The Buccaneers, like 19 fellow franchises, will watch the playoff starting this weekend. However, it wasn’t supposed to be this way in 2017 for them. No, not with HBO’s “Hard Knocks” giving football fans everywhere “24/7” training camp access all August long and headed into a what was supposed to be a next level season to the playoffs and more.
Well, that didn’t happen.
Even though the Bucs won their finale’ Sunday night with the Saints, that snapped a five game losing streak and they still finished a floundering 5-11.
Now, unlike the last two head coaches, Lovie Smith and Greg Schiano, who were fired after failing to take the next steps in their second year, the Glazer family brought back head coach Dirk Koetter for a third season.
But unlike his predecessors, Koetter’s work with QB Jameis Winston for three seasons (the first as offensive coordinator in 2015) has shown promise and improvement. Also, in his first season as head coach last year, the team won five straight games in the second half of the year to get to 8-5 and in playoff contention. So, you understand the “mulligan” for Koetter on the 5-11 season this year.
However, the Buccaneers defense, which excelled in the second half of 2016 and contributed to the five game win streak also, clearly regressed this season.
Mike Smith, the second year defensive coordinator (photo above) and former Falcons head coach, was “dealt a bad hand” with virtually no pass rushing defensive ends to help in 2017. Still, the Bucs suffered everywhere, including tackling, on third down, etc. They ended up being dead last in the NFL in yards allowed, worst in opponent’s 3rd down conversions (48.5%), worst in sacks (only 22) and 24th in points allowed (23.9).
As our Roy Cummings wrote Monday, at his end of the year news conference, Koetter said publicly he intends to keep his coordinators, including Smith. However, Clearly, there has to be some kind of change on defense, and maybe, eventually, Smith will be gone.
Then, there’s GM Jason Licht. Again, the Bucs were improved in 2016 and players like Winston, WR Mike Evans, OL Ali Marpet, and a few others he’s selected in the draft have helped/contributed.
However, names like TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (released at the beginning of last season), K Roberto Aguayo (released after one preseason game this year), LT Donovan Smith who’s struggled the last two years and DB Vernon Hargreaves, who was picked in the first round in 2016 but has struggled and was demoted to slot corner this year, are all premium picks of his that have failed to live up to it, thus far. Or, in two of their cases were gone almost immediately.
Licht has also missed repeatedly on draft picks in rounds 5-7 over the last four years he’s been in Tampa Bay, most of whom either haven’t made the team or had no impact.
And, Licht is the guy who did not draft or sign a single free agent pass rusher this year, which contributed to those woeful defensive stats above.
The Glazers did pick up Licht’s 2018 contract option this past off season, but that doesn’t preclude them from making a change.
Which brings us back to the current situation. A situation where the Buccaneers have not been in the playoffs in 10 years, have had six 10-loss seasons in the last nine, and have all but stamped out the optimism for fans with this year’s failure to get anything going.
It doesn’t seem to us that you can stand pat with Koetter as head coach, Smith as defensive coordinator and Licht, as GM and say to your fans (who you want to buy tickets) “nothing needs to change.”
Something has to change. And it’s not going to be the head coach.
Let’s see what it will be, ….or not.
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