Three of the four teams in the NFC South are on winning streaks and unfortunately the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not one of them.
The Carolina Panthers’ three-game winning streak matches the one the Atlanta Falcons are currently on as well. Of course, then there’s the New Orleans Saints are on a seven-game outburst with their only loss coming at the hands of these very Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the 2018 NFL season.
At 3-5, the 2-0 start enjoyed by Bucs fans all over is now fading as a distant memory. How did we get here? Well, that’s a whole other conversation.
We’re here today though to discuss how our favorite team got to 3-5. As there tends to be in losses, the following are less individual plays, and more problematic reoccurrences from the contest. Here are five contributing factors which stood out above the rest.
THE PLAY: Putting the ‘fun’ in Funchess
Panthers wide receiver ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at his NFL Combine appearance. He hasn’t gotten faster. Yet, for some reason, the Buccaneers regularly played off coverage on the long, but slow wide receiver.
On the following clip, cornerback Brent Grimes lines up on Funchess in the slot and plays well off the line.
The subsequent free release allows Funchess to get into his cut with ease and with Grimes having to catch-up he’s out of position to make a play on the late pass by quarterback, Cam Newton.
23-yards gained on this play was not only the receivers biggest play of the day, but it put the Panthers on the one-yard line already up 28-7.
Had Grimes played the receiver more aggressively, he likely would have been in better position to make a play on the ball, or may have deterred Newton from going to his spot.
Kudos to Grimes for almost coming up with a great play anyway, but he never should have given Funchess as much space as he did in the first place.
THE PLAY: Lack of Discipline
Head coach Dirk Koetter said in his post-game press conference the team emphasized playing assignment football.
Well, if they did, nobody was listening.
Tampa Bay knows Carolina. You can’t help but know them when you play each other twice per year. Granted, this is the first time they’ve seen each other live in 2018, but what the Panthers did in the clips above are nothing new.
Giving up plays like these not only give up big yards and set up scores, but they demoralize a team, not to mention the fan base.
THE PLAY: Lack of Tackling
Christian McCaffrey is a really good young player with a lot of talent and shiftiness. But, a lot of his plays today were made for him by the poor tackling of Buccaneers defenders.
Whether it’s a cornerback lowering his head way too soon leading to a hurdle, or the four missed tackles seen here.
Defenders consistently failed to capitalize on fairly good opportunities, while Panthers ball carriers sought out ways to keep plays going whenever possible.
THE PLAY: Lack of Blocking
This area isn’t going to be about who you think it’s about. Instead, I’m looking at the running backs. On these two plays, running backs failed to pick up blitzing Panthers.
One lead directly to an immediate sack of Fitzpatrick, and one knocked the quarterback off his base and interrupted any semblance of timing he may have had with his receivers. It may go in the books technically as a coverage sack, but make no mistake, the running back had as much to do with this play failing as any Carolina Panthers in coverage.
THE PLAY: Desperation on the 26
I want to preface this by saying I understand what coach Koetter was thinking. Down 28-7, your defense isn’t stopping anything and had given up four-straight touchdown drives at this point.
Even though one of those started deep in Bucs territory due to the Ryan Fitzpatrick interception earlier in the first quarter, the bottom line was, the defense wasn’t getting it done.
I’m sure Koetter thought he might get away with one here, and catch the opponent unaware. However, when you’re a team in Carolina who’s head coach is nicknamed ‘River Boat Ron’ because of his gambling nature, I have a feeling his team is ready for just about anything.
To Koetter’s credit, the play isn’t actually a bad one. For a moment, punter Bryan Anger has tight end Alan Cross open about five-yards downfield, but when Jacquizz Rodgers is late picking up his block on the right edge in front of Anger it forces him to step up and hold on to the ball just a shade too long.
The result is a late throw by the punter, and Panthers defenders react in time to break up the pass.
Good design really, and had it worked, coach Koetter would be praised for his guts and confidence in his punter.
However, as it stands, the ball went over to Carolina on the Buccaneers’ 25-yard line, and six plays later they made it a four-touchdown game.
In the end, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came away with the loss, and will look to return home and get a win against the Washington Redskins.
As you likely know by now, the Bucs did stage a bit of a comeback in the second half of this weekend’s contest, but fell short as the damage done in the first half was just too much to overcome.