It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. After a convincing 29-7 win at home last week, Tampa Bay fall to 1-1 after getting throttled by the Minnesota Vikings, 34-17, in the team’s first road game of the season.

TWO BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: The Bucs Have No Pass Rush
If you were fretting when Tampa Bay did not draft a pass rusher this year despite the fact that its top two speed rushers, defensive ends Noah Spence (shoulder) and Jacquies Smith (knee), were recovering from major surgeries you were vindicated today. Coming into this season, the Bucs defense only had two legit pass rushers in Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Spence – and three if you count Smith, who hasn’t been active yet for a game after having a second knee surgery in August.

With Spence injuring a shoulder against Minnesota and missing most of the game, the Bucs defense was down to only McCoy in terms of reliably getting to the quarterback, and he’s often double-teamed without the threat of an outside pass rush. That was the case again on Sunday in Minnesota.

Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith tried to rush linebackers and cornerbacks, but Vikings quarterback Case Keenum deftly avoided the blitz and checked down to running back Dalvin Cook, who had five catches for 72 yards in addition to rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

In the end, the Bucs didn’t register a sack against Keenum, who had all day to throw the ball.

“We couldn’t really stop the run,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter Koetter said. “We couldn’t cover them and we had no pass rush. There wasn’t much [that was] good.”

Vikings QB Case Keenum - Photo by: Getty Images
Vikings QB Case Keenum – Photo by: Getty Images

Koetter was right when he said earlier in the year that the cavalry isn’t coming. The Bucs have to play the players they have on the roster. There isn’t a savior pass rusher on the streets for general manager Jason Licht to sign.

Defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. looks like a shell of his former self and hasn’t shown this year that he can get to the quarterback. Will Gholston is a run stuffing defensive end and doesn’t have any speed off the edge. Ryan Russell also hasn’t displayed the ability to get to the quarterback, evidenced by his one career sack in the past two years.

Through eight quarters the Bucs have just one sack and that came from Spence last week against Chicago. Outside of a sack by blitzing linebacker Lavonte David in Jacksonville, Spence was the only starting defender that had a sack in the preseason, which proved to be an ominous sign.

The Bucs will face Eli Manning next Sunday and an offensive line that has been under fire for allowing eight sacks in the first two games, although Manning wasn’t sacked despite 47 pass attempts in a 27-24 loss at Philadelphia. Tampa Bay has registered just one sack in 78 pass attempts between Keenum and Mike Glennon, and that’s awful.

STATEMENT 2: Sorry, But Cook Fumbled The Ball At The Goal Line
Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball at the goal line in the first quarter, but it wasn’t ruled a turnover and Minnesota went up 7-0 as a result. That was a big, momentum-changing play early in the game. Of course there was plenty of time after that play for Tampa Bay’s defense to stop Minnesota’s offense and for the Bucs offense to put points on the board, so I’m not making any excuses for the team.

But here’s what I don’t like about the stipulation that there has to be enough video evidence to overturn the call. The ruling on the field was a touchdown from the linesmen – despite the fact that their view was obscured. Yet instant replay showed the ball being punched out by Chris Conte right at the goal line. Maybe Cook was in. But maybe Conte punched it just before. Yet the instant replay view was clearly better than the view of the officials on the field.

Don’t call me a Bucs homer, but if I was the instant replay referee I would have gone with the best view possible, which was the various TV camera angles that looked to show Cook fumble the ball – not some obstructed view that the officials had. There’s no telling what a fumble at the goal line would have done for the flow of the rest of the game.

TWO PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Was This Week 2 at Arizona In 2016 Or Week 2 at Minnesota 2017?
It’s déjà vu all over again for the Buccaneers. If you thought Tampa Bay’s devastating, 40-7 loss in Week 2 at Arizona last year was bad, Bucs fans had to relive it all over again on Sunday in Minnesota. The Bucs’ 34-17 loss to the Vikings had all of the earmarks from the team’s second game of the season a year ago. Coming off an impressive win last year at Atlanta in the 2016 season opener, the Bucs were full of confidence, only to run into a buzz saw in the desert that not only left the team’s pride wounded after such a big defeat, it also left Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster quite wounded, too.

