SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL:
FAB 1. GENERAL ALEXANDER IN CHARGE OF BUCS’ D
Forget Cam Newton vs. Jameis Winston.
The real marquee match-up on Monday Night Football will be between the other quarterbacks – the quarterbacks of the defense.
Carolina’s Luke Kuechly vs. Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander.
With Newton in concussion protocol and Winston mired in a turnover-filled sophomore slump, the play of Kuechly and Alexander may have more to do with the outcome of Monday’s clash between a pair of 1-3 NFC South rivals trying to get their seasons back on track. Both star middle linebackers are capable of taking over a game.
The only real difference in their game is age and experience. Kuechly, a former first-round pick in 2012, is a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler. After winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Last year, Kuechly helped lead the Panthers to Super Bowl 50.
Alexander, a fourth-round pick by Tampa Bay, doesn’t have Kuechly’s notoriety – yet. But it’s coming.
After missing the final four games of his promising rookie season due to a league suspension after consuming a banned substance in an energy drink, Alexander has made up for lost time and attacked the 2016 season with a vengeance.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander & Scott Reynolds – Photo by: Mark Cook/PR
“You have to get respect,” Alexander said. “When I first got here I told everyone I was going to earn my respect. Respect means that you are doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m getting mine.”
Alexander’s respect is coming at the expense of the Bucs’ opponents, and that’s just how he likes it. Alexander racked up a career-high 17 tackles and a sack in a Week 1 win over Atlanta. Alexander has recorded seven tackles in each of the last three games and leads the team with 38 tackles, including 34 solo stops, which is just eight behind Kuechly.
Carolina MLB Luke Kuechly
46 tackles (34 solo), three tackles for loss, one sack, one INT
Tampa Bay MLB Kwon Alexander
38 tackles (34 solo), five tackles for loss, two sacks, one INT, one touchdown
In a Week 3 loss to Los Angeles, Alexander scored his first NFL touchdown on a pick-six. In addition to leading the Bucs in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and interceptions in the first quarter of the season, Alexander has also become the leader of the Tampa Bay defense.
While Pro Bowlers Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David were voted team captains out of respect for their time and accomplishments in the league, Alexander is the true vocal leader on defense.
“He is one of our captains – I call him “The General,” Bucs nickel cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah said. “He brings a military-type approach to the way we play defense with his intensity. He’s like a military general in the way that he gets us set up and gets us going. He’s the tone-setter for our defense. The “C” might not be on his chest, but his role in terms of his leadership is huge.”
Alexander, whom PewterReport.com forecast as Tampa Bay’s Defensive MVP this year, said he doesn’t need a “C” on his chest in order to lead.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Hey, I got one on my chest,” Alexander said. “I’ve got one, but nobody else knows about it. I tell myself I’m a captain and I tell everybody else I’m a captain although I didn’t get picked. I’m still a captain – even though I look up to my big brothers Lavonte and Gerald. They are great leaders for us, but I still feel like I’m a captain, too, and people should still look up to me.
“It’s my style to do all the talking. I do the talking and whoever needs help I’m here for them just like any other captain or leader would be.”
Bucs special teams captain Russell Shepard, who hails from LSU, which is also Alexander’s alma mater, has been impressed with how quickly Alexander has ascended to a leadership position with his high level of play. Alexander had 93 tackles, nine passes defensed, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery last year through 12 games.
“Kwon is very vocal and very emotional,” Shepard said. “He’s very high energy, and those type of guys, whether they have the ‘C’ on their chest or not, they’re leaders. He’s very well respected. He’s one of the best players on this team. He talks the talk and he walks the walk. He’s going to demand respect among his coaches and his peers.
“It was the same thing with Jameis [Winston] last year. He wasn’t a captain, but he became a leader. People followed him because it was all about his play. In this league, it doesn’t take long to get respect in this league if you are playing well. You can win respect very fast in this league. Including the preseason, he had 16 opportunities to show us he could lead last year and he did.”
Alexander just played his 16th NFL game on Sunday against Denver. His first full 16-game season in the NFL closely resembles that of Kuechly’s rookie season in 2012.
Carolina MLB Luke Kuechly – First 16 NFL Games
164 tackles (103 solo), 11 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, three fumble recoveries, two INTs, one sack
Tampa Bay MLB Kwon Alexander – First 16 NFL Games
131 tackles (93 solo), 11 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, five sacks, three INTs, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one defensive TD
“For anybody that’s a great start, but for a young guy seeing how much time he’s put into football during the offseason and the season and how much tape he watches it’s unbelievable,” Bucs nose tackle Akeem Spence said. “It’s paying off because he’s out there diagnosing plays, getting picks and taking them to the crib. Since last year he’s dived into football and it’s become his number one passion and his number one priority.
