Had this happened in Week 1 against Drew Brees and the Saints or in Week 2 against the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles, no one would have been surprised. That it happened last week against the Steelers wasn’t even a surprise.
But to lose as soundly as the Bucs did in dropping a 48-10 decision to the Bears in Chicago on Sunday is a bit shocking.
Sure, the Bears defense is one of the best in the league. With Khalil Mack on board its conjuring memories of the Monsters of the Midway. But it wasn’t the Bears defense that did the Bucs in on Sunday. It was the Mitch Trubisky-led Bears offense.
Outside of shutting down opposing offenses, the best thing the Bears did prior to Sunday was run the ball. They beat the Bucs, however, by throwing it all over the lot, and with more success than any other Bears team has ever had.
That’s no exaggeration. This game wasn’t even half over when Trubisky, who came into the game ranked 31st in the league in passer rating and 26th in the league in passing yards, set a franchise record by throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the opening half. He finished with six of them on the day.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Look, Bucs fans everywhere were jacked when this team added three new DBs in the draft this past spring. Many openly expressed their desire to see all three in the lineup sooner rather than later. Their wish was granted on Sunday.
With safety Chris Conte and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves on the shelf with injuries and Ryan Smith on the bench because he’s Ryan Smith, the Bucs handed the defensive backfield to cornerback Carlton Davis III, cornerback M.J. Stewart and reserve safety Isaiah Johnson.
The result was disastrous. Trubisky, who had never thrown any more than two touchdown passes in an NFL game, threw six in this one and shredded the Bucs secondary for 354 yards, including a ridiculous 289 in the first half, when he completed five passes of 30 yards or more.
I’ve said it before: outside of quarterback, no position in the NFL is harder to learn than defensive back. And outside of quarterback and left tackle, no position leaves a player more vulnerable to exposure than defensive back.
If they didn’t know that already, those three Buccaneers rookie defensive backs learned that lesson on Sunday. They were Schooled by none other than Mitch Trubisky, who schooled the Bucs extremely talented linebacking corps as well. Which brings us to the bottom line.
The Bucs offense, no matter who’s at quarterback, is good enough to put points on the board against anyone in the league. One could argue, in fact, that it’s good enough for the Bucs to be considered playoff contenders. The same cannot be said of the defense.
That’s not a knock on the kids. The same could probably be said even if Conte and Hargreaves were in the lineup. After all, they were both there for a while in the opener and that was a track meet that the Bucs only won because their offense ran faster than the Saints did.
For the Bucs to max out on their potential this season they have to shore up their defense. It’s that simple. That’s what they’ll spend the bye week doing, but their options are limited. They’re already playing rookies and second- and third-teamers originally ticketed for backup roles.
That means that games such as the one they played Sunday are likely to become the norm. That doesn’t bode well for this team. After all, the offense has already proven it can score and score big. But can it score enough to consistently keep pace with opponents who are scoring at the same pace?
The answer seems to be no, but what to do? Already there are renewed calls for the head of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, but Smith is working in a league where it has become increasingly difficult for teams to play defense according to the rules.
To change coordinators and schemes now is unlikely to work the wonder many believe it would. That said, the Bucs cannot sit back and ignore their shortcomings, most of which appear to be present in that secondary where it seems the only solution is for those kids to grow up fast.
Gameday- Bucs return home to face Browns
Who: Bucs (3-3) vs. Browns (2-3-1)
When: Sunday 1 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Bucs by 3 1/2 points (Vegasinsider.com)
Here’s what we are watching:
Change at defensive coordinator
After an outcry for the entire season from fans on the radio and the internet, they got their wish Monday when the Bucs fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after another loss, where the team gave up more than 300 yards passing and more than 30 points in the game.
Will newly-promoted defensive coordinator Mark Duffner make a difference? Will he take more chances with blitzes than Smith seemed to these first few games? Will the Bucs play with more passion and fire than what they’ve shown, especially playing back at home?
All of these are valid questions.
It’s definitely the early story line of this game.
That plays into, will Mayfield succeed?
Along those same lines, Cleveland rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will have to carry the day for the Browns on the road. The rookie former number one overall pick struggled a week ago. as the Chargers blew them out in Cleveland.
Mayfield is a playmaker with a great arm on the run, and he will definitely test what has been a suspect Buccaneers pass defense. Tampa Bay comes into the game at the bottom in passing yards allowed and points allowed in the NFL.
How big a factor will Peyton Barber be?
Without a doubt, the Buccaneers have been dynamic in the passing game. This includes, going back to Jameis Winston as their starter last week against the Falcons, where he very nearly threw for 400 yards and had four touchdown passes
Still, you did need to run at some for some balance and the Bucs Run game look the best that it has all season a week ago. In specific, running back Peyton Barber ran tough between the tackles for 82 yards on 13 carries. It was the Bucs best output of the season on the ground.
The Browns have a solid defense led by another former number 1 overall pick, Myles Garrett at defensive end.
Can they stuff the Buccaneers Run game?
If they can, it will help Cleveland chances to not only stay the game but perhaps pulling upset
Is Bucs DT Gerald McCoy “captaincy snub” sign of friction?
It has already been a soap opera type season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and things got a little more weird on Friday, when the team decided five games into their season to reveal their captains. And it wasn’t so much who was selected, but rather one prominent players name not in the mix.
For going on almost a decade, Gerald McCoy has been the iconic member of Tampa Bay’s defense. This includes six consecutive Pro Bowls that the defensive tackle has earned, while playing on mostly bad football teams.
McCoy has been a standard for hard work and keeping a good attitude on the Bucs. Further, he’s had the respect of his teammates in the locker room to the extent that they’ve named him a captain year after year throughout his career.
