For weeks now, Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith has sprinkled in the comments “We’re not Tennessee-ready” in his press conferences.
After a crushing, 42-14 defeat in the Buccaneers’ 2015 season opener I guess Smith was right.
Sunday’s loss was at home before a crowd of 63,945 fans by the way, where Smith’s Buccaneers are now 0-9 in the regular season.
Siege the day? Smith’s Buccaneers were sieged, seized and slaughtered by the Titans. Even if they weren’t “Tennessee-ready” no one in Tampa Bay saw that pathetic attempt at football coming.
With five months to prepare for the Titans, who were also 2-14 last year and were also starting a rookie quarterback, there was absolutely no reason for Smith and the Buccaneers not to be “Tennessee-ready.”
How much more time did Smith need to be ready? Another week? Another month?
Here’s a newsflash for Smith. He only gets one week to prepare for each opponent the rest of the season with the exception of a bye week. He’s not going to have six months to prepare for New Orleans, which he could use after Sunday’s debacle.
“That’s definitely not how we wanted to start our football season,” Smith said. “I thought we were ready to go, had good practices, but you need to get to the first game to see exactly where you are. We are not there yet. It’s obvious.”
With five months to prepare for the Tennessee game, and this being the second year of the Tampa 2 with a lot of returning personnel, why weren’t the Buccaneers prepared?
“You have to give Tennessee a lot of the credit,” Smith said. “They had a good game plan against us and of course they executed it well. I thought we had some opportunities early before we let it get out of hand. Defensively, of course we couldn’t stop them. Didn’t get takeaways when it really counted. Offensively, we didn’t get off to the start that we wanted to. Whether it’s turnovers or not being able to move the football.
“Disappointing, of course, for us. We have to keep this in perspective. We’re very disappointed, we’re embarrassed and all of that about today’s performance, but it is one game. That’s the only thing we can lay our hat on right now.”
Plain and simple, the primary job of a head coach of a football team is to prepare his football team to play. The fact that a veteran head coach like Smith did not have his team prepared to play in their home opener is quite disturbing, and frankly, inexcusable.
Smith’s predecessor, Greg Schiano, was 1-1 in season openers. Heck, even Raheem Morris was 1-3 in season openers. Smith is now 0-2 and unless he steers the Buccaneers ship in a new direction quickly he won’t have a chance at a third opener next year.
Indeed, Sunday could mark the beginning of the end for Smith in Tampa Bay. Already feeling the heat from a disappointing 2-14 season and wanting to be more of a master of his own destiny, Smith decided to take the reins of the play-calling for the Tampa 2 scheme away from Leslie Frazier this offseason.
Uh, how did that work out?
After surrendering five touchdowns, including four in the red zone, and not holding Tennessee to a field goal, maybe he should turn the defensive play-calling duties back over to Frazier, as the Bucs defense was actually playing better after the bye week last year. Call it a knee-jerk reaction on my part if you will, but that’s what it seemed like when Smith took away the play-calling duties from Frazier in the offseason despite improvement by the defense down the stretch.
“Red zone defense – I mean, I guess you can start there, you can go all over,” Smith said. “We didn’t play good defense, period. So red zone – couldn’t stop them. Gave up the first touchdown, you shouldn’t give up the big play in a coverage that’s designed not to. Nothing was good tonight.”
Everyone knew the Buccaneers would be young on offense this year with a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston and two rookie offensive linemen in left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Ali Marpet. When rookie receiver Adam Humphries was on the field yesterday, which was often, Tampa Bay actually had four rookies on the field, which is never an ideal recipe for success.
To say that the Bucs offense missed its best offensive lineman in Demar Dotson and its best playmaker in Mike Evans on Sunday would be a huge understatement. Veteran right tackle Gosder Cherilus, Dotson’s replacement, surrendered two sacks and was flagged for holding and two false starts.
Louis Murphy, who replaced Evans in the starting lineup, was invisible on Sunday and didn’t post a single catch. There was little separation by Murphy or the other Bucs receivers on Sunday.