Bucs DT Clinton McDonald & MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
“He’s definitely become a captain this year because we’re all quiet in the huddle listening to him and we’re getting the call from him. He’s definitely taken on a leadership role on defense in just his second year. He’s becoming a monster.”
Alexander’s career got off on the right foot thanks to being under the tutelage of Hardy Nickerson, the best middle linebacker in Tampa Bay history. Nickerson played with the fire and brimstone that are also signatures of Alexander’s game.
“It was crazy because I had Coach Nickerson and he taught me a lot last year,” Alexander said. “Hardy would come hit you, man. He was real aggressive and he played hard. He was a very vocal leader and people respected him. I respect him too and he’ll go down as one of the great Bucs players. I try to play the game the way he did.”
So far, so good.
It’s not only a tribute to Alexander to step up as a leader despite not having a “C” on his jersey, but it’s also a tremendous sign of respect from McCoy and David – the recognized captains on defense – to allow him Alexander to be the vocal leader on defense.
“It’s a compliment to all of them,” Bucs strongside linebacker Daryl Smith said. “It doesn’t matter about who gets the glory or the recognition, it’s about winning. They all understand that. Kwon is a stand-up guy and he wants to do everything possible to help his team win. He’s the man in the middle, making the calls and all that.
“When I got here he was so eager to learn. He’s a high-energy guy that loves to play. He’s always talking about wanting to be the best. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Alexander scoffs (he’s not the only one) at Pro Football Focus, the media outlet that labeled him as one of the worst linebackers last year due to a supposedly high number of missed tackles.
“I don’t worry about that stuff and I keep it far away from me,” Alexander said. “I don’t like negativity at all. I like positivity. I believe we’re going to win all the time and that nobody can stop us. I keep that going in our room and around the facility. I don’t buy into any negativity outside the building.”
To his credit, Alexander has worked on his tackling this offseason. Although he hasn’t been perfect – he had a notable miss on Arizona running back David Johnson that led to a big play in Week 2 – Alexander is much more capable of bringing down ballcarriers by not being overly aggressive in pursuit.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Getty Images
“A lot of practice has helped,” Alexander said. “Sometimes you are going to miss tackles just by being too aggressive. But the biggest things is just keeping your eyes open, running your feet before you hit and keeping your arms wrapped.
“People are counting on me to make every tackle, so I need to make them. The hardest ones are one-on-one tackles in space, but as a leader I have to make my tackles so the rest of the team can follow.”
And follow they do.
General Alexander is marching north to Charlotte this weekend, leading his Buccaneers into battle with the Panthers on Monday Night Football.
“If Kwon keeps stepping up his level of play and his intensity and his awareness he could be one of the very best to do it,” Adjei-Barimah said. “He’s been a huge player for us, but we need him to be even bigger. We need everyone to be bigger because we’re not playing how we want to play right now. I know he’ll come through for us. He has that kind of ability and that kind of hunger.”
Alexander wants the respect that comes with being the best middle linebacker in the NFL, and that title belongs to Kuechly right now.
Look out, Luke.
Kwon is coming for you on Monday night.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet from me,” Alexander said. “Just wait. I don’t like talking about it, so just wait and you’ll see.”
FAB 2. REVIEWING THE FIRST MONTH OF KOETTER BALL
New Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter has been on the job one month and the team has produced an opening day road win over a good team, two blowout losses by 2015 playoff teams, and a narrow, heartbreaking home loss. Add it all up and the Bucs are 1-3 and owners of a three-game losing streak heading into Carolina for an important game on Monday Night Football.
Let’s take an in-depth look at Koetter Ball and analyze what has gone right and what has gone wrong for the 2016 Buccaneers for the first quarter of the season.
Tampa Bay couldn’t establish a consistent running game dating back to the preseason and that unfortunate trend has spilled over into the regular season. This is more than losing Doug Martin in Week 2. Martin has only averaged 3.4 yards per carry (85 yards on 25 carries) in five quarters. Decent numbers, but he certainly hasn’t picked up where he left off last year when he was the league’s second-leading rusher.
Bucs RB Charles Sims – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Charles Sims certainly is not a capable replacement for Martin. He dances too much too often and is averaging 2.8 yards per carry (116 yards on 41 carries). When Sims is decisive, he is capable of making plays, evidenced by a 23-yard dash on fourth-and-1 against the Rams and his lone rushing touchdown. But Sims is not an instinctive runner and is better off in his pass-catching role.
Despite Jameis Winston’s 177 pass attempts, the Bucs are a run-first team, and Martin’s absence has really hurt the offense. Not only is Tampa Bay averaging just 3.4 yards per carry with 330 yards in four games, the Bucs’ play-action game has suffered, too. Opponents aren’t respecting Sims and his ability to run, so they aren’t stacking the box with a safety. Winston has faced a good deal of Cover 2 this year and hasn’t found as many single-covered receivers to exploit.