Last year, running back Doug Martin (hamstring), blocking tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) and wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) went down with injuries that kept them out weeks and hampered the offense, while defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. was also lost for several weeks with a high ankle sprain. Those injuries played a role in the team’s 3-5 start to the season.

The Bucs were missing several players due to injury coming into Sunday’s game at Minnesota with the flu keeping defensive tackle Chris Baker and defensive end Jacquies Smith out for the game, while linebacker Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and cornerback Brent Grimes (shoulder) were out from injuries suffered last week. It went from bad to worse early for the visiting Bucs.

Defensive end Noah Spence dislocated the same shoulder he had surgically repaired in the offseason early in the contest and only returned briefly to rush on a third down in the third quarter. Newly acquired safety T.J. Ward hurt his hip/quad in the third quarter and did not return.

Bucs TE Cameron Brate - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs TE Cameron Brate – Photo by: Getty Images

After catching a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter tight end Cameron Brate was rocked from Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo with a hit that should’ve been called “targeting.” Brate didn’t return to the game.

“I feel good,” Brate said after the game in the locker room. “No injury.”

Brate was woozy after he got up and I’m surprised he isn’t in the concussion protocol. Brate gave the indication he would be ready to go this week, but Alexander said the same thing in the locker room after last Sunday’s victory over the Bears. In the end the players don’t make the call as to whether they can play or not – the team trainers do.

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is dealing with a sprained ankle coming into Sunday’s game, had to leave the game twice after re-aggravating it. Yet the worst injury news came when star linebacker and team captain Lavonte David had his left ankle rolled up on by a Vikings offensive lineman. David writhed around and grimaced in pain, and had to be carted off the field.

“X-rays were negative,” Koetter said. “That’s the good news.”

The initial opinion is that it’s a high ankle sprain, and if that holds true he will be sidelined a few weeks and miss upcoming games against the New York Giants and New England Patriots at least. David will have an MRI tomorrow.

After the loss to Arizona last year, the Bucs returned home to face a “bad team” in the Los Angeles Rams, who pulled off the upset with a 37-32 victory. The next week featured a home game against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, who prevailed at Raymond James Stadium 27-7.

This year’s third game for Tampa Bay features another so-called “bad team” in the 0-3 Giants, who lost on the road in Philadelphia, followed by another home game against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, who will be favored to win. Will history repeat itself and the Bucs get off to another 1-3 start with three straight losses to start the 2017 campaign?

QUESTION 2: Did The Bucs Really Want To Run The Ball?
The revamped Buccaneers offensive line was supposed to be better at run blocking this year, but struggled mightily this week in Minnesota in helping produce just 26 yards on nine carries (2.9 avg.). Koetter talked all offseason about how the Bucs had to get better running the ball this year, but after rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries in a 29-7 win against Chicago, the Bucs only ran the ball five times for 14 yards in the first half despite trailing only 14-3 at one point, and just four more times for 12 yards with the team behind 21-3.

The running game wasn’t working against a tougher Vikings front seven, but the ineffectiveness of the ground game directly led to the Bucs not being able to convert a third down until 10:22 was left in the third quarter. Yet if a team wants to run the ball, it needs to dedicate itself to doing that.

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Getty Images

What the lack of carries, especially in the first half, tells me is that Koetter doesn’t fully trust Rodgers and the O-line to get the job done. The Bucs took to the air too soon and the three-and-outs piled up in the first half, which led to a fatigued defense.

“Not good enough in any aspect by us,” Koetter said. “We definitely got away from what we do best, which I think is mix run and pass. We just couldn’t stop them there in the first half and we tried to react and play a little faster and there was a turnover.”

The Bucs did not rush for a first down against the Vikings. According to ProFootballReference.com, the only other time that didn’t happen since 1999 was in a 2014 loss to the Lions, which was a stat the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman found after the game. The Bucs should have a chance to get their ground game back on track when they face the 0-3 Giants, who gave up 193 yards rushing and a touchdown on 39 carries in a 27-24 loss at Philadelphia on Sunday. The Giants run defense is among the league’s worst, allowing 460 yards and a touchdown on 102 carries (4.6 avg.) this year.

TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: The Bucs Won’t Recover From This Game
Injuries played a role in Tampa Bay’s 1-3 start last season that quickly turned into a 3-5 record by the time November came around. The end result was a 9-7 record and the Bucs being one win away from the playoffs despite a furious 6-2 record that featured a five-game winning streak down the stretch.

