bucs were playing from behind all day.

 

If this loss wasn’t bad enough, the injuries are piling up.  Kwon Alexander and Brent Grimes didn’t play.  Perhaps the biggest loss was Lavonte David, who got hurt in the fourth quarter and could be out for a while.  Noah Spence and Gerald McCoy are also banged up.  Who’s going to step it up on defense?  Heck, who’s going to play defense at this point?

 

The Bucs host the Giants next Sunday.

 

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times

 

2016 Buccaneers: Season in Review

The Buccaneers’ season has been over for a week now, so it’s time form some final thoughts on the 2016 team. Arguably, I should’ve done this several days ago, but a new work schedule has something to do with that.

Dirk Koetter was promoted to head coach from offensive coordinator during the offseason. He finished his first season with a 9-7 record, the first Bucs team to have a winning season since 2010. I like the fact that he will always tell you exactly how he feels. He did make some questionable decisions in some games, and the Bucs had a knack for burning timeouts early in games, though that seemed to improve as the season went on.

Second-year QB Jameis Winston had a good season as a whole. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also had 18 INT’s, including six in the final three games. The Bucs had to win two of those three to get into the playoffs, but were only victorious in the finale against the Panthers. He made a lot of plays that make you say ‘wow’ – both good and bad.

The running game was a disappointment. First, you had Doug Martin. He started off slow, got hurt, came back, but never was the same. Then he was benched (or so we thought at the time) in the critical second-to-last game against New Orleans. A few days later, he revealed he had been suspended for violating the league’s drug’s policy, and would be seeking treatment for addiction. Jacquizz Rodgers did look promising when he was in there, however, averaging 4.3 yards a carry. The play of the offensive line didn’t help the running game, either.

Defensively, I’d call it a mixed bag. When Tampa Bay won five in a row to get into playoff contention, the defense looked like it was among the best in the league. But those five games aside, they gave up too many big plays in the passing game, which is one of the things that cost Lovie Smith his job. The Bucs ranked 23rd in the league in total defense, which is based on total yards allowed. That’s not good enough to become a playoff contender. I didn’t hear Lavonte David’s name nearly enough this year. One of his few shining moments came in San Diego: a pick-six that helped in the win over the Chargers.

And how can I not talk about the rookie kicker, Roberto Aguayo. He was an adventure every time he came out on the field. He made just 71% of his field goals (22-for-31) and missed two extra points. There was a stretch late in the season where he made nine straight FG’s, but then his last two in the final game were a miss, and a block. He did not have any competition for his job in 2016. That will definitely change next season.

So how did I feel about the season overall? I was pleased. The Bucs have gone from 2-14, to 6-10, to 9-7 in the past three years. There were the impressive victories over the Chiefs and Seahawks, and the ugly defeat against the Rams in the home opener.

But it’s always nice when they win the game that I fly down to see in person. Next year’s goal: playoffs or bust.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs are Tied For First Place! Believe It!

Bucs fans: we are in for one heck of a final quarter of the season. That’s because in the third quarter of the season, they were a perfect 4-0.

By beating the Chargers 28-21 on Sunday, and with the Falcons losing to the Chiefs (thank you Eric Berry), the Buccaneers are now tied with Atlanta for first place in the NFC South.

Who would’ve thought it a month ago?

This was one of those games where somehow, someway, Tampa Bay found a way to win. Take the defense, for example. At times, they looked the defense from the first half of the season, giving up two long touchdown passes to Philip Rivers. And they got ridiculously lucky in the fourth quarter when a wide open Chargers’ receiver dropped what would’ve been a potential game-tying touchdown. On the flip side, Lavonte David came up with a Pick 6 that put Tampa Bay in the lead in the third quarter. And with about three minutes to go in the game, Keith Tandy picked off Rivers in the end zone. The Bucs were able to run out the clock.

Jameis Winston had another good day: 280 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He made plays when he had to. And he’s doing it with a running game that is still struggling big time.

