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
All of a sudden, things are looking up for the Buccaneers.
They beat the 49ers on Sunday, 34-17, for their second straight win. The Bucs are now back at .500.
Jameis Winston shook off an early, poorly-thrown interception to end up with a nice day. Mike Williams is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. And even without Doug Martin, the Bucs suddenly have found a running game, thanks to another big day from Jacquizz Rodgers.
When Tampa Bay fell behind 14-0 early, I thought it was going to be a long afternoon in Santa Clara. No sir. The next 27 points were scored by the road team.
The fact that San Francisco’s run defense is terrible should not diminish the effort by Rodgers, who finished with 154 yards on the ground. Evans’ performance (two more TD’s) is even more impressive when you consider that Vincent Jackson was placed on injured reserve last week. Russell Shepard and Peyton Barber also found the end zone. Who are those two guys? That’s my point; other players stepped it up nicely.
The defense is also playing much better. Yes, they let the ‘Niners march right down the field to start the game. And the second TD they gave up was the direct result of a bonehead mistake by Winston. But the D held San Francisco to a field goal the rest of the way.
Roberto Aguayo missed another field goal. Yes, it was a 50-yarder, but it’s only going to add to the scrutiny surrounding the second-round pick. He’s now 6-for-11 on FG’s this season. Not good enough.
But six games in, and the Bucs are very much right in the mix. The next three games are at Ray-Jay, where Tampa Bay has struggled to win in recent years. That has to change, starting with the game against a very good Oakland team next Sunday.
Photo courtesy: buccaneers.com
For those of us who love taking road trips to see an NFL game, it’s always fun when the NFL schedule is released. It came out this past week. Here’s how 2016 is shaping up for the Bucs:
SEPTEMBER 11 @ Atlanta 1:00
SEPTEMBER 18 @ Arizona 4:05
SEPTEMBER 25 L.A. RAMS 4:05
OCTOBER 2 DENVER 4:05
OCTOBER 10 @ Carolina 8:30 (Monday Night)
OCTOBER 23 @ San Francisco 4:05
OCTOBER 30 OAKLAND 1:00
NOVEMBER 3 ATLANTA 8:25 (Thursday Night)
NOVEMBER 13 CHICAGO 1:00
NOVEMBER 20 @ Kansas City 1:00
NOVEMBER 20 SEATTLE 4:05
DECEMBER 4 @ San Diego 4:25
DECEMBER 11 NEW ORLEANS 1:00
DECEMBER 18 @ Dallas 1:00
DECEMBER 24 @ New Orleans 1:00
JANUARY 1 – CAROLINA 1:00
A number of things stand out to me immediately:
*The Buccaneers have to make three trips to the western time zone. I can tell you from past experience: things haven’t gone well over the years when they head west.
*Is it me, or does Tampa Bay have more 4:00 games than usual, whether it be 4:05 or 4:25? Even three of the home games are late kickoffs.
*They have to play both Super Bowl teams from a season ago. Obviously they get Carolina twice since it’s a division opponent, but the world-champion Broncos also visit Ray-Jay.
*Cold weather doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, although we’ll see what mid-November in Kansas City is like.
*Wouldn’t it be sweet if the season finale against the Panthers was for the NFC South title? Hey, a guy can dream.
I like to head to Tampa in November or early December. So I’m eyeing the games against the Bears or Seahawks, two teams I have never seen in person before. We shall see.
Photo Courtesy: Tampa Bay Times
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