Well, folks, it’s Week 7 of the 2019 NFL season, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a much needed, very welcomed week off to reflect on what’s happened in these first 6 games and to regroup for a late-season push for the playoffs.
I know what you’re thinking…
And to that, I say, yes playoffs. Now that all the emotions of losing 4 games they shouldn’t have lost have calmed down, I’ve been able to look back at those first 6 games with more of an open mind. Yes, this team is 2-4, but they could easily be 5-1 or at least 4-2 right now as well, which is right there with the Saints for the division lead. And that is despite what was the toughest schedule in the NFL over the first six weeks of the season. After their bye, they go from the hardest schedule in the league to the 14th hardest. There is hope, Buc Nation.
Let’s look back at their four losses for a second. They opened this season with the San Francisco 49ers. It seemed like a gimme win here at home, but that Niners team is now the ONLY undefeated team in football right now at 5-0 after beating the Rams 20-7 on Sunday. The 49ers are for real. And had it not been for Winston’s three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, the Bucs could’ve won that game.
The next loss was to the Giants here at home again. There was lots of blame to go around in this one but had it not been for Matt Gay’s missed, chip-shot field goal, they could’ve won that game as well.
Next came the loss to the Saints in Week 5. Despite playing a terrible game all around, they only lost by 7 points in New Orleans to a team that’s now won five straight games. Then there’s the loss to the Panthers in London. Carolina had won three straight games with backup quarterback Kyle Allen since losing to the Buccaneers at home. It’s tough to beat the same team twice in one season, but this wasn’t necessarily the same team the Bucs had faced back in Week 2. However, this loss falls squarely on the 7 turnovers committed by the Bucs, six of them by Jameis Winston. Take care of the football in this game, and it could’ve been a win here too.
So 2-4 definitely sucks, but look at the records of the teams they’ve played this year. The Niners are 5-0. The Panthers are 4-2. The Giants are 2-4. The Rams are 3-3. The Saints are 5-1. These teams are a combined 19-10 this season, and the Giants are responsible for four of those losses. After the bye week, the combined record of the Bucs upcoming opponents is 26-21, with five of those ten remaining games being at home. There is light at the end of the tunnel IF this team can get their shit straight during this bye week.
BYE WEEK BIDNESS
The Bucs kicked off this week off with a few roster changes. Outside linebacker Devante Bond and wide receiver Bobo Wilson were both waived while outside linebacker Demone Harris and running back Darius Jackson were released from the practice squad. They’re also bringing back outside linebacker Kahzin Daniels who was on the team during training camp. Daniels is the rookie from Division II University of Charleston, who’s been blind in one eye since he was five years old. The other outside linebacker spot vacated by Bond should be for Jason Pierre-Paul, who’s now eligible to return from his neck injury.
The team also promoted wide receiver Amara Darbohand center Nate Trewyn from and signed center Anthony Fabiano, wide receiver Ishmael Hyman and running back Aca’Cedric Ware to the practice squad.
The NFL trade deadline for this 2019 season is October 29, so that’s why you’re seeing teams starting to make trades. The Jaguars finally found someone crazy enough to trade for cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The L.A. Rams gave up not one, but two first-rounders AND a fourth-round pick for him. They also traded veteran corner Marcus Peters to the Ravens for a fourth-round pick.
So far, the only trade talks the Bucs have been rumored to possibly be in are with the Redskins for tight end OJ Howard. Thankfully that not likely to happens because I don’t want to see him go. Hell, I was one of the few Bucs fans who thought he was a no-brainer pick when he was still on the board. But maybe the whole point in entertaining that trade is to see if they can get a first-rounder to use as trade collateral for another trade? A trade with a certain team that Bruce Arians used to coach?
The Bucs need to make a move at cornerback if they want to make a run at the playoffs or if they even want to win more than 5 games this season. I keep hearing it’s not going to happen, and the Bucs aren’t interested, but Patrick Peterson makes too much sense at this point. The Bucs, now, have just enough cap space to afford the remaining $7M left of his salary for this season, and he already knows Todd Bowles system. He’s a plug n’ play, day one starter as the Bucs #1 cornerback and I heard he wants out of Arizona. Sadly the Cards would never let Peterson go. Either way, I don’t expect the Bucs to make any drastic moves before the trade deadline.