Roberto Aguayo? He missed another field goal. Good Lord. It was a 31-yarder. That should be a chip-shot for every single kicker in the league. He’s lucky the Bucs were successful on a 2-point conversion after Cameron Brate’s TD. That “offset” Aguayo’s screw-up. He has missed six FG’s and two PAT’s this season. If the Chargers had tied the game in the fourth quarter, I would’ve been on the floor praying if the game came down to Aguayo’s leg. Thankfully it didn’t.

So the bottom line is this: the Bucs and Falcons are tied at 7-5 atop the NFC South. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head. They split those two games. I think the next tiebreaker is division record. Right now the Bucs are 2-1 in that department, but three of their last four are against division opponents.

And lastly, next week’s game against the Saints will be my annual trip down to Ray-Jay. I can’t wait. And for those who fans who are going to the game and didn’t hear the news this past week, it is now a 4:25 kickoff instead of 1:00.

Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

Kwon Alexander Becoming a Force

When the Bucs scored 31 points against Atlanta on Sunday, it’s easy to put all of the praise on the offense. They gave up 24 points, so it’s easy to assume the defense struggled against Matt Ryan and company.

But one player stood out among the rest: linebacker Kwon Alexander. He had a whopping 17 tackles. He also had a sack.

Remember what he did last year in the Georgia Dome? Let me remind you. Two days after his teenage brother was shot to death, Alexander forced two turnovers and had a third called back by a penalty. The Bucs won the game in overtime. Kwon earned a game ball for his effort.

He missed the last four games of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Buccaneers lost all four. Before he was sidelined, the team was 6-6 and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Think his presence means something?

With Alexander and Lavonte David, Tampa Bay has a pretty dynamic 1-2 punch of linebackers. They’re worth keeping an eye on as the season moves on.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Monday Column: The Bucs Were in Playoff Contention, and Then….

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?

 

Wow! What a Performance By The Bucs in Philly

I’m not going to lie to you.  I didn’t see this coming.  But I’m sure not complaining about it.

Who would’ve thought the Buccaneers would score 45 points in a victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia.  I’m not saying they couldn’t win this game, but to dominate the way they did – my goodness.

Who would’ve thought Jameis Winston would throw five touchdown passes – to five different receivers no less.  His performance tied an NFL record for a rookie; Matthew Stafford is the only other QB to throw five TD’s in his first season in the league.

Who would’ve thought the Bucs would go 9-for-12 on third down conversions.

And who would’ve thought Doug Martin would run wild at Lincoln Financial Field for a whopping 235 yards.  OK, so we’ve seen him do that before, in his rookie year at Oakland.  But still, that was sweet.  Tampa Bay set a franchise record with 283 yards on the ground, and their 521 total yards were the second-most ever.

Let’s not forget about the defense, which held the fast-paced Eagles’ offense in check.  Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy, who have both taken some heat for not making enough big plays, stepped it up.  McCoy had 1.5 sacks.  David had two interceptions, returning one of them for an icing-on-the-cake score late in the fourth quarter.

Most importantly, the Buccaneers are back at .500.  What looked like another rough season just a month ago….now has some hope.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

 

 

Season Preview: 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s just about time to kick things off for real.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the regular season on Sunday, September 13 at home against the Tennessee Titans.  Today, we preview each facet of this year’s team.

THE OFFENSE
After last year’s dismal performance, this is the unit that will get the most attention.  The biggest addition, of course, is Jameis Winston, taken by the Bucs with the top overall pick in this year’s draft.  The rookie had his ups and downs during the preseason.  He did not throw a touchdown pass in the three games he played in, though he did rush for a pair of scores.  He actually has a real-life offensive coordinator this year in Dirk Koetter, who comes over from division-rival Atlanta.  Here’s a thought: get the ball in the hands of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as much as possible.

The second most-watched group will be the offensive line.  With a rookie quarterback running the show, it will be up to this group to take some of the pressure off Winston, and open up holes in the running game.  Last year, these guys were awful in both categories.

