Sunday was yet another defensive disaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially in the first half and when it was all said and done, it resulted in a fifth loss in eight games.
And as coach Dirk Koetter and his new interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner begin to assess things on Monday, it’s obvious what has to stop:
The Bucs have to figure out how to keep the opposing team from running off at least 21 straight points early on their defense.
By the time RB Christian McCaffrey was done catching and running early, WR Curtis Samuel was weaving through almost the entire defense on a double-reverse touchdown, and Cam Newton lasered a touchdown to his favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers had scored 28 points in a row before the break.
On their way to a franchise-record 35 first-half points, Carolina looked unstoppable. However, to Bucs fans, it looked a lot like the previous month and a half of defensive football.
Now, a lot of blame has been laid at the feet of former, now fired, defensive coordinator Mike Smith. But, the scheme and the personnel being used to play it these last two weeks against the Panthers and in Cincinnati, was up to Duffner. And frankly, the defense was no better than Smith’s in either game.
Recall that two weekends ago, Andy Dalton fired repeated opening half bullets for the Bengals at the Bucs secondary and Joe Mixon ran for over a hundred yards, as Cincinnati led 21-0 midway through the second quarter and then, 27 – 9 at the half.
Granted it was still Smith at the defensive play-calling controls three weeks ago in Atlanta. That’s when, after an early Jameis Winston touchdown pass had given Tampa Bay 6 – 0 lead, the defense promptly surrendered 21 immediate points to Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack.
The Bucs were able to battle back in the second half, but that’s not really the point.
Too big a hole in the first half has been “too big of a theme,” recently.
More awful reminders for the fans includes, when the Bears humiliated the Bucs with another franchise-record 38 points first half points, and 48-10 rout September 30th at Soldier Field.
That day, the Buccaneers made second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky look like a Hall of Famer, as he threw five touchdowns in the first half and the Bears took an insurmountable 35-point lead to the locker room.
So, if you weren’t keeping track of all of that above, in four of Tampa Bay’s last five games (all of them losses) they have given up at least 21 points in a row at some point in the opening stanza of all of them.
You can lament poor and or inexperienced personnel all you want, but you equally have to blame Dufner / Smith and the other defensive assistants for not being able to make adjustments, as the first half is going on.
Luckily, the Bucs have an explosive enough offense, especially behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, that they got back in the games with the Falcons (with Jameis Winston), the Bengals and Sunday in Carolina.”Fitzmagic” registered four TD passes Sunday to pull Tampa Bay withing 35-28 in the fourth quarter.
However, all three outcomes still ended up as losses, where the story was all too familiar:
Too big a defensive meltdown, digging too big of a deficit for the rest of the day.
And, if Koetter and staff don’t figure it out and put a stop to it starting this week with Washington, the Buccaneers won’t be playing relevant games down the stretch of the season.
Is the FitzMagic Show Over?
I think I know now why Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB for Sunday’s game against the Giants. It seems the plan all along was to stick with Fitz until he exceeded Jameis Winston’s pick total.
That would make a move back to Winston seem warranted and to the surprise of few, Fitzpatrick obliged on Sunday by throwing three picks, including a pick-six, during a 38-35 loss at Giants Stadium.
That brought Fitzpatrick’s season pick total to 12, two more than Winston, and so FitzMagic is gone. His magic touch has been gone for a while, but now he and his magic touch are gone for good. Unless they’re not.
You never know with these Bucs, so let’s break this one down.
Let’s start with Winston, whose redemption tour began in fine fashion. After replacing Fitzpatrick early in the third quarter he engineered four straight scoring drives to give the Bucs hope in a game in which all hope seemed lost.
It wasn’t always pretty. Winston got lucky when Mike Evans fell on his fumble in the end zone at the end of his first drive and got lucky a couple more times when the butterfingered Giants couldn’t hold on to a couple of tipped passes.
But Winston was more good than bad and was at times spectacular in completing 12 of 15 passes for 199 yards and two touchdown tosses before a last-ditch throw wound up in the Giants hands with 13 seconds left.
Not only that, but the return of Winston to the lineup Sunday seemed to bring a sense of normalcy to this team, a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be, how it was supposed to be all along.
Like Winston a few weeks ago, Fitzpatrick more than earned his place on the bench. His three picks Sunday gave him seven in the three games he started ahead of Winston and they came at critical junctures.
The first came on a throw from his own 30-yard line, which means it wiped out a scoring chance. The second was a pick-six and the third was simply thrown up for grabs at a point when the Bucs still had time to rally.
Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bucs caught a break when the Giants didn’t challenge a would-be Fitzpatrick fumble on second-and-11 from the Giants 15 early in the game.
At the end of the day, Fitzpatrick’s giveaways led to 10 points for the Giants, and the Bucs wound up losing by three. It’s easy to say then that without those picks, the Bucs could have easily won.
The defense never had a chance in this one. Before the game even started, the Bucs were without linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, safeties Justin Evans and Chris Conte, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive lineman Vinny Curry.
That’s more than half this team’s projected starters on that side of the ball, and nowhere are the Bucs thinner than on defense, where they just don’t have enough quality depth, particularly in the secondary.
Throw on top of that the fact that the Bucs spent the bulk of the first half blowing their gap assignments in the running game and it’s no wonder they spent the day playing catchup.
They mostly struggled to stop Barkley, who ran 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, but they were equally ineffective against quarterback Eli Manning, who matched a career-best start by completing each of his first 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
For one week at least, the kicker wasn’t an issue. Cairo Santos, who was brought in this week to replace Chandler Catanazaro, who was finally fired after missing two more field goal tries last week, five for five on PATs. He did not attempt a field goal.
Gameday- Bucs searching for win in New York
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.
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.
Final injury updates for Bucs and Jaguars Sunday games
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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