The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: What Midseason Grade Does The Bucs Coaching Staff Deserve?
Scott Reynolds: I’ll Give The Coaching Staff A “B-Minus” Grade
I’m giving the Tampa Bay coaching staff a “B-minus” grade at midseason, and I realize that doesn’t necessarily correlate to a team that has a 2-6 record at first glance. So let me explain. A coach’s job is threefold during the season. First, it’s to prepare the team for the coming week’s game. Second, it’s to call plays on Sundays and put the players in the best position to win with the scheme and the game plan. And third, it’s to develop young players.
Despite the losing record, the Bucs have been in position to win every game this season. The largest margin of defeat was a 14-point loss to an undefeated San Francisco team on opening day, but remember that the Bucs trailed by a touchdown with two minutes left before quarterback Jameis Winston threw his second pick-six of the day. The other loss that was by double digits came in London to the Panthers in a game in which the Bucs had a minus-six turnover margin. Tampa Bay only lost by 11 points, and had the turnover margin only been minus-4 or minus-3 the Bucs might have even won that game.
Has the play-calling been perfect? Absolutely not, but the losses have been on the players not executing more than anything. Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich didn’t run the wrong routes, throw the ball into traffic, give up sacks, fumble the ball or missed any field goals. Todd Bowles hasn’t blown any coverages, missed any tackles or misfit any gaps on defense.
If this team were getting blown out or looked completely outcoached then I would give the coaches a lower grade. Leftwich and Arians get knocked for not making better use of tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate, and offensive line coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert deserve some criticism for the fact that their unit is on pace to give up 60 sacks this year. It’s fair to criticize Bowles, cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross and safeties coach Nick Rapone a bit for the shortcomings in a very young secondary. Those coaches would love to hit the fast forward button on the rookies or download experience into them instantly like The Matrix, but time and experience are the greatest teachers.
On the flip side, the player development of young players like guard Alex Cappa, wide receiver Chris Godwin, running back Ronald Jones II, middle linebacker Devin White, safety Jordan Whitehead, kicker Matt Gay and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is encouraging. I think the players have let the Bucs organization down more than the coaching staff has at this juncture. Their on-field mistakes have cost them legit chances of beating the Giants, the Titans and perhaps even the Seahawks last week. I think the Bucs should be 4-4 rather than 2-6 but the players just haven’t learned to stop beating themselves yet. But I think they are getting close.
Mark Cook: I’ll Say A “C” Grade At Best
First of all, let me say I believe in head coach Bruce Arians. Spending time with him on and off the field and having a few personnel conversations with him, I believe he is the right guy for the job to turn around this floundering Tampa Bay franchise. If he chooses to stick it out, it will turn around.
With that said, Coach may have underestimated the job at hand. Clearly by declaring the secondary fixed, and that he could turn quarterback Jameis Winston around quickly, that has come back to bite him at the midway point of the season with the team’s 2-6 record. That isn’t to say he won’t turn Winston around or that the secondary won’t develop into a competent bunch by the end of the year with eight games to go.
The most controversial move Arians has made hasn’t been declaring anything or anyone fixed, but instead the handing of play-calling duties to a virtual rookie in Byron Leftwich. His former QB in Pittsburgh has come into his own as a play caller as of late, but there were some rough patches over the first few weeks. Did the move cost the team a win or two early in the season? Does the lack of utilizing tight end O.J. Howard warrant some criticism? Yes, on both accounts. But with the Bucs being in there Top 5 in scoring, its hard to really beat up the offensive staff.
Defensively however, it’s an entirely different ballgame. The secondary has been particularly dreadful and is ranked next to last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. With draft pick after draft pick failing to live up to early expectations, the team has to wonder if it is the players, the coaches or a combination of both. The Buccaneers simplified their coverages last week against Seattle to avoid some of the communication issues, but by making it easier on the Bucs players, it also made things easier on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The experienced a damned if they do, damned if they don’t scenario.
Lastly, special teams were really bad early in the season, but it is amazing how much better things have gone since the return of special teams ace Ryan Smith.
This is a good group of coaches from top to bottom – not only is this staff one the largest in there NFL, it it is also one of the most experienced. Yet a 2-6 team, is a 2-6 team. They cant hide from it. On paper it may be a “grade A” staff but the game isn’t played on paper. Instead it’s on turf, and based on what we have seen this year, the results say this is a “C” grade staff, and I may be being a little generous.
Trevor Sikkema: I’ll Give The Staff A “C-Plus” Grade
Anytime a team is four games below .500, there are likely many directions you could point the finger. I believe that, in the Bucs’ case, the coaching staff is the least to blame.
This team just does not have the horses to finish the race on defense. This secondary is so inexperienced that they can’t even play zone coverage. So they’re force to play man coverage, which, as we saw in Seattle, can be easily manipulated. That’s on the players to improve, but it’s also on the general manager Jason Licht for how this roster was built.
Licht is in his sixth season as general manager. Though there have been reasons why maybe some of his players didn’t develop the way he thought they would when selecting them on draft night, you cannot keep using that excuse. Eventually it falls on you to pick the right guys.
