Let me preface this article by saying that Matt Gay is the guy, he’s going to be the guy, and there’s no reason that he shouldn’t be, but the problem is, what do you do when the special teams really aren’t that special?
I fully supported, encouraged, and predicted the drafting of Matt Gay. The man has proven he has the leg to be the kicker the Buccaneers need for many years to come. He’s shown flashes of being the guy that can finally bring an end to what feels like a curse on our kicking game, but he’s also shown flashes of being a victim of that same curse.
It’s not only on Matt Gay to carry the special teams, however, as we have several members of our special teams and several members who failed to step up and be the player capable of putting the team in a better field position.
Matt Gay hit on 77% of his field-goal attempts, which is both good and bad. While the 77% does put him at 24th in the league, which isn’t great, it’s still better than Robert Aguayo managed during his time with Tampa, but not as good as Martin Gramatica was at his peak, obviously for any kicker in Tampa, getting up there with Automatica is part of the goal, but moving in that direction is a good start.
Coach Arians has made it clear that Gay will be practicing quite a bit this off-season, specifically from the left side of the home field. This should give him the confidence he’ll need heading into next season and will hopefully bring an end to his blowing late-game field goal attempts, as we know the man has the talent to get the job done.
While we should never trust a kicker, and we shouldn’t put ourselves in a position to rely on a kicker, we all know that eventually, there will be a time when Gay will have to put it through the upright to win the game. Assuming that Gay shores up his issues with kicking, specifically in regards to the mental aspect of his kicking game, that’s still only one-third of the battle. When it comes to our special teams, we suffered problems in all facets of the game, including both punting and returning.
Bradley Pinion ranked 29th in the league in average yards per punt, and if he averaged just two yards less per punt, he’d be the worst in the league. Some may not see this as a huge deal, but a good punt can be the difference between an opposing team starting a drive on the 3-yard line versus starting it on the 25-yard line. This season was not only the lowest average punt of his career but also the lowest amount of total punting yards in his career. To put that into perspective, the best punter in the league averaged almost 50 yards per punt, and his longest punt of the year was almost 20 yards longer than Pinion’s longest punt of the season.
When you have a kicker that can’t be relied on to make the long field goals, you immediately look to your punter to put the opposing team in not so great starting field position, and the Buccaneers simply couldn’t manage to do either one last season which puts both the Offense and Defense in compromising positions.
The return game is bad enough that it doesn’t need poor kicking added to it, but alas, that’s what we experienced.
The Buccaneers did not have a punt returner who averaged 10 yards or more on punt returns with T.J. Logan averaging the highest at 9.5 yards per return, followed by Bobo Wilson at only 2.9 yards per punt return. That is a huge difference between the two main punt returners and shows just how little depth the team has on special teams.
The return team didn’t fare much better on kickoffs than it did on punts, and that is a cause for concern. T.J. Logan has been the most productive kick returner, averaging just under 21 yards per return, but his longest return didn’t quite reach 40 yards, and Dare Ogunbowale averaged just under 20 yards per return. To put that into perspective, the top kick returner averaged move than 30 yards per return, and simply taking a knee in the end zone would result in the drive starting at the 25-yard line.
When your top two kick returners are putting you in a worse field position than simply taking a knee in the end zone would, perhaps it’s time to rethink who you have returning the ball, or if you should even return the ball at all but instead should simply take the touchback.
Pinion is due one million dollars in guaranteed money this season with a total of almost 3 million dollars followed by two more years of almost 3 million dollars each, so perhaps it’s time the team look elsewhere for a new punter that will not only free up money but perhaps give the Buccaneers a leg up heading into the new season. If the Buccaneers are able to pick up someone like Britton Colquitt for under a million dollars, it’s a situation they need to jump all over.
No matter what changes are made, something obviously has to be done to address the special teams situation, because when your special teams are no longer special, then it simply becomes a liability.