For some odd reason, it looks like the damage the Bucs incurred in Week 2 this year may come back to bite them. The Bucs are far more injured than they were heading into this week and could face the Giants without linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, which would be a nightmare for Tampa Bay.

Eli Manning is a better quarterback than Case Keenum, who lit up the Bucs for three touchdowns. Odell Beckham, Jr. is a better wide receiver than Minnesota’s Stephon Diggs, who had eight catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Unless Brent Grimes returns next week to cover OBJ and the Bucs can find a pass rush somewhere, the Bucs may have two ugly Sundays in a row.

The prediction here is that the Bucs lose to a desperate 0-3 Giants team, and then again to the Patriots to start the year 1-3 – again. If that happens Tampa Bay will have to get hot and go on a streak to salvage its season like it did a year ago. If Tampa Bay does start off 2017 with a 1-3 record it will have to finish 9-3 down the stretch, and that would be a very tall order for the banged up Buccaneers.

PREDITION 2: Keenum Is The Bucs’ Kryptonite
Journeyman quarterback Case Keenum just has the Bucs’ number. There’s no doubt about it. With Sunday’s victory Keenum is now 3-0 against Tampa Bay winning twice with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams in 2015 and ’16, and then on Sunday with the Vikings.

“They did a good job of mixing [plays]. Case Keenum has been lights out every time we’ve played him. He looked like the best player in the NFL today. He hit those deep balls and they made the plays. They mixed it up well.”

Keenum completed 25-of-33 passes (75 percent) for 369 yards and three touchdowns, producing a QB rating of 142.1. In last year’s 37-32 win in Tampa Bay with the Rams, Keenum completed 14-of-26 passes (53.8 percent) for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. In 2015 at St. Louis on Thursday Night Football, Keenum was again lights out, completing 14-of-17 passes (82.4 percent) for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.

If Keenum ever faces the Bucs – regardless of what team he’s on – history shows it’s not going to be pretty for Tampa Bay. Sometimes players and teams just have another team’s number, and Keenum definitely has the Bucs’ number. Tampa Bay will never beat Keenum.

 

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

22 COMMENTS

  1. This is a pretty solemn report, but it shows the nature of the NFL swing. One week, it’s playoffs, next week it’s doomed. Now injuries like we got from this game, those are very damaging. That secondary was woeful today and if Grimes is not back this will turn into another shootout, which is what we don’t want. We don’t need Jameis throwing the ball 40 times a game. We are 0-6 in those games. I would think we would handle the Giants as that offensive line is horrible, but man that pass rush was anemic today. The Giants also have a terrible run defense, I would hope Koetter would stick to the run game a bit longer next week. Give Peyton Barber some carries.But right now that whiff on a RB is costly to this team.
    Let’s hope we get some defensive players back as that is the key to this season.

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  2. Even with the defensive injuries, the Giants game can be a W. Second straight game on the road for the Gmen and for some reason that plays in this league. Unfortunately I don’t expect much pressure on Eli but the Giants don’t have a Cook back there. Should lead to much tighter windows than Keenum saw today and hopefully Grimes is back. I won’t even write off the Pats game yet depending on the extent of these injuries. David is out and likely Spence but if we have the rest and a fresh, hungry Martin.. it should be a competitive game. NE D is not the same as years past. GO BUCS

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  3. A LOT of season left to play people. Let’s see how it shakes out a bit more before reaching for the doom and gloom.

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  4. Not sure about Keenum beating us again. Lol. Likely won’t ever see him again. Then again….

    The rest and the 1-3 start sounds right. Too many injuries again…..sounds like another crap year.

    You know I’ve been Buc’s/NFL football fan since 80’s but This is the least interested I’ve been in football in general. After the Bucs loss didn’t watc anymore and didn’t watch game tonight. In the past I’d be really upset it’s another bad season and so many injuries just week 2. The kneeling and all the other garbage today has really turned me off. This crap continues I’m not renewing my tickets next year.

    Football was one thing I could watch and forget the everyday bullshit and politics. Not anymore. Very dissapointing.

