WELL, AT LEAST WE’RE NOT BENGALS FANS!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again gave the finger to the few home crowd fans who actually showed up to watch them attempt to play football by giving another lackluster effort in a 34-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Okay, maybe lackluster is the wrong word. Gutless? Cowardly? Uninspired? I suppose I’ll just stick with lackluster for now. No matter which word you use to describe their “effort”, it wasn’t good, and speaking of “GOOD”, there wasn’t much of it in this game. However, there was a whole lot of “BAD” and “UGLY” to go around, so let’s go ahead and stick our nose into this shit pile, shall we?
THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
The Kicker – Rookie kicker Matt Gay wasn’t called upon much in this game since the Bucs offense was completely ineffective against the Saints 5th ranked defense, but when his number was called, he answered. He made all three of his kicks in this game, including a 55-yard field foal, which was right down the middle. The kicking position has been such a problem for this team for so long. It’s ironic that the kicking game is now straightened out, but the rest of the team is a dumpster fire. Guess that’s a Bucs life!
The Rookie – Inside linebacker Devin White finished this game with a new career-high 13 tackles. He was all over the field in this game, but I guess he had to be since none of the other players on his defense showed up.
The Defense – I didn’t think we would ever see another defense as bad as last year’s under Mike Smith and Mark Duffner, then along comes Todd Bowles, who says “Hold my beer!” They allowed Drew Brees to complete 28 of 35 passes and gave up 3 touchdowns to three different receivers. They allowed Alvin Kamara to average nearly 6 yards per carry. They gave up yet another 100-yard receiving game to a wide receiver (Mike Thomas-114 yards). They allowed the Saints to convert 54% of their third downs, and they let the Saints hold on to the ball for 37 minutes.
This defense is terrible!
And I don’t just mean on the back end either.
The defensive front that was dominating the line of scrimmage at the start of this season has been nonexistent lately. We’ve known that they can’t stop the pass all year. Now they can’t stop the run either. They can’t pressure the quarterback. They can’t get off the field on third down. They can’t keep teams from scoring in the Red Zone. They don’t cause turnovers. They can’t do anything. They are now averaging 31.3 points per game this season. The only team to allow more points in the first 10 games, over the last 4 seasons, was last year’s Bucs defense, who gave up 32.9 points per game. They have now given up 25 touchdown passes this season. The only team to give up more than that in the last 28 years is the 2015 Saints with 28 touchdowns.
I’m shocked. This Bucs defense may have a young, inexperienced secondary, but their front seven is stacked. Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh, Shaq Barrett, Carl Nassib, Vita Vea, Beau Allen, Lavonte David, and Devin White – That should be a really solid front seven with a great mixture of first-round draft picks and experienced veterans who have had successes with other teams. Yet for some reason, it’s just not showing up on Sundays. I thought that this Bowles defense was supposed to be aggressive and relentless, but I haven’t seen much evidence of that this year.
The Fundamentals – Blocking. Tackling. Catching. Covering. Those are some of the most basic fundamental skills in the game of football. Yet here we are in Week 11 of the regular season, and this staff of “experienced teachers” hasn’t been able to get these players to do any of them. The offensive line can’t block. The defensive line can’t tackle. The receivers can’t catch, and the defensive backs can’t cover. I expected more out of this large coaching staff, and I expect better out of players who are getting paid ridiculous sums of money to play a game.
The Trenches – The Bucs inconsistent offensive line decided to be bad again this week. Even though they only gave up 2 sacks, they allowed Jameis Winston to be hit 12 times and pressured on almost every drop back. They were so ineffective at running the ball early on, that the Bucs totally gave up on the run game once they were down 20-0 in the second quarter. They only ran the ball eight times, and six of those were designed run plays. The other two were scrambles by Winston. That is the lowest number of rush attempts in a game in their 44-year history. They just didn’t match the intensity of the Saints defensive line, and it showed all game.
The Bucs defensive line wasn’t any better. They couldn’t get any pressure on Drew Brees, which is never a good thing, and they allowed Alvin Kamara to average 6 yards per carry. In fact, the only sack recorded by the Bucs defense was by rookie Mike Edwards on a nickel blitz.
Help me with my math here. If JPP commands a double-team, Suh commands a double-team, Shaq commands a double-team, and Vita commands a double-team, then how many players are the Bucs opponents using to block on offense? I mean that’s at least four players across their base defensive front who supposedly command a double-team, yet they still can’t get pressure on the quarterback? It doesn’t add up to me. Even if just one of them is getting doubled, then at least one of them should be winning his one-on-one matchup. It’s just not happening.