The loss of Martin has also contributed to Winston’s sophomore slump. He’s trying to do too much and shoulder too much of the load since Martin has been gone. That’s what he told me when I asked him Sunday after the game.
“At times, I do try to do too much and that’s a part of the problem,” Winston said. “I’ve just got to do my job and let the players play.”
Koetter agreed that Winston’s competitive nature can work against him by trying to make plays that aren’t there and trying to make up for players like Martin, who are missing from the lineup.
“When you lose players — and we lost more tonight — it hurts your team,” Koetter said. “We talk to our guys all the time about taking care of what they can control, what their job is. I’ve never seen it work, when a guy tries to do more than his job. I don’t think that’s ever going to work.”
Winston has 10 turnovers through four games – eight interceptions and two costly fumbles. Two of those interceptions have come off deflections from the ball hitting Sims in the hands, including a pick-six at Arizona, and one fumble came at Arizona when Sims bumped into Winston during pass protection, but Winston still has more than enough mistakes that were of his own doing.
As a result, the offense’s miscues with the football have played a huge role in Tampa Bay’s minus-9 turnover margin, which has directly contributed to the Bucs’ 1-3 record.
The good news is that wide receiver Mike Evans is the clear MVP on offense through the first four games. With 26 catches for 360 yards (13.8 avg.) with three touchdowns, he’s on pace to catch 104 passes for 1,440 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Those are Pro Bowl-caliber numbers, and he has a chance to destroy Carolina on Monday Night Football if the Panthers secondary doesn’t show any improvement a week after surrendering 12 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown to Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
More importantly, Evans has kept his cool, stopped complaining to officials, and has drawn just one offensive pass interference penalty and caught nearly everything thrown his way. Evans has developed into the consistent weapon in the passing game that Winston desperately needs.
With 19 catches for 205 yards, Adam Humphries is already closing in on surpassing his rookie numbers (27 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown) from a year ago. He and tight end Cameron Brate (16 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns) are just as much Winston’s targets as secondary receiver Vincent Jackson is.
Through four games, Evans has been targeted 50 times, Humphries 29 times, Jackson 26 times and Brate 25 times. The problem is that Jackson’s production has been way down, evidenced by 12 catches for 137 yards, which makes him the Bucs’ fifth-leading receiver through the first four games. The 33-year old receiver has shown his age by not being able to beat man coverage effectively this year and gain separation.
The Bucs offense has been erratic this year, scoring 31 points in Week 1 at Atlanta and 25 points in a Week 3 loss to Los Angeles, while putting only seven points on the board at Arizona in Week 2 and at home against Denver. Tampa Bay has the potential to score at least 24 points per game on offense, but it has to achieve consistency. That may not come until Martin returns and the Bucs offense produces a more productive running game.
Second-year middle linebacker Kwon Alexander has been the lone standout on Tampa Bay’s defense. Through four games, Alexander leads the Bucs in tackles (34), tackles for loss (five), quarterback pressures (four), sacks (two), interceptions (one) and defensive scores (one). Alexander started the season with a bang in Atlanta with a career-high 17 tackles, and had a pick-six – Tampa Bay’s first takeaway of the year – against Los Angeles.
Alexander needs help, though, and that’s been a problem on defense. The Bucs only have two takeaways on defense through four games, and both of those takeaways came against the Rams. That means that Mike Smith’s defense has gone three games without creating a takeaway, which isn’t good, and has played a huge role in Tampa Bay’s minus-9 turnover margin. It doesn’t help that $8 million cornerback Brent Grimes has dropped two interceptions – one in the end zone and one in the red zone.
The Bucs’ pass rush has generated nine sacks through four games, which is decent, but the defensive line has been hampered by a plethora of injuries. The team desperately misses defensive end Jacquies Smith, who tore his ACL early in Week 1 and is out for the year. Smith has been the Bucs’ second-leading sacker the last two seasons.
Defensive end Robert Ayers, who has one of Tampa Bay’s nine sacks, suffered a high ankle sprain against Arizona in Week 2 and may not return to action until after the bye week. To make matters worse, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has 1.5 sacks, suffered a calf injury in a Week 4 loss to Denver and may miss the Monday night game at Carolina.
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander & DE Howard Jones – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Rookie defensive end Noah Spence, who has one sack, was also injured against the Broncos, and that has hurt the Bucs’ pass rush. Howard Jones, who had five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last year, has been invisible with just one tackle and no sacks despite receiving some decent playing time over the last three games in nickel rush packages.
The star upfront has been nose tackle Clinton McDonald, who has 18 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. McDonald slid over from nose tackle to the three technique spot when McCoy was injured and had a season-high eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and knocked Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian out of the game with a hard hit.
