TAMPA – The Buccaneers already struggling pass defense could be in for an even greater struggle when the Bucs take on the Panthers in the team’s NFC South opener at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
Cornerbacks Brent Grimes (shoulder) and Robert McClain (concussion) both missed practice for a second-straight day on Thursday, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of playing on Sunday.
It’s still possible, of course, that both players could heal up in time to play, but it’s beginning to look as if the Bucs will be without what has easily been their two best corners this season.
That would likely force the Bucs to go with an alignment that has Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith working on the outside while Javien Elliott moves back into the slot.
Elliott performed well in the slot late last season, recording 10 tackles and a pass breakup in four starts down the stretch, but he lost his hold on that job to McClain during the preseason.
Hargreaves, of course, has had all kinds of trouble playing up to expectations on the outside, but he looked good in the slot a week ago, knocking down two passes while not allowing a completion.
The potential loss of Grimes, of course, would be the biggest blow. He leads the Bucs with five pass breakups and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with one.
Grimes has been so good that, just as they did a year ago, opposing quarterbacks have mostly targeted the side of the field he’s not been on, which is one reason Hargreaves has struggle so much.
Prior to moving to the slot position that was filled by McClain the first five games, Hargreaves had not forced an incompletion in two straight games and had come under criticism for playing too soft in coverage.
It’s not known for sure if Grimes shoulder injury is related to the one that kept him out of a game earlier this year but that proved to be one tough game for the Bucs secondary.
With Hargreaves and Smith manning the outside corner spots, the Bucs dropped a 34-17 decision to the Vikings in which backup quarterback Case Keenum completed 25 of 33 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bucs came out of their 30-27 loss to the Bills last week ranked 30th overall in pass defense, where they’re allowing 294.8 yards per game and an opposing passer rating of 102.9.
Steelers hung on as Fitzpatrick rally came up short
That old “FitzMagic” still has the NFL in it spell.
That old FitzMagic that Ryan Fitzpatrick weaves so well.
He was at it again on Monday. Just when it seemed as if that old FitzMagic had run its course, Fitzpatrick nearly pulled a victory out of the jaws of defeat, rallying the Bucs to within a field goal of their third triumph in as many weeks.
It didn’t happen. The Bucs wound up losing Monday, 30-27, in part because Fitzpatrick struggled through most of the first half, throwing three picks during that span, including one that was returned for a touchdown. But, look at the overall body of work.
For the third time in as many weeks, Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards (411 to be exact). And that’s an all time NFL record for three consecutive games.
He fell just short of throwing four touchdown passes for a third straight week, but the three he did throw for were one of the big reasons the Bucs remained alive on this game until the very end.
Once again, and even on a night when he wasn’t at his best, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bucs best player. And therein lies the problem with the Bucs. Right now, Tampa Bay is a one-dimensional football team and that dimension is Fitzpatrick.
Sure, he’s getting plenty of help from his receiving corps, which is easily the best in the league. But he’s getting little or no help from anyone else on this team.
The Bucs ran for 63 yards on Monday. Their defense took the ball away just once. While surrendering 416 total yards. Their kicker didn’t miss a field goal or a PAT but that was a first for this year.
That the Bucs will go into Chicago next week tied with two other teams for first place in the NFC South thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they hope to stay there, they’re going to need contributions from other sources. And fast.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has carried this team this far. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t carry them a but farther. But for the Bucs to go as far as they believe they’re capable of, they’re going to need someone or something else to shoulder some of the load.
Gamenight- Bucs look to continue rolling in battle with Steelers
Who: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Steelers (0-1-1)
When: Monday Night 8:15 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Steelers by 1 (Courtesy VegasInsider.com)
It’s a massive early season game for both the Bucs and the Steelers for different reasons. Tampa Bay is trying to be 3-0 for the first time since 2005, while Pittsburgh doesn’t want to drop to 0-2-1 already on the young season.
Here’s what to watch:
Will “Fitzmagic” continue?
Through two weeks, there’s no better story involving a journeyman player than the Buccaneers QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in back to back weeks, which is the first time in Tampa Bay franchise history that anyone has done that. Fitzpatrick has also become the first QB in league history to have 400 or more passing yards and four or more passing TDs in the first two games of the season.
Will it continue tonight against a Steelers defense that was butchered at home a week ago by the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes? Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in a K.C. rout in the Steel City.
Clearly, the Bucs weapons, WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson plus tight end O.J. Howard are on fire, too. So, the stage is set for the 14 year vet to play another good, if not great game, now will he?
