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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs may be at a loss as to how to fix Vernon Hargreaves

Roy Cummings

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Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

TAMPA – Despite what some fans have suggested they do, the Buccaneers are not going to cut struggling second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

They probably aren’t going to bench him either. After all, it’s not like replacing him with Ryan Smith is going to make matters better.

No, the Bucs are pretty much stuck with what they’ve got with Hargreaves. The problem is, they’re not quite sure what is they’ve got right now.

It’s obvious to everyone watching that Hargreaves is struggling but why he’s struggling appears to be a bit of a mystery.

Asked on Monday if he thought Hargreaves was lacking confidence, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he didn’t think so, but added that he wasn’t “100-percent sure on that.’’

Asked later if he thought Hargreaves was struggling to understand defensive concepts, Koetter again said, “I don’t think so.’’

He then said that Hargreaves issues are definitely not the result of a lack of ability. On that point, Koetter seemed certain.

Something is clearly wrong, though, because Hargreaves continues to play at a level far below what was expected of him and the situation only seems to be getting worse.

We pointed out last week that just as he was last year, Hargreaves has once again become the most picked on and exploited cornerback in the league.

That trend continued Sunday at Arizona where, for the second straight week, Hargreaves allowed every pass thrown his way to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus.

Hargreaves has now broken up just one of the 37 passes thrown his way this year, all while allowing opposing quarterbacks to produce a passer rating of 128.7 against him.

And if you think that’s bad, the problem now appears to have extended to his play in the run game. It did against the Cardinals anyway.

Hargreaves missed three tackles in that game, according to PFF, and at times simply did not seem interested in trying to stop Adrian Peterson.

Again, that’s not the Hargreaves the Bucs signed up for. Though he’s a bit small, Hargreaves has never lacked passion, aggression or confidence.

He’s always been one of those players who plays bigger than he really is but the Bucs haven’t seen that player since training camp and Koetter admits he’s “extremely’’ concerned as to why.

“We asked Vern to be more aggressive this year and to be more aggressive with his coverage and he started out doing that,’’ Koetter said.

 “He started out doing that in OTAs and training camp, but he has not played his best football here these last three games.

 “He’s not in a very good streak of games right now … but you have to remember, if we could just snap our fingers and fix stuff it would already be done.’’

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gameday- Bucs searching for win in New York

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Bucs (3-6) at Giants (2-7)

When: Sunday 1 p.m.

Where: Metlife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

Spread: Giants by 2 1/2 points (Courtesy of VegasInsider.com)

Here’s what to watch:

Bucs Must be better in Red Zone

There is no disputing of the Buccaneers move the football between the 20 yard lines last week to the tune of 500 yards of total offense. There’s also no disputing that the Bucs were 0 – 5 in the red zone on scoring points and lost 16 – 3.

Tampa Bay ran 12 plays last week in the red zone and had -8 yards to show for them. That has to be better against a Giant defense that has been vulnerable. Some of that is the fault of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (above), who has five turnovers in the last two Bucs games, and two of those were inside the opponent’s 20 last week.

Further, in their last three games the Bucs are 27th in red zone touchdown percentage converting on just 41.6% of them.

It’s Not the Only key for the Buccaneers offense, but if they get inside the 20 yard line, it’s a big one.

Pressure Eli Manning

One area where the Buccaneers have to have an impact if they want to win is putting pressure on Eli Manning. He has been knocked around like a pinata this season, as the Giants have given up 3.6 sacks per game so far this year. That’s 31st in the league.

Their protection was better in the Monday night 27-23 win over the 49ers, where Manning was only sacked once.

Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has registered eight sacks so far this season in nine games and is anxious to have a chance to hit Eli Manning for the first time in his career.

If Manning consistently gets time to throw, the Buccaneers are going to be in big trouble.

Create turnovers

The Buccaneers have been horrible in this category with just 6 takeaways so far in 9 games. That is 31st in the NFL trailing only San Francisco with five. Also the Buccaneers turnover differential is the worst in the NFL at – 19.

Now, the Giants aren’t much better. In fact they have only 9 takeaways on the season, but their turnover margin is just – 1.

It’s safe to say then if either team can take it away two or maybe three times in this game, it will likely decide who wins.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Final injury updates for Bucs and Jaguars Sunday games

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the Buccaneers get set to head to New York to play the Giants and the Jaguars are preparing to host the Steelers Sunday, it’s time to take a look at the injuries in those two games. (Reminder the Dolphins have their bye week for this weekend.)

