We’re eight games through the 2018 season and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-5 at the halfway mark.
There’s still one more half to play, and just as quickly as the Bucs went from NFL darlings to the basement, they could feasibly come right back up. Stranger things have happened folks.
Every week is a chance to get better, but we’re here to talk about the past before we move on to Week 10.
Here’s a Tampa Bay Buccaneers only Hard Count!
OFFSIDES: Jameis vs Fitzmagic
The way some fans are talking is reminiscent of political conversations happening around the country, around the clock.
Either you’re with Jameis Winston, or you’re against him. And if you support Ryan Fitzpatrick, you’re automatically against Winston.
I’m here to tell you, this just isn’t the case.
Look. Winston threw four really bad interceptions against Cincinnati. By itself, he’s probably still the starter. But, grouped with all of the turnovers he’s been party to since returning in Week 4, it was just too much.
And it was. Now, this doesn’t mean I necessarily want Winston cut, or traded or re-signed to a five-year mega-million dollar deal either.
For the record, I didn’t want the team to draft either Winston or Marcus Mariota back in 2015 and it had nothing to do with the quarterbacks so much as it did with the state of the team they were being inserted in to.
See, when you draft a quarterback that high in the NFL Draft, you have to start him. You just do. And the Bucs weren’t ready for a rookie quarterback. Let alone one who goes all out to make plays (Winston) or one who really wasn’t challenged much in a wide-open spread system with little-to-no defensive competition (Mariota).
I could go into the, ‘what if they drafted _____ instead’, but I’ll spare you and me the headache.
Now, I’m not saying we should stop arguing or disagreeing. Just please, do so respectfully. After all, we’re all here hoping to see the same things, a Bucs win.
FALSE START: A much improved defense?
The linebackers are one of the best in the division - nay! - the league. The defensive line has some beasts up front and Gerald McCoy should hit double-digit sacks since he now has good running mates. The secondary is going to be much better given the presence of three day-two draft picks. All of whom are fan favorites.
Nobody but Jason Pierre-Paul has been healthy long enough to get into any kind of groove. The linebacker room has replaced their work tables with trainers tables. The secondary is showing how badly they’re missing Vernon Hargreaves III and Chris Conte. I said it.
The defense which added so much talent to their side of the ball has been, and is once again, on pace to be the worst the NFL has ever seen.
Will it get better? Perhaps. But this season is likely not when it’s going to happen. Even if the defensive line gets healthy, the back-end coverage is still going through growing pains.
Kwon Alexander’s absence has shown just how valuable he really was to the Tampa Bay defense, even if he was having the worst season of his career up until the Cleveland Browns game.
There have been reports the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the teams looking to land New York Giants safety Landon Collins before the trade deadline. Bucs offered a third, Giants wanted a second.
I’d have given up a second. But I’m not Jason Licht.
Even if he had, recent history shows you can add a Pro Bowl caliber piece to any unit and have them come up a bust.
Bottom line, we were all wrong about the defense. Tampa Bay burned their injury excuse card in 2017.
So, here we are. Wrong, and in dire straits.
FREE PLAY: Does Dirk deserve his quarterback?
In 2015, Dirk Koetter was one of the last to come around to drafting Jameis Winston.
Yes. Dirk Koetter on Jameis Winston (February 2016): "I was probably one of the last people holding out going through the whole process last year. There was plenty of other people convinced way before I was that this was the guy." #Bucs https://t.co/dwceHIu8wn— Thomas Bassinger (@tometrics) November 5, 2018
Now, I’ve been thinking about this, and even planned on discussing it with James Yarcho on an episode of Locked on Bucs in the near future. But, since it came up, I’ll go ahead and lay down my thoughts here. I may still drop them on the podcast, so feel free to take a listen and even drop your thoughts on the matter to our voicemail at (813)444-5841.
Ok, moving on.
Many have wondered aloud whether or not Winston fits coach Koetter’s offensive scheme. I’m one of them. And armed with the knowledge Koetter wasn't exactly on board with having him run the scheme in the first place, should coach get a crack at running his team with HIS quarterback?
Well, there are two thoughts to sift through as far as I see it. One being:
Shouldn’t the head coach adjust his scheme to fit the players?
We’re talking quarterback here, so let’s stay on task.
Yes. He should. However, imagine Tom Brady trying to learn a brand new scheme now at his age. After years and years of success. Asking him to be something he’s not likely wouldn’t work out all too well.
Instead, the Patriots have done a really good job of scheming their offense, and putting players in place which fit what he does best.
Granted, Brady does a lot, well. But you can’t put him in an RPO heavy scheme and expect the same success as - say - Cam Newton.
Likewise, ask Newton to stop being a run threat, and defenses will suddenly find him much easier to defend.
Koetter has built a career on being who he is as a coach. And while he’s never won a Super Bowl, there’s a reason he’s getting job after job. Asking him to install a different scheme, one he likely isn’t comfortable with, could theoretically cause more issues.
Which brings us to topic number two:
Was Koetter right to not want Winston?
I went back and looked up some articles from the days and off-season following the drafting of Winston and eventual hiring of Koetter as the head coach after the team ditched Lovie Smith.
In a column by Tampa Bay Times’ Rick Stroud, he and Koetter went in-depth about the coach’s preference of Mariota over Winston.
At the time, as the offensive coordinator, Koetter was responsible for studying tape on both quarterbacks. He talked about his relationship with Oregon’s Mark Helfrich and the differences between what he was being told about the Ducks quarterback and what Jimbo Fisher was saying about Winston.
Now, he didn’t come right out - at least according to the column - and say he didn’t trust Fisher, but the inference was there from what I read.
About his offense, Koetter told Stroud,
“Now, we’re never going to have, we’re not a dink and dunk team so we're not going to be a 70-percent completion team. We need to be in the low 60s and keep our explosives.”
Three seasons later, and it’s the same scheme and same attack strategy. Targeting deep passes and chunk plays over dump-offs and short routes.
Coming off an impressive rookie season, Koetter also said this about where Winston needed to improve,
“In the NFL, we say we want explosives, but you have to know when the opportunities are there and as I always say, when to cut our losses and move on. So just mainly consistency with fundamentals and decision making.”
Three seasons later, and it’s the same story, again.
You can read the whole thing, here.
I’ll finish this, with this final thought.
Coach Koetter said many times after getting Winston and since becoming the head coach that he believed in Winston and thought he was the right guy for the job.
Now, some of this might be true. But did he ever really believe Winston could lead his system? And if not, does he deserve the chance to find a guy who can?
Fitzpatrick is no long-term solution. Winston hasn’t grown in the system the way we all hoped he would.
Maybe a stint on the bench will get the former Heisman winner to think smarter, maybe not. But if the team really doesn’t feel like Winston and Koetter are a good match any longer, should the guy who said so from the start be the one getting replaced?