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David has had a very slow start to the season in Smith’s new defense. He is the third-leading tackler with 20, including five tackles for loss, but hasn’t made many splash plays. David has one sack and one forced fumble on the year and is only pace for 80 tackles this year, which would be a career low. David didn’t record a single tackle for the first time in his NFL career in the Bucs’ Week 2 loss at Arizona.
But the real culprit for Tampa Bay’s poor play on defense continues to be its secondary. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Grimes are on other end of spectrum in terms of their age. Hargreaves has fared well as a rookie with 19 tackles and one pass breakup, but needs more experience.
Grimes has five pass deflections to his credit, but opponents are picking on him more, as the Rams did on third-and-11 at the two-minute warning. That speaks volumes as opposing offensive coordinators would rather target the aging Grimes rather than the rookie cornerback.
Veteran Alterraun Verner has played well underneath, but lacks the speed to track fast receivers downfield. During a Week 4 loss to Denver, Verner was benched in favor of Hargreaves for the entire game while Jude Adjei-Barimah played nickel cornerback. Josh Robinson and Johnthan Banks have been relegated to special teams duty.
Bucs S Keith Tandy and Rams WR Tavon Austin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
The safety position is the worst on the team as Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald have failed to make big plays. Conte gave up a touchdown to Arizona receiver Jaron Brown in Week 2 and to Denver tight end Demaryius Thomas in Week 4, in addition to getting flagged three times against the Broncos. While Conte is the second-leading tackler with 29 tackles and has recovered a fumble, McDougald has just 17 tackles and has to be in on a takeaway. McDougald was also flagged for a pass interference penalty against Denver.
Smith’s scheme often calls for the safeties to be in man coverage and that has created problems. While Conte couldn’t hang with Brown at Arizona, reserve safety Keith Tandy couldn’t keep up with speedy Rams receiver Tavon Austin, who scored a touchdown in a one-on-one match-up. The Bucs safeties lack the talent needed to man up against speed receivers and win those match-ups, and the secondary has given up big plays as a result.
Through the first month of the season, the Bucs have given up six catches of 40 yards or more. That has to change for Tampa Bay to get back on track and win some games.
WEEK 1 – 59-yard catch by Falcons WR Mohamad Sanu
WEEK 1 – 47-yard catch by Falcons RB Tevin Coleman
WEEK 2 – 58-yard catch by David Johnson
WEEK 2 – 51-yard touchdown catch by Cardinals WR Jaron Brown
WEEK 3 – 44-yard touchdown catch by Rams Brian Quick
WEEK 3 – 43-yard touchdown catch by Rams WR Tavon Austin
If you are looking for some positives in Tampa Bay’s 1-3 start, let’s begin with the fact that the Bucs’ lone win has come on the road against the top team in the NFC South, the 3-1 Atlanta Falcons. The combined record of the Bucs’ first four opponents is 11-5. The combined record for the next four opponents – Carolina (1-3), San Francisco (1-4), Oakland (3-1) and Chicago (1-3) is 6-11.
Penalties are down this year under Koetter. Tampa Bay was among the most penalized teams in the NFL over the last three years, but through four games, the Bucs have only been flagged 29 times for 236 yards. That has kept Tampa Bay out of the top dozen most penalized teams.
Bucs S Chris Conte – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs are averaging 7.25 penalties per game for game for 59 yards. That puts them on pace for 116 penalties for 944 yards. That’s a far cry from a year ago under Lovie Smith when the Bucs averaged 8.93 flags per game for 74.7 yards, and totaled
143 penalties for 1,195 yards.
Right tackle Demar Dotson is the most penalized Buccaneer with five (two holding, two false starts and an illegal use of hands), followed by left tackle Donovan Smith with four (two false starts, one holding, one illegal use of hands). Bucs safety Chris Conte got all three of his penalties (horse collar, pass interference, defensive holding) against Denver.
While rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo has struggled with two missed field goals and a missed extra point after slumping in the preseason, veteran punter Bryan Anger has been sensational. Anger has averaged 47.5 yards per punt with a 43.3-yard net, and has nine punts downed inside the 20 with just two touchbacks.
“He’s done fantastic,” Koetter said of Anger. “It’s not often that you’re fired up to come up here and talk about your punter doing a good job because the perfect game is him not being out there except to hold and Bryan has flipped the field multiple times. Our gunners are also doing an excellent job. We’ve got some young guys in the protection unit that they came after some of our punts and they’re being protected well. The snapper, ‘DePo’ [Andrew DePaola] and Bryan, being able to flips the field, he’s been a very pleasant, welcomed addition to our football team.”
Tampa Bay’s defense needs to limit more big plays, create more takeaways and get healthy. Koetter’s offense needs to find more consistency. It scored 31 points in Week 1, seven points in Week 2, 25 points in Week 3 and seven points in Week 4.
