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 decided to keep Dirk Koetter around for one more year and Tampa Bay ended a disappointing 2017 season with a bang on a thrilling 39-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin in a 31-24 triumph over the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1: Koetter Survives To Coach Again In 2018
Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter was given assurances by the Glazers that he would return in 2018 prior to Sunday’s season finale against New Orleans. In a dramatic, come-from-behind 31-24 win over the Saints, Koetter accomplished an amazing feat. He’s the first non-rookie Bucs head coach since 2006 to lose at least three in a row to end a season or four out of the last five games of the season and not get fired. Former head coach Jon Gruden last did that in 2006, going 1-5 down the stretch to finish 4-12, but he wasn’t fired.
Koetter’s Bucs snapped a five-game losing streak with Sunday’s win to finish the 2017 season 5-11. So let’s take a look at the last couple of times the Glazers opted to make a head coaching change following a December collapse. The most recent took place in 2015 when the Bucs lost four straight games to end the year 6-10 after a 6-6 start, which prompted the team to fire head coach Lovie Smith and replace him with Koetter.
In 2013, Greg Schiano sealed his fate early on with a 0-8 start to the season. Despite winning three in a row at one point and going 4-1 over a five-game span, his three straight losses to end the 2013 season doomed him and he was fired after Tampa Bay finished 4-12.
Ex-Bucs head coach Raheem Morris – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
In 2011, the Bucs had a promising start in Raheem Morris’ third year as head coach, opening with a 4-2 record. But 10 straight defeats to end the season was justification enough for the Glazers to fire Morris, who ran too loose of a ship with the “Youngry” Bucs in Tampa Bay.
Following a 9-7 season in 2008, the Glazers fired the coach that they traded four draft picks and $8 million for in Gruden. The reason? After a tremendous 9-3 start the Bucs lost the last four games of the season as the defense collapsed after word broke that long-time defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was leaving to join his son’s staff at the University of Tennessee.
The Glazers even fired Gruden the same year he became the team’s all-time winningest coach and the same year that they rewarded him with a five-year contract extension. So why didn’t Gruden get fired after that 4-12 season in 2006 in which the Bucs finished a dismal 2-7 down the stretch? Because the Bucs had a rash of injuries that year, and Tampa Bay was 11-5 the season before, won the NFC South division and hosted a home playoff game.
Gruden had enough capital in his coaching bank with the Glazers from winning the Super Bowl to survive a disappointing 5-11 season that featured four straight losses in 2003, too. By virtue of his 9-7 record in his first season as head coach, Koetter apparently has that kind of capital with the Glazers, who are giving him another chance to prove which was the fluke season under Koetter – 2016 or 2017?
STATEMENT 2: Bucs Have One Of The Worst Years Rushing The Passer
The Buccaneers entered the 2017 season finale with only 20 sacks, which ranked dead last in the NFL. Tampa Bay’s feeble pass rush dodged a historical low as the fewest sacks the team ever recorded in franchise history was 19 in 1986 when the team finished 2-14. The Bucs notched two sacks on Sunday to keep firm hold on last place in the sack department with 22 sacks this season. Indianapolis finished the season ranked 31st with 25 sacks.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s six sacks were the most in Tampa Bay this season. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald was the runner up with five.
What’s even worse about Tampa Bay’s pass rush is that the Bucs actually recorded more sacks – 24 – in their inaugural season in 1976 when NFL teams only played 14 games – as an expansion team – than the Bucs registered this year in 16 games.
Fewest Sacks In Bucs History
19 sacks in 1986 – 2-14
20 sacks in 1988 – 5-11
20 sacks in 1994 – 6-10 22 sacks in 2017 – 4-12
23 sacks in 1981 – 9-7*
23 sacks in 2011 – 4-12
24 sacks in 1978 – 5-11
24 sacks in 1976 – 0-14 – 14 games
25 sacks in 1982 – 5-4 – 9 games
25 sacks in 1995 – 7-9
25 sacks in 2006 – 4-12
26 sacks in 2010 – 10-6
27 sacks in 2012 – 7-9
28 sacks in 2009 – 3-13
29 sacks in 1993 – 5-11
29 sacks in 2008 – 9-7
30 sacks in 1977 – 14 games
Typically, when the Bucs have recorded 25 sacks or less in a year that season has ended up with a double-digit losing record. That’s happened seven times out of the eight times it happened, including 2017. The only season in which Tampa Bay had less than 25 sacks and the team has had a winning record came in 1981 when the 9-7 Bucs had 23 sacks and made the playoffs as a Wild Card.