WINNERS & LOSERS THRU WK. 6
RB Ronald Jones – Even though he’s only totaled 279 yards rushing with 2 touchdowns so far this season, Jones has been impressive averaging 4.4 yards per carry. After a rookie campaign where he finished with just 44 yards and a touchdown, he was considered a draft bust by some Bucs fans. He has been splitting time with Peyton Barber which has cut into his touches, but I see him playing a much bigger role in the offense moving forward.
The Interior O-line – The Bucs have been doing a pretty decent job running the football this season, and it’s due in large part to their interior offensive line. Left guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen are having Pro Bowl type seasons and right guard Alex Cappa is really starting to come into his own in his second year. This group could end up being the foundation for this Buccaneers offensive line for years to come.
WR Chris Godwin – “CG12” has stormed on to the NFL scene this season leading the entire league in yards (662), yards per game (110.3), touchdowns (6), catches of 20+ yards (13) and catches for first downs (38) after the first 6 games. Nearly all of his catches have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown. He’s playing the Larry Fitzgerald role in Arians’ offense and reaping the benefits big time.
The Interior D-line – These guys are kicking ass. It may not show up on the stat sheet in sacks, but this group is wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines. Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, Beau Allen, Will Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and Pat O’Connor have this Bucs defense ranked #1 in the NFL in run defense giving up just 68 rushing yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry. They’re also a big reason for Shaq Barrett’s success sacking the quarterback this season. They have been caving in and collapsing pockets forcing QB’s towards their edge rushers in almost every game. If they can keep this up when Jason Pierre-Paul comes back, then opposing quarterbacks might be in some serious trouble.
OLB Shaq Barrett – As I just mentioned above, Barrett is on his way to a career year and a huge paycheck. He is now tied with the Browns Myles Garrett for the league lead with 9 sacks. He did have seven of those in two games and has now gone two straight games without a sack, but he’s still getting hurries and pressures. Once JPP comes back, opposing offensive lines are going to have a real problem figuring out how to slow both of them down.
S Jordan Whitehead – The Bucs secondary has been a disaster this season, but Whitehead has been the lone bright spot of the bunch. He’s already got 31 tackles, 7 passes defended, and 1 interception this season and has cemented himself as the Bucs free safety.
K Matt Gay – Yes, he did miss that game-winner from 34-yards that could’ve beat the Giants. However other than that miss, he’s had a very solid rookie season so far. He’s 11 of 13 on field goals, including 6 of 7 from 40+ yards, and he’s made 16 of 18 extra points with one of those being blocked. Was that missed chip-shot against New York a big one? Of course. But he’s bounced back and hasn’t missed since making all 4 field goals and 11 extra points. That’s what you like to see out of your kicker. It appears that Tampa Bay has finally found one and can put that Matt Bryant curse to rest.
QB Jameis Winston – It may not be entirely accurate to say Jameis Winston has been a loser over these first 6 games. If you take away the games against the Niners and the Panthers in London, he would have 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. He now has completed 60% of his passes for 1,771 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He’s also been sacked 25 times, which is the second-most in the league behind Tennessee (29). Some are his fault for holding on to the ball too long or not throwing it away, but his offensive line has not been getting the job done. This is a big year for Winston. He is playing for a new contract that could be worth upwards of $150 million, so he needs to play better to win over general manager Jason Licht. However, it might be just as important to win over this Bucs fan base that is steadily losing faith in our supposed franchise quarterback.
The Offensive Tackles – These guys are going to get their quarterback hurt or killed at some point this season. Left tackle is one of the most important positions on a football team, and unfortunately, Donovan Smith is not protecting Winston’s blindside very well. Earlier this year, Smith was re-signed to a 3-yr/$41M contract. Is he just going to take his money and run, or will he finally start earning that paycheck?
The right tackle position is pretty important too this Bucs team has a 34-year old, who’s 6’9″/315lb body is starting to fail him more and more frequently, playing that role in Demar Dotson. I don’t know what options the Bucs have for his position, but they need to start figuring it out quick.
