The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just lost to Washington by blowing a 24-0 second-quarter lead. After looking like a dominant team for the first 20-odd minutes of play, Tampa Bay absolutely collapsed -- and almost all of it was self-inflicted. And all of that -- all of it -- falls on Lovie Smith's plate.
The Bucs have been struggling on defense ever since they hired Lovie Smith. Some of that may have been the result of taking over a team with personnel not perfectly fit to his scheme, but this is the second year of his tenure and the Bucs have turned over the vast majority of defensive players in his time here. This is his personnel, and any poor performance is squarely on his shoulders.
That's especially true for the secondary, where the only real holdover from the before times is Johnthan Banks -- and he's arguably been the best defensive back on the team. Everyone else was either given the starting job under Smith (Bradley McDougald) or brought in specifically by him (Mike Jenkins, Tim Jennings, Major Wright, D.J. Swearinger and Mike Jenkins).
Yet the team has been blowing coverages left and right throughout the season, and today was no different. Kirk Cousins, who until today had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns and was throwing for an abysmal 6.2 yards per attempt, was made to look like Warren Moon. He had four touchdowns on the day, no interceptions and just seven incompletions. That is absurd, especially against a head coach renowned for his defensive prowess. Not that these are failures of scheme, exactly: players are just screwing up the playcalls -- but that goes back to poor coaching as well.
There is simply no excuse for this defense to be this bad under Lovie Smith.
Penalties, penalties, penalties
Another thing that goes back to poor coaching is penalties. The Bucs had sixteen penalties against Washington, for an awful 142 yards. A few of those were dubious calls, but the vast majority were justified. And that's been the case throughout season: they've had more than ten penalties in all but one game now, and they have a whopping 74 penalties for 531 yards on the season. That doesn't lead the league, and they weren't even all that bad relative to the rest of the league prior to this game, but it's been a consistent problem. And this many penalties, including several unnecessary roughness calls and a personal foul, are inexcusable in any game -- and especially after a bye week.
Lovie Smith has struggled to be aggressive throughout the season, and today was no different. The team was content to run out the clock with a 24-7 lead at the end of the first half, instead of trying to add some points on the board. At the goal line at the end of the fourth quarter, the Bucs ran the ball three times and then kicked a field goal with just a three-point lead, despite the fact that Washington had three timeouts and over two minutes left -- a more aggressive approach could have put the game out of reach for good.
The one call that's getting him the most flack was actually perfectly defensible, though. The decision to kick a field goal at the end of the game was likely correct, though going for it would have been fine too. According to the New York Times' fourth-down bot, both would have resulted in identical chances to win. You could argue that the Bucs' poor defensive play in the second half flips it the other way, but then it's not like the offense had been playing well in the second half, either.
Still, that doesn't excuse the overall passive approach to the game -- one that could have cost the Bucs a win against the Jaguars, as well, where a similar defensive collapse almost negated a largely dominant offensive performance. Today, it was more than just "almost."
Hard to imagine a dumber team out there than the Buccaneers...Great comeback by the Redskins, but its not possible without Bucs incompetence— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) October 25, 2015
The offense played some very good football
And that's all because of Dirk Koetter, who's represented the one bright light on this coaching staff so far this season. Despite a very inconsistent and inexperienced offensive line, despite numerous injuries to that line, and despite having a rookie quarterback under center, he's managed to keep the Bucs offense going consistently, finding ways to compensate for their weak points. Which is what he did today, too.
Jameis Winston wasn't at fault in this loss, either. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns, with one sack and no turnovers. This was arguably the best he's played this year, even. And that's with Mike Evans as his only reliable receiver for the better part of the second half, thanks to injuries to Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy. Evans managed eight catches for 164 yards and a touchdown, including a pair of third-down catches late in the fourth quarter that should have been decisive for the game's outcome. This was easily the receiver's best game of the year. The running game was outstanding as well. Doug Martin put up 136 yards on 19 carries, while Charles Sims added 49 on 10 carries.
No, all of this was on the defense. And that's Lovie Smith's wheelhouse.
But Lovie Smith won't be fired now
And for good reason. Firing coaches mid-season does nothing. It leaves a coaching staff short-handed, and is a purely symbolic move. Symbolism is nice, but it doesn't actually help a team win. If anything, firing Lovie Smith would leave Tampa Bay directionless, forcing whoever steps in (likely Leslie Frazier, given his head coaching experience) to adjust on the fly. It also isn't the Glazers' m.o. They didn't fire Raheem Morris during a ten-game losing streak, and they didn't fire Greg Schiano while he was turning the Bucs into the league's laughing stock. It's not going to happen, no matter how loudly everyone shouts.
This means two things. One, we're going to have to sit through Lovie Smith for the rest of the season. We're possibly going to have to sit through him blowing game after game, again. It's also possible, though, that Lovie Smith redeems himself the rest of the way. It's not likely, exactly, but there's a lot of football left to play and we've certainly seen some stranger things.
The Bucs are going to give him the opportunity to pull this team out of the garbage bin of 2015, or to doom himself with another series of poor performances. We'll see which is which.