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.”

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

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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]

16 COMMENTS

  1. Boy I know he’ll go way higher than we draft but Chubb from NC state is a nasty defensive end. He reminds me of Aaron Donald in size and power. He’s a monster. I can also see the next draft being very defensively focused. We need some DB’s too as it’s clear Hargreaves isn’t getting it yet.

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  2. Good synopsis of what went wrong on Thursday, Scott. Some fans were going way over the top in blaming Koetter for the loss, and others focused on the kicking game, and others on the receivers dropping balls, and some on Jameis Winston’s lackluster pasing performance. The truth is,it was all of the above.

    As for the playcalling, I completely agree with you that the biggest fail by Koetter was not giving the ball to the guy with the fresh, and very hot, legs, Doug Martin. He should have gotten the rock at the end of the first half, preventing another Pats score, and he should have gotten a minimum of 20 carries given how well he was playing … maybe even 25. I did not understand why Jacquizz Rodgers was being used so much when he was clearly not as effective as Martin.

    Also, I’d like to have seen more targets for OJ Howard … he was so cold after being ignored all game, to rely on him to salvage the game with a poorly thrown pass to him in the end zone from Winston, it was just not a useful play. I do believe in “rhythm” and going back to guys who are hot at the moment. Just look at what Brady did,targeting just four receivers the entire game, but very effectively. There may be the occasional game where everybody gets a touch, but most of the time you need to focus on a small handful.

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  3. Good evaluation Scott. I would like to add another observation of Winston. He still is not effective on the long ball and his mechanics still need work on medium range throws. He releases the ball too high and his receivers have to reach up and out for the ball. He almost got Humphries killed on a crossing pattern and he keeps missing high way too often. Being in his third year, you would think he would have improved on his mechanics…he hasen’t though.

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  4. Good report Scott. Blame is shared by Coaches and players. What bothers me is Folk words yesterday about not looking at the tape yet. Doesn’t he have a kicking coach or a kicking guru? Show me he’s obviously doing something wrong that he normally doesn’t do and I thought tape would show it. I think it’s time to find another kicker. There’s no excuses to miss five out of your last seven kicks and only one was over 50 yards.
    I would not be in such a hurry to bring back Alexander and David unless they are healed. The present linebackers have been doing good so what’s the hurry?

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    • They are trying out four kickers tomorrow. Hopefully, they’ll find someone better.

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  5. I was pleased to see a less predictable 1st down ( offence) after yrs of mebbe 80% run.BUT, why no play action??

    And, when JW does play action, there’s 8-12″ space !!

    Aloha from Big Island

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  6. OJ Howard easily could of turned himself around to track the ball and get in better position, how is he supposed to catch if he is not even looking at Winston.

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    • Kin – it’s a matter of timing between receiver and passer. Either OJ was expecting to get deeper into the end zone before turning to look for the pass, or Jameis was expecting OJ to turn sooner. That’s why repetition and rhythm are so important between receiver and passer. Last year Mike Evans was the most targeted receiver in the NFL … and it shows this season, that he and Jameis are clearly on the same page. OJ hadn’t been targeted a single time all game until the last play of the game … that is not the time to expect timing to be on.

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      • Watching from the end zone, OJ was the guy. That was the soft spot. He mixed his routes up. Koetter explained it on Late Hits. Jameis did what he was supposed to do based on play design. I think he (Jameis) is doing a lot more of this than he is getting credit for. I have been bashing Koetter for the play calling for a while, but this time it isn’t warranted. The play, given the situation will always be low percentage, but it still almost and probably should’ve worked. Your point about not targeting OJ specifically is spot on. He’s too dynamic of a weapon and too easy of a target not to call on 4-5 times a game. I thought initially this was an option route and OJ simply ran the wrong route, but I was wrong about that. He turns his head and he has a fight with a db for the ball. OJ wins that.

        And I believe he got screwed on the holding call. Hand were inside his and the DL’s frame, had the DL on skates there. Referee blew that call.

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        • This game could and should have been won.
          But TO MANY DROPPED BALLS TO MANY EASY THROWS IN THE FLATS OFF TARGET And WAY TO MANY MISSED KICKS.
          I REALLY WANTED US TO BEAT THE PAT’S SOOO BAD. Go bucs

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          • Me too. I’ve lived in New England for 8+ years now after moving from Tampa and let me tell you how often I get puzzled looks when people find out I still root for the Bucs. It would have helped me at the water cooler at work to get that W.

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  7. The 49er’s used their first over all pick, a high one at that, on a D end, and they are next to last with us in the sack department. That pick has one sack on the season, so if you think just drafting one will solve our problems, think again. Remember Gaines Adams? With the short passing games teams use today, getting to the Q.B. is just getting harder in todays NFL. Something happens to O.C.’s as play callers when they become H.C.’s. Unless they have a Q.B. like Rodgers, or Brees they seem to lose their mojo. Instead of having an intense focus on scoring, they let other factors creep into their heads that as H.C.’s they now have to consider. I don’t know how they can properly game plan all week, with all the duties that go into being a H.C.. Scott I’d like to know how Monken, and Koetter go about their weeks prep, maybe have Trev do a piece on that. While Dirk wears two hats, H.C., play caller, so does Monk, O.C. and receivers coach, am I right? Does Monken do the actual game plan for the week, or is it Koetter? If he is, how does Koetter call that game the way Monken planned it? Like you said, Martin is running great, then Dirk decides to throw 3 in a row, would Monken have done that, was that the plan? Be an interesting article, and might clear up some of the disconnect that seems to be going on.

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  8. The Bucs lost as a team against the Pats Thursday night and there is plenty of blame to spread around the whole team.
    I believe one of the worst things Koetter did however was try to force Jackson into the game plan.
    You could tell early on the Bucs were trying to get the whiney Jackson involved in the game much to the detriment of the team.
    Even at the start of the second half we tried to go long to Jackson before Winston had gotten any tempo or rhythm in the game.
    It was driving me absolutely nuts.
    Still, why we decided to get into a gun fight with Brady played right into the Patriots hands.
    Come on coach, you can do better. You have to.

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  9. Would have liked to have seen how Winston and the offense would have fared if Brate hadn’t dropped all of those third down passes that would have resulted in first downs and also the TD drop which resulted in a botched Fold FG attempt.
    Or how about the illegal motion penalty in the final minute of the game which caused us to lose 10 valuable seconds.
    Team game. team loss.
    I just hope they don’t try to force feed the whiney Jackson next week against the Cardinals. I don’t care if he only catches two passes if the Bucs win. Let him pout.

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  10. Our first 4 rounds in the draft should be DL.
    McCoy is not getting any younger,Spence looks like a 3-4 LB and Ayers well we got one modest year out of him. The Bucs have not IMO drafted well as far as D Linemen go and it is showing up now. Also IMO if we had a better pass rush the DB’s would look a lot better.

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  11. I still say we need a high pick spent on a RB. I think SR agrees if his recent Fab 5 is any indication. Just imagine if Kareem Hunt shared carries with Martin last Thursday at the expense of not having Godwin. Idk if you go DE or RB in 1 or 2. Hopefully best player available and we can hit on both.

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