Bucs RB Charles Sims gives Tampa Bay an early lead. – Photo by: Getty Images
One of these days Tampa Bay’s going to figure out how to string together a few wins again.
That day woulda, coulda, shoulda been yesterday in Houston. But rather than building upon the positive vibes from a victory in New Orleans, the Bucs came home faced with many of the same old questions that have followed past losses.
As a general rule of thumb in the NFL, good teams move the chains.
More specifically, they find a way to do it on third down to avoid punting away possession or settling for field goal opportunities in enemy territory.
Of teams qualifying for the postseason over the past five years, nearly half (29 of 60) finished somewhere in the top 10 in third-down conversion rate. On the other end of the spectrum, only nine teams managed to extend their seasons past Week 17 after performing as one of the 10 worst in third-down situations.
Like many statistics, those numbers can be altered to skew their relevance a tad one way or the other, but the basic end result doesn’t really change: getting first downs helps teams win football games.
It’s called the “money down” for a reason and Tampa Bay hasn’t figured out how to cash in through three games. The Bucs are next-to-last in the league converting third downs after yesterday’s 1-for-12 showing. They’ve kept only nine of 40 such drives going this season, good for a success rate of 22.5 percent.
The Tampa Bay offense didn’t make things any easier on itself in Houston. Coaches and players often talk about putting themselves into third-and-manageable situations to keep defenses guessing. Running for a first down becomes less and less likely with each yard over third-and-5.
The Bucs ran 12 official third-down plays yesterday and only two were with five yards to go or less – third-and-4 and third-and-5, both in the second half. Quarterback Jameis Winston dropped back to throw each time, going 2 of 12 for 31 yards and an interception. The only conversion was a 21-yard connection to receiver Vincent Jackson on third-and-10. Winston hit tight end Brandon Myers for 10 yards on third-and-14 early in the second quarter to at least get in range for kicker Kyle Brindza’s 58-yard field goal.
Jackson nearly helped bump those third-down numbers up a bit in the second half with a 23-yard, third-and-6 touchdown reception in the front corner of the end zone but replay reversed the call. The overall conversion rate would have been lowered to 1 of 13 during the previous drive, but a Winston incompletion to Jackson on third-and-8 was negated by Houston linebacker John Simon’s roughing the passer penalty.
Head coach Lovie Smith mentioned the issue postgame and brought up how Houston ran 30 more plays (86 to 56) than Tampa Bay.
“We just didn’t get enough opportunities for our offense to really get going,” he said. “Third downs had a lot to do with that. We didn’t convert enough third downs, so all these things we’ll clean up.”
The Bucs were given possession 13 times Sunday. There were plenty of opportunities for the offense to get going. It just failed to do so.
SILVER LINING STRETCH
There isn’t typically a wealth of positives to point to after a team fails to crack double digits on the scoreboard.
A couple makeable missed kicks kept that number down, but not by much.
Points scored is the only statistic that truly matters and the Bucs failed to produce Sunday, but the Dirk Koetter-engineered offense showed a promising element by taking shots downfield.
Challenging secondaries deep was something Tampa Bay did little of last year and the coaching staff appears willing to let Winston go for it if he sees an opening.
The rookie’s first two attempts Sunday were long hookups to Jackson over the middle for 19 yards and to Mike Evans down the left sideline for 30. Officials wiped out the Evans completion, saying he interfered with a Texans defensive back, but Winston attempted passes of at least 15 yards or more 12 times. His official stat line on those longer attempts was 7 of 11 because of the negated pass interference play. As referenced earlier, Winston also missed just barely on the 23-yard touchdown to Jackson.
Not all of these attempts are nine-route bombs, but they eat up chunks of yardage when completed and can still help keep defenses honest even when not successful. An effective running game then creates that one-two punch most offenses try execute on a weekly basis, but that element was nonexistent Sunday.
BUCS’ BROKEN RECORD
Throwing out the opinion that NFL games are over-penalized probably won’t generate much pushback from fans around the country.
That being said, not all flags are discretionary calls and Tampa Bay continues to do itself no favors when it comes to sabotaging its own offense or helping the opponent’s.
Unless Green Bay and Kansas City turn in one of the most highly penalized games in NFL history tonight, the Bucs will enter Week 4 tied with Oakland at 32nd in the league after committing 33 infractions through three games. Those flags have resulted in 271 penalty yards and only Buffalo (293) and Chicago (274) have racked up more.
Sunday started off with Tampa Bay committing three penalties during its opening offensive series but it was the defense that kept pushing the Bucs’ total up all day. That side of the ball was hit with six of the 10 accepted flags but also committed four more that were declined.
It seems like they need an effective third down outlet like Adam Humphries out there. Somebody that has a knack for finding the holes in coverage to help Winston out.
I am reminded of that great former Bucs coach who said “penalties don’t matter, we aren’t trying to be the least penalized team in the league”. A good piece of advice is, whatever Schiano thinks, do the opposite!
Keep in mind these are afterthoughts where one has had time to reflect after coming off of another disappointing loss.
