As one could guess, the majority of the questions were basically this one: What in the world is going on? A team with high expectations is now 2-5 and fighting for their playoff lives before the halfway mark of the season. Instead of answering the same question five different ways, here are my thoughts on the question on most Bucs fans minds.

Question: What the (expletive)?

Answer: There is no one answer – and a lot more unanswered questions. But, for the sake of the article, lets look at some possibilities.

First, how does an offense, going into the third year of the same system, with a third-year quarterback, and added talent still struggle to get out of their own way at times? The Bucs have stayed relatively healthy on offense, so you can’t blame injuries. Could the Bucs have too many options? Is Jameis Winston struggling to make decisions based on the number of talented players? Is he worried about someone getting their feelings hurt if they don’t get the ball? Has it actually complicated things? Last year at this time the Bucs weapons were basically Mike Evans and Cameron Brate with Jacquizz Rodgers as the running back. This year you add in Doug Martin being back, rookie tight end O.J. Howard and receiver DeSean Jackson, plus you still have Adam Humphries at receiver and Koetter seems to want to work Rodgers in for a few series each game, and even Charles Sims. And you see rookie receiver Chris Godwin on the field at times, spelling Evans or Jackson.

Maybe the playbook has gotten too big. The Bucs offense seems to be able to do some things decent, but not too many things great. There is zero identity with this offense. Koetter, or perhaps it was Monken, was asked at one point this year if you can have too many weapons and whoever answered it emphatically said no. And I believe that was the right answer. But figuring out how to utilize them all in the same game seems to be something Koetter and Winston are struggling with.

Regardless, Winston must be better. No doubt about it. We can blame Koetter for his play calling, as he even did himself on Sunday, but as the one who touches the ball on every offensive snap, Winston is ultimately responsible for how the offense performs. When playing well, Winston looks like the second coming of Brett Favre. When he doesn’t he reminds me of Vinny Testaverde. An ultra-talented player who just couldn’t play consistently well enough to lead the Bucs to the playoffs. Will Winston become Favre or Testaverde? The jury is still out.

Secondly, the defense has also disappointed at times, particularly on the road. The Bucs defense plays much better at home, giving up just seven points to the Bears, 23 points to the Giants, 19 points to the Patriots and 17 to the Panthers. On the road it has been a different story, surrendering 34 points to the Vikings, 38 to the Cardinals and 30 to the Bills. Why the big difference? That is the million dollar question. Regardless of the answer, if there even is one, the defense is lacking talent on the defensive line as the team somewhat gambled that Jacquies Smith would recover from an ACL and Noah Spence would be able to stay healthy after coming off offseason shoulder surgery. The Bucs talk about complementary football, but even among the defensive unit itself, they rarely have complement each other. At times, the front four and linebackers have shut the run down and then the secondary plays poorly. Other times it is the exact opposite, or even the linebacker play is poor (see Bills game).

The biggest problem for the defense is the inability to get pressure on the quarterback. You just can’t win many games in the NFL if you don’t get any sacks, or even any hits on the quarterback. While the defense managed to play well enough to probably win on Sunday against the Panthers, counting on that happening for the remaining nine games is a pipe dream. If the Bucs only force one turnover and give Drew Brees all the time in the world next week it could get ugly. It will get ugly.

All in all the defense has probably been even more disappointing than the offense. At one point last season the Bucs defense went on a five game streak where they were the best in the NFL. This year has been a roller coaster to say the least, and I don’t know if there is an end in sight.

At the end of the day many of us, myself included, overestimated this team and staff. As Scott Reynolds mentioned in his Two-Point conversion column we all got a little caught up in the hype. With that said, this isn’t a terrible football team. There is talent. And if Nick Folk does his job against the Patriots, the defense holds up against the Bills and Winston and the offense had played better on Sunday against the Panthers, this could be a 5-2 team instead of a 2-5 one. Coaches will tell you there are usually 5-7 plays a game that affect the outcome. In three of the Buc losses that is most certainly true. Of course had the ball bounced the other way in the Giants game the team could easily be just 1-5.

The difference between first and last in your division is a handful of plays and some luck. Can the Bucs turn it around? Of course. Will they? That is up to the players and the staff. As Demar Dotson said following the loss, this team is on the brink. And as the longest tenured Buccaneer, he has seen prior Bucs teams tank when facing adversity. But go back to when you left Raymond James last year after the Thursday night beatdown from the Falcons. Did you think there was any chance the Bucs would have even a remote chance to get back in the playoff race? I know I didn’t. Of course I also couldn’t have foreseen a 2-5 team after seven games in 2017 either.

