It’s been a surprisingly good start for the Buccaneers with a 2 – 1 record and a lot of optimism. And Tampa Bay does have high hopes for their number one pick in this past April draft, Washington defensive tackle and Vita Vea.
However, a month into the regular season, there is a legitimate to be made that Tampa Bay, who had a need at safety, misfired when they didn’t take Florida State’s Derwin James in April.
James, was regarded along with Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, as one of the two top impact defensive backs in the entire draft. And, a lot of analysts and Buccaneer fans wanted to see him in pewter and red, because of a Buccaneers need and of course, the regional tie into him having played in Tallahassee.
The Dolphins drafted Fitzpatrick with the 11th pick in the first round. And then, James was available when Tampa Bay selected #12 overall. They passed on the opportunity.
And just four games into his NFL career, James is already turning heads with the team that did draft him at number 18, the L.A. Chargers.
Take a look at this play last Sunday against Jared Goff and the Rams at the Coliseum:
Derwin James just keeps making plays!
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 23, 2018
Also, the guys who grade every player on every play in the NFL, Pro Football Focus, have been very fond of the job that James has done so far this season. According to their ranking formula, James has already been the top performing defensive rookie regardless of position so far this season.
Derwin James has been the highest graded defensive rookie in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/K3H5SwsJ4m
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 28, 2018
With the understanding that it is a small sample size, you also have to take a look at the fact that the Bucs had two veterans in Keith Tandy and Chris Conte that they were counting on to help them in 2018.
For whatever reason, the team, coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith didn’t feel that the popular veteran Tandy could still help them. So, they released him on the final cuts of preseason, and he was gobbled up by the Atlanta Falcons.
As for the veteran Conte, he’s been a source of controversy among Buccaneer fans who feel he’s not aggressive enough or good enough to be regularly playing for them. Conte injured his knee in the Bucs win over Philadelphia and then try to play during the Monday night game with the Steelers.
He was famously face planted in the open field by tight end Vance McDonald on a long touchdown catch. Now, it turns out Conte was trying to play with a torn PCL ligament in his knee and has been placed on injured reserve.
That means both of the veteran safeties the Tampa Bay was counting on can no longer help them. GM Jason Licht and his staff did draft Jordan Whitehead of Pitt later on on day three of the draft and Whitehead has been playing early in the season that will now be counted on moving forward.
As for Vea, he may be able to play in Sunday’s game in Chicago and the Buccaneers have high hopes that next to Gerald McCoy, he will have immediate impact throughout his rookie year.
Still, you can’t blame Bucs fans, particularly the Florida State ones, if they’re watching James perform on the West coast for the Chargers and saying “we could have had him helping us already.”
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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