The Playcalling – I’ve been giving offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich a lot of slack so far this season, but I’m done with that shit. I don’t understand his game plans anymore. Last week, running back Ronald Jones had 8 catches for 77 yards out of the backfield. This week he had zero targets and was rarely in the game. Every play he calls consists of deep throws or throws to the outside, which takes longer to develop. Nothing down the seam. Nothing over the middle. No slants. No screens. Nothing short to get the ball out of Winston’s hands faster, so the pressure can’t get to him. I don’t get it and don’t even get me started on his Red Zone playcalling. The guys on the Pewter Report podcast, after the game, was livid that Leftwich is still calling plays and questioned why Bruce Arians hasn’t taken over that role yet. I’m curious about that myself. If Arians truly is the best man for the job, then why isn’t he doing it?
The Coaching – I think we all had big expectations for this coaching staff coming into this season. Bruce Arians put together a large staff of what he called “great teachers“, and he also has a track record for turning bad teams around quickly. He did it in Indy with the Colts, and he did it in Arizona with the Cardinals, but here he is in Tampa struggling to win games like all of his predecessors in the post-Gruden era. I’m starting to wonder if last year’s coaching staff were just a bunch of fall guys, and the real problem is that the players on this team are simply incapable of being taught or coached up. As I touched on earlier, it’s Week 11, and they’re still not performing fundamental football skills correctly. They’re playing undisciplined, and they’re making too many mental mistakes. I don’t care if they’re in new systems, or not, well-coached teams don’t do that. Especially this late in the season.
The Tanking? – Right now, the Bucs at 3-7 would have the sixth pick in the 2020 NFL Draft if the season ended today. Now I’m not saying that this staff is “tanking” the season on purpose, but they sure are making some unusual coaching decisions as of late.
Take this game for instance. After Ronald Jones had 8 catches for 77 yards last week against the Cardinals, he ends up playing just 31% of the offensive snaps while Dare Ogunbowale gets 43% of the snaps. Arians claims the decision was based on their ability to pick up blitzes, but to keep your best dual-threat back on the bench because of that seems odd to me. Why not keep him in and just get the ball out of Winston’s hands faster with screens and dump passes?
Another decision that I thought was odd was with the cornerback position. Rookie Jamel Dean was the highest-rated defensive player in the entire NFL last week against the Cardinals. Yet this week versus the Saints, he not only didn’t start, but doesn’t play a single defensive snap. Instead, the starting corners were Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting on the outside with safety Mike Edwards at nickel. Arians’ excuse for this decision was that they had planned to play more zone defense against New Orleans, but it’s obvious that Dean is better at playing man.
Sorry, I’m not buying it.
Whatever happened to the philosophy of putting your best eleven men on the field? Whatever happened to taking your most talented players and making the scheme fit them? Wasn’t that the plan in the beginning? Combine those with the less aggressive style of Todd Bowles defense, the peculiar playcalling of Byron Leftwich, and the refusal of Bruce Arians to take over the offense, and you’ve got the makings of a purposely tanked season. Why else would Arians allow Winston back in the game on Sunday after injuring his ankle? In that circumstance, it’s pointless. They were down 17 points with just a few minutes left in the game. Why keep him in there and risk furthering the injury? Why not give backup QB Ryan Griffin some live regular-season reps? What does it hurt? Call me a conspiracy theorist if you want, but it doesn’t add up to me.
The Officiating – Once again, some questionable calls cost the Bucs big again. I’m not saying that they lost because of them, but they had an effect on this game. There was the ticky-tack offensive pass interference called on Mike Evans at the line of scrimmage. Also on that play, it appeared that PJ Williams, who was covering Evans, was lined up offsides, to begin with, and it wasn’t called. There was the curious spotting of the ball on the QB sneak by Drew Brees on 4th & 1, where he reached the ball out and pulled it back in. There was the uncalled hit to the legs on Jameis Winston, where he injured his ankle. There was the no-call with the pass interference on Cam Brate, where the defender climbed over his back. There was an illegal hands to the face of right tackle Demar Dotson that should’ve been called on Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, and there was a delay of game that should’ve been called on the Saints when the play clock hit zero before the ball was snapped. Those are just the ones that I can remember! I can’t recall a season where the officiating has been this bad, not just against the Bucs but across the league. I’m not sure what’s going on this season, but the NFL needs to nip it in the bud before they start losing fans over it.