Steelers in disarray
There is no doubt that Pittsburgh has talent, but they currently are a mess. As we documented already, All Pro RB Le’Veon Bell is a holdout, refusing to sign his “Franchise Player” tender offer for the second straight year. You couple that with back to back poor performances on the field in a tie at Cleveland and then, the bad loss last week, and the Steelers are reeling.
And it didn’t help to see coach Mike Tomlin call the entire defense around him on the sideline in the first half last week to scream at them about they way they were playing. Then, you had star WR Antonio Brown visibly upset during discussions on the sideline with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Sunday, too.
Can the Steelers rally around Roethlisberger? Or will they continue to flounder?
Finally, will Bucs defense rise in Monday Night Spotlight
So much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s success, but the Buccaneers defense also has come up large, when needed. This would include last week in the home opening win over the Eagles. LB Kwon Alexander had a sack fumble, and the Buccaneers defensive line not only stuffed the run but pressured, harassed and knocked down/sacked Nick Foles repeatedly.
Players like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy (above), Jason Pierre-Paul, LaVonte David, and Brent Grimes (who’s expected to play despite groin injury) are chomping at the bit to win a game like this with the country watching.
The Bucs haven’t been dominant, but rather opportunistic with stops and turnovers (three so far in two games), and that must continue tonight, if Tampa Bay wants to remain unbeaten.
Le’Veon Bell to Bucs trade rumor is juicy- but not reality
It’s certainly a messy situation in Pittsburgh with running back Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers feuding over him not receiving a long-term contract. However, despite the juicy rumor dropped Sunday that the Buccaneers could be a trade partner for Bell’s services, there are multiple reasons why it doesn’t make sense/won’t happen:
Steelers now listening to trade offers for RB Le’Veon Bell, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 23, 2018
Look. This obviously fits in perfectly to the Monday Night Football narrative that the Steelers are playing against the Buccaneers in Tampa, in a game on Schefter’s network.
Yet, there are numerous reasons why trading for Bell doesn’t make any sense for the Bucs.
The first and most obvious, is the Bucs have already won two games and have a great shot to be 3-0 against Bell’s team tonight. So the argument can be made: “you don’t mess with success you currently have.”
That would include having an explosive second round draft pick running back, Ronald Jones, who hasn’t been active for the first two games. But whom, they still believe as an organization will be a tremendous running back in the future.
In other words, if GM Jason Licht and the Bucs front office were to pull the trigger on this kind of a trade, now, they would almost be admitting that Jones was a bust draft pick before he’s ever set foot on the field for regular-season game. That’s hard to fathom.
Here’s another important reason why the Bucs won’t be making a trade for Le’Veon Bell: because this is the second consecutive year that Bell is under the franchise tender from the Steelers. And that means by CBA rules, he cannot receive a long-term contract during this season from anyone other than the Steelers.
It also means the Buccaneers and any other trading for Bell (shown in January’s playoff loss to the Jags above) would not have any assurance that he would sign a long-term contract with them, and would still be slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March of 2019.
The reason to make this move is: the future and multiple years of having Bell on your team. So, that is almost a non-starter for a trade right now.
Further, Bell and his side understand that at the moment, the Steelers are completely vulnerable, especially if they lose Monday night.
Their locker room is basically fractured over Bell not getting paid with a massive long-term deal like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have. So, if Bell truly wants to remain in Pittsburgh he may be about him to be in a great position to get a longer-term deal for big money.
That brings us to the next point though: the Steelers may have made up their mind that they’re never going to give Bell a long-term contract. However, again he has all the leverage with that, too.
This is because, if Bell shows up by week 10 for work, and plays out the rest of the 2018 season, he is eligible for unrestricted free agency. And, most importantly again by CBA rules, the Steelers cannot put the franchise tag on him for a third consecutive season.
At that point, Bell very simply will have won the standoff with Pittsburgh management.
So it goes with trade rumors, intriguing as they may be, the more you dig deep, the less likely they are based in reality.
It’s a much more likely reality that the Steelers continue to play hardball, possibly losing a bunch while doing it. Then, Bell will appear in early November to collect his year of service and at that point have all the leverage in the world, as a 27 year old free agent about to be on the open market.
Oh, and the Steelers will have gotten nothing in return, if it comes to that point.
However, you view it, it’s a mess.
But, not one that ends with Le’Veon Bell being traded to the Buccaneers.
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