Another L on the way in Houston?
Leading up to the Eagles game, I called it a measuring stick. I also said it about the Saints matchup. Truth is, there can be many measuring sticks within a season. I called the Eagles game that because it would gauge where we were in relation to the League’s best. The Saints game because they are the eternal thorn in our side since the team moved to become a member of the NFC South. These two matchups against our most fierce division rival quite often decide who will take the division. In the 21 years that the division has been around, 12 times it’s been won by one of those two (Bucs – 5, Saints – 7). The Bucs, of course, became the first to win a Super Bowl representing the division in its first season of existence in 2022, smacking the Raiders around 48-21. But I digress. I call this game against the Texans another measuring stick. Houston has been average for years. Even when they won division titles, the playoffs brought nothing. This season, though, no matter how it finishes in the win/loss column. The team is much improved from the Deshaun Watsonless seasons of late. They defeated a pretty good Jaguars team 37-17 on the road. The Jaguars’ only other loss this season is to the Chiefs, so that says something. At home, the Texans dismantled the Steelers 30-6. It’s worth noting that the Texans are at .500 at the time of this writing, good for second place in the AFC South division. The third win for Houston, you may wonder, was the New Orleans Saints (20-13). For the second time in their NFL existence, the Texans have themselves a talented young rookie quarterback (Deshaun Watson, the 1st) in C.J. Stroud behind center. My point is, of course, that this Texans game looms as a potential loss. It’s one of those games that the Bucs are expected to win, at least to Bucs’ fans, anyway. It’s a game where if they forget their fundamentals and don’t execute well on offense. If they overlook the Texans on any level, put up another L on the board, please. So it’s a game to find out where the team’s heads are at. You have to respect any NFL team you play; they are professionals, too.
Looking down the road a bit, implications.
The Bucs 3-4, have lost three straight games now. If you watched all three, you are well aware that the Bucs were never out of those games until the clock hit double zero in the fourth. I’ve read much on Bucs’ Social Media about how the defense is at fault for the losses. That’s just untrue, in my opinion. The fact Tampa has not been out of those last three until late in the fourth quarter tells the tale. In today’s NFL, about the most you can ask of your defense is to keep the opponent’s score down, limit big plays, and be strong in the red zone. Tampa has done that pretty well. There is room for improvement, don’t get me wrong. The defense, though, is not the big culprit as many fans seem to think. Our weakness this season, especially the last three, is not being able to score many points. In all three, they were within reach of a comeback. Had Chris Godwin been paying attention to where the Hail Mary pass from Mayfield was going to come down at the end of the fourth quarter? They would have beaten the Bills with a successful extra-point kick. Missed opportunities tell the story of the Bucs’ Offense in all three games. Whether it was the aforementioned Hail Mary failure, missing wide-open receivers downfield for touchdowns, or batted balls at the line of scrimmage to interceptions, chances have eluded them. Being realistic, the Bucs could find themselves at 3-8 worst-case scenario after the next four games (Texans, Titans, 49ers, Colts). Best case scenario, in my opinion, would be a record of 5-6 after the next four; that isn’t very likely, though. Looking ahead beyond those next four, you have the beginning of the meat of the Bucs’ division schedule. On Dec. 3rd, the Panthers come to Ray Jay. The following week, the team travels to Atlanta, which, if Atlanta has maintained their lead in the South Division, becomes the biggest game of the season to date. You cannot be swept by the division leader and win the South Crown; it rarely happens, if ever.
There is time for now.
Looking again at the Bucs offense, the two biggest problems they have is Baker Mayfield’s play and no running game. These are the facts concerning the running backs the Bucs have on the roster. The RB1 slot belongs to Rachaad White. The RB2 has been Ke’Shawn Vaughn for the last 4 to 5 games. White, after 7 games, has a yards-per-carry average of 3.3 yards. Vaughn is pumping out at a 1.6 yards per carry clip. I’ve never claimed to be smarter than the coaching staff. I do believe that, at times, I may have better common sense, though. The most stand-out statistic concerning the running game is this. One of the running backs on the roster was recently a First Team All-American, shattering Syracuse’s single-season rushing total, gaining 1,496 yards in 2021 as a sophomore. When Sean Tucker signed with Tampa as an undrafted free agent this past Spring. He became the most decorated incoming rookie since Cadillac Williams. Oh, and there’s this little tidbit: Tucker runs a 4.33 in the 40, the same time that wide receiver and fellow rookie burner Trey Palmer has in his resume. If your number 2 running back is only producing 1.6 yards per attempt on average, wouldn’t it be reasonable to insert your speed back into that RB2 spot and give him some carries each game for the foreseeable future? What would be the downside of doing so? Unless Tucker is a serial fumbler or missing all his blocks, what could it possibly hurt? As each game passes, and we keep losing, I’m at a loss for words to explain why Tucker has been a steady fixture on the bench. As long as there is a running back riding the bench with a big skill set, and our running game is so bad, I will shake my head as to the good sense of that situation. So the Bucs don’t really have to make any changes for the next 3 to 4 games. Make no mistake about it, if the losing continues, a decision will have to be made concerning Mayfield and Vaughn’s positions before we jump back into our divisional schedule against Carolina and then the following week in Atlanta. The Bucs have the luxury to let Mayfield play on and turn things around. If he does not right the ship, plan B must be enacted before the season is lost. That could happen in Atlanta if the Falcons again take the Bucs down. So you have two talented young players who are patiently waiting for their chance to showcase what they can do to turn the season around. Maybe neither one is the answer. Maybe one is, and the other is not. Don’t you think the team should find that out if their fortunes continue to go downhill? Nothing would be worse than the Bucs to allow the season to slip away without trying another route (Trask and Tucker), which could help things and achieve the goal of the playoffs and another division crown. Wouldn’t you have to make the changes if the season requires it? Tom Petty said, “The waiting is the hardest part.” And I believe him. Go Bucs!!