The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got blown out on Thursday Night Football, again, losing by massive numbers to the Atlanta Falcons. The final score was 43-28, as the Bucs just couldn't stop the Falcons offense.
Prime time games are supposed to be special. When there's no other games going on, all eyes around the football world are on you. Prime time games are also a good way to judge where you team is when it comes to adjusting on a non-regular schedule. Whether it's playing on a short week, or adding an extra day of rest and preparation, how you come out of the gate on Thursday or Monday night is telling.
For Tampa, their opening drive versus the Falcons was methodical. The Bucs were without Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers, so it was up to Antone Smith and Peyton Barber to carry the rock. On that first drive, the duo averaged more than four yards per carry which included a couple seven and eight-yard runs that kept the drive moving and made Atlanta respect the run.
This opened up the passing game and allowed for Tampa to get creative. Thankfully, they did, and the team capped off a 12-play, 75-yard opening drive with touchdown to Mike Evans.
An opening-drive touchdown?— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) November 4, 2016
An opening-drive touchdown! pic.twitter.com/iRaez50y0A
The drive had a good dose of Evans to it, but also gave targets and catches to Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries. With the Bucs receiving options as limited as they are, Mike Evans is going to get force fed. However, getting those guys involved early is important. I would rather have the Bucs pull out their creative plays early on and move the ball down the field to keep the defense guessing than keeping plays like wide receiver screens and wheel routes to tight ends in the back pocket. If you're creative often, you'll score often.
Unfortunately the first quarter wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. A fumble on the Bucs second and third drives led to points of turnovers on both occasions. Luckily for Tampa it was only a field goal each time. One of the fumbles was a miscommunication on a handoff between Winston and Smith, the other was Winston diving for a first down and losing it on the tackle.
Following the Falcons' second field goal and a Buccaneer punt, Tampa's favorite franchise defensive tackle to complain about made his primetime play with a great strip sack of Matt Ryan.
GERALD McCOY READS YOUR TWEETS pic.twitter.com/p6p4xxSW1d— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) November 4, 2016
Other than that play, Tampa's pass rush was pretty pedestrian. Noah Spence flashed at times, and Akeem Spence can blow up a few blocks here and there, but most of the time the front four makes the opposing offensive line's job way too easy. They're not as disruptive as they need to be, and for whatever reason, defensive coordinator Mike Smith refuses to get creative in how he pressure the pocket.
I remember during training camp and during the preseason, I was so encouraged by how agressive the Bucs defense was when attacking the pocket and making offensive lineman uncomfortable with stunt and delayed blitzes. I don't see any of that anymore. There was a play this game where Atlanta had the ball in the red zone on 3rd & 12 and instead of getting in the face of Matt Ryan, Smith called a play that only sent three players total after the pocket. Atlanta converted it and scored two plays late. This has to stop. Tampa does not have the safeties to play this soft up front. If anything, this secondary needs less time to cover, not more time to cover with more people.
Following the Gerald McCoy forced fumble, the Bucs went down the field and with one big bomb took the lead as shown above. When i watched that play live i just started laughing because when Evans wants to be and when Winston can hit him high, there's no 5-foot-10 corner who can stop that.
Can't teach 6'5" pic.twitter.com/MHIw68UaL5— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) November 4, 2016
Simply put, you can't teach 6-foot-5.
Evans was the lone bright spot in tonight's game, but man, was he shining bright. He finished the game with 11 catches on 17 targets for 150 yards and two touchdowns which included one of the best catches you'll see this side of Odell Beckham Jr. in the second half.
Mike Evans is an alien. He is not of us. He was born outside of our solar system. pic.twitter.com/dL30uHwRGd— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) November 4, 2016
Unfortunately, the creativity Tampa showed in the early stages of the game (or at least the success of it) stalled.
For the most part, the second half was, to be frank, awful; just awful. I don't know what happened to the Mike Smith defense I saw glimpses of before, but it has sure been a Halloween ghost for the past two weeks gone. For the second week in a row -- and even, second half in a row -- Smith did not make a single adjustment despite giving up plenty of points. It's hard for me to say his philosophy doesn't work, because the philosophy I saw early on was much different. But, if this is his philosophy from now on, yes, it doesn't work.
Trench play wins football games. Success starts there so it can end somewhere else. Without dominance in the trenches, you will lose football games, end of story. On the offensive line, Donovan Smith is proving to the fans (and hopefully the coaches) more and more each week that he is a guard. He is not a tackle, let alone a left tackle -- and all that is OK, Tampa just needs to get a left tackle to be able to move him inside. Smith struggled against Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed and if old man Dwight Freeney would have been active for this game, he probably would've given Smith all he could handle, too.
On defense, for the past three or four games, this front four has not been what we thought it would be. The defensive line continues to show a lack of ability to set the edge, and it's starting to negate the play of the Bucs linebackers since they have to travel so far to get the ball carrier instead of the defensive line funneling running backs towards them in the middle. Tampa somehow drops seven of their 11 defensive players back into coverage, yet can't cover anyone in the process. Smith is calling this defense as if it has an Earl Thomas or an Eric Berry back at safeties, but it doesn't. The bottom line is this: the trade deadline has passed and this roster is what it is. Either Smith starts putting pressure on the pocket or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will lose a lot more games this season. This roster is much closer to its reconstruction than it is seeing production.
Up next for the Bucs is the Chicago Bears in the last game of their three-game home stand. The Bears are a team with limited playmakers and a 2-6 record. If Tampa can't end their home skid against them, I'm not sure when they will.