Well, the first quarter of the season is in the books and I think we can all agree that it was somewhat of a disappointment. At 2-2, the Buccaneers have wins against the 1-3 Chicago Bears and the 0-4 New York Giants, both at Raymond James Stadium. Their two losses came at the hands of the 2-2 Minnesota Vikings on the road and the 3-2 New England Patriots here at home. Most, if not all of us, came into this season with extremely high expectations (even higher than usual) for this team. Those expectations have not been met…yet. As head coach Dirk Koetter told the team, “It’s the record they’ve earned”. So, here’s a rundown of how the team has performed in these first four games and the grades that they’ve “earned” from me in each position group.
The first game of the year came in Week 2 of the season thanks to a poorly timed Hurricane Irma. Despite the extended time off for the starters, the Bucs came out with a convincing 29-7 win thanks to four turnovers by the Bears. The offense was rusty, but the defense chipped in to help them jump out to an early 26-0 halftime lead. The Bucs defense also held Bears running backs Jordan Howard and rookie Tarik Cohen to 20 yards rushing total while limiting quarterback Mike Glennon to 301 yards on 45 attempts. The lopsided victory fanned the flames ignited in the offseason about the team and had fans even more excited for their Week 3 trip to Minnesota. Bucs are 1-0.
In Week 3, Bucs fans got bitch slapped back into reality with a 34-17 beating courtesy of the Vikings. It was an ugly game from start to finish, with the home team jumping out to a commanding 21-3 halftime lead. Jameis Winston threw 3 interceptions and the Bucs defense that bottled up the Bears a week earlier surrendered 97 rushing yards to rookie running back Dalvin Cook and allowed career backup quarterback Case Keenum to throw for 369 yards and 3 touchdowns. The loss evened up the Bucs record to 1-1 for the season.
Week 4 brought the struggling 0-3 New York Giants to Tampa for an NFC showdown, and what a game it turned out to be. After jumping out to an early 13-0 first quarter lead, the Bucs ended up only leading 16-10 at halftime. That lead disappeared in the third quarter when the G-Men scored to go up 17-16 going into the fourth quarter. The lead changed hands four times in the second half with the final time being the 34-yard field goal by Nick Folk as time expired. The Bucs outgained the Giants in total yards 434 to 379 but got crushed in time of possession 34:13 to 25:47 proving once again that the defense had trouble getting off the field on third down. The win was exciting and moved the Bucs to 2-1 for the season.
In Week 5, the game against the defending Super Bowl champ New England Patriots that had once seemed like a daunting task was suddenly a very winnable game for this Bucs team. Despite being down four starters, including linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David along with safeties Keith Tandy and T.J. Ward, the Bucs defense played lights out under the bright lights of Thursday Night Football holding the number one offense in the NFL to 19 points. That offense had scored a league-leading 129 points in their first four games for an average of 32 points per game. And future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady, who had totaled 1,313 yards (328 ypg) and 11 touchdowns (almost 3 per game) during those first four games was held to 303 yards on 40 attempts and only one touchdown. The flip side to this game and a big reason for the loss was the inability of the offense to produce points against the worst defense in the league. A defense that had allowed a franchise record 128 points in their first four games, or 32 ppg, held the “potent” Bucs offense, including a fresh Doug Martin who was returning from his 4-game suspension to 14 points. It surely didn’t help that the hero from their previous game Nick Folk missed three field goals in the five-point loss, but this game shouldn’t have been that close in the first place. The loss put the team at 2-2 to finish the first quarter of the season.
As heartbreaking and gut-wrenching as the game was, the loss against the Patriots proved to Bucs fans that this team can hang with the best in the biz even when they don’t play well. They now have a much needed mini-bye week to get some key players healthy before making another trip to Arizona to play the 2-2 Cardinals in Week 6.
Now, I’ll give my position grades for this first quarter starting with the offense.
OFFENSE- Grade: C+
The “potent offense” that we were expecting after signing free agent wide receiver DeSean Jackson and drafting rookies tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin has yet to come to fruition. Jackson has 14 catches for 249 yards (17.8 ypc) and only one touchdown, while Howard only has 4 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Godwin may be the biggest disappointment so far with only 4 catches for 52 yards. The offense as a whole has put up 1,496 yards total averaging 299 ypg passing and only 86 ypg rushing. The offensive line has only allowed Winston to be sacked 7 times but they’re only 16 of 45 (36%) on third down conversions. Not good folks. Hopefully, the team chemistry continues to build and we can start seeing the scoreboard light up and hearing more cannons fire over the rest of the season.