Many of our fans are understandably fighting mad about our losses, but try and put into perspective how we got here and how difficult it is to win in today’s NFL. These are not my opinions but hard-to swallow facts that have the hallways of the NFL littered with never has-beens and is testimony to the fact that winning is hard stuff!
There are 13 NFL teams that have never won the Super Bowl. There are nine teams who have gone and never won. Of the 13 teams that have never won – four franchises have never been to the Super Bowl (Google it). One of those teams and the only one I’ll name, Detroit, have never even won their division in the NFL Modern Era (since 1960). How many of you would rather root for one of those teams? Count me out!
This winning stuff is not easy and regardless of what our current coach loves to opine, it is not as simple as that. As a lifelong Buc fan, I’m proud of what we have accomplished as a franchise and I’m willing to be patient to become a winner again. The only bright spot and the thing that is most important to me this year is the successful development of a franchise QB. If we get that, the road to success is so much easier – and it looks like, just maybe, we finally get that elusive piece of the puzzle.
The losses are difficult to take no matter how one spins it. But we will continue to lose if we keep starting over and have no foundation QB to build around. The harsh medicine of bad drafts and frequent regime changes have left us with no choice but to bite the bullet and attempt to grow a winning team through the draft (I’m watching Green Bay as I type this). That means playing inexperienced rookies and taking the lumps (losses) that go along with the training wheels.
I’m holding my nose and taking my medicine now because I know we’re going to get better. How do I know? Because I’ve been there before and I know what it feels like to be a real winner – a Super Bowl champion! Go Bucs! Are we there yet? Lol.
Mac the Packers also fired a winning coach in favor of McCarthy who got them a superbowl win. Bucs fired a successful coach in Dungy in favor of Gruden, who won a S.B.. Then fired Gruden, rest is history. My question for you is, how many losses are you willing to give Lovie, or how many wins? I think these next two home games are critical. Another home loss to Carolina would be understandable at least, but what if we lose the following week to the Jags. That’s my line in the sand. Lose that game, and I’d fire Lovie during the break, making Nickerson intern coach rest of the way. Koetter, and Frazier would be given freedom to run their units as they see fit, and my hope would be Hardy could light a fire under this team, and become the next Tomblin. Your thoughts.
Let me respond as candidly as I can – no lofty words or spin. I support Lovie because I support the Bucs. My support should not be taken as misplaced loyalty. I have no desire to keep a losing coach any longer than is possible to get a winning one. Your record says what you are. Lovie is a losing coach!
I don’t think the Glazers have any hesitation to replace a coach as shown by our every two year turnstile of Bucs Administrations. I say administrations because when the coach goes the practice has been everybody goes.
What does that do for our players? What will that mean for our new and hopefully franchise QB? What if the new coach doesn’t think as much of him as we do (Schiano/Freeman/Glennon)? I loved Nickerson as a player, but I have no idea if he can be a good HC. Some would say watching LVD’s recent play, he may not the best LB coach. Who would’ve thunk it, Raheem Morris has been our winningest coach lately!
All I’m saying is be careful what you ask for. The next Bruce Arians (my favorite NFL coach) is not walking around out there. I hear what you’re saying, but if past is prologue, change for the sake of change doesn’t usually work out and I know you’re not suggesting that.
I’m pragmatic! If Lovie can turn this team around, fine! If we replace him, I will support that guy until we find out that he can’t find his a$$ with both hands tied behind his back. And on and on and on! Like I said, this winning thing is hard stuff!
I don’t think it’s a good idea to fire Lovie (or anyone for that matter) mid-season. However, we as Bucs fans of all people should know after the Dominik/Morris/Freeman era that just firing the head coach is not the answer. The problem wasn’t just Morris the problem was all three of them. Just think what Morris pulled off 10 wins with: J. Freeman, A. Benn, M. Williams, K. Winslow, G. Hayes, C. Williams. All of those guys are out of the league or effectively out of the league and that’s what Dominik saddled the team with. My point is that if you fire Lovie prepare for Winston to get “Freemaned” by the new coach and Licht to continue to hinder the new coach. If you want to keep Winston as a starter and Licht as a GM, keep Lovie and let them grow together. A new HC could want a 3-4, rendering McCoy and David expendable or ineffective in a defense they aren’t built for so we would be starting over anyway. If you want to start over (which I’m not saying we should do yet) then start all the way over the proper way with a new GM, HC and QB.
I’m just asking for numbers? When will enough be enough? Let’s make no mistake, Licht works for Lovie who was hired first. I know ass backwards as always. How many wins this season would satisfy us? I think we need to at least see what Dungy did in 96. Would four wins be enough? Pink, it wouldn’t take much to switch to a 3-4 D. Get a run stuffing nose, move McCoy to D end. Wouldn’t mind seeing a different look even now at times. Hardy coaches the LB’s, but Lovie calls the D. Also we’re not growing with young players, we’re playing a bunch of cast off Bears right now, Lovies call. Again, staying the course might be best, unless you’re sailing straight off a waterfall. Give me a number guys. I say he needs at least 5, with the arrow pointing up to end the season.
