Observations of the "Harder Than It Looks" Bucs/Cowboys 9/9/21 Reality Check


1) For all the early, off-season chatter about "We can't lose" or "17 AND OH BABY UNDEFEATED" or any other fantasy belief that this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team was going to keep playing at Super Bowl performance levels... Well this near-loss to Dallas should put a hard stop to that.

Yes, the Bucs brought back all the starters from a Super Bowl win for the ages. Yes, we were led by GOAT Tom Freaking Brady on an offense loaded with talent. Yes, our defense looked like its blitzing scheme was going to strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses everywhere.

And yet, this is why you play the games. A lot of victory depends on luck and timing as well as talent, and for all our talent we were risking our luck against a team that was timed to rebound from a bad injury-plagued season like the Cowboys.

1a) We went into this game under expectations: That our defense's secondary had upgraded during that postseason run to allow our blitz packages to work; and that Dallas' offensive line was vulnerable due to G Zach Martin being out.

Well, the Cowboys O-line performed above and beyond protecting their QB Dak Prescott. The Cowboys also figured out an effective counter to the Bucs' blitzes by getting Prescott to get rid of that ball in 3 seconds before anyone could touch him. With our corners and safeties playing too soft, the 'Boys were able to exploit areas for their receivers to catch and run for yards. This kind of scheme relies a lot on the receivers not dropping, and for the most part they didn't, which is what kept them in the game and even overtake the lead.

1b) Someone had the statistics to point out the Buccaneers blitzed 38 percent of the time, and in those situations Prescott was able to complete passes more than 80 percent of the time (I need to find that link). It may not have led to scores but it allowed Dallas to manage their drives and improve their chances.

1c) It was due to turnovers at key moments, and dropped passes in others, that helped the Bucs survive Thursday night.

1d) There was one factor that WAS in the Bucs' control: Just as Dallas went up 29-28 over Tampa Bay in the Fourth Quarter, they left about 2 minutes on the clock for Tom Brady to do his thing. One of Brady's skills is utter confidence and coolness under pressure. It's something he admired in Joe Montana and a talent he improved upon at a level Joe Cool never reached. It's why Brady-led teams aren't stressed when down 28-3, it's why you don't leave time on the clock for Brady to drive down the field into FG range for a winning kick by Ryan Succop to get the Bucs out of hot water in a Week One nail-biter.

2) This was why the Bucs signed an over-40-year-old QB in Brady to lead this team with a talent level no other Bucs QB ever possessed. This is why the expected stat numbers of 32-for-50, 379 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, zero sacks, puts Brady in the Player of the Week lead. And while those INTs didn't help, they didn't hurt much either, which is another matter to discuss later...

2a) Another reason why Brady is playing at a level he rarely played while a Patriot is that he's got arguably his best roster of Wide Receivers to throw to. Antonio Brown led with yards at 121 with a TD, while Chris Godwin led with 9 receptions (while getting 102 yards and a TD). If Mike Evans looked like he underperformed with 3 catches for 24 yards, it's because he'll have other nights where Brown or Godwin are double-teamed and HE'S getting the yards and catches.

2b) Along in all this is Rob Gronkowski catching 2 TDs in red zone situations, for 90 yards on the game, making him and Brady one of the best TD tandems in NFL history (combined with their time in NE, this is their 101st scoring).

2c) Major props to the Bucs offensive line that protected Brady well enough to keep our offense running. While the running game didn't do much - this turned into a passing shootout and stayed that way - at least the OL did this much.

2d) Our defensive front did blitz often but only garnered one sack with Shaquil Barrett getting it, but in terms of QB hits/pressure the front seven did enough to keep Dallas on its heels all night.

2e) Vita Vea technically earned no stats because the Cowboys didn't run enough for him to get at least a tackle in, but Vea DID provide a highlight reel moment of pushing G Connor Williams back so fast they both bumped into Prescott forcing the QB to throw quick before he collapsed under that push. According to the numbers, when Vea is out there, the Bucs allow fewer yards per play than when he's out. It's one of the things you WANT your brick wall to do in the trenches.

2f) Carlton Davis III did snag an INT, which is a nice stat, and played better among a secondary that had trouble all night... but he also got flagged a number of times because he's not paying attention and playing sloppy. Cmon man, the refs are LOOKING for that, you need to rely on your senses more...

2g) It's been awhile since I crowed about a punter - which you normally DON'T want to do - but Bradley Pinion had an effective night of punting, including a pair of deep boomers that pinned the Cowboys close to their own end zone.

2h) Thank God for K Ryan Succop for kicking game-winning field goals at the last minute.

3) In the "Performances that SHOULD worry us" category, as mentioned earlier our secondary slid backward this weekend. After a postseason of improved coverage, forcing turnovers, and whatnot, our cornerbacks and safeties could not compete with a fast-moving fast-throwing Dallas passing attack that exposed how soft our cover scheme can be.

3a) The early game injury to Sean Murphy-Bunting exposes another reality that we came into this season with only four Cornerbacks officially on the roster. If he's out for a while (looking like 4 weeks at best) the Bucs are under pressure to bring in someone who isn't dead meat that would otherwise be sitting on a bench somewhere. This is not a good situation to be in even with a vulnerable pass defense.

3b) If anybody had a bad night, it was the Cowboys' kicker Greg Zuerlein who missed an extra point, a short 31-yarder that would make everyone shake their head, and a near-impossible 60-yarder that kind of wasn't his fault. Still, with the Bucs winning by one point, ANY of those kicks could have saved his team. It was *his* bad luck that helped the Bucs escape that night...

