Any sliver of hope the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had of getting back into the playoff race went up in smoke on Sunday as Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons thrashed the Bucs 34-20. So we can stop that nonsense. Where do we go from here?
Pieces of Eight
1) The drumbeat began low, whispered in hallways and faint in the distance. With each loss, it’s become louder and louder. Bring Back Gruden. Bring Back Gruden. Bring Back Gruden – it’s thumping sound is now deafening. So here we are again at another crossroads for the Glazers. Do you cut bait with another coach after just two seasons or do you take this season as a lost one and try again next year?
There are folks out there who say, “If the guy isn’t the guy, then there’s no sense in keeping him.” It’s true. In the case of Greg Schiano, it was utterly apparent that the fanbase revolted against his gruff attitude. You can have that attitude if your winning, but if your team is playing lousy, your QB goes up in flames and your locker room is sick with things other than MRSA, you’re not long for this job.
Lovie Smith wasn’t what came on the package. He lost so many games and his lack of fire or enthusiasm sparked no one. It seemed like he was happy to take the check, but didn’t know how to get this football team back to its winning ways. He could have lasted another year had teams not started to circle Koetter like buzzards looking to pick meat of dead bones. I think if Koetter’s name hadn’t started to pop up in job openings, Smith wouldn’t have been fired.
The Glazers pulled the trigger to protect their franchise quarterback, Jameis Winston, and avoid the terrible mistake of making him learn multiple offenses in his first few years.
And I’m one of the few people in town who believe Raheem Morris got a raw deal in Tampa Bay. He was stripped of talent, told he could only draft new talent (no free agency dollars) and still won. Yes, we were all calling for his head his final season when the team lost it’s final ten games. No coach survives that and we were still basking in the afterglow of the Dungy and Gruden eras. But had Raheem been given another year or two, could the Bucs have been turned into winners? We’ll never know.
So where are we with Koetter? Is his team spiraling out of control like Morris? It doesn’t seem that way. Are the fans “revolting against him”? I don’t see any “Fire Koetter” billboards on Dale Mabry – yet. Does he seem to lack passion or fire like his predecessor, Lovie Smith? Absolutely not.
So then what’s the urgency to fire him? Yes, he’s made mistakes. Playcalling. His choice at defensive coordinator. His time management and ability to use his weapons to their fullest potential. But it hasn’t been all bad. There’s a reason why we all felt this team was on the cusp and are now lashing out in frustration.
It’s because GM Jason Licht and Koetter had put together a team we thought was ready to compete. I think everyone is a bit surprised at how this season turned out. There’s talent on the team – so obviously it’s got to be coaching, right? Well, in some aspects maybe, but this team lacks depth and talent in two key areas, the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
The Bucs offensive line regressed this season (and it wasn’t all that great last year). Kevin Pamphile has been awful (considering it’s a contract year he couldn’t have picked a worse time). Donovan Smith has gone from average to below average. JR Sweezy isn’t what we thought he was. Ali Marpet is a decent center but he was a Pro Bowl caliber player at guard.
On defense, Noah Spence is out (again). Robert Ayers isn’t what he was last season as father time appears to be catching up with him. Gerald McCoy continues to be a “game wrecker” but can’t really do it by himself. The other guys on the d-line are just guys, yes, including William Gholston.
This is where Jason Licht, Koetter and so many other Tampa Bay regimes have failed. It’s great you have all this talent all over the field at the skill positions. It’s wonderful to have Desean Jackson and Mike Evans. OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. Jameis Winston as your quarterback. Doug Martin in the backfield. It’s awesome to have Gerald, Kwon, Lavonte, Beckwith, and Brent Grimes in the back seven. You can draw up the greatest plays on offense, put the most epic of blitz packages together on defense but if you have nothing in the trenches, you’re going to struggle to win games – period.
Whether your name is Dirk Koetter, Jon Gruden or Vince Lombardi – it all starts up front. So maybe it’s our fault that we’re disappointed in what has transpired, not Koetter’s. We overrated this team’s talent, specifically up front.
Licht got the fireworks but he forgot to bring the matches.
What I’m trying to say in a really long-winded fashion is I think barring a guarantee that Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy or Jim Harbaugh is walking through that doorway, the Glazers should keep Dirk Koetter. Besides, is the job even as attractive to Gruden as it once was now that Jameis is embroiled in an off-the-field controversy that could end with him being gone for nearly half the season next year?
Now, they’ll be changes in the coaching staff. There has to be. I think Dirk will need to make that very difficult decision of firing his friend, Mike Smith. Monken, the OC in name only, is already getting overtures to return to college football. Dirk, himself, will need to look inside and decide if he should retain the playcalling duties or hand them over to someone who can devote to it full time.
Bottom line, I don’t think we know what we have in Koetter yet and two years isn’t enough to determine that.
