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. The Bucs had plenty of opportunities to beat the visiting New England Patriots on Thursday Night Football, but fell short in a 19-14 loss. Bucs kicker Nick Folk capped off an awful week with three missed field goals and should be cut.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Koetter’s Play-Calling, Clock Management Has To Improve
Head coach and offensive play-caller Dirk Koetter didn’t miss any kicks or overthrow any receivers on Thursday night for Tampa Bay, but he did a lousy job of calling plays in certain stretches of the game. The Bucs didn’t get into a real rhythm on offense in a game that wound up to be there for the taking against the New England Patriots, especially when the defense held Tom Brady and Co. to just 19 points. On Friday, Koetter discussed his play-calling.
“Trust me, for everyone that criticizes me as a play-caller, no one’s harder on my play-calling than I am,” Koetter said. “We started off, I think it was our first eight, we were 0-for-8 or something like that on third down, but we also, probably three of those were drops. If you’re 3-for-8, you’re right about where you should be, 45 percent is a good [rate]. If you’re in the 40s, you’re doing okay.
“I always look at it as a play-caller as it’s my job to get us in rhythm, okay? It’s my job to get us in a rhythm, and I had a hard time doing that yesterday. Sometimes during the game you don’t always know why that is. After you look at the tape, you have a lot better idea of why you weren’t in a rhythm. Sometimes it’s play-calling and sometimes it’s play execution and sometimes it’s a combination of both.”
To be fair to Koetter, tight end Cam Brate had at least three dropped passes, including a touchdown, and quarterback Jameis Winston overthrew running back Doug Martin and wide receiver DeSean Jackson on third downs, as well. Execution was just as much to blame as the play-calling for the first three quarters, but what Koetter did wrong was to go away from the running game when it was working in the first half when running back Doug Martin was averaging 7.9 yards per attempt with 55 yards on seven carries.
The biggest failure on Koetter’s part came with 3:42 left in the first half and the Bucs trailing 10-7. With Tampa Bay getting the ball first in the second half, the Bucs had the opportunity to get back-to-back scores and take the lead, but the one thing the team had to do was not allow the Patriots to get points before halftime. Instead of running the ball to start that possession to eat clock and feed the hot hand in Martin, Koetter opted to throw the ball on first down from the Tampa Bay 25. Winston was sacked and then it was second-and-15. Instead of running the ball and burning clock, Koetter opted for two more passes – both of which were incomplete.
The Patriots got the ball with 2:13 left and marched down to score a field goal with 43 seconds left in the half. An acceptable halftime score would have been the Patriots leading 10-7, but not getting another score before the half, a 10-10 tie or a 14-10 Buccaneers lead. Koetter not sticking with the running game and managing the clock better cost the team three points.
Martin finished the game with 74 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries (5.7 avg.) and should have received a higher workload. The only one that stopped Martin all night was Koetter.
If you think I am remiss by not putting some blame for the loss on another slow start by Winston, read my latest SR’s Fab 5 column.
STATEMENT 2: At 2-2, The Bucs Are Ahead Of The Game
While Bucs fans are right to be upset over a big missed opportunity on Thursday night as Tampa Bay had plenty of chances to upset the New England Patriots, the good news is that the Bucs are 2-2 after the first quarter of their season. Last year the Bucs were 1-3 at this juncture, yet rallied to go 8-4 down the stretch to finish 9-7 and post the team’s first winning record since 2010.
Tampa Bay missed the playoffs by one game last year. If the Bucs can go 8-4 over the last three quarters of their season they’ll finish 10-6, which should be enough to make the playoffs. While games at Arizona and at Buffalo aren’t going to be easy, they are winnable and the Bucs could be 4-2 when they face the Carolina Panthers on October 29 at home.
Is the Patriots game – the one that got away –this year’s version of last year’s Rams game? It could be if the Bucs don’t care of business and get on a roll in October, November and December.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Why Can’t The Bucs Find A Kicker?
