It’s not hard to see the struggles for the Buccaneers. For a team that started off 2-0 and were the new hotness around the NFL, this team has displayed being nothing more than average. At the end of the day, you have an offense that can score at will with all the weapons and mismatches they provide along side a defense that can’t stop, well, anything.
For starters, the defensive scheme has to change. There’s no if’s and’s or but’s about it. Mike Smith consistently puts this team in a position to fail with his lack of blitzing, his zone coverages that rely far too heavily on in-play communication, his propensity to have corners line up 7-10 yards off receivers, and a sheer lack of creativity. It’s been the same story for 36 games and there is no end in sight.
Yes, Koetter is going to come the defense of his friend and give the same canned answer when asked about it. About how it’s not Smitty that’s missing tackles, or missing assignments, or blowing coverages. It is, however, on Smith to fix these problems. It’s on Smith to have the self awareness that his defense has given up more than 400 yards in 19 games under his tutelage and the Bucs are 4-15 when it happens. He has to have the self awareness that his defense has given up 30 or more points in 13 games under his tutelage and the Bucs are 1-12 when it happens.
It flat out can’t continue.
The sad thing is, it will. The players will be the ones to blame, some of which will be shipped out of town or not re-signed because they are square pegs that Smith keeps trying to cram into round holes. A good coordinator schemes to the strength of his players. Lovie Smith did the same thing and when players wouldn’t - or couldn’t - adapt, they were shipped out of town slightly before Lovie himself was sent packing. Mike Smith is costing this team games to the detriment of Koetter, his entire staff, the players, and quite possibly Jason Licht.
Offensively, the Bucs have little to complain about. Until a disaster in Chicago, they were the NFL’s top offense. Will that change with Jameis Winston under center? We’ll see, but smart money says no. It’s hard to see O.J. Howard miss time with the sprained MCL as he was emerging as one of the top tight ends in the NFL, but now the re-emergence of Cam Brate will begin.
We saw some timing issues with Winston against the Bears, but that is to be expected after he missed nearly a month of practices and games with the suspension. The big thing to keep an eye on is the run game.
The run game just hasn’t gotten going this season. There have been flashes, but no consistency. Again, you can point to the aerial attack and the Bucs’ ability to score from long distance, but when they’ve needed the run game in red zone situations it just hasn’t been there.
Ronald Jones’ progression last Sunday looked encouraging. He finished with only 29 yards on ten carries, but there were flashes there. Moments when he was a fraction of a second away from making a big splash play. Again, when you’ve missed nearly a month of game experience your rookie year, there will be growing pains and timing issues.
Another thing to look at is the poor play from the right side of the line, mainly Caleb Benenoch. Benenoch has been a turnstile this season and rotating him with Evan Smith hasn’t helped matters any. It was the same nonsense we saw last season. Pick the guy who is playing better and stick with him. Offensive lines don’t need to be rotated the way defensive lines do.
This isn’t a knock on Barber, Jones, or Jacquizz Rodgers. All are capable backs that can make plays when called upon. We just haven’t seen that come to fruition yet this season.
Overall, the Buccaneers’ offense can overcome the defense’s ineptitude to a certain degree. They will have their opportunities to win games and will capitalize - just like they did against New Orleans. The focus for the foreseeable future is the defense and whether or not they can keep the Buccaneers in games or if it will be a shoot out week after week.
As I said many times over throughout the off-season, if the Buccaneers can’t succeed this season it won’t be because they don’t have the talent. It will be because of coaching. So far, the offensive side of the ball has been coached well and seen success. The defensive side of ball is the worst in the NFL.
You tell me who the blame should fall on...