QUARTERBACK- Grade: B-
Jameis Winston- 1,198 yards, 61% comp., 7 TD’s, 3 INT’s
Sure he’s on pace for a career high 4,792 yards but his accuracy is still an issue at times, especially on the deep balls to DeSean Jackson. He’s also on pace for 28 touchdowns, which would tie his career high from last season, and 12 interceptions, which would be a career low in that category. As it stands right now, he’s at his highest QB rate (92.4) and lowest INT rate (1.9) of his career. His chemistry with wide receivers Mike Evans and Adam Humphries along with tight end Cam Brate is obvious, but he has to get on the same page with DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin for this offense to really start clicking.
RUNNING BACKS- Grade: B-
The Bucs running game has certainly missed Doug Martin, but it hasn’t been that bad…when they use it. Dirk Koetter’s offense is only averaging about 18 rushes per game totaling 313 yards on 74 carries, but the RB group of Jacquizz Rodgers, Doug Martin, Peyton Barber and Charles Sims are averaging 4.2 ypc when they do get the chances. Now that Doug is back in the mix, I expect to see the Bucs trying to establish the run early and often for the rest of the season since they have had success with it so far.
OFFENSIVE LINE- Grade: B+
The offensive line has been solid so far. They’re averaging 4.2 yards per carry in the run game and have only allowed 7 sacks. There’s only 7 teams that have allowed fewer sacks this year. All this despite starting a new center, a new right guard and having alternating left guards throughout each game between Evan Smith and Kevin Pamphile. If this group can continue to gel and build, it could mean great things for this offense moving forward.
TIGHT ENDS- Grade: A-
The only negative thing that I have to say about this group is that I wish Dirk Koetter could figure out how to get the ball into O.J. Howard’s hands more often. The rookie is averaging 23 yards per catch, thanks to his 58 yard touchdown catch against the Giants. Cam Brate is averaging 13.7 ypc with his 205 yards on 13 receptions. The group as a whole is blocking really well also.
WIDE RECEIVERS- Grade: C+
I know what you’re thinking. This grade seems low, right? Hear me out here. As a whole, this group has been disappointing. Mike Evans has been average with 24 catches for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns, not really taking that leap forward. DeSean Jackson has been less than stellar even though his 14 catches for 249 yards gives him almost 18 yards per catch. Adam Humphries has performed well with 17 catches for 207 yards which is right where he should be. And as good as he looked in preseason, rookie Chris Godwin has been a no-show with 4 catches for 52 yards. It may be a harsh grade, but I had really high expectations for this bunch and they just haven’t lived up to them. On a positive note, the Bucs are near the top of the league for fewest drops by receivers.
Now for the defense.
DEFENSE- Grade: B-
The defense has been banged up on all three levels. Despite the injuries, they’ve played well. They have given up 83 points in four games, including 34 to the Vikings, for an average of 21 points per game. They’ve allowed 1,585 total yards including 315 ypg passing and 104 ypg rushing. They’ve allowed 26 of 56 (46%) third-down conversions and only have 4 sacks and 3 interceptions. If these guys can get healthy and stay healthy, then we should see these numbers improve as the season continues.
DEFENSIVE LINE- Grade: B+
Some of you may think that this grade is too high and that’s your opinion. This is mine. Even though they haven’t produced the sack numbers, only 4 so far, the front four has been getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and they’ve been stuffing the run. I’d love to see a little more pressure off the edge from Robert Ayers and Noah Spence and I believe we will. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been playing like a man on a mission and run stopping defensive end Will Gholston has been an animal too. I want Chris “Swaggy” Baker to be a bit more disruptive up the middle playing alongside G-Mac, but for the most part, he’s played fine.