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  5. If Case Keenum could only play the Bucs he would go into the HoF as the greatest QB to ever play the game!
    For all you folks talking Superbowl out there, I told you not to drink the Koolaid. This is a slightly above average team with serious depth issues. They kept going offense in the recent drafts (except 1 year) and now they have a razor thin defense. If a grade A player goes down they have to send a grade C or D in. It’s going to take a few more years:(
    Also, Winston at 23 years old is still too immature to be a big time QB. It will take a couple of more years (say age 25) before he is ready.

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  6. Bucs will be fine.

    Rest of NFCS is ho hum at the moment as well.

    Bigger worry down the line is if the Bucs make the playoffs (which is a big IF) they are looking at one and done if they don’t improve pass rush.

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  7. Hard to want to run the ball when your backs are Rodgers, and Sims. I have to believe some of Rodgers 2 yard gains in the games beginning, would have been 5 yard gains if Cook was toting the rock. So we can hope our ground game will turn around when Martin comes back, but with the draft stacked with running backs, did we need to pick a safety in the second round? We don’t have that threat in the back field Cook, or Hunt bring on every down. By the way, the Bucs didn’t draft either of them, but I drafted both Cook, and Hunt in my fantasy league, and I’m 3 – 0! Just saying Jason.

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  8. Good call on the play from Sendejo. This crew let him fly around with pretty much abandon. I thought that play was definitely. A couple of others, the interception that he caused on the Mike Evans ball in particular were borderline. He doesn’t fly in there like that if he already has one called. The knock out shot versus Brate empowered him to see how far he could go. Good job by him, but this isn’t the direction the NFL says its going.

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  9. How is no one talking about the play of Ryan Smith?
    Felt like all game it was literally watching Keenum looking for #29. Without Grimes, I dont see any Ws for the Buccs. Ryan Smith is not a starting CB in this league. I think yesterday made it clear and obvious changes and upgrades need to be made to the secondary.

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    • The play of Ryan Smith and VH3(first round draft pick) was awful, Coach Smith needs to provide an explanation of what happened, why and how he plans to never let that happen again. Those two cornerbacks were so awful that we will never stand even a chance. They should be made to blitz as they are entirely useless as cornerbacks.

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  10. Ryan smith stunk for sure but nobody dmsaid he was ready to start his rookie year either….we lack depth in lot areas.

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  11. Way too much negativity based upon a single game with extraordinary losses of key defensive players to injury and illness both before and during the game.

    Am I predicting a Bucs win next weekend? No. I’m not much of a predictor.

    But when four of your 11 defensive starters don’t even suit up, including our best interior run-stuffer (Baker), a very good end rusher (Smith), the best cornerback (Grimes) in the league last season (as measured by passes defensed) … and then by the third quarter of the game we lose our best weakside linebacker (David)to an ankle, our best All Pro/Pro Bowler safety (Ward), and another good endrusher (Spence – dislocated shoulder), due to in-game injuries, and our best three-tech interior lineman (McCoy)is hobbled by an ankle injury, and our other starting DT (Ayers) and starting CB (Hargreaves) gets pulled for awhile due to injury, then this game was no measure of the team’s capabilities, regardless of whom we drafted or didn’t draft last spring.

    Injuries happen. We happened to get destroyed by injuries yesterday on the D, not merely snake-bit.

    Now, going forward, much will depend upon how many of our defensive players we get back and when. We could be back to near full strength (probably minus Lavonte David for at least a few weeks though) and back in business against the Giants. Or we could be in serious trouble again. We won’t know, possibly right up until kickoff.

    Offensively, the stats show that Jameis throws most of his INTs when playing from behind. He takes more risks with the ball when we’re behind. We were behind all game yesterday. If our defense holds, then that won’t be the case. Jameis can be coached to stay more within his capabilities, but Coach Koetter’s coaching to date was based on having our an effective defense to rely upon. If the D is down, then Jameis will take the offense onto his shoulders and he is going to make more risky throws. If our run game improves, when Doug Martin gets back, then that will help.

    Too many unanswered questions to be making firm predictions today.

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    • The sky is not falling, I agree. However, backups or not, there is no excuse for losing to Case Keenum, and certainly none for making him look like a probowler.

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      • Explanation, not excuse.

        I am fairly confident that had our defensive team that took the field a week ago at home had played against Case Keenum and his offense, the result would have looked very different.