Here’s a look at the latest:

For the Bucs, there Friday injury report has defensive names littered all over it and the news is not good for some of them.

After we were told by a source that Lavonte David was going to try to play Sunday, he apparently was overruled by the training staff and head coach Dirk Koetter, etc, and the Pro Bowl linebacker will be inactive with his sprained knee. Likewise, Vinny Curry will miss another game at defensive end, his fourth in the last five with a sprained ankle.

It’s the same situation with second year safety Justin Evans, who will miss the game with an injured toe suffered in the game with Washington last week. Defensive end Carl Nassib, who’s been a pleasant find off the waiver wire at the beginning of the season,  is questionable with a left elbow injury suffered agains the Redskins, although he was able to practice on Friday.

The Bucs also list their receiver Chris Godwin as questionable with an ankle injury, and another important injury is starting center Ryan Jensen, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If Jensen is unable to play Sunday, then Ali Marpet, starting at left guard this year, but who played center a lot of 2017, would likely take his place.

The Buccaneers opponents, the Giants, had four players on their injury list this week, but all of them are now slated to play in the game on Sunday.

For the Jaguars match-up, they have two significant injuries to update, starting linebacker Telvin Smith was able to practice this week with his shoulder injury and is listed as questionable, but expected to play against Pittsburgh. There is concern for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with a triceps injury and he is also listed as questionable. Dareus will likely be a game time decision.

Defensive back A.J. Bouye has been bothered by a calf injury, but he is also expected to play after being able to practice Thursday and Friday and listed as questionable. Coach Doug Marrone also announced that tackle Erik Flowers, who left last week’s game with tendonitis in his knee will start on the makeshift Jaguars line.

As we wrote earlier in the week, Jacksonville placed Center Brandon Linder on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered in last week’s lost Indianapolis.

The Steelers have no significant injuries, despite Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner both being on the injured list,. They will both be playing on Sunday. Connor was a much bigger concern having been in concussion protocol earlier after suffering one in the win last Thursday night over Carolina.

However, he cleared the protocol and was able to fully practice this week.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul ready to go get Eli Manning Sunday

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one of those juicy subplots that we see all the time now in professional sports. A player gets to go against his old team and show them that maybe they made a mistake and letting him go. In this case on Sunday, Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will battle against his old team, the New York Giants. And that means, against a lot of former teammates.

One in specific, quarterback Eli Manning, maybe less than thrilled.

JPP has been one of the most dominant edge rushers in the NFL over the last decade, nevertheless, the Giants elected to trade into the Buccaneers back in March.

So when the organization that you won the Superbowl with in 2011 has decided to move on without you, there’s naturally going to be some questions from the media about you playing against them for the first time. And, you going against their borderline Hall of Fame signal-caller, Manning.

Such was the case Wednesday in the Buccaneers locker room prior to practice:

Pierre-Paul has already energized the Bucs pass rush and has eight sacks in the first nine games. This includes a streak of five consecutive games with a sack earlier this season. That is the first time since Simeon rice in 2002 that a Buccaneer had five straight games with a sack in a single season.

And coming into Sunday at The Meadowlands he has 66 1/2 of them in his career and would love nothing better than to take down the leader of the G-Men.

And while the Giants did look better on offense in their Monday night comeback win over the 49ers, it has clearly been a struggle for them to pass protect, specifically, throughout the early part of this season.

Pierre-Paul has to have been salivating watching their offensive line whiff and get run over in game after game.

Further, Buccaneer defenders like pro bowlers Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, plus players like Will gholston Brent Grimes and young safety Justin Evans went against Manning in a Tampa Bay’s win last September against the Giants.

A game that the Buccaneers squeaked out 25-23. A game where is Eli Manning threw it 49 times and wasn’t sacked once by the Buccaneers front seven. That’s a pass rush that was last in the NFL in sacks a year ago.

However, that was 2017. And, circling back to Pierre-Paul, he hopes to change that starting Sunday.

And, while it will be weird for him to dress in the visiting dressing room at MetLife Stadium and stand on the visiting near sidelines, he’s ready to put all of that aside, try to help the Bucs climb off the canvas and get a win in the Big Apple.

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