The lack of pass rush was due to a combination of poor personnel decisions this year, poor performances, injuries and poor coaching from position coach Jay Hayes, which could likely cost him his job as changes to the coaching staff are expected in 2018.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Was Keeping Koetter The Right Move?
That’s a tough question, and the easy answer is that we’ll all know this time next year. I don’t know if keeping Koetter was wise given this disappointing 5-11 season, and neither do the Glazers, but that’s the path they have gone down. It certainly is a departure for the Glazers, who have historically come to expect good results from their head coaches in their second seasons or they have fired them.
Former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy took over the team in 1996 and produced a 10-6 record and Wild Card win the next season. After Dungy was fired after the 2001 season, the Glazers traded for Gruden, who went 12-4 and won a Super Bowl in his first season in Tampa Bay. Morris, who replaced Gruden in 2009, went 10-6 in his second season in between a 3-13 record in his rookie year as head coach and the 4-12 season that got him fired in 2013.
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
This is the first time in franchise history that the Glazers are keeping a head coach who has a losing season in his second year at the helm for a third season. Keeping Koetter is only the right move if he ends up being the right guy to take this team to the playoffs, and we won’t know that until 2018. He’ll get next year to prove if last season’s 9-7 record was the real deal and this year was an injury-filled fluke – or if the Bucs got lucky in 2016 and 2017 is a more accurate representations of Koetter’s Buccaneers.
Regardless, Koetter staying on for the 2018 campaign is a remarkable departure from the Glazers’ norm and shows tremendous patience on their behalf. They will likely insist on some staff changes with Koetter’s assistants, and defensive coordinator Mike Smith and some defensive assistants may have to fall on the sword as a result.
The Jaguars were super patient with Gus Bradley and gave him four years to prove he was the right guy. That turned out to be a mistake. After a 4-12 season in his first year, Bradley was 3-13 in his second year, followed by a 5-11 record in 2015. But after Jacksonville went 3-13 in 2016 Bradley was fired and replaced with Doug Marrone, who has the Jaguars at 10-6 this season and in the playoffs as the AFC South champions.
The only way I think Koetter sees a fourth year as head coach in Tampa Bay is if the Bucs get to double-digit wins and make the playoffs in 2018. If not, I think the Glazers’ patience wears out.
QUESTION 2: Is There Any Chance Koetter Gets Fired After Sunday’s Win?
I highly doubt it, but Dungy was told he was safe heading into the 2001 NFC Playoffs before being fired. Gruden was fired two weeks after the 2008 season. Schiano and former general manager Mark Dominik were also given assurances that they would be back before a 42-17 loss in the season finale concluded a 4-12 campaign then they changed their mind.
The Bucs didn’t issue a press release stating that Koetter would return in 2018, nor have the Glazers said anything publicly. But Koetter acknowledged it on his Friday radio program and team officials acknowledged that he would be the head coach in 2018 when contacted by PewterReport.com and the Tampa Bay Times.
Koetter also addressed his return following the Saints game.
“Well, I am certainly appreciative to the Glazer Family for everything they have done for me, and for my family, and for the things they have given this franchise to put us in position to win,” Koetter said. “The indoor facility is huge [and] something that I think was really needed. Shoot, they built a beautiful facility. It took a lot of courage for the Glazer Family to bring me back [and] bring the staff back with the record what it is, but I really appreciate that. We will start the evaluation process tomorrow. We will send these guys off on their vacation and we will start working on 2018.”
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
I’m not suggesting that I don’t believe that Koetter returns next year. I truly think he is, but I probably won’t believe it 100 percent until February, given the Glazers’ track record with coaches. The fact that the Bucs snapped their five-game losing streak with Sunday’s comeback win over the Saints and that Winston fought back from three interceptions to throw the game-winning touchdown pass to rookie Chris Godwin certainly helps Koetter’s cause – and good for him. By the way, Godwin, who had seven catches for 111 yards and the game-winning touchdown, is quickly turning into a stud receiver. That was his first career 100-yard game and first NFL touchdown.
Yet I’m also keeping an eye on what happens with Arizona head coach Bruce Arians, who may not return to the Cardinals next year. Arians, an offensive-minded head coach, is good friends with Bucs general manager Jason Licht, and has gone on record with his fondness for Winston. With Gruden not coming back to Tampa Bay, the only other candidate that I could possibly see entering the picture would be Arians.
Several Bucs players, including Winston, said they were pleased that the Glazers decided to retain Koetter for the 2018 season.
“After the Carolina game, the second one, Coach said, ‘If you guys play like that next year, no matter who is here, you’re going to do good.’” Winston said. “I broke it down and said, ‘Man, I’m tired of our coach giving us subliminal messages. Like, this is our coach. Let’s go out there and get a win for him.’ And we got it, right? That’s all that matters.”
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: The Bucs Will Have A New Special Teams Coordinator In 2018
Even though Koetter will return in 2018, I highly suspect Tampa Bay will seek to replace special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor next year. Not only did the Bucs struggle when it came to field goals earlier in the year with Nick Folk, punter Bryan Anger has not had nearly the year he did a year ago when he was regularly dropping punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Kicker Pat Murray also missed an extra point in the first half that almost came back to bite the Bucs as they trailed 24-23 late in the fourth quarter against the Saints before Winston’s late touchdown pass to Godwin.
Tampa Bay’s special teams have clearly taken a step back in 2017, evidenced by two blocked punts this year, including one that was returned for a touchdown in New Orleans, and two kickoff returns for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. Last week, Damiere Byrd returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown in Tampa Bay’s 22-19 loss at Carolina. In the Bucs’ season finale against the Saints, rookie Alvin Kamara returned a kickoff 106 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. The Bucs’ saving graces on special teams have been Will Gholston’s two blocked kicks and the team’s punt coverage unit, which has held opponents to just 6.2 yards per return this year and special teams captain Josh Robinson forcing a fumble on a punt return on Sunday that was recovered for a touchdown by Isaiah Johnson.
Tampa Bay’s return game has been incredibly uneventful this year with a 22-yard kick return average and a 9.6-yard punt return average. The Bucs have returned 20 kicks for 432 yards with a long of 50 yards by Bernard Reedy, who is no longer on the team, while giving up 47 kick returns for 1,167 yards and two touchdowns. The longest punt return of the year has been a 44-yarder – also by Reedy.
PREDICTION 2: Expect Thin Crowds At Ray-Jay In 2018
The Buccaneers only had one anounced sell out in 2017 despite a star-studded lineup of opponents that have large fan bases that travel well. The Bucs faced both New York teams – the Giants and Jets – at home, in addition to Chicago in the 2017 home opener in Week 2. Tampa Bay was a primetime game on Thursday Night Football against a marquee opponent in Super Bowl champion New England.
The crowd at kickoff for Bucs vs. Saints – Photo by: Scott Reynolds/PR
The 2018 home slate includes only two games with that type of marquee value – Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The Bucs’ other home games consist of games against Cleveland, Washington, San Francisco, and NFC South division foes Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. It’s also highly likely that the Bucs may not have a home primetime game in 2018 with a double-digit losing season.
The announced attendance for the Lions game, the last non-primetime game at Raymond James Stadium was just 50,759. That’s nearly 15,000 below capacity. The Bucs’ stadium was perhaps two-thirds full for the Saints game and there was an announced crowd of 55,376, but the actual attendance was definetly below 50,000. Of course the start time being moved back to 4:25 p.m. on New Year’s Eve didn’t help, either. With Koetter’s return next year coming off a 4-12 season and without many marquee games on the home schedule, the Glazers will likely be looking at a lot of sparse crowds like the one at Ray-Jay on Sunday.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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