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The Buccaneers have a special teams problem

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been horrifyingly bad on special teams.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

When Lovie Smith became the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, he emphasized many things -- one of them being special teams play. Five games into his tenure, special teams have been a disaster. They've been so bad that they've cost the Bucs at least one game -- and could have won them two more.

The most obvious example is the St. Louis Rams game, when the Bucs allowed a blocked field goal and a blocked punt, on simple, missed assignments. Those are things that can't happen in the NFL, and without those two plays the Bucs surely would have won a close contest against a worse opponent.

The proof is also in the return game. Or rather, the lack of it. Solomon Patton has been taking kickoffs out of the endzone seemingly at random, routinely giving the Bucs rather poor field position. The only kick return that got the Bucs beyond their 25-yard line was one by Chris Owusu, who is no longer on the roster. The team is at least doing better on punt returns, with a reasonable average of 11.7 yards per return.

Meanwhile, Michael Koenen is ranked 20th in gross punting average, and 29th in net punting average. He is still booming kickoffs through the endzone, but his punting has been as mediocre as always. Perhaps he's been asked to cover for a weak coverage unit -- but that doesn't exactly absolve the special teams unit as a whole.

For that matter, the Bucs haven't been any good at limiting opposing returners, either. Koenen's kickoff leg gets them an automatic positive grade there, but they were the single worst team at stopping opposing punt returners prior to last game, per Football Outsiders' measures.

It's yet another area of embarrassment for this team, and something they have to improve on really quickly.