A stumbling offense. A leaky defense. Five blown fourth-quarter leads. Senseless penalties.
After last Sunday's 27-17 loss to the lowly Atlanta Falcons, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have become the Miley Cyruses of the NFL: Both break the rules and flaunt it. She's likely to be seen toting a bottle of Captain Morgan; they're likely to pose like him.
There's one key difference between the two: For her, being a hot mess is all part of the plan.
It used to be that the Buccaneers' next opponent, Washington, was the league laughingstock, the standard bearer of embarrassment and dysfunction. Now, it has company.
Both are dead-last in their divisions and both have a fondness for the Grudens, but those are hardly the only things these franchises have in common. It's downright uncanny how similarly they've gone about their business.
Speaking of coaches…
In their recent histories, Washington and Tampa Bay have tried to lure the biggest names in collegiate coaching. And when that didn't work, the teams sought to make up for it by hiring head coaches with Super Bowl credentials.
In 2002, Washington hired Florida head coach Steve Spurrier, who resigned after going 12-20 over two seasons. Three-time Super Bowl champion Joe Gibbs came out of retirement to replace him and led the team to the playoffs in two of his four seasons.
When Gibbs retired again after the 2007 season, Washington hired Jim Zorn — who quarterbacked one game for the Buccaneers in 1987 — to be offensive coordinator. Problem is, owner Dan Snyder hadn't hired a head coach yet. Two weeks later, he promoted Zorn, who proceeded to prove to a national audience just how unqualified he was.
Soon after Washington's 45-12 whooping on Monday Night Football in Dec. 2009, Zorn was fired by new general manager Bruce Allen, who was previously employed by … Tampa Bay.
Not to be outdone, the Buccaneers followed a similar blueprint to Washington's hiring of Zorn. On Christmas Day 2008, they promoted defensive backs coach Raheem Morris to defensive coordinator and then a month later promoted him to head coach when they fired Jon Gruden, whom they had given a three-year contract extension just 12 months prior. After a 10-win season in 2010, Morris was fired when the team lost 10 in a row in 2011. He's now the defensive backs coach for … Washington.
To this day, the Buccaneers are still reeling. In 2012, they tried to right the ship by courting then-Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. When Kelly turned down an offer, the Buccaneers, for some reason, changed course philosophically and pursued Rutgers' Greg Schiano, whose antiquated hard-line approach only hastened the franchise's freefall into irrelevance. Like Spurrier in Washington, Schiano came in like a wrecking ball and lost at least 20 games in his two seasons in Tampa Bay and was replaced by a former NFL head coach who had been to the Super Bowl. Enter Lovie Smith, who presently has the unenviable task of squeezing wins out of a roster lacking talent and depth.
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Because of the salary cap, the best way for most teams to build a contender is through smart drafting, which has been a problem for both Tampa Bay and Washington for several seasons.
Over the years, Washington has traded several early-round picks to acquire star players, such as defensive end Jason Taylor (a second-rounder in 2009), quarterback Donovan McNabb (a second-rounder in 2010) and Robert Griffin III (a second-rounder in 2012 and first-rounders in 2013 and 2014), leaving the team with too many holes and not enough picks to fill them with. Its offensive line and secondary units continue to be major liabilities.
|Washington draft picks, 2009-2013 Only 12 out of 40 picks played any snaps for Washington during Week 9, its most recent game.|
|1||Brian Orakpo*||Trent Williams||Ryan Kerrigan||Robert Griffin||no pick|
|2||no pick||no pick||Jarvis Jenkins||no pick||David Amerson|
|3||Kevin Barnes||no pick||Leonard Hankerson||Josh Leribeus||Jordan Reed|
|4||no pick||Perry Riley||Roy Helu||Kirk Cousins, Keenan Robinson||Phillip Thomas|
|5||Cody Glenn||no pick||DeJon Gomes, Niles Paul||Adam Gettis||Chris Thompson**, Brandon Jenkins|
|6||Robert Henson||Dennis Morris||Evan Royster, Aldrik Robinson||Alfred Morris, Tom Compton||Bacarri Rambo|
|7||Eddie Williams, Marko Mitchell||Terrence Austin, Erik Cook, Selvish Capers||Brandyn Thompson, Maurice Hurt, Markus White, Chris Neild*||Richard Crawford, Jordan Bernstine||Jawan Jamison|
|Week 9 snaps||0/6||2/6||4/12||4/9||2/7|
|*Injured reserve. **Practice squad. Players still with team are in bold.|
Only 12 out of 40 picks played any snaps for Washington during Week 9, its most recent game.
Sounds a lot like the Buccaneers, doesn't it? While Tampa Bay also has traded early-round picks for stars that didn't pan out (a second-rounder in 2009 for tight end Kellen Winslow and a first-rounder in 2013 for Darrelle Revis), its issue has been that it has just flat-out missed on a majority of its picks.
