Monday Column: It’s Time For Lovie Smith To Go

Bucs fans: have you had enough of Lovie Smith?

I know I have.

Sunday’s devastating collapse at the hands of the Redskins was the final straw. It was a game in which the Buccaneers blew a 24-0 lead.

When a game like that happens, the head coach has to be the fall guy. There are no exceptions. Smith cannot coach. His team is undisciplined. He is supposedly a defensive guru, but consider the quarterbacks he’s lost to so far this season: Marcus Mariota, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton and now Kirk Cousins. Ignore Newton, and focus on the other three.  Tampa Bay beat Blake Bortles, but even he put up impressive numbers against this sieve of a defense.

Please don’t tell me how the Bucs’ defense is in the top ten, in terms of total yards allowed. As I mentioned in a previous column, look at the points they’re giving up. Tampa Bay is giving up almost 30 points a game on average. The Buccaneers are tied for dead-last with the Bears in that category.  The secondary, in particular, has been awful.

But let’s get back to Lovie’s bad coaching. The debacle began to unravel in the third quarter. After Washington scored to make it 24-14, the Redskins pulled off a successful onside kick. The Bucs were not ready for that. That’s bad coaching. The ‘Skins went on to score another touchdown to make it a three-point game.

Let’s skip ahead to late in the fourth quarter. Doug Martin, who had another big game, had just ripped off a big run to the Redskins’ five-yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, the Bucs run….a toss sweep….to Charles Sims? Are you serious? When Sims took the ball, 3rd and 1 just became 3rd and 5. Washington wasn’t fooled. Why does Sims even get the ball in that situation? Why not throw one up in the end zone for Mike Evans, who broke out of his slump in a big way? Anyway, Lovie’s team ended with a field goal and a six-point lead with about 2:20 to go. When Washington got the ball back, I knew the Redskins would march right down the field, with receivers running wide open, and get the game-winning score.

There’s one more thing that dawned me overnight: it was so nice of the Bucs to burn all of their timeouts before the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. That’s bad coaching. What if they had one timeout left on that final desperation play? Instead of Sims trying a desperation lateral that resulted in a fumble (the clock would’ve run out anyway), Tampa Bay would’ve had the ball on the Washington 39. It’s possible Connor Barth could’ve saved the day with a 56-yarder at the gun. Who knows?

And then there are the penalties – 16 of them for 142 yards. Many of them were 15-yard personal fouls. That’s lack of discipline. That’s bad coaching. Lovie deserves the blame for that.

Lovie Smith has been Tampa Bay’s head coach for 22 games. His record is 4-18. After yesterday’s debacle, I don’t think he deserves to coach his 23rd game in Atlanta next Sunday. We’ll see if the Glazers feel differently.

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

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Monday Column: The Bucs at the Bye

The Buccaneers have hit their bye week with a record of 2-3. That is considerably better than they were at this time last season. But they’re still not nearly ready to compete with the big boys in the NFL.

That last statement is not a surprise, though. This is a very young team that only won two games in 2014. The biggest thing I’m looking for in 2015 is improvement.

Let’s start with quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Through five games, he has an equal number of touchdown passes and interceptions (seven of each.) He’s completing 56% of his passes. Sunday’s win against the Jaguars was a nice bounce-back game for him, as he played mistake-free football after being responsible for five turnovers the previous week against Carolina.

The running game has been a positive so far. Don’t look now, but Doug Martin is tied for second in the NFL in rushing yards with 405. He had his best game of the season on Sunday, rushing for 123 yards and three touchdowns (one of them receiving.) That is the Doug Martin we all remember from his rookie year.

Is Mike Evans dealing with a sophomore slump? So far, the answer is yes. He has only 174 yards receiving, though he was injured earlier in the year. Still, the Bucs will need him to revert to last year’s form, and create a formidable tandem with Vincent Jackson.

How about the defense? Here’s an area where if I give a bunch of stats, you’d have no clue whether this unit is really good or really bad. On one hand, the Bucs are eighth in the league in total defense – i.e. yards allowed. They also have 15 sacks. But on the other hand – and this is the one that bothers me – they are dead last in scoring defense. They’ve given up 148 points in five games. They allowed two quarterbacks named Mariota and Bortles to combine to throw eight touchdown passes against them. The secondary in particular has been a sieve. How many times can Tim Jennings blow coverage? And how long can Lovie Smith continue to keep him in the lineup even though he keeps screwing up?

