Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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

Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) drops a would-be touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (13) drops a would-be touchdown pass during the fourth quarter against the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.

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.

Bucs have work to do to clean up this mess of a season 11/05/16 [Last modified: Sunday, November 6, 2016 12:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  2. Matt Peca making case for Lightning spot


    Center Matt Peca said he didn't read too much into the fact he was the only Lightning player to appear in each of the first three exhibition games.

    But Peca, 24, loved it.

    Matt Peca won nine of 10 faceoffs Friday, a skill the Lightning badly needs.
  3. Bucs players respond to Trump comments on anthem protests


    President Donald Trump shared his thoughts Friday night on NFL players protesting during the national anthem, suggesting that NFL owners should "fire" players who kneel during the anthem in protest. His remarks are alreading drawing responses from many NFL players, including some Bucs.

    Bucs players Mike Evans and Jameis Winston stand with coach Dirk Koetter during the national anthem in a game played in San Diego last season.
  4. Rays morning after: Wilson Ramos showing glimpses of what's possible in 2018


    The real payoff for the Rays signing C Wilson Ramos last off-season will come in 2018, when he can play a full season fully recovered from right knee surgery.

    Catcher Wilson Ramos connects for a two-run single in the fifth inning against the Cubs on Sept. 20, 2017.
  5. Buccaneers-Vikings Scouting Report: Watching Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen


    No matter how much film we study, no matter how much data we parse, we just don't know how an NFL season will unfold.

    Four of tight end Kyle Rudolph's seven catches this season have come on third down, including this 15-yard touchdown in the Vikings' opener against the Saints. [Getty Images]