If there is one thing Koetter has mastered already as a head coach it’s the art of the press conference. Koetter wears his emotions on his sleeve and is quite forthcoming – perhaps even too forthcoming – when speaking with the media. Koetter tells it like it is. It’s a stark contrast to the monotone clichés Smith delivered last year, and Bucs fans – and the players – appreciate his honest, no B.S. approach.
The only thing better for Tampa Bay would be to hear Koetter at the podium after wins more often. There are 12 games left – stay tuned.
FAB 3. WINSTON’S DAY VS. DENVER NOT AS BAD AS IT SEEMS
Imagine if the Buccaneers defense had to face Pro Bowl quarterbacks in eight straight games. Scary thought, isn’t it?
Heck, over the last few years Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled against rookie quarterbacks, backup quarterbacks and journeyman quarterbacks – let alone Pro Bowlers.
Well over the past eight games Denver’s defense – the defense that made Jameis Winston look helpless, flabbergasted and incompetent at times on Sunday – has faced a quarterback that has been to the Pro Bowl in each of its last eight games dating back to the end of the 2015 regular season. In the last eight games, the Broncos have recorded at least three sacks of every quarterback they’ve faced, and have held their opponents to 20 points or less.
And they’ve won every game. In fact, Denver has won nine straight games, including Sunday’s 27-7 win over Winston and the Bucs – and checked some important boxes in its most recent victory, too.
Denver was true to form in holding Tampa Bay to 20 points or less, and sacking Winston at least three times – five to be exact. Winston also had more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one rushing) on Sunday.
The last time the Broncos defense allowed a quarterback to produce more touchdowns than interceptions in a game was San Diego’s Phillip Rivers in the 2015 regular season finale, which Denver won, 27-20.
Here’s how the Broncos have wrecked even some of the league’s best quarterbacks over the last eight games:
2015 Week 17: Denver’s 27-20 win over San Diego
QB Phillip Rivers: 21-of-35 (60 percent) for 228 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT (3 sacks, 1 fumble)
2015 AFC Playoffs: Denver’s 23-16 win over Pittsburgh
QB Ben Roethlisberger: 24-of-37 (64.9 percent) for 339 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs (3 sacks)
2015 AFC Championship Game: Denver’s 20-18 win over New England
QB Tom Brady: 27-of-56 (48.2 percent) for 310 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs (4 sacks)
2015 Super Bowl 50: Denver’s 24-10 win over Carolina
QB Cam Newton: 18-of-41 (43.9 percent) for 265 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT (6 sacks, 2 fumbles)
2016 Week 1: Denver’s 21-20 win over Carolina
QB Cam Newton 18-of-33 (54.5 percent) for 194 yards with 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD (3 sacks)
2016 Week 2: Denver’s 34-20 win over Indianapolis
QB Andrew Luck: 21-of-40 (52.5 percent) for 197 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (5 sacks, 1 fumble)
2016 Week 3: Denver’s 29-17 win over Indianapolis
QB Andy Dalton: 21-of-31 (67.7 percent) for 206 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT (4 sacks)
2016 Week 4: Denver’s 27-7 win over Tampa Bay
QB Jameis Winston: 17-of-35 (48.6 percent) for 179 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs (5 sacks)
Winston, who is in his second year, is easily the least accomplished out of those seven quarterbacks, all of whom have made the playoffs except for him. Roethlisberger and Brady have each won Super Bowls. Newton was the league’s MVP last year.
Did Winston have a bad day against Denver’s Pro Bowl-laden veteran defense? You bet.
Unfortunately, Winston is in some fine company as Denver’s defense has had its way with every quarterback it has faced since making the playoffs last year. The Broncos also held Newton and Brady to below a 50 percent completion percentage, and they also held Luck under 200 yards.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
I’m not making excuses for Winston. He didn’t make a proper read or a good throw on his first pass, which was picked off by Aqib Talib. Winston’s two interceptions against Denver push his season total to eight, and when you factor in two fumbles, he’s already produced 10 turnovers this year through four games.
That’s an average of two per game. No wonder the Bucs are 1-3.
Winston was also erratic and inaccurate with some of his throws. But the Broncos defense had a lot to do with that as it has made Super Bowl champion and future Hall of Fame quarterbacks look mortal as of late.
So don’t get too down on Winston. He’s just the latest victim of the new Orange Crush – and it’s really no surprise that he and the Bucs got crushed on Sunday.
FAB 4. BUCS CAN’T GET TOO HYPED FOR MONDAY NIGHT
Believe it or not, the Buccaneers have actually had some recent good fortune on Monday Night Football, winning their last two games on the NFL’s center stage. Tampa Bay beat Indianapolis without Andrew Luck in 2011, 24-17, and captured its first win of the season in 2013, ending a 0-8 slide with a victory over Miami, 22-19.
