Here’s one thing about this painful-to-watch season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are in the running for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.
The Bucs are 2-11 right now, and are tied with the Jets, Titans, Jaguars and Raiders for the worst record in the NFL. As of this writing, Tampa Bay would own the top pick due to strength of schedule (or lack thereof.) Anyway, it’s some tiebreaker that could change between now and the end of the regular season.
The Buccaneers need a quarterback – badly. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, who was named a finalist for the Heisman trophy on Monday night, is the name that keeps popping up. If he is still available whenever Tampa Bay is on the clock, the Bucs need to grab him. But taking Mariota will not solve the problems for an offense that has been painful that has trouble just scoring 20 points in a game.
Mariota won’t do well in Tampa if nobody can protect for him. The offensive line, which was overhauled before the season, needs to be revamped again. As bad as Josh McCown has been this year, I would argue that the guys in charge of protecting the quarterback have been the biggest disappointment in 2014. Players like Evan Dietrich-Smith, Anthony Collins, Oniel Cousins, Demar Dotson have not produced. And Logan Mankins – who was acquired before the season began – has only made headlines when he gets called for holding. They are also partly responsible for the abysmal running game. Tampa Bay is 31st in rushing yards, averaging only 78 yards per game.
So for all the fans (including me) who would love to see Mariota in a Bucs uniform, I say bring it on. But let’s hope Lovie Smith and Jason Licht also draft some guys who can do damage in the trenches.
Photo Courtesy: AP
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
Here are some thoughts on the Buccaneers’ 19-17 loss to the Rams on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. When the Bucs lose, there is usually more in the “bad” and “ugly” category. But I’ll always put the “good” first because, well, that’s how the saying goes.
This award goes to running back Bobby Rainey. Filling in for the injured Doug Martin, he rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries. The play of Logan Mankins was definitely a factor in a much-improved running game.
The Bucs lost to third-string quarterback Austin Davis. They let him lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes. And they lost to a backup QB last week, too. Both losses have come at home. Let that sink in for a moment.
Special teams were atrocious. The Bucs had two kicks (a punt and a field goal) blocked. Both led to St. Louis field goals.
What’s with the conservative play-calling down in the red zone. The Bucs were inside the 20 on two separate occasions, facing third down, and didn’t take a shot into the end zone. The first occasion ended with the aforementioned blocked field goal. The other ended with three points. I’m confused: don’t you have to take a shot? I’m looking at you, Lovie Smith and Jeff Tedford.
It has to be that awful interception thrown by McCown down near the goal line in the second quarter. The Bucs had first and goal from the 9, and McCown forced the throw, and was picked off by Rodney McLeod. McCown did have two rushing touchdowns in this game, but his mistake was a costly one.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE CRAZY ENDING
What a crummy way to have the game end. Mike Evans made a great catch on a long pass in the closing seconds, but was clobbered on the play. He was clearly hurt, and the trainers had to help him. The Bucs didn’t have any timeouts. There were eight seconds on the clock, but the injury to Evans required a ten-second runoff. The game was over.
When Evans was hit, there were about 14-15 seconds, and the Bucs would’ve had time to rush down the field, spike the ball, and set up a game-winning field goal attempt. What a lousy rule. I know why it’s there, but I don’t think anyone felt Evans was faking an injury, given the hit he took.
Photo courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Bucs’ situation on the offensive line has gotten a lot of attention this week.
First, there was word that the team invited former Miami guard Richie Incognito to Tampa for a tryout. That sent shivers down me. Yes, they need help up front, but why would you do it with a player with a rap sheet that includes the Dolphins’ bullying scandal among other things?
Then on Tuesday, my nerves calmed down considerably when the Buccaneers acquired six-time Pro Bowler Logan Mankins from the Patriots in exchange for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 draft pick.
Mankins was a beast in Foxboro. Being from New England, I can say truthfully that he was well-liked and respected around these parts. He will definitely bring stability to the Bucs offensive front, even if he is over 30 years old. The Bucs needed to do something in their attempt to better protect Josh McCown, and this helps a lot.
A lot of Patriots fans up here are shocked by this move. For New England, all is not lose. Wright had a decent season on a horrendous team last year. Now, he’s going to be catching balls from Tom Brady.
Still, I think this is an excellent move by the Bucs. Don’t expect to see Mankins play in the final preseason game Thursday night. But he should be ready to go for the season opener on September 7.
Oh, and a final memo to Love Smith and Jason Licht: don’t even think about signing Incognito.