Well, it’s over. Even though there are technically five games left in this 2017 season, it’s done. Finished. Time to move on and look towards next season. Free agency. The draft. Training camp. You know, the usual things that we Bucs fans get excited about before having our hearts broken during the regular season. After all of us having such high hopes and expectations for this year, it’s been a total and complete letdown. And now, the organization is in total and complete meltdown.
Poor game planning. Bad play calling on offense. Terrible schemes on defense. Lack of preparedness. Lack of effort. Lack of imagination. Lack of…well everything.
The Bucs began this season as dark horse favorites to win it all. All the talent in the world, but nobody there to utilize that it. Apparently, talent just isn’t enough to win games in the NFL. If it was, this team would be 11-0 right now. They’re not. They’re now 4-7 after Sunday’s loss to their NFC South rival Falcons in Atlanta. After being the preseason favorites to win the division and make the playoffs, they would have to win all five of their remaining games just to finish with the same 9-7 record they finished with last season. That’s obviously not happening. The wins that they do have came at the expense of four teams that have combined for 13 wins this season. Their final five opponents have a combined record of 34-21 this year. Not good for the Bucs.
They have to be one of the most, if not the most disappointing and underachieving team in the entire league. So much hype. So much excitement. So much anticipation. HBO’s Hard Knocks. Good Morning Football. Bucs Nation. Everyone was fooled by the flashy free agent signings and the brilliant draft picks. All of us were impressed by Dirk Koetter’s first year as a head coach and elated at Mike Smith’s return as the defensive coordinator for a defense that came on strong in the second half of last season. We all got scammed.
We thought Jameis Winston and this third-year offense would be unstoppable.
It has been anything but.
We thought this second-year defense would be aggressive, swarming, suffocating and dominating.
It has been anything but.
We thought Dirk Koetter would finally be the head coach to end the “Gruden Curse” and the Buccaneers playoff drought.
He is not. He will not.
It’s disappointing. I wrote an article over the offseason expressing my confidence in Koetter and his staff that they would do just that. It’s become alarmingly apparent that’s not the case. And after this last Atlanta game, I’m now convinced that he’s not THAT guy.
Now I’m not one of those fans that like beating the drums and calling for heads to roll after one or two losing seasons. In fact, I wrote another article just a few weeks ago calling for patience from the Bucs organization towards this coaching staff. I also wrote that this franchise is in desperate need of some stability and continuity in the coaching staff. Winning organizations have that. They don’t change head coaches like dirty diapers. They find THAT guy and stick with him through good seasons and bad seasons. The problem for the Bucs is that they haven’t found THAT guy yet. They thought that Dirk was it. We thought that Dirk was it. We were all wrong.
He has not lived up to his reputation as a quarterback guru and a highly respected NFL offensive coordinator by any means. His playcalling has been unimaginative and sometimes predictable. He has all of these weapons at his disposal and doesn’t seem to know or understand how to use them. Are there too many mouths to feed on this offense? Too many hands and not enough footballs? Is he too pass happy? There were instances in the Falcons game where the Bucs faced 3rd & 2 or 4th & 1 and pass plays were called instead of run plays. Playcalling has been an issue all season. Abandoning the run too early. Toss sweeps that never work. Not enough quick slants to DeSean Jackson. Not enough screen passes to Adam Humphries. Not utilizing OJ Howard and Cam Brate in the middle of the field enough. Sure there are examples of splash plays here and there, but there’s absolutely no consistency and no creativity in Dirk’s playcalling.
As much as it pains me to say this, it’s time for the Bucs to move on. I don’t think that Dirk has the attention of the locker room anymore. I don’t think that Dirk has the trust of the team anymore. And Dirk clearly does not have command of this offense anymore. There is no reason that this offense should not be putting up 30 points per game. None.
Mike Smith is no better. The defense that finished so hot last season and added even more talent in the offseason should not have taken such a massive step backwards. Smitty has been very passive and conservative in his playcalling. The defensive line has been awful. The scheme has been unproductive and inconsistent. There have been times that the defense looked fantastic like against the Bears or the Patriots. Then there have been games where they’ve looked like lost puppy dogs like against the Vikings, Cardinals and Falcons. No effective pass rush. Not filling run gaps. Coverage breakdowns. Failing blitz packages. Worthless d-line stunts and twists. It’s all added up to this defense being one of the worst statistical defenses in the league. How? With all of this talent. With Pro Bowl caliber players like McCoy, David, Grimes and Ward at each level. With talented young players like Spence, Alexander, Hargreaves and Evans at each level. How does this defense play this bad? How are there this many mental and physical mistakes being made by players in their second year of this scheme? It has to be the scheme. It has to be the coaching. It all has to boil down to Mike Smith. Again, there are no excuses. None.
And it’s not just the game planning and the play calling. It’s other coaching decisions like the choice to continue playing Jameis after he initially injured his shoulder earlier this season. And now, despite this season being over as far as the playoffs are concerned, this coaching staff has stated that Winston will be the starting QB in Green Bay this Sunday. Seriously??? Why? I don’t give a shit if he’s been “medically cleared” or not. Why send him out there again this season? Especially now that two of the five starting offensive linemen, right tackle Demar Dotson and center Ali Marpet, have officially been placed on the season-ending I.R. list. It’s insane. Why would they not just let Ryan Griffin start these last five games and see if they have a legit backup QB in him while at the same time giving him some real game experience? It’s yet another questionable coaching decision by this regime. I don’t get it. Why risk the health and possibly the career of your franchise QB to finish out a lost season? There’s nothing to play for at this point but pride and draft position. Nothing else matters now.
These final 5 games should be used to evaluate some of the younger players like tight end Antony Auclair, offensive tackle Leonard Wester, wide receiver BoBo Wilson, running back Peyton Barber and others. Perhaps that is the plan somewhat considering that the team released veteran tight end Luke Stocker and promoted second-year tight end Alan Cross back up from the practice squad. Now if they would only be that smart about their quarterback situation.
As I said before, I’m not a fan of the coaching carousel. I don’t like starting from scratch every couple years. I’m sure the players don’t like it. The fans don’t like it. Jason Licht doesn’t like it. Ownership doesn’t even like it. However, all of us hate losing even more. And if this coaching staff isn’t going to be the one to get this team winning again, then why stick with them? Normally I’m an advocate for giving a staff time to get things going. At least more than just two seasons. But the fact that this team has regressed this season rather than build on their 9-7 season last year has caused doubt. Seeing young teams with new coaches like the Eagles and Rams playing well and winning games doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the Bucs staff either. Philly has a second year coaching staff and a rookie QB while L.A. has a first year coaching staff and a second year QB. Both teams are in the top 5 in NFL power rankings while the Bucs continue to struggle to even find their identity on either side of the ball. Oddly enough, the only consistency on this team now seems to be at the kicker position which was the biggest question mark entering this season. In fact, if I had to vote on a team MVP for 2017 so far it would probably be their punter Bryan Anger. Sad, but true.
This team should strongly reconsider playing Winston for these final 5 games. They should put him on the IR and end his season completely. They should continue evaluating the young talent on this team so that they can take it into consideration during preparation for free agency and the draft. And they should really start looking into other options for the coaching staff going into next season. Jon Gruden’s name continues to be inserted into the conversation even though I’m not sure how realistic that option is. I’ve also heard some Bucs fans who would like to see Jim Harbaugh in Tampa but I just don’t see him leaving his “dream job” at Michigan.
I don’t know what the answer is or who the answer is. For whatever reason, it never seems to matter who’s coaching. It never seems to matter who they sign in free agency. It never seems to matter who they pick in the draft. It’s never good enough. It never makes a difference. It never amounts to a winning combination.
Maybe one of these days they’ll find THAT guy again like they did in 2002 with Gruden. I know there are some out there who like to claim that it was “Dungy’s team” that Chucky won the Super Bowl with but that’s just not true. Gruden took a talented team and gave them an attitude that Tony just couldn’t provide. He took a predominantly defensive team and added an offense that could put some points on the scoreboard. That is what pushed them over the edge. That is what got this franchise their ONLY Super Bowl appearance and win. That is what the Bucs need to find again now. They need to find THAT guy again. Someone to take this talented team and give them an attitude adjustment. Someone that can push them over the edge again. Someone that will get this team winning again. Someone like Jon Gruden. Just sayin.
Hopefully, the Glazers and Jason Licht make the right decision for this franchise whatever that may be. But until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!