At this point of the football season, we're not learning anything new.
Let's just chat about where we are and where we're headed with our beloved bumbling band of Buccaneers.
1. The Buccaneers will be in position to get themselves a new starting quarterback in the NFL Draft. No matter what happens next week, Tampa Bay has guaranteed themselves at least the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft (as Sander earlier reported). Of course, if they lose to the Saints, the first overall pick is theres and they'll have their choice between Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.
Now, I've gone on record as saying I prefer Mariota over Winston. There's been plenty who have said "Well, you can't draft Mariota without having a Mariota offense."
Okay, fine. Sign me up. Why wouldn't the Bucs want to go to spread? In fact, in the super-secretive Jeff Tedford offense, there was supposed to be many elements from the Chip Kelly attack. Remember "speed in space"? Frankly, I think Mariota can excel in the spread, I think he also has the accuracy to work with the Green Bay Packers' flavor of the west coast offense. That's the think about a player of Mariota's caliber - there's a number of systems that would work for him. As long as the Bucs don't hire Mike Shula or Clyde Christensen, they should be fine.
For the record, I think on the field Winston would be fine in any offense as well. I'm really concerned about his footwork, its sloppy, Josh Freeman-like. He became turnover prone this season, especially against the upper eschlon defenses. Then of course, if he's this reckless and boneheaded off the field in college, how will he be once you give him a million dollars? His battles with Jimbo Fisher make me wonder if he's coachable. Yet he certainly has that fire to be a fierce leader. There have been games this season Florida State had no business winning that Jameis essentially willed them to victory. I honestly can't wait until the Rose Bowl where we can see both on the field in the same game.
2. Speaking of Tedford, this week he confirmed what we all thought. He left the Bucs high and dry. In a press conference in Vancouver while being announced as the head coach of the CFL BC Lions, he said he's been good to go for about two months now. Good to go, huh? That was right around the time that Marcus Arroyo and the Bucs offense were heading into the bye week dead last in the NFL in ranking. It would have been the perfect time for Tedford to ride in on his white horse and save the offense. Not to mention, the Bucs had some winnable games on their schedule that perhaps having the guy that was supposed to call the darn offense could have helped them win. Let's face it, get a win against Minnesota and Cleveland, beat the Falcons at home and instead of looking at one of the top two picks in the draft, the Bucs are battling for the division title in the sad sack NFC South.
We know there's plenty of the tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theories that Tedford decided against coming back because Lovie was meddling in his offense. Everything we've heard is this is the furthest thing from the truth. Word is Lovie turned the keys over to Tedford. When the medical issue arose, it was viewed as a temporary setback and that Arroyo would manage a simplified version of the offense until Tedford returned. Tedford made a couple attempts to return but grew fatigued and had to again back on leave.
Now here's where it gets ugly. Tedford could have returned in October, but didn't want to take on the full workload of being an NFL offensive coordinator. The 18 hour days didn't appeal much to him. Perhaps in his basement sessions with Lovie, Coach Smith never told him of the time and dedication it takes to coordinate an offense in the National Football League. He asked the Bucs if he could work just part time, which they refused. They wanted him to fulfill his contractual obligation. This is where the fissure developed between the team and their offensive coordinator.
Tedford also saw the talent on the offensive line wasn't going to allow for his spread/quick timing offense to be very effective. He didn't want to tarnish his "legacy" by coordinating one of the worst offenses in the league. So in other words, he began looking to his next job instead of the one he had.
He decided he didn't want to return and ultimately as the college football hiring season hit full swing, asked to be released so he could pursue head coaching opportunities. By this time, the Bucs had also decided to move on from him.
Apparently, college football didn't want him, either and he ended up settling for a head coaching job in the CFL.
Welp, Jeff. Hope you enjoy those cold Vancouver nights.
3. To say the Tedford abandonment had no impact would be foolish. While Lovie danced around the issue, the bruised, beaten and battered Josh McCown minced no words when talking to reporters after the game, "All I know is that he wasn't here and I've said it over and over again, there's no excuses. But there's a reason why 31 teams have an offensive coordinator."