That is until his 2018 version of the Buccaneers and the weird vote the coach Dirk Koetter just concluded.
Weird, because the Bucs did not pick their captains for the full season at the beginning of the year, but rather waited until after QB Jameis Winston was back from suspension, and popular veteran backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had gone back to the bench, to hold the vote.
While the team did not make an official announcement, offensive players Mike Evans and Ali Marpet, linebackers Kwon Alexander and LaVonte David, and special teams player/linebacker Adarius Taylor were the five choices by the Bucs personnel.
Again, it’s not surprising that Winston stays in the background, because of his off the field problem that led to the NFL suspension and keeping it low-key for the quarterback.
What is surprising is that McCoy would not be named by his peers, especially by the defense.
A couple of important points:
There are numerous brand new Buccaneers, including McCoy’s defensive line mates like Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea. Also included are several new Buccaneers in the secondary like rookies M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, and Jordan Whitehead.
So when you have that many new players voting, it’s entirely possible that they genuinely wanted someone different that they have all seen leading all offseason, training camp and the beginning of the regular season.
Now, another factor may very well be, that McCoy is about to be out for an extended period of time with his calf injury. He suffered the injury in the second half of the loss to the Falcons game and did not return. The Buccaneers gave no real update all week on the severity of the injury other than, McCoy not practicing all week and then being listed as out on Friday for the Browns game.
So, if hypothetically McCoy is going to miss, let’s say, a month of games, and you have this quirky/odd decision by Koetter to hold the captain’s vote after five games of the season, then it would make sense that his defensive teammates voted for Alexander and David to represent them.
And there’s one more possibility: and that’s that’s some of the guys in that locker room want a different voice or a different leader besides McCoy. It’s important to point out there’s no sign of actual friction and problems. However, it is eye opening, when a guy who has been a captain for more than five straight years on the same team and one of the best players on that team for all of that time, is suddenly not the guy.
Could you have imagined this kind of scenario over the last 20 years with Ray Lewis and Baltimore? Brian Urlacher in Chicago? What about with present day defenders that are synonymous with their teams like J.J. Watt of the Texans, previously Richard Sherman in Seattle, and Luke Kuechly of the Panthers?
So, maybe it is time for “new blood” in terms of leadership for the Bucs? Maybe there is something more to this captaincy stub for McCoy, maybe it has to do with the severity of an injury that nobody has really laid out for the public yet?
And one final maybe, is maybe McCoy told his teammates he didn’t want to be a captain?
That one is unlikely. However, until we hear from McCoy or his coach and/or how long he’s out with the calf injury, then we’re all left to speculate.
The only thing we do know is the Bucs are back home to Raymond James Stadium to play Sunday afternoon against the Browns with different leaders out in the forefront.
And naturally, if you start winninig again, no one will care who the captains are or aren’t, including McCoy.
Three things that can be immediately better for Bucs defense Sunday
The Bucs are suddenly struggling, having lost three straight games and have taken the drastic measure of firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith earlier in the week.
So now, those that have been erupting on sports radio and all over the internet screaming about how a change in defensive play-calling had to happen have gotten their wish.
Now, comes the reality of what has to be better for the Buccaneers starting Sunday, with linebackers coach Mark Duffner now at the controls of the D. And will it help their match-up at home with the Browns and moving forward for the rest of the year?
We have come up with three things that are rather obvious, seem to be essential to the Buccaneers defenders on the field executing what’s being called and playing better-more effective from week to week.
Simplify things for the young secondary
Too many times over the first five games, the Buccaneers rookies like DB M.J. Stewart and safety Jordan Whitehead and other relatively inexperienced players in the secondary have looked lost trying to cover the likes of: the Saints Michael Thomas, the Steelers Antonio Brown, the first half disaster in Chicago with a gave up five touchdown passes and last week Falcons Julio Jones catching 11 more passes.
And in most cases, those big-name receivers were running wide open through the Bucs secondary. Too many times, the defensive backs were not on the same page about who should be covering whom, and that is something that has to be simplified and iron out.
Duffner’s main task this week has to have been make sure that the players are sure of where to be and when in their coverages.
That leads to… a better pass rush knocking down and sacking the quarterback
With the exception of Jason Pierre-Paul, who we wrote about again yesterday, there hasn’t been much impact from the Buccaneers bringing in free agents and drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft.
A year ago, Tampa Bay was dead last in sacks, the Bucs currently have only 9 Sacks through the first five games and that is 29th in the NFL.
Now, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has missed two practices with a calf injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Still, guys like rookie Vita Vea, DE Vinny Curry and even former second round pick Noah Spence (who’s had trouble being active) have to step up and rush the QB.
And finally, will we see more blitzing?
After “laying back” for the entire first half of the Bears blowout and not blitzing, the Bucs were much more aggressive last week in Atlanta. Time and again, they brought linebackers, sometimes two of them, and they brought pressure with safeties and even cornerback blitzes, too.
Now Atlanta still had success, as Matt Ryan threw for 354 yards and three scores.
Still, an aggressive mentality that Duffner will likely continue with his defensive play calls was there: don’t just sit back with multiple rookies in the secondary and hope to “play coverage” and succeed.
It will take players like LB’s LaVonte David (above) and Kwon Alexander and hard hitting safety Justin Evans rushing Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield and getting to him with knockdowns and sacks. David has at times over the last three seasons under Smith’s scheme been almost an afterthought.
He’s one of the best inside linebackers in football. Let’s see if he starts getting the “green light” to make more plays by blitzing.
If he and the Buccaneers do have success in that area, there is no doubt the Bucs will see immediate results.
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