With only a few games remaining in the season, the Buccaneers currently sit at 6-7 following a 35-7 beat down that they suffered at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. Below .500 in mid-December is certainly not where many fans and analysts figured this Bucs team to be at before the season, so what questions should they be asking themselves this week?
Is This a Bad Stretch, or is This Who Donovan Smith is?
Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith has been under a lot of scrutiny as of late and for good reason. Throughout his career, I have been one of his biggest defenders constantly saying that he’s not as bad as people make him out to be, however there is no way to defend his play recently. For the second week in a row, Smith cost the Bucs a touchdown with a holding penalty. Against New Orleans they were able to shake it off and score anyway, but it was a different story in San Fran on Sunday.
Yes the Bucs didn’t play all that well against New Orleans, but Smith’s sloppiness was very close to costing this team a win and they would be 5-8 at this point had they not been able to overcome the penalty. His play this season has reminded a lot of fans of the early years in his career with the back breaking penalties or inconsistent play. Smith has said he has some personal things going on in his life and that is completely understandable, but he needs to be better in order for this team to right the ship. Over the next four games, the Bucs need to figure out whether this is just a really poor stretch of football from the former second round pick, or if this is the player he is and will continue to be for the future.
What Happened to the Defense on Sunday?
To keep it simple, they got beat up by a better team. Despite acknowledging that 49ers are a better team, it was still disappointing to see the defense come out and lay an egg like they did. It seemed like the tone was set right from the very first play when Keanu Neal got a roughing the passer penalty against him. After that, the Bucs defense had no fire, no juice. They got shredded consistently in the run game by Christian McCaffrey and the other backs the Niners have and while they did have a few pressures, could not make Brock Purdy uncomfortable and allowed him to dictate how the game was going to go.
The secondary seemed lost and out of position for most of the day and the defensive line was being pushed right off the ball on nearly every run play. Tampa Bay’s defensive unit has been a bright spot in this season, but it wasn’t bright at all on Sunday.
How are the Bucs Going to Stop Joe Burrow and Company?
Speaking of the defense, they now get to face one of the hottest team in the league in the Cincinnati Bengals and will most likely be without Vita Vea and possibly guys like Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards and Antoine Winfield Jr. Fun! Even if Winfield and Edwards are able to return, being without Vea and Dean will be a huge challenge as Cincinnati has won five straight games and Joe Burrow has been awesome lately, throwing ten touchdowns and only three interceptions during this winning streak. The Bengals offensive line is still a weak area for them, but the Bucs have not been able to dominate much along the defensive line so far this season. Ja’Marr Chase is one of the NFL’s best receivers and Tee Higgins is very good too if he is able to play. Might be a good time to start forcing some turnovers as a defense.
The Bucs offense may have to come alive a little bit in this one because if they don’t it could get ugly in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Crazy enough, even with sitting at 6-7, the Bucs still control their own destiny to win the division. It is all right there for them, they just have to go and take it. Time will tell if they can, but avoiding back to back losses would be a pretty good start.