1) I said before in the preseason Observations that I wasn't buying into the "GOING UNDEFEATED WOO-HOO" chatter, all because I knew we were still facing tough division-leading teams like the Los Angeles Rams. I was also worried that our defense had not truly improved the Secondary, especially at a Cornerback roster that looked thin and still struggling to cover people.
Welp. Today's beatdown by the Rams proved those fears. And now we're looking at how the Buccaneers can rebound from this to at least win enough games to clinch a tougher-than-expected NFC South title or even a Wild Card spot.
1a) After an inconsistent First Quarter where it seemed both teams were trying to figure out what worked, the Rams jumped up to an early lead when QB Sam Stafford figured out where his primary receivers were going to be and where the Bucs' soft zones were. Cooper Kupp in particular had a fun day picking apart the backfield and was quarantined in the end zone for an easy early TD, while DeSean Jackson blew it wide open with a 75-yard TD deep bomb and scamper where every Bucs defender had let D-Jax blow by them.
Somehow, losing Jamel Dean to injury in the First Quarter left us vulnerable.
Whatever scheme we have for our Corners and Safeties to play, it allowed Rams receivers to be open by 10-20 yards. Untouched. Nightmarish.
1b) Mingled into that was the vaunted Rams' defense, anchored by the current best lineman Aaron Donald, who got more pressure in Tom Brady's face than he's used to, getting sacks and stopping drives. And where Brady had been scoring 4 to 5 TDs a game, this time he got shut down, forcing us to score on trick run plays or a QB keeper in the Red Zone visits, which weren't as often.
1c) Something that I wasn't bothered about preseason but has quickly turned into a serious problem now is the lack of a consistent running game. True, the Rams' defense is as good as the Bucs in stopping the run, but the few attempts (only 13 tries) and poor average (2.9 per carry) meant we were over-relying on the passing game to stay in the game. Brady ended up making 55 throws. It may have ended up with 432 total throwing yards, but dammit it didn't go with more TD catches. :(
2) The chatter about the Bucs making room to sign troubled CB Richard Sherman is looking more and more likely to happen: The current failing of our CB roster (and now the pile-up of injury woes) is a serious gap in our game and we can't wait for the 2022 off-season to get it fixed.
2a) Adding to the team woes today was Rob Gronkowski getting knocked out on a hard tackle to where he left the game (adding to the Red Zone difficulties, without Tom's favorite target). He did come back later in the game, but getting dinged up like that had to have thrown our gameplan for a loop...
3) Statistics of the Game: I kind of already mentioned, but the Bucs' rushing game today was a disaster with 35 yards total on 13 carries. Granted, by the Third Quarter we weren't looking to run down by 2-plus Touchdowns, but without that balanced attack other teams are going to key off blitzing on Brady like we try blitzing on them. Something is going on either with the playcalls (are we RUNNING UP THE DAMN MIDDLE AGAIN?) or the Offensive Line has regressed. If there is anyone watching the OL, please give us what you're seeing.
3a) PENALTIES WILL KILL US EVERY TIME. Well, this time the Bucs were merely penalized 7 times, but compare that to the one penalty on the Rams. The Rams DID achieve a first down on one of our penalties, so...
3b) Yards per pass: Bucs averages 7.9 yards compared to the Rams 8.5 yards. That average may be skewed by DeSean's 75-yarder score, but still it didn't look like the Bucs were all that successful throwing deep in Arians' offense. The longest reception for the Bucs was Giovani Bernard's 32-yard scamper on a short screen.
3c) This was surprisingly a turnover-free game. There were a number of fumbles on both sides but each team recovered. In some respects this was an even match... and the Rams still pummeled us because of that bad secondary.
4) What this means now is that the Buccaneers are facing another uphill battle. We're no longer the top dawg in the NFL, sitting one loss behind the early 3-and-0 teams like Denver, Arizona, Los Angeles Rams, Las Vegas Raiders, and gasp Carolina. (more on this later) We still have a talented offense that can generate yards and points and keep us in games, but we're now looking at the porous defense being our Achilles Heel once again. Looking at the upcoming October schedule - facing a reeling New England team, followed by a tough-but-dinged Miami, then a potentially tough Philadelphia, then a very dinged-up Chicago, then a Halloween game versus our rival New Orleans and ex-QB Jameis looking for revenge - the Bucs can very well have another rough October (have we ever been dominant in that month, in our 45-plus years of existence?) ahead of us.
5) In other professional NFL news, if any of you jokers had Carolina undefeated by Week Three sit your lying asses down. Nobody saw this coming. The Panthers were getting a jinxed bust of a QB in Sam Darnold from the jinxed Jets, with half their team recovering from injury woes the previous season, and little idea how all of it was going to jell. Well, now we know: Darnold wasn't the problem in New York, the JETS are the problem. The Carolina defense is back to looking scary-good (albeit against teams with questionable offenses). If us Bucs fans thought we were going to cruise to an NFC South title with our rivals all in rebuild mode, forget that: Carolina's rebuilt and they're going to fight us for that division.
