Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
At 3-5, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have nearly closed the door on a chance at their goal already halfway through the season. If you ask the odds of statistics, they’ll tell you that there is only an eight percent chance the Buccaneers will even reach the playoffs at such a record.
A loss this week resulting in a 3-6 record would bring Tampa Bay’s chances to two percent – all but over.
But, even if they do pick up the win against a traveling Washington team this upcoming week, it’s hard to think the Buccaneers will truly have what it takes to turn things around, and the reason is coaching.
Since going 9-7 in 2016, the Bucs are just 8-16 over the last two seasons under head coach Dirk Koetter. They finished fourth in the NFC South last season, and as of right now, they’re poised to repeat that this year.
But it’s not always results. I’ve talked my head off with stats for quarterbacks, wide receivers, secondary players, front four players; you name it. But where I often used stats to bring context, I’ve also admitted that you can usually bend numbers to make them say whatever you’re arguing on either side – that’s probably why sports always seem to stay so interesting and heated even though the same teams win every year. What’s more important than the results is the progress, and as of right now, the Bucs’ progress under Dirk Koetter is not only unsustainable when it comes to the small amounts of success they’ve had, but shallow even when it does, leaving less-than-inspiring hope for the future.
I didn’t come to that conclusion on my own, though. It’s Koetter’s words that led me here.
“If I had the answers I’d fix it,” has been a quote slightly altered, but its message uttered none the less a handful of times over the past two seasons. At first, it was red zone woes. Then it was soft coverage on defense. Then it became what to do with the running game. Then it was communication issues. Now it’s lack of discipline and an overall failure to find wins on Sundays.
Much like I think we may have been given false hope about just how far along Jameis Winston was coming out of Florida State due to his first year with the Seminoles, I think the 9-7 season in 2016 is also revealing itself to be fool’s gold for this regime as time has gone on.
There have been two drafts, two coordinator switches, and major player signings since 2016, and the Bucs have only gotten worse, and it is becoming harder and harder for me to believe they will get better.
There can’t be communication issues in Year 3 of the same coaching staff. You can no longer make excuses for the players you opted to keep and try to develop as they struggle to produce on the field while the rest of the NFL can turnover talent so quickly. You can’t take what was a promised franchise quarterback and allow him to not progress to the point of being benched while your team is suppose to be in “win now mode.” You can’t be on pace to be the worst defense in NFL history. You can’t tell us offensive line play has been fine when we know it’s cost this team games. You can’t tell us you have faith in a kicker who barely has faith in himself.
You just can’t.
When you look at all of those things, either Koetter and his staff truly don’t know what they’re doing (not sure if I believe that) or they just don’t know how to get it through to the players (maybe more believable). Or perhaps it’s a mix of both.
And that’s where Winston comes in.
I believe the Buccaneers are nearing a fork in the road, one that will define the franchise for the next few years. At the end of 2018, I believe the organization will have to make a choice: This regime or Winston. Perhaps the answer could be neither, but it is becoming clear to me that it can’t be both.
Winston was down right terrible in Cincinnati. I’m not backing down from that, in the spirit of the column I wrote last week about him losing the reins of a franchise that was once on a silver platter for him. But the element of coaching – or correct coaching – has to be a factor, more so than I previously weighed.
Koetter clearly cannot get through to his players after watching them give up five straight touchdowns to the Panthers on Sunday, so now I have to question what his ability to get through to Winston has been over the last three years. Don’t get me wrong, Winston should still naturally be further along that he currently showed in his last start. That part is on him, and something that still makes me question exactly who he can be as an NFL starting quarterback.
But when it comes to the improvement of the team and Winston in particular, the reason I said perhaps Winston needs a fresh start elsewhere is because I wasn’t sure how much of a housecleaning the Bucs organization would get next season. And if it wasn’t mass changes than why would I expect a different Winston – or results as a team – than what I’ve seen?
If games like the one in Carolina happen a few more times, the house ought to be cleaned with a pressure washer.
It’s real. It’s why I tell people the Bucs are the Browns of the NFC. It’s why I suggested it might be time to move on from Winston; I wondered if Tampa Bay had ruined him like they ruin other talented players, and my internal debate on that spiked after I watched the performance I saw last Sunday.
These players have a culture of losing in them. Not that they go into games thinking they’ll lose, or that they like losing. But they accept it. “It is what it is.” I don’t know when or even if it can be shaken. It’s becoming clear that this coaching staff isn’t the one to pull them out of it.
We hear the players constantly say they like their position coaches, the coordinators, and even Koetter himself. I’m not out to call them liars. I bet they do. But they’re losers together – at least they have been up until now. There’s no way around it. There is no change going on. No one is playing more focused. Outside of scoring more points and being better in the red zone there is no elevation of execution elsewhere. When the Bucs went down 21-7 against the Panthers, the attitude from the guys on the field felt like the same old, same old.
This coaching staff has had three years – some, including offensive line coach George Warhop (five years) have had more – to get this sense of losing, this sense of miscommunication, this sense that failure is fine out of this franchise. They haven’t done it. They’ve just become another group of names in the history line of coaches and front office members that run a decade long of disappointment now.
For that, they will have to choose.
By the time the year is up the Glazers will need to know who they believe in more. Do they believe Koetter has been handcuffed by a quarterback that is too stubborn to learn, or will they believe this coaching staff failed to truly change the players for the better?
My faith in Winston has been rocked, but my faith in this current Bucs regime may be unrepairable after seeing what I saw (again) on Sunday.
Winston will likely get another chance to prove himself this season, but even if he does that, how much can you believe he will stay consistent from the end-of-the-year ride to when games matter again Week 1 of 2019?
Who knows who’s coaching by then?
Who knows who’s playing quarterback?
All I can say is one of them will be different than it is now.