Well, I wish I could say I’m surprised.
With a playoff wildcard spot on the line, as well as a need to win to keep pace with the division leading Saints (who won WITHOUT Drew Brees on Sunday), the Bucs once again shit the bed losing a heartbreaker to the LA Rams 27-24 on Monday Night Football. To add salt to that wound, former Bucs kicker Matt Gay hit a 40-yard field goal with about 2:40 left in the game to give the Rams the lead and eventual win.
I just don’t get it. They blow out the undefeated Packers at home and the Raiders on the road. Then barely beat the 1-6 Giants in New Jersey and get curb stomped by the Saints at home. They blow out the Panthers on the road behind 544 yards of total offense. Then come home on MNF and can’t do anything on offense against the Rams.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THIS TEAM???
The inconsistency is so frustrating. One week, the offense is unstoppable. The next week, they can’t score. One week, the defense is suffocating. The next week, they couldn’t stop a decent college team. The only consistent thing about this team right now is the friggin kicker. Go figure.
As I watched this game live, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that they were going to pull their typical Buccaneers shananigans and lose it somehow. And they did. Of course. After watching it again, I’m still having trouble finding much “GOOD” about it. On the other hand, there was plenty of “BAD” and “UGLY” so let’s talk about it.
The Run Defense
The Bucs came into this game boasting the NFL’s #1 rushing defense and they proved why on Monday night. They held the Rams three-headed rushing monster, that had been averaging nearly 140 yards per game, to just 37 yards on 20 carries. Malcolm Brown was their leading rusher with 3 carries for 20 yards, but he also broke one run for 14 of those yards. Cam Akers had 5 carries for 15 yards, but he also had a long run of 11 yards to pad his average. And Darrell Henderson had 8 carries for 5 yards to round out the group. Despite losing Vita Vea early on in the season, the Bucs defense have remained stout up the middle.
The New Guy
Antonio Brown has now played in 3 games with the Bucs and he and Tom Brady seem to have picked up right where they left off in New England. Over the last two games, Brown has been targeted 21 times and has 15 catches for 126 yards. He’s been a reliable receiver for Brady, especially on third down. However he’s only averaging 8.7 yards per catch, which is 35% lower than his career average. They haven’t hooked up downfield yet. Brown only has one catch for more than 16 yards in his 3 games. It’s not all his fault though. Brady hasn’t been able to hit anyone deep for the last month or so.
The Donald Neutralizers
Even with starting left guard Ali Marpet out for his third straight game with a concussion, the Bucs makeshift o-line of Ryan Jensen at left guard and AQ Shipley at center was able to hold their own (at least in pass protection) against one of the best d-lines in football. In fact, the two of them were primarily lined up across from Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald most of the night and held him without a sack or even a tackle for just the third time in his 104 career games. The Bucs are hoping to have Marpet back next week, but if not they could be in trouble. Shipley suffered a neck stinger late in the game that aggravated an old injury. Unfortunately, Bruce Arians said that it could be “career threatening“. Let’s hope not. If that’s the case and Marpet still can’t go, the Bucs could be forced to move Jensen back to center and start Joe Haeg at left guard again. And we all saw how that worked out last time against the Saints.
The First Half
For whatever reason, the Bucs have not been getting off to good starts. Since Week 6, they’ve been outscored 52-17 in the first quarter of games. That’s terrible. Entering this game, Sean McVay was 31-0 in games where his team led at halftime. The Rams had a 17-14 lead at the half of this game and, well you know the rest. McVay is now 32-0 in those games.
The Pass Defense
The Bucs run defense was strong the entire night, but the pass defense struggled. In the first half, Jared Goff was 21 of 25 (84%) for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns while Cooper Kupp had 9 catches for 109 yards. The Bucs clamped down on Kupp in the second half, but then Robert Woods broke loose finishing the game with 12 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs allowed him season highs in targets (15), catches (12) and yards (130). Between Kupp and Woods, they combined for 23 catches on 28 targets for 275 yards. The entire Bucs offense only had 251 total yards. Goff finished this game 39 of 51 (76%) for 376 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It’s the second time in two games against the Bucs that he’s completed at least 39 passes. Since the beginning of 2019, out of 415 games, only two other quarterbacks have completed at least 39 passes in a game.
The Not So GOAT
Yeah, I know. He’s “the greatest of all time“, right? Well, he hasn’t been playing like it over the last month or so. At one point in the 4th quarter of this game, Tom Brady was averaging just 4.1 yards per attempt. He was off…again. Much like he was against the Saints two weeks ago when he finished 22 of 38 (58%) for 209 yards and 3 interceptions. Not quite that bad, but bad enough. Against the Rams, Brady was 26 of 48 (54%) for 216 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The biggest issue with him right now is the deep ball. Over the first 7 weeks of this season, the Bucs were the best deep ball team in football. They had the most yards off deep ball passes AND were second in completions. In their last 4 games, they’re the worst team in the NFL in passes of 20+ yards. On throws of more than 15+ yards Monday night, he was 1 of 9 with 2 interceptions. He’s just 18 of 58 on passes of 20+ yards this season. That’s only 31%, which is way down from the 40% of deep passes of 20+ yards that he averaged last season with the Patriots. Even though his 58 attempts are tied for the most in the NFL, he’s only 8th in yards and 16th in touchdowns. His QB rating of 68.7 on those deep passes ranks 30th out of 37 quarterbacks with at least 100+ overall attempts.
His 54% completions was the lowest of the season and his 216 yards was the second lowest this year. The 4.5 yards per attempt was the sixth lowest average of his entire career of 296 games. He’s only had three 300-yard games this year. He’s only had two games where he’s had more than 3 touchdowns. And he now has three games where he’s had multiple interceptions. Despite that, his numbers through 11 games do look better than Jameis Winston’s from last year:
Brady: 25 TD’s/9 INT’s/2,955 yards/95.0 QBR
Winston: 22 TD’s/20 INT’s/3,391 yards/82.3 QBR
The Buccaneers success goes hand in hand with Tom Brady’s success. In the Bucs seven wins this season, Brady had 20 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a 111.9 QB rating. In their four losses, he had 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a 66.9 QB rating.
The Kupp Runneth All Over
Cooper Kupp wreaked havoc on the Buccaneers secondary on Monday night. Especially in the first half where he had 9 catches for 109 yards. He finished the game with a season-high 11 catches for 145 yards. He had 5 catches for 62 yards on the Rams opening drive alone.
The Lacking of Tackling
As I said earlier, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods combined for 23 catches for 275 yards. A big reason for that was the poor tackling. The Bucs defense allowed more than 200 yards AFTER THE CATCH to Kupp and Woods. Bruce Arians said that the Rams were taking 5 yard passes for 35 yards because guys were missing initial tackles. He also said that it was very “un-Buc like“. Hopefully they get that corrected before a very talented Chiefs offense gets to town next weekend.
Drops have been an issue for the Buccaneers all season. In fact, they have the third most drops (24) in the entire league this year behind the Cowboys and Lions (tied at 27). The Bucs running backs have been a BIG part of that issue. They have 12 drops on 86 targets. In comparison, their wide receivers and tight ends have 12 drops on 335 targets. On Monday night, Leonard Fournette had three drops. Bruce Arians said that two of them were “poorly placed balls“, but as I was always coached growing up, if you can touch it, you should catch it.
It’s not just the drops though. The Bucs have not been having any success throwing the ball to their backs at all. Fournette, Jones and McCoy have combined for the worst yards per catch average in the league. In fact, Ronald Jones is averaging more yards per carry (4.9) than yards per catch (4.8). How bad is that? His 4.8 yards per catch is the lowest average for any player with 25+ catches in the NFL since the 2013 season.
The Bucs are now 7-4 and still second in the NFC South behind the 8-2 Saints, although the gap between them has increased. They dropped from the fifth playoff seed to the sixth and are running out of chances for the postseason. They still have an outside shot at winning the division, but would need some help from New Orleans. The Bucs would need to win their final 5 games while the Saints would have to finish 3-3 or worse. Not likely, even without Drew Brees. The Bucs need four more wins to finish 11-5 and almost guarantee themselves a playoff birth. There have been 77 teams finish 11-5 in NFL history and 76 of them have made the playoffs. It can be done. With the exception of the 9-1 Chiefs, the Bucs other three opponents, the Vikings, Lions and Falcons, (they play the Falcons twice) are a combined 11-19 this season. If they lose to Kansas City, they have to win out. Beat them, and they control their own playoff destiny.
The Primetime Performances
The spotlight hasn’t been kind to the Bucs this season. They are now 1-3 in their four “primetime” games this season. Remember when we Bucs fans were all excited about the Buccaneers finally getting some national exposure? Maybe we shouldn’t have been. The good news is that they don’t have anymore “primetime” games this season, so maybe they can finish the season on a high note.
No more excuses. After each one of their four losses, we hear the same press conference talking points from Tom Brady. “I just need to be better“. “We just need time to get chemistry on offense“. “I need to take better care of the football“. Blah, blah, blah, blah freaking blah. I bought that excuse for the first 8 games, but not anymore. I’m done. They’ve had 11 games to get their shit together. The talent is there. The coaching staff is there. The training staff is there. The facilities are there. What else do they need? Teams with way less talent and way less experienced coaching staffs play better football than this Buccaneers team.
I’m looking for some sort of consistency. Any consistency would be an improvement. Consistency in the run game. Consistency in the passing game. Consistency in the playcalling. Consistency in the pass defense. Consistency in the pass rush. Just consistent good football week after week. Until I see that, I can’t call them a good football team. And I won’t call them a playoff team.
But they could be.
A good starting point would be against the 8-1 Chiefs this Sunday. It will be the Bucs biggest test of the season. Kansas City is #1 in scoring offense, #2 in total offense and #1 in passing offense. It won’t be easy for the Bucs top five defense. The Bucs offense has it a little bit better. The Chiefs defense is 7th in points allowed, 8th in pass defense, 26th in run defense and dead last in redzone defense.
IF the Bucs play the way they’re capable of, it should be a fun game to watch. If they play like they did against the Saints and Rams, it could get ugly real quick. They NEED to win this game. THIS IS A MUST WIN! A victory gets them to 8-4 and keeps them within reach of the Saints for the division. A loss puts them at 7-5 and really hurts their playoff chances. We’ll get a great look at the character and heart of this Buccaneers team on Sunday. Hopefully, they prove me wrong.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!