WR Mike Evans – It’s a stretch for me to say Mike Evans is not having a good season. He now has 27 catches for 464 yards and 4 touchdowns and is part of the most productive wide receiver duo in the NFL along with Chris Godwin. However, he’s only caught 27 of the 55 passes thrown his way this year. Of course, all of those aren’t his fault. Some are bad throws. Some are knocked down by defenders. But a big chunk of them is just drops. It’s a problem that has plagued him throughout his career, and it continues to rear its ugly head. He’s also had an issue getting open this season. Out of these first 6 weeks, he’s had games of 2 catches and 4 catches twice. He was also held without a catch against the Saints for the first time in 56 games. He’s not having a bad season, but he’s got to be better.
TE OJ Howard – Here is another guy who’s not having a bad season, but could and should be playing better. I realize that the tight end position doesn’t get utilized as a pass-catcher much in Arians’ offense, but Howard is a rare talent. So far this year, he has 13 catches for 176 yards and zero touchdowns. He has also had an issue with drops this season and needs to take better advantage of the opportunities when they do come his way. If the Bucs don’t trade him away and he stays put, he has to be a bigger part of this offense.
LB Lavonte David & LB Devin White – I thought that these two guys would have monster seasons in Todd Bowles’s defensive scheme. It hasn’t happened yet. David only has 41 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and zero sacks through 6 games. Hopefully, he can get back to his Pro Bowl type self soon. White has been injured and only played in 3 games totaling 17 tackles and 1 tackle for loss in that limited time. Some fans are already saying that he’s yet another draft pick bust by Jason Licht. I’m not ready to label him that just yet, but it’s easy to see why they would say that. You could make the argument that Licht picked the wrong linebacker. The Steelers Devin Bush was widely considered the “second best LB” in the 2019 Draft. So far all he’s done in 6 games with Pittsburgh is total 52 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 passes defended and scored a defensive touchdown. Who do you think the better pick is so far?
The Secondary – This group is bad. Like really bad. Ranked 32nd in the league bad. NFL record-setting bad. These guys have allowed the most completions (159), the most yards (1,827), and the most yards per game (304.5) in the NFL this year, and they’re on a record-setting pace. Something has to be done here. The Bucs need to get extreme during this bye week and make a trade with the Cardinals for Patrick Peterson, at least try! The Cardinals GM stated that Peterson will not be traded, but you never know. There’s not a true #1 corner on this roster, not yet anyway. There’s potential there, but not yet. If it was my team (Yeah, I’m gonna play couch gm right now), I would try to trade for Peterson, move Jamel Dean to the other starting CB, put Hargreaves at nickel, and have Davis and Murphy-Bunting as the 4th and 5th corners. But it’s not. It’s Jason Licht’s team. It’s Bruce Arians’ team, and if they don’t make a move for Peterson, it’ll be a team that allows the most passing yards in a single season in NFL history.
The Fans – The biggest loser this season might be the fans. Hell, it is the fans. They were already getting cheated out of a home game, but then this team goes and loses it’s first two inside Raymond James Stadium. Now Bucs fans are having to wait seven weeks to see another game in Tampa. Not to mention the fact that this team has not lived up to expectations. But that’s nothing new.
So the Bucs are 2-4 at their bye. Some say the season is over. Some say there’s a lot of football left. Me? I’m on the fence. I know in Bruce Arians’ first year in with Arizona, he took a team that finished 5-11 the previous year and got them to 10-6 despite a 3-5 start. They proceeded to go 11-5 and 13-3 over the next two seasons as well. I’m not necessarily saying that will happen here in Tampa, but I suppose the possibility is there. Arians has been there and done that. This Bucs team has not. Unless their new head coach can exorcise the loser mentality out of this team, I doubt it happens. The Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and only have 3 winning seasons in the last 11 years since Jon Gruden was fired. That’s a long time. Maybe they’re due.
That’s why this bye week is so important. It gives this team a chance to figure out what they’re playing for this season. Are they playing for new contracts? Or are they playing for each other? The theme for this Bruce Arians team has been “One team. One cause.” from the start. It means this team had just one goal this season…
Winning a Super Bowl.
Maybe that goal needs to change. Maybe that goal should be to just win the division and make the playoffs. Maybe that goal should just be to win more than 5 games. Or maybe the goal now should simply be to beat the Titans. Let’s be realistic. This is not a Super Bowl team. I’m not even sure they’re a playoff team at this point. They could be if the “losers” I mentioned earlier start playing like “winners” for the rest of the season. We’ll see who’s playing for “the cause” next week in Nashville.
Until then, as usual…GO BUCS!!!