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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. Is 2018 Mission Impossible For The Bucs?
A funny thing happened on the way to cover the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
I happened to read an interesting and quite revealing column called “Maybe Next Season For The Miami Dolphins? Reasons Not To Get Your Hopes Up” from one of the sports columnists I admire the most, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins for too long (read the column) and doesn’t mean to rain on the Phins parade, but is simply being real and honest when he tells his readers that the Dolphins are not going to beat the New England Patriots anytime soon until quarterback Tom Brady retires or head coach Bill Belichick leaves – or both.
In other words, expect a season closer to Miami’s 6-10 record last year rather than its surprise 10-6 season from two years ago in Adam Gase’s first year as head coach. Salguedo brings the bad news for Dolphins fans, but his informed opinions are raw, honest and backed up with facts – even if his readers don’t want to hear it.
Last summer, Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones was criticized by some Tampa Bay fans for telling his readers to “pump the brakes” on the Bucs’ hype train during the offseason before their long-awaited appearance on HBO’s Hard Knocks. The Times, PewterReport.com and other Bucs media outlets generally predicted a 10-6 record for the team and a possible playoff berth in 2017 after the Bucs finished Dirk Koetter’s first season as head coach with a 9-7 record in 2016.
We should have known better and pumped the brakes ourselves, in hindsight, especially after Tampa Bay struggled to run the ball and pressure the quarterback in the preseason – two themes that continued during the entire regular season.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht said he cringed at the expectations of Tampa Bay’s newly acquired offensive weapons – wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin and tight end O.J. Howard – coming together quickly and becoming part of a powerhouse offense that would light up the scoreboard in 2017.
I’m telling you to cringe at any high expectations for the Bucs this year.
Don’t get your hopes up.
Don’t believe any hype.
Trust me, we at PewterReport.com won’t be serving any up this year.
Don’t expect a bounce back season to a winning record (or an ever elusive playoff berth) in 2018.
After nine years without a trip to the playoffs I’m done giving the Buccaneers the benefit of the doubt and creating any false hope for our readers.
With this team, I’ll believe when I see it.
The next time I hype the Buccaneers is after they’ve proven they’ve deserved it – not before. Like Salguero, it’s nothing but reality from here on out – not unintended fantasy. I’m telling you like it is – not how you want it to be.
In case you didn’t read PewterReport.com’s 2017 Pewter Player Awards, we predicted a 6-10 season for the Bucs in 2018. The lack of a consistent pass rush – who will be the edge rushers? – and the lack of a consistent running game – who will be the backs and the guards? – are the biggest reasons, but there are others, too.
I don’t think quarterback Jameis Winston will suddenly stop committing on average two turnovers per game. Winston is like Brett Favre, who was an interception machine at times during his illustrious NFL career. Winston entered the league with a reputation for turning over the ball, and unfortunately he’s lived up to it despite his immense talent. It’s up to Dirk Koetter to find a way to coach around those turnovers – like Mike Holmgren did in Green Bay with Favre – and do enough scoring-wise to negate Winston’s fumbles or picks. I don’t know if Koetter turns into a better play-caller in the red zone to make that happen.
I don’t know if Winston ever becomes a better and more accurate deep ball thrower. Several sources I’ve spoken with believe that he needs to throw to bigger receivers with wider catch radiuses like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, as opposed to deep shots to DeSean Jackson. Koetter needs to realize that the short and intermediate throws that Winston connected on to the tune of 77 percent over the last few games, still contributed to over 400 yards of total offense.
The Bucs can create explosive plays with Jackson by using his speed and run-after-catch ability in the slot on slants, skinny posts and crossing routes on mesh concept plays. Throwing four or five deep passes to Jackson every too often resulted in wasted downs and contributed to punting situations due to all of those incompletions. Will Koetter change his ways and his play-calling to adapt or will he be stubborn and try to make Winston into something he’s not, which is an accurate downfield passer?
Will Koetter realize that the Bucs defense isn’t that good and finally stop punting the ball on the opponents’ side of the field? By being more aggressive in situations like fourth-and-1 at the opponents’ 42-yard and going for it instead of punting, the Bucs could put themselves into position to score far more points in 2018, which would cure a lot of ills in Tampa Bay as Licht tries to build a better defense with a lot of new pieces this year. The Bucs defense won’t get much better overnight. But will Koetter change his “play the percentages” coaching style in order to help?
How do linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David wind up with a combined zero sacks in 2017 when the Bucs needed as much pass rush as possible? Where were the double A gap blitzes for Alexander and David that defensive coordinator Mike Smith so effectively dialed up in 2016?
Why did Smith have young cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith play more off coverage than man-to-man coverage when the game film clearly showed that Hargreaves and Smith are far better man coverage corners and produced better results when using press technique? Can Smith be trusted to make these necessary adjustments in 2018?
Why did five of Jay Hayes’ defensive linemen – Gerald McCoy, Will Gholston, Robert Ayers, Noah Spence and Sealver Siliga – have fewer sacks in 2017 than they did in 2016? What’s to suggest this will turnaround in 2018?
Have the Bucs finally solved their kicking situation with Patrick Murray, who is expected to be re-signed this offseason, or will the field goal nightmare continue as Tampa Bay is haunted by the ghosts of Kyle Brindza, Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk?
Coming off a disappointing 2016 campaign, this Tampa Bay team has far more questions than answers. This team is not one or two players away from the playoffs. The Bucs were actually farther away from the playoffs at 9-7 in 2016 than any of us truly realized, and that became evident with the 5-11 record last year.
For those of you out there that are ever optimistic about your Buccaneers, don’t let me persuade you otherwise. Keep the faith and hope I’m wrong.
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer. I’m simply being a Realistic Reynolds.
This team has one offseason to make all the right moves from a personnel standpoint, and one season to press all the right buttons from a coaching standpoint. Otherwise it’s regime change and hitting the “start over” button once again in Tampa Bay.
It’s a daunting task.
Right now, this is a 6-10 football team in my opinion. Licht will add some players in free agency and the draft and that record might tick up a bit to 7-9 by the time training camp rolls around. Keep in mind that the Bucs play in the rough and tumble NFC South where New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year.
Bouncing back won’t be quick or easy for the Buccaneers in their division.
Until this team changes the losing culture that exists at One Buccaneer Place and ultimately proves it by making an unexpected postseason run I won’t believe in the Bucs and won’t overhype this team again.
There will be a day when that ultimately happens and the Bucs make the playoffs again, but it seems like mission impossible to think that’s going to happen in 2018.