Now, before people jump to conclusions, this is not a column talking about believing in Mike Smith. That said, Smith has an opportunity staring him in the face this Sunday to quiet - not silent - his critics. One game isn’t going to make the problems in the previous 36 disappear, but it can show that things may be headed in the right direction.
All he has to do is figure out how to stop Julio Jones.
For whatever reason, despite the fact that Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter coached Jones in Atlanta or that Smith drafted him, neither guy can seem to get a grasp on how to stop him. Hell, forget stopping him - just slow him down!
In two years as defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay, Smith’s defense has allowed 27 receptions for 484 yards and three touchdowns in four games to Jones. Last season, Jones had 307 of those in the teams’ two meetings and he scored two touchdowns. He scored one in the other fourteen games combined.
Granted, it’s not just Smith and his defense. The Bucs have been torched by Jones throughout his entire career. In twelve career games, Jones has 83 receptions, 1,413 yards, and ten touchdowns. That’s the most in all three categories against any team in the NFL for Jones - and it’s in two less games than he’s faced the Saints.
Slowing down or stopping Jones will give slight relief to Bucs fans that adjustments are being made. Game planning is evolving. That there isn’t that round peg/square hole issue that Smith is unwilling to waver from his philosophy despite the players not being able to execute it.
Don’t get me wrong. Smith could implant the perfect scheme and perfect way to take Jones out of Sunday’s game, but it’s on the players to get it done. However, to this point in Smith’s 2.25 seasons as defensive coordinator, the players have yet to buy what Smith is selling and it shows.
It won’t be the end all be all for Smith’s woes if Jones is shut down, but it would certainly give the fans - and the players - a small sigh of relief that things aren’t quite as bleak as many fear.