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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Mike Smith spent Wednesday reassuring defense will be better

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a humiliating loss two weekends ago to the Bears in a game where second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw six touchdown passes on his defense, it’s clear Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith had some explaining to do Wednesday.

And although there’s a segment of the animated Buc fans who’ve been calling sportsradio and posting on the internet and social media, who won’t accept anything short of Smith being fired, the veteran coach is still in place as Tampa Bay gets set to take on his old team Sunday in Atlanta.

Smith met with the media Wednesday in his normal midweek press conference appearance, in part to try to explain the Bucs struggles, but more importantly reassure everyone that his defense will be better starting this week:

One thing that fans have honed in on, is the defensive passiveness was the Bucs played with against the Bears two weekends ago. In specific, Tampa Bay did not blitz Trubisky one time in the first half while falling behind 38-3. Part of this is because, the Buccaneers were playing three rookies in the secondary at times during the first half of the game.

Smith told the media that against the Bears, Chicago chose to go into “max protection” with extra tight ends and backs in the backfield being left behind to block. And that they decided to play coverage against the receivers and that’s when the trouble started:

“We just needed to do a better job in terms of both man and zone coverages to handle route progressions that they were doing. And that’s only one person that’s going to be held responsible (meaning himself)….. responsibility is us to have them prepared, as coaches. We did not do that.”

Previously during his Monday after the Bears game media session, head coach Dirk Koetter, who hired Smith as his defensive coordinator when being elevated to Bucks head coach in 2016, defended Smith saying it’s not just one person that goes into the game planning and the calling of the defense.. He further said everyone bore responsibility, when things break down.

While that is “coach speak” and loyalty, in this case Koetter is also defending Smith who used to be his boss as the head coach in Atlanta.

The bottom line is: Mike Smith is responsible for what the defensive play calls are in series after series and game after game. That’s the job. And if adjustments are not being made where he’s defense has not being aggressive in those calls and is being beaten, then fans have every reason to point right at him.

Another reality that fans know is coordinators get fired all the time, even during a season, for not doing their job well enough, and while poor play is going on. The Oakland Raiders did this a year ago, off of a playoff season of 2016, when head coach Jack Del Rio fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. as Oakland defense unraveled. And Del Rio took over the play calling himself.

Also, look at big time college football, and last weekend Oklahoma being torched defensively by arch-rival Texas in a 45-42 loss. Second year head coach Lincoln Riley chose to fire defensive coordinator Mike Stoops last Sunday night after the game a large part because of how awful the defense was in that game.

And now comes the challenge of the Buccaneers defense facing Smith and Koetter’s old team and offensive weapons- the Falcons with quarterback Matt Ryan and it receiving corps led by All-Pro Julio Jones.

And although they probably don’t want this reminder, Smith and a lot of these same defensive players remember the Jones torched them for 12 catches, 253 yards and 2 touchdowns in Atlanta’s 34 – 20 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year.

So, while Smith did his best to reassure everyone that his defense will be better against “the Dirty Birds,” actions will speak louder than words. And Sunday afternoon, his defense has got to be better or the volume gets turned way up on those who are saying someone else besides Smith should be calling and overseeing the defense before the Bucs season is down the drain.

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Zach Lauer
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Gameday- Bucs return home to face Browns

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Is Bucs DT Gerald McCoy “captaincy snub” sign of friction?

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Three things that can be immediately better for Bucs defense Sunday

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Here goes:

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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