A week after a crushing, 27-6 loss at Carolina that halted Tampa Bay’s three-game winning streak, the Buccaneers showed better effort in drubbing the Buffalo Bills, 27-6, to win for the fourth time in the last five games. The Bucs are assured of no worse than a 4-4 finish over the final eight weeks to a wacky and disappointing season that saw the team start off 0-8.
Thanks to Sunday’s win over Buffalo, a 4-4 finish down the stretch might be enough to save the job of embattled head coach Greg Schiano.
When the Buccaneers benched quarterback Josh Freeman and started rookie Mike Glennon in Week 4 of the NFL season, it is believed that Schiano was told that the team had to split its remaining 12 games in order to keep his job. With three games left against San Francisco and two road contests at St. Louis and New Orleans, accomplishing that feat and finishing 6-10 – or even 7-9 – is still possible.
But given the fact that the Bucs have lost close games in the final minutes to New York (18-17), New Orleans (16-14), Arizona (13-10) and Seattle (27-24) in overtime and have won four out of their last five games, getting four wins over the final eight games may be good enough to keep Schiano around given all the turmoil and distractions that surrounded the start of the season with the Freeman drama and the MRSA outbreak.
The Glazers will likely take into consideration that the Bucs lead the league with players on injured reserve with 14, and have been without the services of Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks, who has only played in two games due to a MRSA infection despite not being placed on injured reserve. Tampa Bay’s four wins over the past five weeks have come without the services of Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin and playmaking wide receiver Mike Williams and a host of other contributors.
The good news for Schiano is that his team also leads the league in a more positive statistic – interceptions. Upgrading the secondary was a major focus this past offseason and led to the acquisition of Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson via free agency, Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis via a trade and cornerback Johnthan Banks via the draft.
Those three players have combined for six of Tampa Bay’s league-leading 21 interceptions with three games to go. The Bucs defense accounted for only 18 interceptions last season.
Tampa Bay had the league’s worst pass defense last year, surrendering 297.4 yards per game. In 2013, the Bucs are ranked 17th and are allowing 238.4 yards per game, a 59-yard improvement over a year ago.
After ranking 24th in the NFL for allowing an average of 24.6 points per game in 2012, Tampa Bay’s scoring defense is allowing just 22.4 points this year, which ranks 11th in the NFL.
But that’s not the only area where the defense has improved. Tampa Bay recorded just 27 sacks last year, and already has 31 this season – thanks to seven against Buffalo – with three games remaining.
Due to the interceptions created by the improved secondary, Tampa Bay has a plus-13 turnover differential, which ranks second in the NFL. Last year, the Bucs had a plus-3 turnover differential, which ranked 12th in the NFL.
“We just don’t quit,” Bucs Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “It all starts with our head coach and how he is. He’s very consistent with his effort and nothing really changes with how he prepares, how he comes to work everyday and it makes you want to work harder for that guy. Just stemming from him all the way there, from him to the captains, from the captains all the way down, it’s just kind of contagious – that effort, and just not quitting. And it’s working out for us. Our preparation has been the same, we’re just finishing games. We’re making the plays that were weren’t making before.”
If Schiano does stay, he may have to make some changes on his coaching staff. PewterReport.com has learned that defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan will likely stay due to the improvement of the defense and the development of young star players like McCoy, Banks, linebacker Lavonte David and strong safety Mark Barron.
However, the Bucs offense has struggled mightily this year, ranking 30th in points with an average of 18.7 points per game, and ranking 31st in total yardage, averaging 291.5 yards per game. That could cost offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan his job, especially with quarterbacks coach John McNulty on the staff. McNulty served as Schiano’s offensive coordinator at Rutgers in 2008.
Perhaps more importantly, McNulty has done a very good job developing Glennon, who has shown some promise and potential indicating he could be the team’s quarterback of the future. He will certainly be the quarterback in 2014 for the Buccaneers as the team does not plan on drafting one in the first round next year.
Schiano’s chances of sticking around as Tampa Bay’s head coach in 2014 have largely been tied to Glennon’s development. The rookie quarterback has broken several franchise rookie records and has completed 191-of-315 passes (60.6 percent) for 2,052 yards with 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a QB rating of 86.4.
Glennon struggled mightily against Buffalo on Sunday, completing just 9-of-25 passes (36 percent) for 90 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Bills defense entered the game as the league’s leading sack team, and is ranked second in the NFL in interceptions. In the five games prior to Sunday’s win, Glennon had completed close to 70 percent of his passes, so Schiano is hoping that Glennon’s performance against the Bills was more of the exception than the norm.
“We’re playing really well right now, but we still have three games left that we want to finish strong,” Glennon said. “It’s nice to see the second half of the season we’re 4-1.”
Glennon will have to play markedly better against San Francisco, which is coming off a victory against Seattle, this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The 49ers bring a 9-4 record to Tampa Bay, and will become the eighth team out of the 11 teams the Bucs have played this year that currently have a winning record.Buccaneers 2013 Strength of Schedule
New York Jets 6-7
New Orleans Saints 10-3
New England Patriots 10-3
Arizona Cardinals 8-5
Philadelphia Eagles 8-5
Atlanta Falcons 3-10
Carolina Panthers 9-4
Seattle Seahawks 11-2
Miami Dolphins 7-6
Atlanta Falcons 3-10
Detroit Lions 7-6
Carolina Panthers 9-4
Buffalo Bills 4-9Opponents’ Combined Record: 95-74
The fact that Tampa Bay has had the hardest strength of schedule of any team in the NFL also helps Schiano’s cause with the Glazers. It’s one thing to play so many good teams in one year. It’s another thing to do so with a rookie quarterback for most of the season and with so many reserve players in the starting lineup replacing a multitude of starters whose season ended prematurely due to injury.
“We’re finding ways to win the game, but I mean, against good football teams [earlier in the year], we were in games, but we just found ways to lose games,” Schiano said. “Literally, you look at it and say we invented ways to lose some games.
“I’m just worried about where we are now. We’ve got a heck of an opponent coming in Sunday, so we’ve got our work cut out for us. I know our guys are excited about it. It was a physical game, so we’re going to have to see how we fare [with injuries]. We don’t have a lot of wiggle room right now.”
During the team’s dreadful 0-8 start, Schiano’s tenure in Tampa Bay appeared to be doomed. However, a 4-1 start to the second half of the season has given the Bucs head coach some much needed wiggle room when it comes to remaining at One Buccaneer Place in 2014.
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