        I am also fairly confident that the reason Jameis threw no picksw a week ago but threw three of them yesterday is related at least in part to who we had on the field yesterday on our defense. Also, our offense’s performance yesterday was in no small part related in part to the quality of defense we faced yesterday as compared to a week ago.

        Too many people are drawing too many conclusions from a single performance, both last week and yesterday.

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  12. Lot of preseason hype just melted away. O line not up to competition v. strong MN line. No ground game put it all on passing attack – never good. Where was Payton Barber? Sims is a receiver, not a runner. We need to go with Rodgers and Barber to get ground yards. And we still don’t have a pass rush. Throw in injuries and just shows how thin we are at CB and D line. I’m still n the band wagon, though. I predict we’ll beat the Giants, struggle with the Pats and likely lose that one.

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  13. Quite a turn around for you Scott? There is no reason why we can’t beat the Giants. Defense just has to play up close and tight. I think we should go to a 3-4 since we have so many DL injuries and play an extra Safety since we have so many of them. Of course Safety or LB would have to blitz. Can’t figure out why Barber didn’t play? Sims has shown us what he has which isn’t much of anything. Surely we have one of the young DE’s we cut that are on some teams Practice Squad and pull them to our Roster? Right now i don’t see the need for Cross or Sims and I see the need for more healthy DL. Go Bucs! You can beat the Giants!

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  14. WIth all the injuries, we need 2015 Doug Martin if we are going to be a playoff team.

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  15. Regarding the Cook fumble, the one thing that reply conclusively did not show was the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. The camera angles I saw showed the ball being knocked out before Cook’s body fell into the end zone. It was a bad call. Unfortunately, that is par for the Course in the NFL. Obviously, the Bucs had a lot of time to overcome that, but I do think if it was ruled a fumble it would have had a lasting impact on the game.

    I also agree that the Bucs have had little pass rush and that, along with the injuries, is a problem. But, I think that saying they are staring 1-3 in the face is an overreaction. The Giants have looked terrible thus far, especially their offensive line. Both games are at home, and the Bucs get the Patriots on a short week. I am not saying we are going to go 3-1, but I don’t think it is time for doom and gloom either after one loss against a tough team on the road. Lots of good teams lost this week. Score didn’t look great, but Bucs were in it until the Evans tip-pass INT in the fourth quarter. Team fought despite getting into a hole and having a lot of injuries.

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  16. As the old saying goes” reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”:

    1) reports of the Bucs season being in jeopardy, are greatly exaggerated. This game was always a “?” on the calendar. Losing it, perhaps not as one may have expected, should not have been unexpected.

    2) reports of Jaquizz Rodgers being on-par with Dalvin Cook, are greatly exaggerated. Night and day between these two. And before anyone says ‘but Rodgers never got a chance’…yes he did, and he once again showed he’s good for 3 yards per carry. 3 yards per carry is not good enough, and nowhere near Dalvin Cook.

    3) reports of Winston having matured beyond being INT-prone, are greatly exaggerated. Sure the 2 4th quarter INTs were late and he was trying to make things happen….however, nothing good is going to happen if he keeps throwing INTs.

    4) reports of VHIII being ready for prime time, are greatly exaggerated. Case Keenum made him look like a 6th round rookie…repeatedly.

    5) reports of Chris Conte being just fine, are greatly exaggerated. His attempts at pass coverage, if one can call it that, made VHIII look like a perennial probowler.

    6) reports of Beckwith being a Kwan Alexander clone, are greatly exaggerated. The kid has potential…but this game showed what happens when one does not live up to their potential…hey Kendall, the middle of the field is there for you to cover.

    As Koetter said, “There wasn’t much that was good”. That’s no exaggeration….on to the G-men.

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    • East End Boy- Agreed on VH3. He looked absolutely lost out during the game and at times looked like he just gave up.

      Pitiful… Down right pitiful.

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    • I will amend to be fair to Beckwith…he’s been a good rookie LB no doubt. My point should have ended after dousing the claims of him being the next Kwon, that’s been over done, but unfair to blame all of Cooks performance on him over the middle. Apologies.

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  17. Until we are healthy, this team is going to have to emulate the Peyton Manning Colts. A high powered offense that can out score most opponents. We have the weapons to do it !

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