Consider that only one player from the 2009 and 2010 drafts — defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — remains on the roster. That's one pick out of 15. And only one other player from the 2011-2013 drafts — linebacker Lavonte David — is a lock to be a part of this team going forward.
|Tampa Bay draft picks, 2009-2013 Only eight of 36 picks played any snaps for the Buccaneers in Week 10, their most recent game.|
|1||Josh Freeman||Gerald McCoy||Adrian Clayborn*||Mark Barron, Doug Martin||no pick|
|2||no pick||Brian Price, Arrelious Benn||Da'Quan Bowers||Lavonte David||Johnthan Banks|
|3||Roy Miller||Myron Lewis||Mason Foster||no pick||Mike Glennon|
|4||Kyle Moore||Mike Williams||Luke Stocker||no pick||Akeem Spence, William Gholston|
|5||Xavier Fulton||no pick||Ahmad Black||Najee Goode||Steven Means|
|6||no pick||Brent Bowden||Allen Bradford||Keith Tandy||Mike James|
|7||E.J. Biggers, Sammie Stroughter||Cody Grimm, Dekoda Watson, Erik Lorig||Anthony Gaitor, Daniel Hardy||Michael Smith, Drake Dunsmore||no pick|
|Week 10 snaps||0/6||1/9||2/8||1/7||4/6|
|*Injured reserve. Players still with team are in bold.|
Only eight of 36 picks played any snaps for the Buccaneers in Week 10, their most recent game.
These draft missteps have either forced the Buccaneers to start players they shouldn't be starting or led them to make Washington-like free agent splashes. This past offseason, the team signed contracts that guaranteed $48 million to seven players (defensive linemen Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald, offensive linemen Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith, cornerback Alterraun Verner, quarterback Josh McCown and tight end Brandon Myers), according to figures from overthecap.com. During its previous splurge before the 2012 season, it signed contracts that guaranteed $42.25 million to four players (receiver Vincent Jackson, offensive lineman Carl Nicks, cornerback Eric Wright and tight end Dallas Clark).
On the field
Like Miley Cyrus, Washington's secondary has been an easy target. Opposing quarterbacks throw at second-year cornerback David Amerson and rookie Bashaud Breeland often and successfully, earning passing ratings above 103 against each of them.
In Week 9, Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater repeatedly found receivers who were as wide open as Devin Hester was on his dropped touchdown pass against the Buccaneers last Sunday. Take a look:
• On this 2nd-and-10 pass two-thirds of the way through the first quarter, a communication breakdown between Amerson and safety Ryan Clark allows receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to run free. This is an easy six points, but Bridgewater overthrows him.
• With less than a minute left in the first half, the Vikings use a "scissors" route combination to pick up 22 yards. Patterson — lined up to the far left — runs a deep post route, and Greg Jennings — lined up next to Patterson in the slot — runs a shorter corner route. Because Patterson draws Amerson and safety Brandon Meriweather, all Jennings has to do is run beyond cornerback E.J. Biggers and wait for the ball.
• Two plays later, the Vikings use the scissors route again to beat Washington's Cover 3 defense for a touchdown. Just as Patterson and Jennings before, receiver Adam Thielen runs a post route and tight end Chase Ford runs a corner route. Amerson departs his zone to follow Thielen over the middle, leaving the deep left side of the field open for Ford. Clark realizes Amerson isn't there and futilely tries to close the gap. (The receivers to Bridgewater's right also run the scissors.)
• • •
On third down, Washington and Tampa Bay are mirror images of each other; both allow opponents to convert third downs at a higher frequency than they do.
Tampa Bay allows opponents to convert 46.6 percent of their third downs, 25th in the league, while Washington is only slightly better at 43.1 percent, which is good for 22nd. But Tampa Bay converts its third downs more often than Washington: 38.9 percent (27th) to 34.9 percent (second-to-last).
Washington has improved its third-down efficiency over its past couple of games, however, as it has converted 12 out of 27 opportunities. Against the Vikings, it converted two such opportunities by attacking the defense with stacked receivers. This concept gives the receiver in the back of the stack a free release at the snap and room to take off and run.
Here's how Washington converted a 3rd-and-4 early in the first quarter:
Before the snap, Jordan Reed motions from right to left across the offensive line and sets behind receiver Andre Roberts. Reed runs a hitch and draws the attention of two defenders while Roberts is uncovered as he runs a drag over the middle. Griffin hits him to pick up the necessary yardage and then some.
On a 3rd-and-4 in the third quarter, Washington runs virtually the same play. The difference: It flops the formation. This time, Reed motions from left to right across the line before he sets, once again, behind Roberts. Roberts runs the drag but is covered. Reed runs straight downfield and looks back toward Griffin 5 yards into his route. Safety Robert Blanton slips, allowing Reed to pick up even more yards after the catch. Washington picks up 17 yards and is in the end zone four plays later.
When you see Washington line up in formations such as these, more often than not, Griffin — if he has time — is going to target one of those two receivers.
Washington has had trouble protecting the quarterback all season and Griffin has a tendency to hold the ball too long, but the Buccaneers weren't able to capitalize on weak spots along the Carolina, Baltimore or Atlanta offensive lines so why should Sunday be any different?
On the other hand, Washington's defense, featuring Jason Hatcher and Ryan Kerrigan, can get after the quarterback. That means Josh McCown, who led the Buccaneers with 39 rushing yards last weekend, better be ready to run again. My pick: Washington.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tbassfootball.