2) Now, I’m sure you’re saying, “JC, can’t you see Koetter is in over his head? Two years is long enough to figure that out!” Is it? Was it for the 49ers when Bill Walsh started his career 8-24? How about the Steelers who started 6-22 under Chuck Noll? Think the Browns still wish they had Bill Belichick? How about the Cowboy’s Tom Landry – who didn’t have a winning season in his first six years as a head coach in the NFL and then set the record for most consecutive winning seasons?
I’m not saying that Koetter is a Hall of Fame coach by any stretch of the imagination. What I am saying is two years is not the barometer. Sometimes it takes three, even four years before a coach’s plan comes to fruition. Sure, some coaches come in and have a quick turnaround, like the Rams this season. Heck, Koetter went 9-7 his first year. Ben McAdoo and Adam Gase both went 10-6. It happens. But many times that first year is just the thrill of new things and the teams come crashing back to earth, as the Bucs, Giants and Dolphins all did this year. Now, solid organizations – like the Steelers, Packers and even our hated rivals, the Saints and Panthers, stick by their coach during the hard times.
Sean Payton had three consecutive 7-9 seasons in New Orleans the last three years. That would have got him run out of town here. Ron Rivera was 13-19 his first two seasons in Carolina. Would he have survived here?
To me, if the Bucs hit the reset button every two years, we’re basically the gerbil on the treadmill going absolutely nowhere.
3) Okay, on to the game. Opportunity knocked. It was right there for the Bucs. The Falcons were in full meltdown mode as the Bucs had stormed back from a 27-6 deficit to pull within one score and the defense got a game-changing turnover setting the offense up in great field position to try and tie it up. Old Mo was wearing a Bucs jersey. 2nd and 2 at the Falcons’ 19 yard line. This is it, right? This is where the Bucs siege the day?
A deep pass attempt to Desean Jackson. Okay, sure. Go for the jugular. On second and 2, good call. 3rd and 2. Inexplicably, Adam Humphries runs a one yard route when he needs two for the first down. I’d like to give a benefit of the doubt to the coach and assume that wasn’t how he drew it up – but honestly, why not try to pound it for the first down? A draw play or get in to 12 and go mano-a-mano. Prove this is the bad ass football team you claimed it was.
Okay, so 4th-and-1 at the 18. Again, let’s pound it out, get that first down, right? Oh crap, they’re passing. Okay, surely this will be a quick slant or little out in the flat to move the st- he’s throwing it downfield and into triple coverage…crap.
No points. Momentum is a goner. The Falcons go down the field and put it away. Opportunity lost. That’s how its been this season for the Bucs.
4) One of the confounding anomalies of this season has been the Bucs’ inability to put points up in the first half. Since opening the season against Chicago scoring two touchdowns and two field goals on offense in the first half, Tampa Bay has managed to just score five first-half touchdowns in the other ten games. That’s right, just FIVE. And two of those came against the Giants in week four. So your Bucs offense has managed just three offensive first-half touchdowns in the last seven games.
It gets worse. The Bucs scored their seven first-half touchdowns in just four games.
2 – Chicago, Miami, Giants
1 – New England.
Which means the Bucs went scoreless or were held to field goals in the first half of 7 of their 11 games. It’s no wonder this football team is struggling to find the win column.
5) Then you have the Bucs defense. Their 81 points surrendered in the 2nd quarters of games is almost as much as the Bucs 90 points totaled for the first half. Tampa Bay has been outscored 134-90 in the first half. When your offense only plays in the second half and your defense is getting torched in the second quarter of games, your prospects for winning are pretty slim.
6) I honestly don’t know what Mike Smith was thinking putting poor Ryan Smith on Julio Jones and giving him absolutely no help. Koetter claims they doubled Julio, floated coverage over to him and “did everything they could do”. Really? How about putting your best corner on him? Have Brent Grimes follow him all over the field. How about not giving him 10 yard cushions on a third-and-8? And if there was double coverage on Jones, I sure as heck didn’t see much of it. All I saw was a young CB flailing to the ground as the elite All-Pro wide receiver juked him out of his jersey for 12 receptions, 253 yds (a record against the Buccaneers), and two scores.
7) The reason the Bucs defense is so bad this season is third down. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3rd and 20 or 3rd and 2, this defense simply cannot get off the field. Atlanta was 11 of 14 on third down. A 79% third down rate? That’s the type of numbers you put up in a walk-thru, not in an NFL game.
8) Jameis Winston may be back for Green Bay next week. The Green Bay game looked winnable a couple weeks ago as the Packers have struggled without Aaron Rodgers. I’m a little worried the Bucs are trying to rush Winston back. That frozen tundra in Lambeau isn’t very forgiving, I wouldn’t want to see another hard hit into that turf for Jameis. This season is lost, Winston returning early doesn’t do anything but put him at risk.
Let’s hope that if he’s returning, Jameis is truly 100% and ready.