The kicking game was awful through the first four games. Case in point: Kyle Brindza is gone. Connor Barth is back, and he was flawless against the Jags. Thank goodness that issue has been resolved, at least for now.

Looking forward, Tampa Bay needs to keep running the ball, limit mistakes, and make some adjustments on defense, especially in the secondary.

Photo Courtesy: bucsnation.com

Monday Column: Buccaneers Defense Redeems Itself

After Tampa Bay gave up four touchdown passes to Marcus Mariota in the season opener, the obvious question crossed my mind: if a rookie can do that, imagine what a seasoned pro like Drew Brees would do against this defense.

Count me as one of the fans who was pleasantly surprised by what played out at the Superdome on Sunday.

The Buccaneers held Brees under 300 yards passing and sacked him four times.  They also forced three turnovers, which was huge given that the Bucs’ offense turned it over on consecutive series in a bizarre fourth quarter.

When Tampa Bay took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, I had a feeling the Saints would make a game of it. I’ve seen this movie too many times before. Sure enough, New Orleans found the end zone twice in the final period.

But the defense – and special teams – made enough key plays. After the first Saints’ TD made it a 10-point game, they foiled the two-point conversion, meaning it was still a two-score game. After another touchdown made it 23-19, perhaps the biggest play of the game came when William Gholston blocked the extra point. That means the Saints would need a touchdown at the end of the game to win, instead of a potential-tying field goal. And yes, they were in field goal range in the closing seconds.

That missed FG by the saints earlier in the fourth helped.  I’m not going to lie to you there.

One more note on the three sacks: Jacquies Smith now has four in the first two games. He’s leading the league in that category. That bears repeating: a Buccaneer is leading the NFL in sacks. Sure, it’s only two games, but when the last time (before now) that statement was true?

Sunday’s victory in New Orleans wasn’t perfect – not by a long shot. The Bucs still need to do a better job of closing out games when they’ve got the lead in the fourth quarter. But after a 2-14 season, we’ll take any positives that we can, and Sunday produced enough of them.

Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com

Drink Heavily, Bucs Fans

Earlier in the day, I wrote about how important it was for the Bucs to make a good first impression – in the season opener – in front of the home crowd. Well, my first impression is: this season could end up being a lot like the last one.

OK – it’s only one game. But geez, that 42-14 shellacking at the hands of the Titans was downright awful.

Let’s focus on the quarterbacks, since that was the headline coming into the game. Jameis Winston struggled in his professional debut. You knew it was going to be a bad day when his first pass turned into an ugly interception that was run back for a touchdown. He later threw another pick, and also fumbled twice (but recovered both.) He was sacked four times. He did throw two TD passes to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but one of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was far out of reach.

On the other hand, the defense made Marcus Mariota look like a superstar. They let him throw four touchdowns…in the first half. Naturally, a lot of casual fans are already saying Mariota is a better quarterback than Winston. After one game, that is 100% true. Let’s see what happens when he goes up against a bunch of defenders that will allow the other team’s receivers to get wide open in the middle of the field.

I’ll have more to say about this debacle in the Monday column, including perhaps a few harsh words for Lovie Smith.

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Tribune

 

Bucs Blow It One Last Time: The No. 1 Pick is Theirs

Lovie Smith denied it. So did the players. But it’s hard to look at what happened and say the Bucs didn’t “tank” in the fourth quarter of that game against the Saints.

The way this team has played all season, they could’ve easily blown a 13-point lead under normal circumstances. But when you throw in all those backups, and call all those running plays, well, you tell me. How many passed did Josh McCown throw in the final 15 minutes? Oh, by the way, he threw a pick. And he got sacked in the end zone for a safety, which I hope is a fitting ending to his brief career in Tampa.

Anyway, it was just another creative way for the Bucs to lose their 14th game of the season. The bottom line: the Buccaneers have the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.

If they don’t take a quarterback, then the front office needs to have its collective head examined. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a new quarterback alone will not fix all of the problems. The offensive line is dreadful. A full-time offensive coordinator would help, too (what a concept.) Still, with a player like Marcus Mariota available, you need to grab him.

The last time the Bucs had the top overall pick, Tampa Bay drafted some quarterback named Vinny Testaverde. Vinny’s time in Tampa didn’t turn out well. We can only hope for better things when the draft rolls around.

Photo Courtesy: Tampa Tribune

 

So, If the Bucs End Up With the #1 Pick….

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