Welcome to my weekly post-game column, where I’ll take a look at the moment(s) the game turned either in favor or against the Buccaneers. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive look at all the reasons the Bucs won or lost, but instead the key moment or two where things went north or south for the team.
What in the world was that? That might have been the worst performance by a competent NFL team I’ve ever seen. And although the players were bad, it started with completely incompetence coaching on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. This week’s game-changer started during the week of preparation, where Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles came up with a collective game plan for how not to beat the 2020 Saints, and then executed it successfully.
Somehow, Bowles watched 2020 Drew Brees throwing quick-hitter after quick-hitter into open spaces underneath and thought the game plan should be to rush 3-4 and spot drop his defense into zone coverage. Why? To take away the deep shot? Brees has thrown 11 passes of 20 yards or more this season. And he’s completed five.
I truly have no idea what Bowles’ thought process could have been to deploy that soft zone coverage against any version of Brees, let alone one that will not go down the field. The Bucs are also a much worse defense in zone coverage and have been all season, which is one of the big reasons they’ve been lit up the past few weeks.
I was ok with not blitzing Brees heavily, but not even doing it strategically while getting carved up because your 4-man pass rush couldn’t get home was an egregious lack of adjustment by Bowles. Combine that with never rolling up his cornerbacks to play more press man and condense the windows for Brees on underneath throws, and it’s truly incredible the Bucs didn’t lose by 50. They would have, if not for a pair of fumbles ending scoring threats early.
As for Leftwich, the game was out of hand so early that you might think it would be hard to pick apart his play-calling. But continually designing touches for Ronald Jones in the passing game of an offense with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Scotty Miller is truly impossible to understand.
This is the same Ronald Jones that was benched the past two weeks for mistakes in the passing game, right? And on your second and fifth drives of the game, you’re drawing up plays to get the ball in his hands?
The Bucs screen game continues to be unwatchable. It took far too long to get Mike Evans into the slot where he could be involved, and then the goal line play-calling? Woof. The Bucs actually had a chance to grab some semblance of momentum with a first-and-goal at the Saints one-yard line early in the second half. But Leftwich dialed up two fade routes to Evans one-on-one against a cornerback that has constantly had his number. How is that your go-to play call in a gotta-have-it moment?
Arians can’t be excused either. The Bucs looked completely unprepared for everything the Saints threw at them on both sides of the ball, and their energy level was low for the second straight game. Arians also inexplicably challenged a 4th down conversion by the Saints early in the game, despite the fact there was no clear camera angle and spots are rarely overturned by replay reviews.
But Arians worst decision of the game may have been to leave Tom Brady and other key starters in a 38-0 contest midway through the fourth quarter. If Brady gets hurt, your season is over. Is getting three points on the board before the clock expires really worth risking your season? Brady took four big shots on the drive, and the Bucs are extremely lucky he wasn’t injured. Just a terrible process and thankfully didn’t have a negative result.
There wasn’t a single shred of redeemable coaching in this game, as Arians, Bowles and Leftwich fell flat on their face on the biggest stage of the season. The Bucs have some soul-searching to do heading into Week 10, with three tough opponents coming up in the Carolina Panthers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft