It’s official. It’s not a mirage. It’s not a couple of bad weeks. The Bucs are terrible on defense. They’re also 2-4 and on the way to another season without a playoff appearance.
Pieces of Eight
1) Aren’t you tired of the talking? Talk. Talk. Talk. Talk about how crucial it was to keep Mike Smith as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator. Talk about how free agent additions like Chris “Swaggy” Baker would help the defense reach the next level. Talk about how great Kwon Alexander is. Lavonte David is. Gerald McCoy is. Noah Spence was supposed to be a double-digit sacker. Jacquies Smith and Robert Ayers were supposed to bring the heat from the other side. TJ Ward and Justin Evans were supposed to fix the safeties and Vernon Hargreaves was supposed to take that next step at corner.
After all this talk – the Bucs defense sucks. Plain and simple. It sucks. Mike Smith’s schemes are crap. Lovie level crap. Chris Baker in Tampa Bay is more known for his lewd act with a palm tree than his play on the football field (and this dude has the gall to complain about playing time?). Vernon Hargreaves got benched. TJ Ward can’t beat out Chris Conte – CHRIS CONTE. Noah Spence’s shoulder is swiss cheese. Smith isn’t even on the team.
It would be one thing if the Bucs were getting beat by good offenses. They’re getting their butts handed to them by the 30th and 31st ranked offenses in the league, folks. Arizona, who lit up the Bucs defense for 38 points were shut out this week. Buffalo hasn’t scored over 23 points in any game this season – until Sunday.
This is a disgrace. As a Bucs fan – a connoisseur of great defense – it pains me to see the Tampa Bay defense in this way.
2) I understand TJ Ward’s frustration. I understand he came here to be a factor and frankly, I understand that he’s frustrated because he’s a better safety than anyone on the Bucs roster. You don’t air that out in public. You just don’t. Last season, no team had a tighter bond than the Buccaneers. Now you have Miko Grimes saying her husband is just playing out the string. You have Ward and Baker popping off about playing time. There seems to be doubt and dissension in the locker room as to what guys are supposed to be doing.
Why is the Bucs defense this terrible? Because guys aren’t doing their jobs. They don’t have faith in the scheme, so they take it upon themselves to do their own thing and it’s causing these huge issues. It also doesn’t help that this defense lacks toughness and technique.
Take, for example, the 3rd and 9 from the Tampa Bay 31, Buffalo looks to just set up the field goal and QB Tyrod Taylor dumps a short pass to Taiwan Jones. It’s a “get what you can and let’s kick it,” play. Instead, the Bucs made like the Keystone Cops, making one miss tackle after another while Jones, who hadn’t caught a pass all season, danced his way to a first down that allowed the Bills to bleed the clock down to a mere few seconds.
3) So what can the Bucs do? Well, there’s no margin for error now, folks. Tampa Bay once again has dug itself into a deep hole. If they can’t get out of it people are losing jobs, period. When the Glazers invest in free agents and expect playoffs and it doesn’t happen, heads roll. None of us want to see Coach Koetter get the ax but someone has to fall on the sword. That someone should be Mike Smith, who if he doesn’t figure this out, is going to get everyone on his staff fired. Someone else who should be really nervous right now is Bucs GM, Jason Licht. After blowing draft picks on a kicker who can’t kick, a corner who can’t cover, a left tackle whose getting his franchise quarterback pummelled, then picking Chris Baker over Calais Campbell (who is now at 10 sacks and counting on the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars), the stench of the Lovie tenure is still on him and now it appears that the 2016 draft is a lost year. This year, instead of drafting one of these stud backs like Dalvin Cook or Kareem Hunt (or hell, even Marlon Mack) or getting another pass rusher for an obvious need, the Bucs failed there too.
Needless to say, expectations aren’t being met. When that happens, bad stuff occurs. It’s why Tampa Bay has been in this never-ending cycle of suck.
4) The Bucs started toying a little bit with the 3-4 and the 3-3-5 on Sunday. Maybe it’s time to go all the way. People will say the Bucs don’t have the personnel to play it full time. Well folks, apparently they don’t have the personnel to play the 4-3 cover 2 zone, either. So why not try something different? The strength of this team is their linebacking core, so what the hell? Beckwith is big enough to be a 3-4 MLB. David has shown the speed from the edge to be a 3-4 blitzing linebacker. Put McCoy on an end, since we won’t miss Ayers or anyone else there. Spence, if he’s available, could also be a pass-rushing linebacker. Put Baker or one of the big Samoans in the middle. TJ Ward has experience in the 3-4. Hargreaves seems better at press corner than as a zone corner. So what the hell? It’s not like staying in base 4-3 is working and the Bucs worked on a lot of this in training camp so it’s not completely foreign to the players.
All I know is you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. It’s time to rock the boat. Bench some dudes. Cut a guy. Fire a coach. There are times to try to calm the waters and then there are times to send a message. It’s message sending time.
5) Last week, some Bucs fans had the audacity to say Jameis Winston should be benched in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Winston’s play against one of the best defenses in the NFL didn’t answer all the questions then I don’t know what will. Yes, he turned the ball over twice. First, fumbling when getting blindsided after Donovan Smith’s “Look Out!” block. Then an ill-advised forced pass to Cam Brate late in the first half. But when the Bucs needed him, Winston drove them down the field and got them in the end zone for a score that should have won the game. All this while playing with a bum shoulder. If you still question him, you need your head examined.
6) Jason Licht stuck with RB Doug Martin for this season and unfortunately, under 3 Doug has returned. Martin carried the ball 20 times for 49 yards, that’s right, 2.9 yards a carry. Yet again. Now, more than ever the Bucs need someone to compliment Winston and the passing game, yet Martin can’t seem to deliver.
7) The Bucs were one of the best teams in the league last year in third-down defense. If you can get yourself off the field, you can play that bend-but-don’t-break crap that Mike Smith likes to employ. This season, the Bucs are at the bottom of the league in third-down defense and it’s what’s killing them right now. It’s not just 3rd-and-2’s either. It’s 3rd-an-18’s. 3rd-and-10’s. Third downs where the offense is behind schedule and should be an automatic punt or a turnover. Where is that sack or that pass defense or that tackle before the line to gain that this team so desperately needs?
8) Even with all the doom-and-gloom of the 2-4 start, the shocking thing is the Bucs can still get themselves out of this. The NFC South is a cesspool of suck. The Falcons are average. The Panthers just got their butts kicked by the Chicago Bears. Both those teams are reeling. In fact, the only team in the division playing good football are the Saints – and does anyone believe when it’s all said and done the Saints will be at the top? Next week, the Bucs start division play. Win your division games, you can make up ground rather quickly. You can get right back into this thing. But the Bucs aren’t going to do that with this defense. You can’t win like this. New Orleans has proved that for years. The defense will need a rejuvenation like they had last season where the light bulb suddenly goes on or there is no chance.
Bonus) Didn’t want to end this segment without a shout out to Bucs rookie TE OJ Howard who has his best game as a Buc on Sunday. Congrats, rook.
DLT’s Emotional Tweet of the Week
Bottom line. Mike Smith needs to figure this out quick (as in by next week’s game) or he’s going to get everyone fired. #Bucs pic.twitter.com/TBikIbAWlV
— JC De La Terror☠️🎃 (@jcdelatorre) October 23, 2017
The Bucs limp home to face the equally slumping Carolina Panthers in a must-win game for both teams.