Some franchises like Cleveland, Houston (possibly until now with DeShone Kizer and Deshaun Watson, respectively), Chicago and the New York Jets struggle to find quarterbacks through the years. In Tampa Bay the struggle has been to find a reliable kicker since letting Matt Bryant go prior to the 2009 season. It’s crazy to think that the Bucs have been through eight kickers in nine years in Mike Nugent, Shane Andrus, Connor Barth, Rian Lindell, Patrick Murray, Lawrence Tynes, Kyle Brindza, Roberto Auguyo and Nick Folk, whose job is clearly in jeopardy after missing three field goals against the Patriots and a two field goals and an extra point against the New York Giants on Sunday.
“Yeah, I left points out there,” Folk said after the loss on Thursday night. “We should’ve won that game 20-19. This one’s on me.
“It’s been a bad week. From starting out on Sunday to today – bad week.”
That’s an understatement. To put Folk’s woes into perspective, Aguayo only missed 11 kicks (nine field goals, two extra points) through 16 games last year. Folk missed seven kicks (five field goals, two extra points) through the first four games. That means Folk is actually performing worse than Aguayo did during his rookie campaign. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Bryant has made 88 percent of his field goals since being signed by the Falcons in 2009.
Aside from two stable seasons from Barth and Murray years ago, the Bucs’ kicking has been atrocious. Tampa Bay has made 28-of-42 field-goal attempts (66 percent) since 2016, which is the lowest percentage in the NFL. You can’t blame Bucs general manager Jason Licht for not trying. He’s traded for one (Brindza), drafted one (Aguayo in the second round), and signed a veteran (Folk). The Bucs’ crazy search for a kicker continues.
QUESTION 2: Will Tampa Bay Be At Full Strength For Arizona?
In addition to Tampa Bay being 2-2 through the first four games, which is not a bad record, there is another ray of positivity that is shining on One Buccaneer Place. The Bucs may be close to getting back to full strength health-wise after a mini-bye week.
While unheralded linebackers Kendell Beckwith, who has a team-leading 36 tackles, and Adarius Glanton, who has 23 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, have played well, the Bucs will benefit from the return of Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and Lavonte David (ankle) against Arizona, in addition to safeties T.J. Ward (hip) and Keith Tandy (hip) being available, too.
The return of those four defenders is not guaranteed or written in stone for the Cardinals game, but team sources tell PewterReport.com that the Bucs are very optimistic that Tampa Bay will be at or near full strength at Arizona. We all saw the boost that Doug Martin’s return from a suspension gave the offense. Expect a similar elevation in play with the return of Alexander, David, Ward and Tandy.
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: I Might Give Up My Predictions
Please don’t wager any money on my predictions as they are for entertainment purposes only. Boy, was I wrong on Monday about my last two predictions. After forecasting that tight end O.J. Howard was going to be more of a focal point in Tampa Bay’s offense he didn’t catch a single pass and was only targeted once – on the game’s final play, which never had a chance of being a touchdown because Winston’s pass was fired too early.
I also predicted that David would return to action to face Patriots Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. David didn’t practice during the short week and missed his second straight game with an ankle injury, while Gronkowski injured a thigh and didn’t play on Thursday night, either. Wow. I was 0-for-2 – and I wasn’t even close.
PREDICTION 2: The Bucs Will Draft A Defensive End In 2018
Okay, I’m not giving up my predictions. However, I’m going to go for an easy lay-up on this one. While Tampa Bay’s pass rush showed signs of life against New England by registering three sacks, don’t get too excited. The Patriots’ line is awful and allowed Brady to get sacked 13 times prior to Thursday’s game. The three sacks that the Bucs got were the average of what the Patriots allowed, and they are tied for last in the league with San Francisco with four sacks in four games.
Tampa Bay’s three sacks came from defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald and blitzing linebacker Adarius Glanton. The Bucs only have one sack from a defensive end this year and that was from Noah Spence in Week 1. Licht will have to scout the defensive end position hard for the 2018 drft and find an edge rusher – or two – capable of putting constant heat on opposing quarterbacks and getting them to the ground. The Bucs will draft at least one defensive end in April – and will do so in the early rounds. For a list of pass rushers to keep an eye on, read my latest SR’s Fab 5.