Time will tell and the team and staff will sort things out one way or the other. They will either respond and play better or they will continue to struggle and perhaps start over with a new staff for 2018. For now, it is on to New Orleans with a chance to knock off the current NFC South leading Saints.

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Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]

21 COMMENTS

  1. One question in the mail bag this week?

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  2. Mark, it’s been one of your best articles and your analysis is spot-on! It’s the coach’s job to keep the players focused on the now, and it’s the players job to perform at their very best on every snap. The way I see it right now we are not a team; we have moments of being a team, but more not. Time to sit players down if they’re not going to perform as to what we expect. Time to jump on the GM and ask him what are you doing about it. Time for Koetter to be the head coach and pass the play-calling to the offensive coordinator. Time for Mike Smith to align his defense around his best players and let them play their game. Time for me and other fans to keep quiet because I know we’re not helping and most of us really don’t see the whole picture anyway. So I challenged this team to move forward and play your very best as a team. Go Bucs!

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  3. What a letdown with all the hype leading up to the start of the season.

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  4. Keep quiet Horse? The only thing we have left to look forward to is our own pissing, and moaning! Myself included we have some of the best pissers, and moaners you could find on any site! Horse, I just enjoyed your comments. I agree with you. Please don’t stay quiet, it’s our job now more then ever to make our feelings known.

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    • Surferdudes; my NFL concern is we get too negative and forget letting the players and coaches work this out if they want to be here in January. I do believe it’s time to shut Winston down and let him heal properly because he is never going to do it himself. The guy shouldn’t be allowed to throw any footballs the rest of the season and I mean not even tossing it around on his hands. No sports what so ever. Just do whatever physical therapy as required and the usual strenghtening workouts. We don’t want another Luck situation. Spence should have followed the same advice because he has a very long journey to come back from his shoulder situation as to the NFL. I love the Bucs and I just can’t keep blasting them and be on the negative so much. At some point I have to start focusing on the good things about the Bucs.

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      • Yet, Horse, it’s nigh impossible to be positive when the results on the field are negative… especially after expectations were built up not just here but throughout the league that the Bucs were finally on their way back to relevence.

        Our talk doesn’t change anything, doesn’t matter. It is just some of us fans expressing our opinions, which all fans of all sports do. That’s what it means to be a fan. If we didn’t have and express opinions, we wouldn’t be fans.

        Yet, the real decisions are made in the boardroom, not the chat rooms. The Glazes are the sole deciders when it comes to reacting the humongous disappointment this season has become. Their history says they don’t just sit around and make excuses or wring their hands and shrug their shoulders. They decide, and they act.

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        • Naplesfan, I hear you. Please continue and other fans to keep pounding the rock. I’ve said about all I can say about where this team is right now. I’m going to start looking for the good in next season. Well here’s a positive; I think we got the attention of the Buc organization we need to draft DE’s. Go Bucs!

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  5. I agree with the Hype theory. With the additions and third year together one would have been justified to have high expectations. After many years of watching the Buc’s I am inclined to believe that it is simply the way the ball bounces and a few plays per game that determines the winner. There is so much parity in the NFL. You have to take each game independently, and in some cases each quarter as a separate entity. I see 3 area’s affecting Buc’s play. Winston Can’t please all his weapons. All these high octane players on offense are going to have to learn that being a blocker or a decoy is as important as being targeted. The playbook needs to shrink, With solid players you don’t need to be tricky and Koetter needs to let his OC call the plays. Also need TD’s in the Red Zone. The strategy should be to out score our opponents and stop blaming an inconsistent defense for losing games. They are facing top QB’s and Talented specialty players every week. Keep in mind 3 or 4 miscues can result in a quick 21 points, While there is no magic formula to winning, it often seems like the Buc’s get more than their share of Bad Luck.

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    • Good points!

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    • well said, NEED TD’s in the red zone. stop beating ourselves!

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  6. Yes, there was hype this season.

    But on the other hand, it is not unreasonable to not only hope, but expect, that a decade of futility in not making the playoffs should come to an end this year … not “some day” …. this year.

    The current GM and front office staff, and coaches, and players were not brought here to give us hype, or to give us hope … but to give us a playoff team. Period. End of story.

