Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs have work to do to clean up this mess of a season

TAMPA — Seven days. That's all that is left for Bucs coach Dirk Koetter to correct a 3-5 mess.

And in every case, from offense to defense, he and his coaches have to decide, whether talking about players or schemes, to nix it or fix it.

"Well, we've got to coach them better, No. 1," Koetter said. "We've got to coach them better. That's what a coach's job is, that's what my job is. Everybody can argue whatever your talent level is and every team in the NFL has injuries. I'm saying I think we have a higher ceiling than we're playing to right now. Our record is what our record is; we have to own that. But I think we can play to a higher level across the board. That starts with me."

Koetter is right about that. As an offensive coordinator, he has excelled. As an NFL coach, he has failed five out of eight times. More specifically, the defense under new coordinator Mike Smith is a mess. The Bucs allowed 1,087 yards (823 passing) to the Raiders and Falcons, the fourth-worst two-game stretch in 50 years.

How much better can the Bucs be in the second half? And what can they do to get better?

They need some luck with injuries. And they definitely have to coach better.

Here are the things the Bucs need for improvement:

KOETTER SHOULD START WITH KOETTER: How you handle decisions like time management, end of the half or end of the game situations, whether to accept or decline penalties, all can have a major effect on the game.

There is a lot of on-the-job-training going on with Koetter. He blew a good chance for a comeback win over the Rams by stuffing a timeout in his pocket. He admitted to a "bad decision'' not to accept a penalty against the Falcons that would have created a third-and-22 situation at the Tampa Bay 38. Instead, he was content to let Matt Bryant kick a 41-yard field goal to leave the Bucs trailing 13-7.

"I don't want anyone to read in that I don't have confidence in the defense or anything like that," Koetter said.

HOPE FOR HEAlTHY PLAYERS: Every team has injuries. But when the injuries are concentrated on one or two positions the way it has been with the Bucs, that's tough to deal with.

The running back and defensive end positions are depleted. Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and now Antone Smith, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury Thursday, have depleted the backfield.

Koetter said Martin might return in a week to face the Bears. A more likely scenario is Rodgers returning. Now, the burden falls on rookie Peyton Barber.

At defensive end, the Bucs have already lost Jacquies Smith, George Johnson and now Howard Jones, all on injured reserve. Robert Ayers missed four games with an ankle injury and hasn't had an impact in his two games since returning.

"For whatever reason, we're being hit hard at two positions — running back and defensive end," Koetter said. "Other teams in the league have their issues at different positions, but I've never seen where we're a one-back team and we have four running backs go in one year."

GET LAVONTE DAVID GOING: Watching David against the Falcons was like following an imposter. David became an All-Pro by playing fast. He's not reacting quickly, he's not explosive. He's either thinking too much or there's an injury he is hiding.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and David are the Bucs' best players on defense. If Smith can't put them in position to make plays, this team can't win. David has averaged more than 140 tackles per season. Through eight games, he has 44 and one sack.

GENERATE A PASS RUSH: Is the pass defense bad because the Bucs can't cover receivers, or they can't cover receivers because they can't rush the quarterback? The Bucs are tied for 15th with 17 sacks. They are tied for 22nd in the league with four interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks own a 103.5 passer rating.

Outside of McCoy and rookie Noah Spence, the Bucs have no pressure. Smith would like to bring more pressure packages, and he may have to, but he doesn't trust the secondary.

Everything should be on the table, including some lineup changes, particularly at safety.

KEEP JAMEIS WINSTON TRENDING UP: In the past four games, Winston has thrown nine touchdowns and one interception. That's protecting the football. On Thursday, he lost a fumble. That's not.

Winston needs to continue to be more precise with passes and not force throws. Receiver Mike Evans may be playing the best at that position in the NFL. He brings the energy and production that jump-starts the offense.

That combination is something to build on. If the effort of those two players can rub off on others, the Bucs have a chance to salvage the season.

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