Both of those games took place at Raymond James Stadium, and a majority of the current Bucs players weren’t even on the roster the last time Tampa Bay has been on Monday Night Football. The Bucs’ last Monday night road game was at Carolina in 2008 and the Panther’s running game trounced Tampa Bay’s defense to the tune of 301 yards rushing as DeAngelo Williams (186 yards and two touchdowns) and Jonathan Stewart (115 yards and two touchdowns) ran wild. The Bucs lost 38-23 and that game was the beginning of a four-game slide to end the year, knock Tampa Bay out of the playoffs and cost Jon Gruden his job as head coach.
In fact, the Bucs’ last two Monday night road games have ended in a defeat in Carolina as Tampa Bay also lost in Charlotte in 2006, 24-10.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston
This year it’s different as the defending NFC champion Panthers are reeling from a 1-3 start that is identical to the Bucs’ record. Give the edge to Panthers, and not just because the game is played in Carolina. The Panthers have playoff games and plenty of nationally televised games under the belt and will be better suited to handle the hype and energy found on Monday Night Football.
“I think this one is my second or third time on Monday night,” Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said. “Anytime you get to play on primetime TV in front of everybody in the whole country I think it brings a different kind of energy. Guys are going to get pumped up and excited. Everybody is going to see it – Mom, your brother, your cousins, your homeboys back home. You want to go out there and put on a good show in front of the entire nation.
“It’s kind of hard to tell the guys to calm down because it’s a different kind of excitement. This is on TV in front of the whole country. It’s good to have that type of energy, but you can’t let it knock you off doing your job. It could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing. As long as you channel that energy the right way it can be a very good thing.”
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay’s offense have gotten off to slow starts in the first quarter this year, and Winston has admitted that he has been too amped up at the beginning of games, which has negatively affected his accuracy. Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said he will likely have to remind Winston not to get too carried away at the start of his first ever Monday Night Football game.
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s something more guys than just Jameis need to hear, but these guys are pros,” Koetter said. “The know how to get ready for games. But that’s something Jameis probably needs to hear.”
Veteran Bucs linebacker Daryl Smith said that the rush players get from being on the national stage can work for them or against them.
“It’s a big stage,” Smith said. “I’m just going to tell them to have fun and do your job. If everybody does their job well and cuts it loose we’ll be fine. There’s going to be emotion and high energy, you just need to channel it the right way. You can go out there and get too geeked up and get hit in the mouth. Then what? Have high energy, just channel it the right way.”
Bucs QB Jameis Winston scores a TD at Carolina – Photo by: Getty Images
History is working against the Panthers, who are off to a slow start in 2016. Of the seven teams that have started 1-3 or worse following a Super Bowl appearance, six have missed the playoffs and only one has made the postseason. The last time Carolina made the Super Bowl was in 2003 and it started the 2004 season with a 1-7 record.
Monday night presents a huge opportunity for the Bucs to turn their season around and get a much-needed win before the bye week and send the Panthers reeling to 1-4.
“It could be a pill that cures the ill,” Dotson said. “It’ll be big, especially going into the bye week. We don’t want to go into the bye week losing four straight games. That would create a bad vibe and Dirk might change his mind about giving us days off. This win could do a lot for us. It would put us 2-0 in the division and put us 2-3 going into the break with guys feeling good. We’ll be getting some guys back, too. We have some key guys out with Gerald McCoy, Doug Martin, Luke Stocker and some defensive guys. We’re not making excuses, though. We have everything we need to go out and win this football game and I think we’re going to do it.”
Koetter knows that a 2-0 record in the division heading into the bye week positions the Bucs well down the stretch even though Tampa Bay would only have a 2-3 record if it grabs a victory on Monday night.
“It’s exactly like Week 1,” Koetter said. “We would be the only undefeated team in the division if we could get the victory and also having two road wins in the division would be huge. Right now, Atlanta has jumped out, they won at New Orleans and then they beat Carolina. Of course we got the win there, so Atlanta is 2-1 in the division, the rest of the teams are sitting there at 1-3. There’s a long way left, there’s a lot of division games coming up, but a chance for us to be 2-0, it’s like a double win.”
Despite losing three straight games this season, being swept by the Panthers in each of the last three seasons and possibly being without Pro Bowl starters Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy, the Bucs are traveling to Carolina with some confidence.
“It’s another division road game,” Dotson said. “We beat Atlanta. We always talk about these division road games – it’s almost like winning two. It’s one we’ve got to get and I think we’ve got a good opportunity to get it. I think we’re going to put together a good game plan; we’ve just got to come out here and execute it. If you can’t get excited about playing on Monday Night Football, I don’t know what to say.”