The Turnovers – Oh boy, what a spicy topic this is here in Tampa. The anti-Jameis crowd blames him for ALL of them, and the pro-Jameis crowd blames everyone, BUT Jameis for all of them. The fact is that he threw four more interceptions in this game, giving him 18 interceptions this season. He’s got 13 in his last 5 games alone – That’s the most in a 5-game span since Peyton Manning had 13 in the 2010 season. He’s on pace for 28 interceptions this season, which would be the most since Brett Favre threw 29 in the 2005 season. It was the fifth 4+ interception game of his short career. The only other active players with more are Tom Brady (20 years) and Eli Manning (16 years), both with six. He also threw his fourth pick-six of the season, which matches the number of them that he threw in his first 4 seasons combined. In just 10 games, it also matches the number thrown by the Bucs in any season in their history. The Saints only had 4 interceptions in 9 games this season. They got four from Winston. Last week, the Cardinals entered their matchup with the Bucs with just 2 interceptions in 9 games. They got two more from Winston. Were they all his fault? Not at all. But you can’t deny the pattern. There’s a black cloud floating over this kid’s head. Either he’s the unluckiest quarterback in the NFL, or he’s just a turnover machine. I don’t know which one it is, but I’m not so sure the Bucs are going to be willing to gamble $150 million on it next year.
The Performance – I won’t know for sure until I watch the All-22 of this game, but it sure seemed like this Bucs “team” didn’t want to play this game. They came out flat. They seemed unprepared. They had no sense of urgency. They had no hunger. They had nothing. I didn’t realistically expect them to beat the Saints, but I at least thought that they would keep it competitive. Nope, not these guys. They came out and got punched in the mouth right away. Instead of getting up and punching back, they grabbed their teddy bear and crawled into their nearest safe space to suck on their thumb while they rocked uncontrollably. It was sad to watch, and it was disheartening to our fans.
The Season – It’s over. Although it’s not “official” yet, the Bucs have no shot at the playoffs at this point. They are now 3-7, and even if they win out, it only puts them at 9-7, which will not get you into the NFC tournament. So many high hopes and expectations for this new coaching staff with this talented team before the season started, and yet, the results are the same as any other Buccaneers season. Nothing but shattered dreams and disappointed fans saying, “It’s a Bucs life!”
The Future – No clue. I have no idea what’s in store for this team in the future, but it’s not pretty. A move to London maybe? A new “franchise” QB perhaps? Maybe the Glazers just decide to clean house and fire everybody? Maybe none of the above? I don’t have a clue at this point. Something needs to be done. Anything! There’s too much talent on this roster for them to be 3-7 right now. There are teams with much less talent that are above .500 this season. The Bills are 7-3. Jon Gruden has the Raiders 6-4 and tied with the Chiefs for the lead in the AFC West. The Colts are 6-4 without Andrew Luck at quarterback. The Panthers are 5-5 without Cam Newton at quarterback. The Titans are 5-5 without anyone at quarterback. In my opinion, it comes down to one of two things: Either this coaching staff can’t coach and teach like Arians said OR these players can’t be coached or taught at all. Either way, it’snot good, and the blame seems to fall at the feet of the man responsible for bringing everyone into this organization: Jason Licht.
This team is bad. No, if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. They suck. To even call them a “team” is a stretch. There comes a point in nearly every Buccaneers’ season where the fans get fed up with it all. The losing. The coaching. The playcalling. The lack of effort. The lack of heart. The lack of urgency. It all comes to a head until we just have to shrug our shoulders, shake our heads and say, “WHATEVER MAN!” That’s where we’re at now. It’s that point where we just have to chuckle at the absurdity. The point where we have to laugh it off to keep our sanity. The point where we start looking at who’s becoming a free agent in March and who will be available in the Draft in April. The point where we know this season is toast, and we’re ready for it to be over. We’re at THAT point right now.
HOPE FOR THE BEST AND EXPECT THE WORST.
That should be the Buccaneers’ new slogan for next season. It’s already the mantra for us Bucs fans every year anyway, so why not? We HOPE for a winning season, but EXPECT a 5-11 record. We HOPE for a better offensive line, but EXPECT a disaster. We HOPE for better quarterback play, but EXPECT more turnovers. We HOPE for a dominant defense again, but EXPECT to be a doormat for opposing offenses. We HOPE for another playoff run, but EXPECT another top-5 draft pick. We HOPE to find a head coach that can right the ship, but EXPECT a new coach within two years. THAT is a Bucs life!
So where do we go from here?
Well, the Bucs are heading to Atlanta to take on a suddenly surging Falcons team, who have now won two in a row, in what can only be described as a battle for the basement of the NFC South. A game that looked winnable two weeks ago has now become just another probable loss on the Bucs schedule. A “team” that’s only won 5 games in each of the last two seasons is now in real danger of not even matching that win total this year. Of their remaining six games, four of them are against teams with losing records, including the Falcons (3-7) twice, the Lions (3-6-1), and the Jaguars (4-6). Unfortunately, that doesn’t make these games any easier for the Bucs. I’m not sure ANY game should be considered “winnable” for this team anymore. The other two games are against the Colts (6-4) and Texans (6-4). Let’s just try to get through the rest of this season with what little dignity and sanity we have left, so we can move on to next year like we always do.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!