FAB 2. Koetter Should Give Up Play-Calling
When former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith was feeling the heat of the hot seat just one year into his five-year contract following a 2-14 season in 2014 he decided to put his fate in his own hands and assumed the play-calling duties as the team’s defensive coordinator in 2015. That move turned out to be a disaster as the defense got worse under his watch, allowing opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes and score at will.
Despite a four-game improvement with a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston, Smith was fired and replaced by his offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter. Now in order for Koetter to survive the same fate after two seasons he must do the exact opposite and surrender the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Todd Monken.
Not this week. The Bucs play the Saints on Sunday, but if they don’t win and don’t score a lot of points in the process, it should be sooner rather than later.
Mired in a four-game losing streak and being seven-point underdogs heading into New Orleans on Sunday to face the 5-2 Saints, who lead the NFC South division, the Bucs team needs Koetter’s full attention as a head coach. Tampa Bay has struggled at times both offensively and defensively this season with one unit showing up one week and the other being present the next week. In order for the Bucs to start winning games the offense and defense need to both play well together on the same Sunday.
Complementary football, as Koetter calls it.
As a long-time coordinator in the NFL dating back to his days in Jacksonville and Atlanta, Koetter has admitted to sitting in on defensive meetings this year, which he should do more often. The problem is that every minute he spends with the defense is one less minute he’s spending with the offense, which scored just three points in last week’s 17-3 home loss to Carolina. Over the past four games the Bucs have scored a combined 13 points in the first half.
To say that isn’t good enough would be a gross understatement.
Koetter has contemplated giving up the play-calling before at the end of the 2016 season, and even candidly admitted it after the team’s 17-16 win over Carolina in last year’s season finale. Perhaps he should follow his instincts.
“I’ve always been a play caller. I love being a play caller,” Koetter said. “That’s one of the best things about the game, but with being the head coach this year, I have more responsibilities and I have really enjoyed my interaction with the players. I’ve really enjoyed going in and doing the team meetings every day. That takes time. I don’t just get up there and wing it from the hip like I do in here [laughs]. It actually takes preparation time. Everything I say in front of the team. I take very seriously. So, I want to back it up, not just BS those guys. I try to never BS those guys. So, I ask myself, ‘If I spent more time on it, could I do a better job?’
“But, at the same time, I look around the league at other, there are plenty of other coaches in the league that are doing it the way we did it here this year. You look at some of the guys I consider top play callers in this league; [Green Bay head coach] Mike McCarthy, [New Orleans head coach] Sean Payton, [Kansas City head coach] Andy Reid. They’re guys that have been the play caller, they’ve given it up and they’ve always taken it back. When that day comes when I do give it up, I don’t want to take it back. I want to be sure.”
Given the general success of the offense in doing enough to win nine games with a second-year quarterback, a banged up offensive line and a running back in Doug Martin who was either injured or suspended, Koetter decided to remain the play caller this season, and it seemed like the right decision at the time. Coming off the team’s first winning season since 2010, I even suggested he keep calling the plays a few weeks later on the sidelines of the East-West Shrine Game. Not that he listens to me.
In that same year-end press conference, Koetter shed some light on his time management during the week and admits that he doesn’t spend as much time with Winston since being head coach as he did as the offensive coordinator in 2015.
“One thing that I wasn’t able to do as much this year as I have been in the past, I’m in every offensive install meeting listening to the coaches,” Koetter said. “I used to do all the installs myself. The coaches did it this year. I’m right in there. I chime in from time to time. But, I’m not sitting in the quarterback meeting rooms as much as I used to just because my time won’t allow me.
“With that said, I also have a huge amount of confidence in the guy that’s in there running those quarterback meetings in [quarterbacks coach] Mike Bajakian. I think he does a fantastic job with Jameis and with our other quarterbacks. So, for me to sit in there and listen to Mike talk for an hour and a half every day, I might have a better use of my time than that. If I’m not going to be doing the talking, I’ve got other things that I can be doing during that time as well.”
This is not necessarily a dig at his play-calling, which has been good at times and not-so-good at other times this year. It’s more of a call to arms that more is needed from him as a head coach. If you haven’t exactly noticed, Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t nearly as good as it was a year ago.
As the man responsible for the entire team, Koetter is in charge of fixing any problem the Buccaneers may have, and for him to have time to examine all of the problems from the lack of sustained run blocking on the offensive line to the lack of pass rush from the defensive line, in addition to problems stopping the run, especially on the road, I just don’t see how he has enough time in the week to do that and prepare an offense that needs to become more balanced and score more points earlier in games.
With all the talent and firepower on offense, scoring just three points at home last week in a “must win” game against a division rival is borderline criminal, especially with an offense that is transitioning from being young to becoming a veteran unit with Winston in his third year.
If this was Koetter’s third or fourth year and he had delivered a playoff season or two already this would be a different story. But the capital he built up last year could be quickly running out in the eyes of Tampa Bay’s owners, who have proven to be impatient in years past.
Another reason why Koetter needs to give up the play-calling duties is because I’m not sure if Winston is getting serviced like he needs to on game days when it comes to in-game adjustments. Sure Koetter and Winston communicate when Tampa Bay’s defense is on the field, but it’s briefly near the sidelines, and I wonder if it could be better.
Look around the league. When the greatest quarterback of all time, New England’s Tom Brady, comes off the field, what is the first thing he does? He sits on the bench next to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to go over the game photos on the Microsoft Surface tablets. Despite being a five-time Super Bowl champion and the winningest quarterback of all time, Brady still sits next to McDaniels as he has for the nine years he’s served as the Patriots offensive coordinator and the 11 years McDaniels served as Brady’s quarterbacks coach.
New Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay also serves as his team’s offensive play-caller and he has a radical idea that has allowed him to quickly turn Jared Goff from a potential bust to the quarterback of a 5-2 team. McVay hired former NFL head coach Wade Phillips as the Rams defensive coordinator. When the defense is on the field McVay is huddling with Goff on the bench, looking at game photos of what the defense is doing, while Phillips has the latitude to call timeouts, throw challenge flags and other aspects of game management from the sidelines.
Just as the actual play-caller in New England services Brady following an offensive series, Goff is getting serviced directly by McVay in Los Angeles in the same manner. That extra attention to detail is paying off as both the Patriots and the Rams are atop their respective divisions.
Koetter might scoff at my suggestion, and that’s his right to do so. I believe he’s a good coach, but I’m just looking for something to change to spark this team and increase first half scoring, and in turn provide Koetter with some wins and job security. New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo turned the play-calling duties over to Mike Sullivan and that keyed a 23-10 upset win at Denver on Sunday Night Football before the Giants fell to Seattle the following week 24-7.
Would Monken call better plays if given the chance? Who knows, but if 2-5 turns into 2-6 by Sunday afternoon it’s worth a shot.