Getting Caught Up On the Bucs

So I’ve been out of the blogging mix for a couple of weeks. Blame it on Las Vegas.  When Vegas comes calling, I have to defer to my favorite vacation destination.

 

But I’ve been keeping an eye on what the Buccaneers have been doing. And it hasn’t been pretty.

 

I was watching from a distance inside one of the casinos in Vegas when the Bucs let the Raiders beat them in overtime, despite Oakland committing a record number of penalties. And I was watching from my living room on Thursday night, when the Buccaneers got blown out at home by the Falcons.

 

We are halfway through the season, and Tampa Bay has a 3-5 record. All of its wins have come on the road.  The ghost of Ray-Jay continues.

 

There is plenty of blame to go around, as you would expect. But the biggest problem – and biggest disappointment – has to be the play of the defense.  Despite the moves the Bucs made in the offseason, this defense looks identical to the one that cost Lovie Smith his job.  They can’t cover.  They can’t tackle.  They commit penalties at the worst possible times; the one that comes to mind immediately is the one on 4th down that would’ve won the game against Oakland.  The defense has given up 1,087 yards over the past two games, and allowed Derek Carr and Matt Ryan to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes (thanks to ESPN staff writer Jenna Laine for those tidbits.)

 

Head coach Dirk Koetter looks like he’s over his head. I cannot figure out some of his decisions.  Why is he afraid to get points on the board at the end of a half when he’s got timeouts in his pocket?  And here’s an idea: when the opposition is flagged for a personal foul, don’t be afraid to push them back and not basically concede three points.  That was a key moment in Thursday night’s abysmal effort against Atlanta.

 

Mike Evans is really the only thing the Bucs have going for them right now. The guy is a beast.  They really, really need Doug Martin to get back on the field.  Still, it may be too little, too late.

 

Or maybe it isn’t. There are a lot of “meh” teams out there this year.  Tampa Bay is one of them.  But they have to start winning at home.  They have another chance next Sunday when the Bears come to town.

 

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

 

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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

 

A Great Opener For the Bucs

After one week of the season, the Buccaneers are alone in first place in the NFL South.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The Bucs played a great game in beating the Falcons in Atlanta, 31-24. The Saints lost.  So did the Panthers on Thursday night.

There was so much to like about this game. Let’s start with Jameis Winston, who threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers.  It was a great way to bounce back from an early interception that led to a Falcons’ touchdown.  Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins made gorgeous catches in the end zone.  And then there was the short toss to Charles Sims, who broke about four tackles on his way to pay dirt.  It was an amazing individual effort.  Brandon Myers caught the other TD; who saw that one coming?

The defense was…..well, good enough to win. They sacked Matt Ryan three times.  The real star was Kwon Alexander, who had 17 tackles to go with one of those sacks.  And late in the game – when you were starting to have flashbacks to the Washington debacle from last season – the defense came up with the stop it needed.

Roberto Aguayo made all five of his kicks. After what he went through in the first half of the preseason, that deserves a mention.

It would’ve been nice to see more from the running game. Doug Martin and company struggled throughout, though Martin did have a couple of big runs in the fourth quarter to help bleed the clock.

Congrats, Dirk Koetter. You’re 1-0 as an NFL head coach.

The bottom line: Tampa Bay beat a division opponent on the road. That in itself is a big deal.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

 

Bucs Win in Overtime: Amazing!

For a moment, I was getting to write about how the Buccaneers blew another double-digit lead and suffered a devastating defeat.

Well, they did blow the lead. But instead of losing, they found a way to a win the game this time. The Bucs beat the Falcons in overtime, 23-20. Connor Barth kicked the winning field goal on the first possession of OT, and the Bucs defense followed that up by doing something they hadn’t done the entire second half: stop Matt Ryan.

Jameis Winston had another solid day in which he did not turn it over. He threw for 177 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a score on a broken play in the third quarter. He hasn’t turned the ball over in three straight games now.

Sure, Tampa Bay’s defense still stinks. Besides blowing another big lead, they let Ryan throw for nearly 400 yards. The Falcons were just shy of 500 yards in total offense on the day. But – and this is a big “but” – they turned it over four times. The Buccaneers turned those mistakes into points, and that was the key.

The bright spot in this unit was rookie Kwon Alexander, who picked off Ryan and also recovered a fumble. It turns out he had just lost his brother a couple of days earlier to gun violence. Man, for him to play like that after what happened…..what an inspiring story that should not be overlooked.