5a) After a lousy Week Two, the Saints rebounded to a brutal beatdown of the Patriots today, with Jameis Winston recovering somewhat with a 2-TD no-INT day and a running game with Alvin Kamara back in action. Thing is, that offense didn't generate a lot of yards: Jameis in particular only threw 128 total yards, which isn't going to scare many teams in a pass-happy league. What got New Orleans to their win was a dominant defensive performance especially with a Pick-6 to ice the game early in the Third Quarter. It did help them that they were playing a raw rookie in Mac Jones, but the Saints defense was pretty good last season and they're looking good this year.
5c) Speaking of New York, the Giants suck now and the Jets have sucked ever since that jinxed Year of the Butt Fumble. If I'm a New York sports fan, I'd be distracting myself by following the baseball (notices Mets are out of it and Yankees are facing playoff elimination) oh. Ah... Um... Are the Islanders gonna be any good this year...?
5d) The Indianapolis Colts don't entirely deserve to be 0-3 right now, but they DID play some of the best teams of this season, and they're just not getting it done, like they're off a step.
5e) I kind of figured the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn't be good this year because Big Ben is really aging out and there's little on that offense that impresses right now.
5f) I am surprised at the Chiefs stumbling this early, and a lot of that doing with a seemingly vulnerable defense. Mahomes may be a miracle worker but he's not going to win a lot of shootouts.
5g) Arizona Cardinals were losing early to the Jaguars! Thank the Football Gods for showing mercy on us and preventing the worst team in football to crow even for a week.
5h) The Baltimore Ravens did WHAT? Well okay they beat the lowly Lions but... DAMMIT THEIR KICKER JUSTIN TUCKER SET THE LEAGUE RECORD FOR LONGEST KICK?! NOOOOOO...
6) In professional college football news: DAMMIT SOUTHERN MISS YOU HAD ONE JOB.
6a) Uh-oh. Clemson just lost to NC State and slid to 2-2 for the year, potentially ending the long streak of college dominance they've shown the last 5 (or 8?) years. Seriously, pollsters, don't keep them in the Top 25, they deserve to slide out altogether. Let a more deserving unbeaten team take their place...
6b) Which would be Coastal Carolina. Let's go (checks notes) CHANTICLEERS.
6c) Did any of you watch that last-second win by Auburn? Granted, they shouldn't have been losing to a FCS team like Georgia State, but they rebounded and that QB came up with the biggest heart-attack scramble-throw in years. DAMN.
6d) There wasn't much expected of the South Florida Bulls going on the road to face a solid BYU team, yet while they did lose USF did get points on the board and played as well as possible. The greatest problem seems to be unreliable quarterbacking: there's no passing game that opposing teams respect right now, and without that the Bulls aren't winning more games. They got to figure out a better offense...
6e) Okay, I'm calling it: The Florida State Seminoles are 0-4 and they're officially dead. They're not doing enough on offense and they're giving up too many points on defense. Whatever adjustments the Noles did against Louisville this weekend came too late, and I honestly can't see them beating ANYBODY on the rest of their schedule. Okay, wait, maybe they can beat UMass.
7) In professional baseball news: YOUR TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE BACK-TO-BACK AL EAST CHAMPIONS (2020-2021)! YESSSSSS! The Rays are currently tied for best regular season record at 97 wins, with six games to go they can easily best that, and they are 3 wins away from an exalted 100-win season!!! WOOOOOOT! PLAY THAT FIDDLE CAT GIF!
7a) So will someone tell Rays owner Stu Sternberg to SHUT THE HELL UP ABOUT PLAYING HALF OUR GAMES IN MONTREAL! THIS IS NOT THE TIME WHEN THE TROP IS FULL OF FANS AND WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE ROOTING FOR *OUR* TEAM.
7b) The St. Louis Cardinals are on a goddamned tear right now, winning 16 in a row (!) to put themselves back in the hunt for a Wild Card spot. If there's any good news about this for other NL teams, winning streaks have to end, and the way things are timing up that win streak could crash and burn just as the postseason kicks in...
7c) The NL West pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants is definitely one for the ages. Whoever ends up getting the second place spot and the dreaded Wild Card (against maybe the Cards!) is still going to scare the hell out of other teams (including those Cards!).
7d) There is still a lot for the Rays fans to root for in this last week of regular season baseball: The Rays clinching home field for the AL; and seeing which East rival makes the Wild Card cut (BoSox and Yanks currently tied, Blue Jays one game back) compared to the remaining AL West teams (kind of rooting for the Mariners here both because Seattle has the longest playoff drought right now AND their making it would bump either Boston or New York OUT BWHAHAHAHA SUCK IT).
8) In professional hockey news, DAMMIT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING YOU HAVE ONE JOB: KEEP THE CUP.
9) In professional volleyball news, The Florida State Seminoles football team is still dead meat.
10) Next up: Well, before the season this WAS the Game of the Year, but with Mac Jones struggling his rookie starts the Buccaneers visit to New England isn't as ballyhooed as expected. Then again, the Bucs have a terrible history of making rookie QBs (hi, Daniel Jones!) look like all-Pros their first time against us... Sigh.
What say ye, gentle souls?