Lovie Smith had a chance to get it right. With the Buccaneers coming off a bye week—and a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the prior week—the head coach of the Bucs had a chance to possibly quiet some who are on the "Fire Lovie" bandwagon and make the media take notice of the Buccaneers. With a dumbfounding loss to Washington, Lovie has amplified the cries for his dismissal.
The arrival of Lovie Smith in Tampa came with its supporters, as well as its doubters, but most were sure that the defensive-minded head coach was going to bring a tough, stout defense to Tampa—something Tampa Bay fans have been robbed of since the four-game losing streak to close out the 2008 season. The first year under Lovie Smith, with a new scheme, was expected to come with some challenges. Players needed to learn the scheme, and Lovie had to get his players in place for the scheme to work effectively. Toward the end of the 2014-2015 season, growth and comfort within the defense was evident, and the Buc defense looked to be turning a corner. Then the 2015 season came and, so far, the defense that has been headed by Lovie, is a bottom-tier unit, a sieve and just absolutely terrible.
Of the Buccaneers four losses, two have come at the hands of second-string caliber quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett and Kirk Cousins) and one has come at the hands of a rookie (Marcus Mariota), in one of the most embarrassing home openers in recent memory, with just one being to a legit top-tier quarterback (Cam Newton). In those four losses, opposing quarterbacks have completed an average of 70 percent of their passes for roughly 220 yards and 2 passing TDs per game. While some of the scoring can be attributed to the defense being put on short fields because of either turnovers short drives by the offense, that was clearly not the case in the collapse in the nation’s capital, nor was it the case in that their last home game, in which the Bucs barely snuck away with a win after the defense allowed a hurt Blake Bortles to shred them for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns.
With all that said, Sunday's loss may have been the worst of the bunch, with the defense allowing Kirk Cousins to account for four scores (3 passing, 1 rushing), as he completed 33 of 40 passes for 317 yards and a 124.7 QB rating. The 33 completions tied Jason Campbell for the most by a quarterback in franchise history. The completions, yards, touchdowns and QB rating were all season-highs for Cousins, an unfortunate trend that has developed for quarterbacks facing the Buccaneers. Unfortunate for Tampa Bay’s supporters, at least; the Buccaneers defense seems to be where quarterbacks—whether mediocre, average or above average—go to shine. For those quarterbacks facing the Buccaneer defense, it has to be a date that is circled on their schedules, as they know that, no matter how they’ve performed prior to that game, they will be able to put up Hall of Famer-like statistics against a defense that can’t seem to stop anyone who has a pulse.
Besides the horrid play of the defensive unit, the biggest and most frustrating thing about the Buccaneers has been the penalties. Since Lovie has been head coach, Tampa Bay has been one of the most penalized teams in the league. Sunday did nothing to calm the concerns of any fans in that regard. With 16 penalties on the day, the Buccaneers tied a franchise record. The lack of discipline on this team is had been disgusting up to this point, but was on full display today. At one point, not a single play went by on which fans didn’t expect some laundry to be thrown against the Bucs. Positive plays were absolutely expected to be called back and, quite often, they were. So, who’s to blame?
Discipline is typically attributed to the head coach. Raheem Morris was blamed for the lack of discipline on the team during his tenure, and Greg Schiano was hired to instill discipline in a team that showed very little. The expectation was that Lovie Smith would bring discipline to the team, but not be the military-like disciplinarian that Schiano seemed to be. Instead, Smith and his coaches have failed to get the team to record anything less than ten penalties in five of six games so far, with the loss in Washington being a high in both the number of penalties (accepted) against the Bucs and yardage that those penalties accounted for.
In terms of the defense’s incompetence, Lovie inserted himself as the defensive playcaller before the season began. Last year, fans could place blame on Leslie Frazier, as the defense was embarrassed by the Austin Davises and Derek Andersons of the league. This year, the blame falls squarely on Lovie Smith’s shoulders. He inserted himself as the playcaller to have more control over the unit—something that initially relieved those who witnessed how pitiful the defense was for most of the 2014 season. Much to Bucs supporters chagrin, Lovie’s insertion in that role has done nothing to improve the defense which, in year two of this system, and with the amount of talent on that side of the ball, should be developing into a well-respected unit rather than the disappointment that it has been.
Very shortly after the game ended, ex-Bucs quarterback Shaun King published this tweet:
Dont even have words for what happened today in the nations capital...— shaun king (@realshaunking) October 25, 2015
Well, I do have at least one word: Pathetic.