4) Statistics of the Game: The one thing that will ALWAYS piss me off: THE DAMN PENALTIES. Bucs got flagged 11 times for 102 yards, especially a number of pass interference calls that highlights how under-prepared our secondary is.

4a) Third down conversions: Cowboys had 9-of-17 to the Bucs 5-of-11. Dallas was able to drive the ball more often for more scoring chances...

4b) Except for Red-Zone situations: Bucs led there with 3-for-5 to the Cowboys 1-for-4. Hurting the 'Boys is that one of those visits was a muffed FG.

4c) Turnovers went Dallas' way with 4 recovered to Tampa Bay's one (Davis' INT). Granted, one of those turnovers was an INT on Brady throwing a Hail Mary at the end of Halftime. Normally, that many turnovers would lead to victory, but the Cowboys failed to capitalize scoring on 3 of them, another reason why the Bucs were lucky to scrape by with a win.

5) One other observation: The reported "no-call" offensive pass interference during the last game-winning drive for the Bucs: Look, Godwin saw a giant mosquito on the Cowboys safety covering him, and like a good neighbor Godwin tried to brush that skeeter away...

6) In other NFL News: Anybody got an over/under on when Urban Meyer quits coaching the Jaguars so he can go take the inevitable coaching vacancy at Florida State?

6a) Chandler Jones just had a monster statistical game vs. Tennessee Titans, with 5 sacks and enough tackles to give the entire state of Tennessee a collective wedgie. That Arizona Cardinals defense is going to be scary.

6b) A lot of Twitter chatter this afternoon was over the San Francisco 49ers blowing an early lead against Jared Goff's Detroit Lions. There may be a combination of the Niners defense not being as good as predicted and Goff being a lot better than the naysayers believed.

6c) For a team that was supposed to be rebuilding well, the Atlanta Falcons fell flat against the Eagles at home with a 32-6 debacle. Speaking of the Eagles, this Jalen Hurts guy might actually pan out for them.

6d) Who had Minnesota Viking vs. Cincinnati Bengals as the overtime nail-biter with the Kitties eke-ing out a last-second win?

7) In college football news: At the rate Florida State is losing games to lower division opponents, how soon do you think the ACC boots them out in exchange for USF? Sadly, I kid: the ACC won't want South Florida right now, they'll prolly take Coastal Carolina (who?)...

7a) The recent shake-up of conference team alignments now has the Big-12 recovering from their loss of Texas and Oklahoma by snagging three American teams in Cincy, Houston, and Central Florida (along with independent BYU). What this does is continue the dominoes falling against the American Athletic Conference retaining any noticeable quality to make them worthy of any future playoff schemes under development as the superconferences look to expand from 4 to 8 teams (if they expand to 12 or 16, AAC might have a shot).

The AAC conference - left over from a Big East conference that got shredded by ACC and Big 10 power plays about a decade ago - now has two options in front of them: try to entice 3 other teams from relatively lower-value conferences (Sun Belt or C-USA or even Mountain West) or offer themselves up to ACC and Big 10 conferences looking to expand to keep up with the SEC's growth. If the American tries to regroup, look for decent programs like UAB (Alabama-Birmingham) and Coastal Carolina to get offers along with likely FIU to fill UCF's loss. It might involve Boise State (which would be a geographic logistics nightmare).

If the American offers itself up for scavenging, what would happen with an already-reeling USF program struggling to rebuild to its Big East glory days? Would the ACC be willing to add a third Florida program (they might, they have four North Carolina programs already without damage)? Would the Big 10 go after the Bulls to reach into a lucrative Florida market? Those are the only best options for USF: Anything else would perpetuate these dark days...

7b) Speaking of play: South Florida lost at home to a visiting University of Florida program that looked to show off their rotational QB platoon. Richardson was the more effective QB for the Gators but went out late with an ankle injury. Emory showed flashes but made costly turnovers that the Bulls exploited for points, which showed the team had some spirit after the 45-0 debacle against NC State. The Bulls don't look to be in good shape against Top 25 level teams: It remains a question how they'll do within the AAC conference later on.

7c) The best upset this weekend: Oregon over Ohio State. SUCK IT BUCKEYE FANS, SUCK IT BIG 10! BWHAHAHAHA.


Seriously though, the Rays are still in control of the AL East and look to be 11 games away from clinching at least a wild card spot (I think the number to clinch the East is around 15... maybe 17? Not sure). They just gotta do something about inconsistencies at the plate and a bullpen where only 2/3rds of the talent is reliable...

8a) The only thing as good as watching the Rays win is watching the New York Yankee fanbase and media worshippers having nervous breakdowns as the Yanks slide below the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings.

8b) Is anyone paying ANY attention to this SF Giants team that is just beating the crap out of everybody else? They're at 93 wins closer to 100 than anybody else in baseball, and they're playing well at pitching at hitting to be the prohibitive favorite for the World Series...

9) In professional tennis news: It seems like Serena Williams had been at the top of women's tennis for so long, seeing these teenagers playing for the US Open title is a shock. We're at a moment when the generational talent shifts, as the best players of the last 20 years give way to another generation about to dominate the next 20...

10) Next up: Atlanta Falcons come calling to Tampa Bay for a 4 PM meltdown. Not mentally, I mean physically: IT IS GONNA BE SO DAMN HOT THAT AFTERNOON AT THE RAY JAY...


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