LINEBACKERS- Grade: A+
As Bucs fans, we should feel blessed and privileged to have such a deep, talented group of linebackers. From Kwon and Lavonte to rookie Kendell Beckwith to reserves Adarius Glanton and Cameron Lynch, this bunch is as solid as there is in the entire league from top to bottom. Proof of that was in the Patriots game when both Kwon and Lavonte were out and the defense still held the #1 offense in the league to 19 points. Speaking of Beckwith, this rookie has 36 tackles, including 32 solos, and is on pace for 144 tackles this season. Now his numbers won’t be as high once Kwon returns and he returns to his role as the starting SAM linebacker, but it’s still impressive. If these guys can get healthy, they’re going to be a scary bunch for years to come.
CORNERBACKS- Grade: C
I’m not quite sure how I feel about this group yet. Brent Grimes has been injured. Vernon Hargreaves has been soft. Robert McClain has been hot and cold. Ryan Smith has been terrible. It’s definitely not the deepest position on the team and it shows week in and week out. I want to see them be more aggressive and stop playing off the line so much. On a positive note, they haven’t been giving up any big plays like they were in the first half of last season and they have been very solid in run support.
SAFETIES- Grade: B+
The Bucs have been getting really solid play from the entire safety group. Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, T.J. Ward and even rookie Justin Evans have all logged significant playing time and contributed. Even with Tandy and Ward out against the Pats, Conte and Evans were able to control things on the back end. It didn’t hurt that New England was missing Gronk, but still, those two played really well. They haven’t had the issues over the top like they did some of last season and they’ve continued to be very solid in run support. As Ward becomes more familiar with the defense and Evans becomes more acclimated to the NFL game, this group will just get better and better.
SPECIAL TEAMS- Grade: D
This grade would be much, much higher if not for the astonishingly bad field goal kicking as of late. Nick Folk has missed 5 of his last 7 field goal attempts. He’s now 4 of 9 from 30+ yards and 6 of 11 total on the season. The Bucs are apparently auditioning between four and six kickers at One Buc this week looking for some sort of solution to this dilemma. I really believe there is some kind of curse on the kicking game, much like the kick return game for this team. They just haven’t had stability at that position since the dumb decision was made to release Matt Bryant, who then signed with the division rival Atlanta Falcons and has had a successful career with them ever since. Other than that, the kick coverage has been very good and Bryan Anger continues to be one of the top punters in the entire league. In fact, if the field goal kicking had just been “OK” over these first four games, I would’ve given the special teams unit an “A” grade. But since it nearly cost them the Giants game and did cost them the Patriots game, I had to give them a bad grade.
COACHING- Grade: C+
Dirk Koetter has been a conservative play caller on offense so far in my opinion. There have also been questionable clock management decisions and I still don’t understand why he kicked that last field goal against the Patriots instead of going for it on fourth down since Folk had already missed twice in that game. Mike Smith has also been pretty conservative with soft coverages and minimal blitz packages. Injuries may be dictating some of his playcalling, but I’d still like to see him be more aggressive moving forward.
OVERALL TEAM- Grade: C+
As a fan with such high hopes and excitement for this season, I have been disappointed. From the poor performance in Minnesota to the lack of production of what was supposed to be a potent offense, the team has not yet lived up to my expectations. Maybe I was expecting too much too early? I said before the season started that if they could get through the first four games at .500 or better then I would be satisfied with that result given the schedule. I guess I lied. This team should be 3-1 and could’ve been 4-0 had the offense not sputtered out on third down so much. Hopefully, the return of Doug Martin rejuvenates this offense and the chemistry between Winston and his new weapons can get better as the season wears on. As for the defense, I like what I’ve seen for the most part. The sack numbers aren’t there but the pressure is. The sacks will come eventually. As I said before, I’d like to see more aggression on that side and I think we will. Lastly, they NEED to figure out the kicking situation. Whether they keep Folk or bring in someone new, it needs to get fixed before it costs them any more games.
The second quarter of the season brings away games at Arizona, Buffalo and New Orleans with one homestand against the division-leading Carolina Panthers. I’d love to see the team exact some revenge on the Cardinals for that 40-7 loss last season to kick things off. All four of these games will be tough, so if they can manage to win two or three of them, then we might have something here. If they continue playing inconsistent football on offense, playing soft on defense and missing field goals left and right then this team could be in trouble by the halfway mark of the season. With four of the final eight games within the division, road games at Green Bay and Miami, and home games against Lions and the Jets it’s not going to get much easier down the road. This team needs to find it’s identity on both sides of the ball and start making some kicks for God’s sake! Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!