Coming into the season everyone suspected Tampa Bay’s offense was likely going to struggle, and the defense, which showed improvement at the end of last year, was expected to carry the day while Winston gained experience. But as bad as the offense performed with Winston throwing two interceptions, including a pick-six on his first pass attempt in the first quarter, Smith’s defense was even worse.
The Bucs defense forced and recovered one fumble, notched just two sacks, made Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright like look a Pro Bowler, and allowed rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota to have the best debut for a rookie quarterback – ever – with four touchdown tosses, while completing 13-of-16 passes for 209 yards.
I’m not sure who was worse on Sunday – Lovie Smith the head coach or Lovie Smith the defensive coordinator. Sunday’s 28-point loss was the third time a Smith-coached Buccaneers team has been beaten by 25 points or more in 17 games.
The margin of defeat by Schiano’s Buccaneers in his 21 losses over two years was 10.95 points per game. And that was for a coach who came from Rutgers – not the NFL. Smith, who came to Tampa Bay with tons more NFL experience than Schiano had, has actually fared worse. In his 15 losses over two years, the margin of defeat has actually been by 11.6 points per game.
To put that in perspective, over 32 games, Schiano only had one defeat that was by more than 25 points – a 41-0 loss at New Orleans in 2012. Smith has had three in 17 games – a 56-14 loss at Atlanta last year, a 48-17 debacle versus Baltimore at home last year, and Sunday’s 42-14 thrashing at the hands of Tennessee.
Losing stinks, but Buccaneers fans are sick and tired of non-competitive, embarrassing, blowout losses – and there have been far too many under Smith’s watch already. Are the players not responding to Smith’s coaching? Does Smith’s mild-manner coaching style not resonate within the locker room?
Sunday’s loss to Tennessee might have been worse than last year’s loss at Atlanta, which is a tough place to play, and worse than the 48-22 home defeat to Baltimore. Hey, at least the Ravens were a playoff team in 2014.
Smith called Sunday’s performance by Tennessee an “onslaught,” and he’s right. Smith’s defense, which had been fortified by a host of his own hand-picked, former players, including defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Chris Conte and cornerback Tim Jennings, was tricked, fooled and bamboozled by Mariota’s play-action passes.
Those play-action passes froze the linebackers and allowed Wright (four catches for 101 yards and a TD), tight end Delanie Walker (three catches for 43 yards), and wide receiver Harry Douglas (two catches for 24 yards and a TD) to slip behind them for first downs and/or touchdowns. Smith never had an answer for Tennessee’s two-tight end set, which fortified Mariota and gave him plenty of time to throw, in addition to allowing running back Bishop Sankey to hit the edge and rush for 74 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (6.2 avg.).
Tampa Bay’s defensive ends were mowed down on perimeter runs, as Jacquies Smith was held to two tackles and a sack, while George Johnson had one tackle and a fumble recovery. The Bucs defensive tackles, a unit that is supposed to be the best in the NFL, was manhandled by the Titans massive offensive line. Tampa Bay’s franchise player, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, finished the game with just three tackles and a sack.
The Bucs linebacking corps was pedestrian with Lavonte David, rookie Kwon Alexander and Danny Lansanah all notching five tackles each, but also missing quite a few tackles, too.
“Am I surprised that we were that bad?” Smith said. “Yes, I’m surprised that we were that bad. I thought we were ready to go. So yes, it’s definitely a surprise to all of us. But we’ll bounce back. We’ve been in situations like this before. Sometimes you feel like you’re ready, you’re just not – a lot of times that happens the first game of the year. You really don’t know until you get to that first game. The biggest improvement you see from Week 1 to Week 2, and that’s how it’ll happen for us.”
Tampa Bay’s defense didn’t siege the day on Sunday. It was under siege – by a rookie quarterback that looks like a future Hall of Famer the way he played in the 2015 regular season opener. A few more bad losses like the one that occurred on Sunday and Smith will be under siege, too.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.