September 25, 2023

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Throwing the Flag: Bucs through Week 7

7 min read

Ref throwing penalty flag/

Welcome to this week’s semi-coherent rant about the state of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A weekly segment where the writers of Bucs Life Media will throw a metaphorical flag to challenge players, coaches, officials, the league itself, and any other shenanigans that seem like someone should be throwing a flag on. In happier times, these will probably be lighthearted and aimed at incidents around the NFL that make you stop and go, “huh?” Today is not it. Sit down and relax, and let’s get this over with.

At 3-5, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are struggling. Outside of the week 1 demolishing of the Cowboys, this team has looked anything but a shell of the team it was over the past two years. The last time the team was this bad from a statistical perspective, Greg Schiano was demanding everyone’s toes on the line and crashing victory formations. The soon-to-be former head coach had a turbulent start to 2013 when he removed the incumbent starter, Josh Freeman.

Turning to rookie Mike Glennon hoped to start a new chapter in the Bay. Despite Glennon’s best war giraffe efforts, the offensive unit would fail to usher in this new era. At the time: Glennon was handing the football off to Bobby Rainey, throwing to Tiquan Underwood, Tim Wright, and more frequently to the only viable option, Vincent Jackson, who tragically passed at the age of 38. Outside of Gerald McCoy and a still-raw Lavonte David, the defensive unit lacked talent.
So why is this strange sense of déjà vu beginning to sink in? The roster shows that the issues plaguing 2022: ARE NOT a talent issue. Football is one of the fastest, most dynamic games played in a professional context. The game is a constantly evolving, living organism for those 60 minutes. This makes two things true in the NFL: The first is that those who cannot or do not evolve over those 60 minutes are left behind, wondering how to solve the second truth; it is an exceptional rarity that just one individual is responsible for success or failure.

Let’s line up the rogues’ gallery of those responsible for the leaks appearing in the Buccaneers’ hull.

Starting with the offensive unit Anyone who understands football understands that an offense lives or dies in the trenches. The complexity of what really goes on in that hectic battle between the snap and whistle is more similar to a choreographed ballet than a battle. Talent and technique are important to any position in the NFL — what is crucial for an effective offensive line is chemistry. The ability to move as a single cohesive unit, perfectly in sync, is the elite standard for these guys. With the loss of key players before the season even started, this unit has been a revolving door of personnel. The exact opposite of what makes an offensive line effective. Compounding the issues of an unsettled group, still learning about the guys on either side of them, is the lack of talent. Except for Tristan Wirfs, the rest of the starters in Tampa aren’t starters for most of the 31 other teams. I’d also argue that if you asked the other 31 GMs to do a straight swap trade, offensive line for the offensive line “no” would be the universal answer. If you cannot win at the line of scrimmage, winning football games becomes a lot harder. If your line cannot open running lanes or establish a clean pocket, this eliminates many plays from the playbook, minimizing what the opponent has to deal with and making the game easier for them. This offensive line group is in just about the worst shape it could be.

Receivers and Tight Ends — They aren’t without blame. At this level dropping easy balls, not making plays when the opportunity comes, not running routes fully, or not expecting the ball to be thrown to them; shouldn’t happen. Mental errors are becoming far too common and risk becoming a bigger problem than it already is. Not a single person who follows this team needed the graphic that showed the ins and outs of this group; injuries and suspension have made it harder to develop any sort of rhythm. These are things that can be resolved but often require time. At Tight End, the situation is getting worse. The injury to Cameron Brate hurt a group that was already reeling from the loss of Gronk. Cade Otten is developing nicely, but the rookie shouldn’t be carrying this position. Rudolf hasn’t been relevant due to injuries, further impacting this now-lonely room.

Running Backs — The duo of Fournette and White, are working with what they have. What they have are few clear lanes and questionable play calling. When you throw enough of something at a wall, some of it will stick. When the right play has been called and executed, both Fournette and White have shown they can be a factor in the run and passing game. This group isn’t the biggest issue facing this team.

Quarterback — Brady is dealing with too much to be an NFL QB right now. That’s not a judgment, but an observation. There are multiple issues at play, each one by itself would be enough to affect a person. The divorce filing and the preceding turmoil, frustration at performances, results, and limitations being discovered. Just how badly is that shoulder and throwing hand hurt? While Brady certainly seems to have aged slower than us mere mortals, he isn’t bionic. These hits and collisions will accumulate and take longer to heal. Is he playing hurt and not saying anything, so his “final ride” doesn’t end on IR? Regardless, the issues affecting the veteran QB are also affecting his chemistry with the receivers, he’s a shadow of his former self right now. In high school, you can get away with playing by sight, the NFL is a different beast, and the difference between a good and bad offense is chemistry and timing, Tom right now has neither.

The defensive unit gets to sit in the same room for this.

Losing many veterans and not replacing them has hurt this entire unit. The number of injuries has hurt this unit. The inability to make a stop and get off the field is hurting the entire team.

The line isn’t anywhere near as dominant as it could be and has shown that it can be, which is giving opposing offenses an easier time playing their game. Devin White appears to be mentally torn between trying too hard to make a play and not knowing what he’s supposed to be doing. At times he’s been left behind the play because he can’t choose a single option. The secondary is beaten up beyond belief, and long drives are killing their stamina. This was exposed on national television against the Ravens.

Coaching  The amount of technical input and actual coaching required in football from high school onwards can be mind-blowing to some. As the level of the game increases, you need to understand the game inside and out and be able to spot emerging patterns and make adjustments to either take advantage of these; or quickly prevent them from being exploited. Play calls have to be relevant to the situation on the field, the plays being called, so far — the players on your defensive and offensive units and their current condition. That’s just on the sideline during those 60 minutes. The influence and complexity of the role of coaching staff in the modern game are too much to include in a single article. When there are issues, it’s the job of the coaches to identify and rectify problems as they occur and to put their players in a position to succeed. Just smashing your head into plan A; over and over just won’t work at this level.

Conclusion — The players certainly hold a portion of the blame, ill-discipline and mental errors have killed drives and left points on the field. Too often what could have been a positive play; either doesn’t happen due to an individual error or is called back by a penalty that shouldn’t happen. Fingers can be pointed at Tom Brady, he certainly seems to be a man affected by his personal life, but he does seem to be struggling on the field. While the players must accept their own roles in the struggles, it always stops with the people who are the coaches because they have the power and responsibility to change things, players, schemes, and minor coaches. If your coaches cannot do or will not do any of these things, then they aren’t the right people for the job. They might be great elsewhere with a different group, but if they cannot coach this group or coordinate an offensive and defensive game for the players in this group, they aren’t the right coaches for this job.

It’s rarely just one thing that makes a team bad. And the Buccaneers are no exception. In this case, the coaching staff is failing this team the most.