Speaking of that, will Doug Martin bounce back, in what could be his final season in Tampa?  In his rookie season in 2012, he was fantastic.  Since then – not so much.

THE DEFENSE
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are the leaders of this group.  There is no doubting that.  Tampa Bay improved in the secondary even more by signing two-time Pro Bowler Jim Jennings just this week.  Dashon Goldson, Mason Foster, Michael Johnson and Da’Quan Bowers are all gone.

SPECIAL TEAMS
For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers have a rookie kicker.  Kyle Brinzda won the starting job over last year’s kicker, Patrick Murray, and former Buc Connor Barth (remember him?  He’s briefly re-joined the team after Denver cut him.)  Brinzda made two field goals over 50 yards in the preseason finale against Miami to seal the deal.

The team also has a new punter.  Michael Koenen is no more.  The new guy in town is Jacob Schum, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets.  Hopefully he will be an upgrade from Koenen, who struggled big-time last year.

The whole unit needs to be much better than last year, especially on kickoff and punt returns.  We the fans are sick of seeing a flag for illegal block in the back on nearly every return.

COACHING
Is Lovie Smith on the hot seat in just his second year?  If the Bucs get off to a slow start, I say the answer is yes.  Admittedly, this season could be also be challenging because of a rookie starting quarterback.  But if the team doesn’t at least show some improvement, then the fire’s going to start burning a lot more under the head coach.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

Lavonte David’s Extension: Good Move, Bucs

Lavonte David isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And for that, Bucs fans should celebrate.

Tampa Bay and David have agreed to a five-year contract extension worth more than $50 million.

David is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL that many people don’t know a whole lot about. Remember Derrick Brooks? Yeah, this guy is a lot like him.

David is entering his fourth year in Tampa. Last year, he was, by far, the team leader in tackles with 146. He is the glue that holds that part of the defense together, just as Gerald McCoy does up front.

So why doesn’t he get the fanfare that other stars do? It’s simple: he plays in Tampa, and his team only won two games last year. But he is one of the top defensive players in the league, and his big payday is proof of that.

 

 

This Diehard Bucs Fan is So Glad The Season is Over

Before this season began, there was hope – lots of it, in fact.

The hope was that Lovie Smith would come in, and the Buccaneers would turn things around, or at least start to head in the right direction. He and GM Jason Licht would start to right the ship. Some of the so-called pundits even predicted Tampa Bay would qualify for the playoffs.

Those self-proclaimed experts were wrong. Man, were they ever wrong. And we, the fans, paid the price.

None of us expected the Bucs to go 2-14. Remember back in the draft, when the Bucs used all of their picks to upgrade an offense that needed more than a few extra cylinders? The offensive line was overhauled via free agency. What did we end up with in return?

We got an offense that finished 30th in the league in total yards.

We got a journeyman quarterback that won only one of his eleven starts, completed only 56% of his passes, threw more INT’s (14) than TD’s (11) and was sacked 36 times.

We got a running game that averaged less than 100 yards per game on the ground. Think of how much worse it would’ve been had they not gone crazy on Sunday in the finale against the Saints.

We did, however, get a beast of a wide receiver. Mike Evans went for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. Only Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson found the end zone more often. When you consider who was throwing the ball to Evans this year, his stats are even more remarkable.

What did we get on defense? We got a unit that ranked 25th in the league, and more often than not, looked worse than that. Lovie Smith is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach. Plays that could’ve been made to seal games were not made. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are great, but the jury is still out on many others.

What’s the most painful part of this season, besides the obvious 2-14? If the Bucs had gone 8-8, they would’ve won the NFC South and would be hosting a playoff game at Raymond James Stadium this weekend.

I was going to hand out final grades, as I did at the midpoint of the season. But honestly, you could take everything I wrote eight weeks ago and just multiply it times two – including the number of wins, sadly.

How the heck did they beat Pittsburgh?

But hey – they’ve got the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Yeah! There is hope after all!

By the way, the photo at the top of this article is a shameless selfie, taken as the Bucs were losing to the Falcons at Ray-Jay in November.

 

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