Lovie Smith doesn't want his offense to be 31st in total yards and 28th in scoring. He fully understands that you need to score points in today's in the NFL to win. The problem is, Lovie is rotten at picking offensive coordinators. Draft Phantom gives us a great breakdown of the Lovie Smith mentality for choosing his coordinators. It doesn't inspire much confidence does it?
I think I'd keep an eye on the situation in San Francisco. Greg Roman is an experienced playcaller, has worked with a Mariota-type QB in Colin Kaepernick and his offenses are run based, which still appeals to Lovie. With Harbaugh inexplicably on the outs, the new coach may want to clean house. Of course, San Francisco hasn't exactly been a scoring juggernaut this season either but it beats Marcus Arroyo.
My personal choice would be former Browns Head Coach and former Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski. I think Chud has a Sean Payton styled offensive mind but has a bit of an abrasive personality. He may rub some folks the wrong way but if it gets Lovie the results he needs, so be it.
Needless to say, Lovie Smith's head coaching career could very well depend on this next hire.
4. Obviously, since we're talking about Lovie making this decision, we don't think he'll be fired at season's end. Its just difficult for me to comprehend the Glazer family wanting three coaches in four years. No team can develop the consistency and relevancy the Bucs seek by churning through head coaches. Successful organizations like the Packers, Steelers and yes, the evil empire - the Patriots, they stay the course. They weather the rough patches and give their coaches time to implement their systems and accumulate the players to run them.
The bad franchises like the Browns, Raiders, the Washington Franchise and yes, the Buccaneers - they churn through one coach after another searching for that Mike Tomlin or Bill Belicheat. That's how you become a doormat for a decade.
They'll be plenty who say they've seen enough of Lovie Smith. He doesn't know what he doing. Well, its a good thing the Patriots didn't decide they'd seen enough when they fell from 8-8 to 5-11 in Belicheck's first season.
Its lucky the Giants didn't can Tom Coughlin after a 5-11 first season. Good thing the Cowboys never fired Jimmy Johnson after going 1-15 in year one. Luckily the Rams didn't fire Dick Vermeil after going 4-12 and 5-11 to start in St. Louis.
The point is, sometimes you need to take a step back before you can move forward. The Bucs certainly have taken that step back this season. I could never have imagined this team doing this poorly under Lovie Smith frankly because Lovie's never had a season this bad.
The decisions Lovie and GM Jason Licht made in hindsight were terrible. Dumping a dumptruck load of money in front of Michael Johnson wasn't viewed as a bad move by most pundits. He was one of the top edge rushers available. Who knew he would take the money and turn into a slug? Same with Anthony Collins. Who knew he was just a guy? Especially after looking like a player in his handful of starts for Cincinatti?
As for a draft. Mike Evans is a keeper for sure. ASJ and Charles Sims, we haven't seen enough of to make a determination. Bottom line, you're not going to hit every single draft pick. You want to get two to three impact players from each draft. The Bucs may have that in their first three picks of the 2013 draft. We just don't know yet.
Can Evans keep it up or will he go the way of Mike Williams and Mike Clayton?
Will ASJ be the receiving threat we hoped he'd be? Can Sims be the Matt Forte? We'll see.
Then there's the Tedford fiasco. A lot has gone against Tampa Bay this season, but you can say one thing for Lovie. Even at 2-13 with absolutely nothing to play for - his team is still competing and playing hard for him. You couldn't say that for Schiano or Rah. I think the Glazers take that into consideration.
5. I wonder if the Bucs had left the offensive line intact, would they have fared much better this season? I, for one, think they would have. This has been by far the very worst offensive line I've ever seen in Tampa Bay and I've been watching the Bucs all my life. I'm not sure if there's any salvagable parts. Demar Dotson inspired no confidence on the Left side. Logan Mankins is playing like his heart isn't in it or maybe he just doesn't quite have it any more. He was a band aid anyway. Evan Dietrich Smith, well, I would have rather had Jeremy Zuttah at center. I'm willing to give EDS another season to prove himself. Dotson can stay, preferable back to the right. As for the current right side of the line, they're all CFL and Arena league players. None of them deserve to be on an NFL roster.