The biggest criticism of this coaching staff that I have is the work of offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. Leftwich is sort of learning on the job the way these young players are. I can’t be critical of Leftwich for not having experience, but I can be critical in Arians for putting him in this position. Leftwich isn’t the best play-caller on the team; Arians is. And yet he continues to let the worse play-caller call the plays. They’ve scored enough points to win games, so it’s not like they’re far off or that Leftwich has been awful. But has it been the best it can be? No.
I also don’t love how they’re using their third receiver option on this team, whether that’s how limited tight ends O.J. Howard and Cam Brate have been in the offensive game plan or just how much faith they put into Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller. They’ve been a bit stubborn there. I also would have given Ronald Jones II the starting job at running back a few weeks ago. Seems they’re just coming around to that, too.
I think this is a good coaching staff. I think they know what they’re doing, and I believe they are the right people for the job. And where they don’t have the players to get it done on defense, which is on Licht, I think they have also mishandled how to optimize this offense, even if they are scoring a good amount of points.
Matt Matera: Bucs Coaches Get A “C-Plus” For An Average Job
Overall, Bruce Arians and the coaching staff has been an upgrade for the Bucs from prior coaching staffs. The coaches have done a good job in developing some of their young inherited talent – for example, Ronald Jones II got his confidence restored and looks to be the future number one running back in Tampa Bay, and safety Jordan Whitehead has become an excellent run stopper in the box along with solidifying his position as the top safety on the roster.
From a motivational standpoint, establishing a culture, and developing players, Arians and the staff has done a solid job, but there is room for improvement. Arians gets his message across to the players and they listen, and he’s not afraid to call someone out through the media if he wants to get the best out of his guys. But for all the good the coaches have done outside of the white lines this season, there’s been some in-game decisions that have been head-scratching, and drop this grade a letter grade lower. I’m not questioning if the 67 year-old Arians can still coach. He has the resume to back that up, but he’s made some calls this year that have – or could have – cost the team.
One happened in Week 2 when Arians got a penalty for calling two straight timeouts on a fourth down late in the game at Carolina, which put the ball to fourth and inches near the goal line. Now the Bucs made the stop to seal the game, but it could have blown up in their face had Carolina just run a QB sneak.
Arians then made a questionable call a week later when he decided to take a delay of game penalty even while having a timeout left when setting up a game winning kick for Matt Gay against the Giants. The penalty moved the Bucs back five yards and Gay missed the kick by an inch. Arians has also been hesitant to throw the challenge flag in situations that impact the spot of the ball even when replay shows even when the call looks that it might favor the Bucs. There’s plenty to like about Arians, he’s just made a couple of mistakes this season.
The other coordinators aren’t off the hook either. For as much as Byron Leftwich has gotten monster seasons out of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, he’s still failed to establish a third wide receiver, and the presence of a tight end has been absent despite the talents of O.J. Howard. Leftwich’s play calling has gone stagnant at times as well, becoming predictable and easy to read for the opposing defenses. Todd Bowles, on the other hand, is looked at as a defensive mastermind with his schemes. And while he’s got the best run defense in the league, he also has the worst pass defense. With talents like Ndamukong Suh, Lavonte David and Shaq Barrett, there seems to be a little left on the table. All in all, the coaching staff has had positives and negatives about them that balance out to an average grade.
Taylor Jenkins: At 2-6, Tampa Bay’s Staff Gets A “C-Minus”
Heading into the 2019 season, with Bruce Arians and his hand-picked staff now at the helm, hopes were at an all-time high for good reason. Arians wasted no time winning football games when he took over the Colts midseason in 2012 and he wasted no time building a winning football team in Arizona after taking over as head coach in 2013. But now at 2-6 in Tampa Bay, it’s time to start realizing that this team is who we should have thought it was, and not who we were led to believe it was.
Arians stepped in and immediately said that he was here to win now, and while that may have been the intention, it hasn’t been the reality.
Run game coordinator Harold Goodwin has vastly improved the rushing attack, simplifying the playbook while allowing his offensive lineman to do what they do best while not forcing them to do the things that they don’t do well. This has allowed Ronald Jones to flourish and turn from bust to efficient starter in one year while the offensive line has steadily improved in pass protection as well, when a healthy starting five is on the field.
Defensively, the staff was able to effectively replace Gerald McCoy with Ndamukong Suh and Kwon Alexander with rookie first-round pick Devin White. Tampa Bay then drafted three rookie defensive backs in Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards and added outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. These things were done to build a unit that was faster, bigger and fit an aggressive 3-4 scheme.
All-in-all, while the team has improved its rate of forced turnovers and built the most ferocious run-stopping front seven in the league, the Bucs also failed to effectively address their issues in the secondary and that’s led to a defense that’s giving up 293.5 passing yards and 31.5 points per game – both ranking second-worst in the NFL.
But the most perplexing thing that this staff, specifically Arians, has done this season was turn the play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. With only 10 games calling plays – in an offense that wasn’t his own – under his belt in Arizona before 2019, it appears that not only has the offense had to adjust to a new system, but Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator is still learning the ropes himself. And with all that was at stake entering the season with quarterback Jameis Winston in a contract year, Arians touting a reload over a rebuild, the expectation of winning now, why would the proclaimed “quarterback whisperer” turn over such a key position to Leftwich, who while he may turn out to be a great coordinator, has so little functional experience?
All things considered, a team starts from the top down and at 2-6 through eight games, it’s hard to give this staff flying colors yet.