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Just how good has the start to Kwon Alexander’s NFL career been? With linebackers that have produced at least four sacks and three interceptions in their first season, Alexander ranks second behind only Houston’s Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing in terms of production.
Houston LB Brian Cushing 133 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 INTs
Tampa Bay MLB Kwon Alexander 131 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 INTs
Bucs MLB Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Alexander also had a pick-six against Los Angeles within his first 16 games in the league, too. That big play helped Tampa Bay race out to a 20-10 lead in a game it would lose in heartbreaking fashion, 37-32.
“It was very special at the time, but I don’t even think about it now because we didn’t get the victory,” Alexander said. “It was my first pick-six, though – the first of many to come. I don’t even think about it now. If we had the victory I’d be very excited about it, but I’m not anymore.”
• To say that Carolina has missed Pro Bowl cornerback Josh Norman is an understatement. The Panthers secondary was torched for 503 yards passing by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and a 12-catch, 300-yard, one-touchdown day from Pro Bowl receiver Julio Jones. Carolina has allowed the most TD passes of at least 10 yards downfield this year with six, according to ESPN.
After rookie James Bradberry started off on Jones, he left the game early in the first quarter with a toe injury and was replaced by fellow rookie Daryl Worley, who surrendered catches of 18 and 43 yards. Then the Panthers switched it up and put veteran Bene Benwikere on Jones and the torching actually got worse.
After the game, Benwikere admitted to not being winded and not in the best of condition. Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson said Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay’s offense is eager to pick on Carolina’s secondary.
“There are a lot of opportunities in that secondary,” Dotson said. “We as an offensive line, we have to give Jameis the time he needs. I think if we can do that he can pick them apart. I’m not saying they’re terrible, but it’s definitely the weakest part of their defense. We have to hold up and give Jameis the time he needs to get the ball out there. If we don’t do that we’ll make that secondary look good.”
• I’ve called for the Bucs to bench Charles Sims as the lead ballcarrier in Tampa Bay for two reasons. The first is that he is dancing too much behind the line of scrimmage and averaging just 2.8 yards per carry (116 yards on 41 carries). The second reason is he has contributed to four of Tampa Bay’s turnovers.
Sims forced Jameis Winston to fumble in Arizona as he hit Winston’s elbow while he was pass protecting. Winston’s pick-six in Arizona also bounced high off Sims’ hands. Against the Rams, Winston’s second quarter interception bounced right out of Sims’ hands and into Mark Barron’s. Against Denver, Sims was stuffed for no gain on third-and-1 while the Bucs were in field goal range and tried to lateral the ball to Winston, but instead fumbled the ball.
The problem is that the alternative to Sims from a running back standpoint is Jacquizz Rodgers, who has rushed for 69 yards on 13 carries for a healthy 5.3-yard average. However, in his six-year NFL career, Rodgers has only had 10 opportunities to carry the ball 10 times or more in a game, and the results haven’t always been stellar.
11 carries for 29 yards (2.6 avg.) vs. New Orleans in 2014
11 carries for 17 yards (1.5 avg.) vs. St. Louis in 2013
18 carries for 86 yards (4.8 avg.) vs. Miami in 2013
14 carries for 43 yards (3.1 avg.) and two touchdowns vs. New York Jets in 2013
10 carries for 32 yards (3.2 avg.) vs. San Diego in 2012
10 carries for 49 yards (4.9 avg.) and one touchdown vs. Tampa Bay in 2012
11 carries for 25 yards (2.3 avg.) vs. New York Giants in 2012
10 carries for 64 yards (6.4 avg.) vs. Seattle in 2012 playoffs
10 carries for 32 yards (3.2 avg.) vs. San Francisco in 2012 playoffs
10 carries for 44 yards (4.4 avg.) vs. Indianapolis in 2011
Yet I’m willing to see what the 5-foot-6, 205-pound running back can do, as he is a more decisive, north-south runner than Sims has proven to be lately. Rodgers’ first two career touchdowns came against Tampa Bay when he was with the Falcons playing for then offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The problem is that if Koetter didn’t trust him with too many carries from 2012-14 in Atlanta, why would his opinion of Rodgers suddenly change? Regardless of Koetter’s impression of Rodgers, I’d like to see the short and squatty back get 15 carries against the Panthers on Monday night.
• With Carolina Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton in the concussion protocol, which could cause him to miss the Panthers’ game on Monday Night Football, Tampa Bay has been forced to game plan for both Newton and backup Derek Anderson.
“It’s really hard in this case because they’re two totally different offenses,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said. “Cam Newton is the reigning MVP, he can beat you both ways. He can beat you throwing it and obviously their run game, with [running back Jonathan] Stewart having been out the last couple of weeks, their run game has revolved around Cam. Cam is also their leading ball carrier.