Needless to say, between the draft and free agency, the Bucs offensive line will again need to be retooled. I'm hoping the retooling begins with the firing of George Warhop, the offensive line coach. While you can't make chicken salad out of chicken crap, he's the reason Garret Gilkey and Oneil Cousins were brought in. He couldn't figure out which players deserved to start on the offensive line in camp and the unit never really gelled at any point in the season.
What's the point of having all these skill players at running back and wide receiver if your offensive line can't open holes or give the quarterback time to deliver the football?
Warhop has done a horrible job with the below average talent he has had. A good coach could at least get these guys to play as a unit. There shouldn't be unblocked guys taking runs at Josh McCown in week freaking 16 of the season.
6. Say what you will about Josh McCown but he hasn't deserved the beating he's taken this season. Its pretty obvious the only reason Mike Glennon isn't taking snaps is Tampa Bay is protecting him as an asset to be traded this off-season. A knee injury in the last few games of the season kills his trade value. Why do you think Cutler isn't starting for the Bears? Same reasoning. So McCown is fed to the Lions, Bears and Packers.
I think McCown returns to the Bucs next year as a mentor for Mariota or Winston. His reward for taking the abuse he has this season will be a nice payday and a clipboard.
7. The Bucs defense has indeed improved. In the past nine games since the bye week, Tampa Bay's defense has surrendered 336.4 yards per game and 19.6 points per game. Had that been sustained throughout the season, the Bucs would have the 9th ranked total defense in the league, 7th in scoring defense. That's something for the Bucs to build upon going forward in 2015.
8. It truly does feel like the Buccaneers are light years away from the NFC playoffs but the truth is they really aren't. Tampa Bay has dropped so many close games this season despite all of the obstacles placed in their way and they play in the NFC South, the worst division in football.
Then, if you look at next year's schedule, it's going to be among the weakest in the NFL. There's a lot of if's here, but if Lovie can continue to have the defense improve, pick a competent offensive coordinator, can find some NFL-caliber offensive lineman and if Mariota or Winston can make a positive impact in their rookie seasons, the Bucs certainly can rise from this and compete in their division.
Like I said, a lot of Ifs.
9. What to do with Doug Martin and the running game? Doug has shown flashes of being his old self the last few weeks but Sunday he was again lowering his head and trying to punch forward in the run. Charles Sims has shown me nothing as a runner but he definitely is a weapon out of the backfield as a receiver. Bobby Rainey remains the team's leading rusher despite not having seen the football for a month.
I don't get why Rainey was buried down the Bucs depth chart. I understand they want to see what Sims has and get Martin on track, but Rainey has shown more ability with the rock than either of these guys. Lovie should certainly evaluate everything in the off-season but its difficult behind this subpar offensive line.
Would Martin be his old self behind a better o-line? Would Sims be more efficient than 2.4 yards a carry? Probably. I'd expect Martin not to be back and Sims to be handed the starter's role. Rainey will be a restricted free agent and hopefully the Bucs will retain him and allow him to push Sims.
10. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bucs fans injured by a lightning strike outside Raymond James Stadium after Sunday's game. Its bad enough the Bucs were terrible on the football field, but to endure that. Wow, its frightening and tragic.
Dashon Goldson bemoaned the overtake of Raymond James by Packers fans. Well you know, Dashon, had you and your teammates given the Bucs fans something to support maybe there would be more of them in the stadium. The Lambeau South takeover wasn't a referrendum on Buccaneer fan loyalty - it was a huge example of how far this franchise has fallen. There was a time when Raymond James Stadium was one of the toughest places to come in and win. Now, the Bucs are 0-7 at home and staring straight into a winless home slate.
Its embarrasing and frankly, unacceptable. It has to change.