The bottom line is, the Buccaneers improved to 3-4 with their second road victory over an NFC South opponent. Instead of talking about the awful secondary, or why in the world Lovie Smith went for it on 4th down on his side of the 50 late in the fourth quarter, I choose to focus on the end result.

If you like fantasy stats, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones probably got you some serious points. But I don’t play fantasy football. The Bucs won the game. In the end, that’s all that matters.

Photo Courtesy: buccaneers.com

How Do The Bucs Turn Things Around?

For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers are off to an 0-3 start. Last year’s team began 0-8, and if Lovie Smith’s players aren’t careful, they could be heading for that same fate in 2014.

First, they lost to a backup Carolina quarterback. Then they let a third-string QB from the Rams beat them. That was followed by the debacle in Atlanta on Thursday night against Matt Ryan (“debacle” is putting it nicely, actually.)

After three games, Tampa Bay is 30th in total offense (including dead last in passing yards) and 27th in total defense.

So, how does Tampa Bay turn this mess around?

Let’s start with the offense. Josh McCown, who injured his hand against Atlanta, may not play against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. If he’s out, then this becomes Mike Glennon’s team. He has a chance to seize the starting job if he’s effective, despite Smith’s insistence that McCown is his guy. But this team needs a spark, and Glennon needs to provide it. Hopefully Doug Martin can return to action. Bucs fans would love to see the Martin of two years ago. And when the Bucs took Mike Evans with their first-round pick, wasn’t the goal to make him and Vincent Jackson a formidable deep threat in the passing game? We haven’t seen that yet, either.

Oh, and please stop turning the ball over. That would help.

Defensively, it’s time to switch things up. The Tampa 2 is not working. The defensive line is getting no pressure on the quarterback whatsoever (four sacks in three games.) When that’s the case, the opposing quarterback will complete passes against this defense all game long. They need Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson back in a hurry. There’s no way any single player could’ve stopped the onslaught that took place at the Georgia Dome. But McCoy is the leader of the defensive front, and he needs to take charge once he’s healthy.

On special teams, I thought all eyes would be on rookie kicker Patrick Murray when he won the starting job. But the Bucs have had both punts and field goals blocked through the first three games. And the kick return coverage has been abysmal, punctuated by Devin Hester’s performance last Thursday.

Last year, the Carolina Panthers started out slow, and then rallied to win 11 of 12. Wouldn’t it be great if Tampa Bay could pull off a similar feat, as bleak as things may look right now?

Photo courtesy: USA Today

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Bucs Shredded by Falcons

Here are some thoughts on the Buccaneers’ humiliating 56-14 loss to the Falcons on Thursday night.

 

THE GOOD
Absolutely nothing. Actually, the Bucs won’t be playing on Sunday this week. That’s good.

 

THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Everything. Where to start….

The defense, supposedly the strength of the team, allowed 56 points. Matt Ryan and company were marching up and down the field at will. Receivers were wide open all over the field, including the end zone. Atlanta had nearly 500 yards of total offense (488.) Yes, Gerald McCoy, their star defensive lineman, was out with an injury. But could one player have made that much of a difference? They did force four turnovers. Normally that would be outstanding, but it didn’t make any difference on this night, because…

The Bucs’ offense turned it over five times. One of them was a pick-six thrown by Josh McCown, who left the game with a hand injury. Bobby Rainey, who had an excellent game last week against the Rams, lost two fumbles. Then there was the shotgun snap that went right over Mike Glennon’s head. The offense had 217 total yards, and 110 yards in penalties. There’s more, but you get the idea.

And finally, we have the abysmal special teams. You would think, after all the years Devin Hester has been in the league, that teams would avoid kicking the ball to him. Heck, Lovie Smith had him on his roster in Chicago. But you’d never know it from last night. Hester had long returns all night, including a 62-yard sprint for a touchdown. Even in the second half, long after I had turned off the game, Tampa Bay was still kicking it to Hester. I just don’t get it.

Let this sink in: the score was 35-0 at halftime. After three quarters, it was 56-0. What makes this even worse was that the game was on national TV. Thankfully, Tampa Bay doesn’t have any more nationally-televised games scheduled, barring a miraculous turnaround.

 

My goodness.

 

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

 

Bri Breaks Down the 2014 Buccaneers

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.

 

THE OFFENSE
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.

 

THE DEFENSE
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.

 

THE KICKER
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.

 

Go Bucs!

 

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