“Now when Derek Anderson comes in, we’ve got a history with him going back to Oregon-Oregon State days and Derek is more prototype. He’s not going to beat you running the read-option, but he’s led several comebacks and several wins when he was a starter. He’s one of those guys that can sit back there, very sharp guy and will pick you apart out of the pocket.”
Before you get too giddy about the prospects of the Panthers being without Newton on Monday Night Football, I’ll remind you that Carolina swept Tampa Bay in 2014 with Anderson at the helm in both games.
• PewterReport.com is once again excited to host our Pewter Watch Parties for Tampa Bay’s away games this season.
The rest of the Pewter Watch Parties will take place at Hard Rock Cafe at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and the next one is next Monday night as Tampa Bay takes on the defending NFC champs, the Carolina Panthers. It begins at 7:30 p.m. and the Pewter Report staff will be on hand to answer your football questions.
“PewterReport.com is excited to continue our partnership with Hard Rock Cafe Tampa and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,” said PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds. “We had a blast hosting Pewter Watch Parties at Hard Rock Cafe last year where Tampa Bay fans could watch their favorite team on a multitude of TVs, including a huge, 18-foot projection screen that brings you close to all the football action. The turnout was great last year and we’re looking forward to doing it again this season.”
Hard Rock Cafe general manager Lanse Bishop is looking forward to welcoming the return of the Tampa Bay fans who came to the Pewter Watch Parties last year.
“We are thrilled to host another exciting year of PewterReport.com’s Pewter Watch Parties at the Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa’s Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,” Bishop said. “Come join us and watch Tampa Bay win on the road on our giant 18-foot TV screen and enjoy Rockin’ Game Day Specials that only the Hard Rock can deliver.
“Scott and the crew at PewterReport.com have been such great partners, and our Hard Rock guests and Tampa Bay fans truly enjoy interacting with the PewterReport.com team, as well as having ice-cold beers and the best burgers in town while they watch their favorite team.”
Hard Rock Cafe, which is located at 5223 Orient Road in Tampa, will have food and drink specials and you can watch the Tampa Bay vs. Carolina game on their giant 18-foot TV screen. Two Henrys Gilded Age Lager and Two Henrys Belleview Biltmore Vanilla Blueberry Wheat beer will be on sale for $4, along with Bud, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Goose Island IPA, Blue Moon and Yuengling. (RSVP NOW!)
Hard Rock Cafe is featuring the Pewter Report Special, which is its famous, original Ol’ Bay Burger and fries, and a pair of Two Henrys pints for just $20.
The signature Ol’ Bay Burger is a house-made 8 oz. burger seasoned with Old Bay seasoning, a crab cake made with jumbo lump crab meat, jack cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce and a house made “Davy Jones” sauce served on a fresh bun.
Hard Rock Cafe’s signature Ol’ Bay Burger
Hard Rock Cafe will also have $5 chilled shots of Jagermiester, Fireball, Tito’s Vodka and Cuervo Gold, in addition to $6 Rocketizers, including Popcorn Chicken Bites, Bang-A-Gong Shrimp, Loaded Fries and $1 Wings ($1 per wing). Or you can get Hard Rock Cafe’s PewterReport.com Special, which is a special Ol’ Bay Burger made with crab meat and hamburger and two Two Henrys beers for only $20.
The Rockin’ Game Day Specials will be specially priced from noon until the conclusion of each Tampa Bay game for afternoon kickoffs, and from 5:00 p.m. until the conclusion of each night game.
PewterReport.com will be raffling off some Bucs’ prizes at halftime and Hard Rock Cafe will be handing out FREE swag bags, which include the latest Hard Rock Girls calendar, a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and more great Hard Rock merchandise.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is now charging $10 to park, but Pewter Watch Party attendees will be given a parking voucher, so parking is FREE.
Here is the schedule for PewterReport.com’s Pewter Watch Parties this year:
Monday, Oct. 10 – Tampa Bay at Carolina – 7:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Oct. 23 – Tampa Bay at San Francisco – 3:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Nov. 20 – Tampa Bay at Kansas City – 12:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Dec. 4 – Tampa Bay at San Diego – 3:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
Sunday, Dec. 18 – Tampa Bay at Dallas – 12:00 pm – Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa
“Siege The Rock!” Bishop said. “We are hosting six Pewter Watch Parties at Hard Rock Cafe for some of Tampa Bay’s biggest road games of the year. Enjoy Rockin’ Game Day Specials on food and drink specials, beautiful Hard Rock Girls, classic rock-n-roll memorabilia from the world’s largest music memorabilia collection, as well as a chance to win Tampa Bay memorabilia and a chance to meet some legendary Tampa Bay greats. You can’t do this anywhere else. This is Hard Rock and this is the place to be!”
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: email@example.com
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