I’m not trying to dodge your question about many wins does Lovie need to stay, but I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s a function of who we win/lose against and by how much and at what point in the season. R. Morris may have survived the 2011 season if he had won 4 of his last 6 games instead of 4 of his first 6. On another note, Licht working for Lovie is not true. PR confirmed that the last time you mentioned it when they said he has more power and influence than you think. Licht hired the Director of Player Personnel, that was his pick from their time together in New England. He has changed the scouting department, not Lovie. Lovie chose his coaches, Licht hand selected his own scouting personnel and they both signed off on the draft picks and FA signings. They both have equal accountability for the state of this team.
Surfer, I’m not sure that the number of wins this year is as big a deal as finding out whether the Bucs have indeed drafted their QB of the future. My hope is that the game will start to slow down enough for Winston towards the end of the season that he starts to show the full command of the offense that he showed at FSU. Between Winston becoming, at least, a very solid QB and Lovie eventually developing his defense with his drafted players, the Bucs should have a lot to look forward to. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve already past the Saints in the division… They’re ready for a complete rebuild. The organization just needs to stop knee jerking and stick with coaches and players and let them develop together ala the Dungy era.
Yes Pink, but he’s targeting players for what Lovie wants to run. Lovie has basically benched Verner for cast off Jennings. Not saying Banks is great, but is Jenkins better? Another Lovie player. Conte? Would Licht be saddling a different coach with these same players? Just because PR says it doesn’t make it true. As to who we beat or lose to, I think losing to J ville at home, going into the bye 1-4 with 3 home losses would be very damning. Not hoping for that, I paid good money to take my family to the game this Sunday. Would love to see us beat the Pants, beat the Jags head into the bye 3-2. If on the other hand we should lose both I’d cut bait.
Our bed has been made for us Bucs fans- all we can do is lay here and wait til they come to change the sheets…
Lovie and his system are a mistake- but we can’t take it back now…cutting him now does just the same damage if not more than just letting him play out the season or his contract.We fans lost when the owners hired him and we will continue to feel this mistake long after it goes away- our inept owners will likely replace him with yet another mistake and the cycle continues…our Pro Bowl players get one year older/dinged up and one year closer to leaving for a chance to play for a winning franchise…This has been the Bucs story for ten years now- what’s different to make us think it will change…we might have our QB of the future, but what good will it be if our cycle continues?
And I’m not just crappin on the Bucs here- the NFLs product SUCKS right now and I’ve seen some of the poorest play from almost every damn team in this league this season…there are about 4 teams playing decent ball, the other 28 look to be trying out for the arena league…I’m finding it harder and harder to give my time and energy to the NFL, it’s millionaire players and billion dollar owners- if this is the best they can do, we fans- the people who at the end of the day pay for it all deserve better…
Hard to say as far as win/loss numbers and Lovie. To me more about are they improving? Are they losing games close or getting blow out? Will he win a single frigging home game? Are his decisions helping or hurting the team (dismantling the O line, etc) are any of the people he keeps bringing in helping? Does he put players in position to get the best play and best chance of winning? Does he make any adjustments during a game? Does he seem to get out coached week after week? Do they players seem ready or does Mariota come in and run a college offense and Bucs look like they have never seen it before. Does he ever seem to get fired up? Is there any accountability? Is there just the same stupid press conference week after week like a broken record? Does he look like a deer in the headlights all the time? To me it’s overwhelming he’s not the answer. You want a number I guess 4 wins at least if they seem to be improving. Really considering the easy schedule and he’s had two drafts, two years free agency, etc I think 6 is more where they should be. Who knows. I don’t think they should fire him until season is over though.
Surferdude, to ask for Nickerson to be the head coach to replace Lovie really shows your ignorance as to what is required of a head coach.
Nickerson has zero, absolutely no experience running a third of a team, let alone a whole run.
Do you remember when we let Richard Williamson run this team for a year. What a disaster.
The same could be said for Mike Singletary in San Francisco.
Unless you have someone better in the house, and I don’t think we do with the lone exception of Dirk Koetter. then you stay with who you have.
Fredster, as far as dismantling the offensive line, it seems like you, along with many others have selective memory about how bad the O line was in 2013.
Finally, whenever someone uses that old cliché of “deer in the headlights” it shows me how unoriginal and usually unknowledgeable they are about the pro game.
You say you want a fired up head coach? How about Bill “On to Cincinnati” Belichek.
Seem I struck a nerve Drdneast. Surferdude is ignorant And I don’t know football? Let’s just stick to opinions instead of childish personal attacks. Yes Lovie looks confused on the sidelines when we are getting blow out. He looks like a deer in the headlights. That statement means I don’t know football? Whatever. You think I care what you you think? As far as you saying the 2013 O line was worse than last couple years would tend to make me think you are the one who doesn’t know football. Too much change in one year for an O line and not one of the bums he brought in was better than any of the players on that 2013 line. His demeanor when things are falling down around him bothers me, but not half as much as the other 7 things I mentioned so don’t know what your ranting about that.
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