    That the current crop of OBP residents are under-performing yet again is not a reason for fans to shut up, or to adjust our expectations downwards, or live with yet another failed season. Or to make excuses for GMs, scouts, coaches, and players. Or even for the owners.

    The reality is the Bucs are on the way to becoming the Browns of the South, unless we turn this pirate ship around. The Glazers are the only ones who can make the changes that are needed, because nobody else is gettin’ it done.

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    • Naplefan; I can’t argue with those points. What’s your suggestion as to how we get out of this hole?

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      • Good question.

        There are just so many things that aren’t working, in all elements of the game, it can’t be just one big thing that needs to change, other than in the front office. The talent seems to be available, but the sum of the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

        It is still theoretically possible for this team to get its act together and make it to the playoffs. But to do that requires a total turnaround from what we’ve seen this season. I’m doubtful, but willing to give Dirk and his assistants and the players the benefit of the doubt. But that only applies for the next three losses. Once we get mathematically eliminated, which may come as soon as Thanksgiving weekend, then it comes down only to willingness to make big changes.

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        • I think Licht gets too much credit. He missed completely on 2 second round picks and a 3rd one is still questionable, plus gave up 4th rounders to get them in moving up: I think I got that right? Yes he got Alexander and Beckwith, but that should had been a plus, not a balance out. Most of his big signings in free agency haven’t worked out; sure would have liked to have seen all those tens of millions keep ticket prices down. That’s alot of money!

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  7. Nice job Mark, great content!

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  8. You know how young QBs in the first quarter of the Super Bowl tend to let their adrenaline get the best of them & they way overthrow their targets? Jameis has been playing like that all season. Yes, at his best he reminds you of Favre, but he reminds me of Favre when he’s at his worst too, rolling the dice on dumb plays. He’s my favorite player but he really needs to raise his game. Steve Mariucci said he’s got the highest football I.Q. of any player he’s scouted, or something to that effect. Well, a high football I.Q. isn’t just about the raw intellect to remember plays and break down defenses, it’s also about having good judgment. IMHO that’s been Winston’s Achilles’ Heel thus far in his career.

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    • I have no doubt his football IQ is high but he still isn’t able to process it at game speed.

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  9. I brought this up on the red board yesterday. Could the Bucs have too many options? Is Jameis Winston struggling to make decisions based on the number of talented players?
    People did not respond favorably. Go figure. It’s under the title : how do you like Desean now?
    Mark you stole my idea or great minds think alike.?

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    • The receiving group wasn’t the problem last year, Winston’s decision making and inconsistent ball placement is the problem he’s always had along with his extremely poor ball security issues. Let any 70%+ QB throw to these receivers you would see much better production immediately.

      Not that Winston should be the focus. We are having this discussion because of Mike Smith’s cancerous defense. If they were even just below average we might have a winning record right now. If they were average we would have a winning record.

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  10. A few questions. Is anyone actually coaching, in other words teaching our young players actually working with them to improve their basics. Is anyone working with Winston on basics to improve accuracy? Accuracy can be taught through better basics in ball handling and footwork.

    Secondly: Is anyone really looking at our new GM and his track record. Second round pick of a kicker, a bust. This year we cut our fourth round pick I believe. Sims a bust but we keep trying to use him so no one will notice. If we cut Sims no one would pick him up he is not good enough for the NFL.

    Winston his accuracy has always been an issue. I have been a Buc’s fan since day one and I have watched everyone of Winstons games, need I say I have even studied said game. I can count on one hand the number of passes that he has it his receivers in stride over his first three years. Mike is always having to stop, reach back to make a catch, or come back to the ball. How many yards could he gain if he was actually hit in stride on his pattern? Same with D. Jackson he has not been hit in stride this year. This past week we had a wide open field in front of him and he missed him. I realize all QB’s miss some but Winston never hits his receivers in stride, Mike Even make Winston look good because he has that much talent.

    I do think Winston can be taught be we need to get a QB guru to really work with him and not expect him to improve on his own by just throwing balls.

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    • my thoughts exactly. We never get YAC.Think if ya could hit Djack in stride on aslant. But no he has to stop or come back to the ball. YAC baby YAC. Go back in time and watch Jerry Rice YAC. Marino and any of his receivers YAC. The Bucs never have yac. Mike Evans could be a real beast. So could Brate and Djack if hit in stride!!!
      YAC baby YAC!!!

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