FAB 4. Bucs – Bears Game Notes
If time permits in my schedule, I plan on adding some notes about the previous week’s Bucs game from my film study during the week into each week’s SR’s Fab 5 column. I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the obvious. Instead, I’ll try to dig deeper and offer some insight you may have missed when watching the game and tie it into the up-coming match-up.
Here are my thoughts from re-watching the Bucs at Bears game.
• As expected, the Bears ran right at cornerback Brent Grimes, especially on Mitchell Trubisky’s 23-yard QB keeper on the run-pass-option. Grimes was playing way too far off his man in off coverage – almost like Vernon Hargreaves III did at times last year. Grimes was flagged twice in the first half for defensive holding and illegal contact and was benched at halftime in favor of third-year cornerback Ryan Smith, who didn’t give up a pass in the second half.
“We made a decision to play Ryan in the second half,” Koetter said during Monday’s press conference. I asked him what the basis was for his decision and Koetter said, “I thought it would be a good idea.”
Koetter was then asked if that could be taken as a negative against Grimes, to which the head coach said: “You can take it any way you want to.”
Good move by Koetter. Grimes shouldn’t be entitled to play just because of his experience and his salary cap number. It’s time to give Smith a chance, and Grimes should be angry about being benched and be anxious to play better if he gets another shot.
• The book is being written on 33-year old right tackle Demar Dotson right now, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. Dotson has been far from stout as a run blocker this year and that showed again on Sunday in Chicago. On the Bears’ first run attempt of the game on second-and-10, linebacker Khalil Mack knifed inside Dotson and tackled Peyton Barber for no gain to set up third-and-10.
This isn’t the first time a defender has beaten Dotson to the inside to stuff the run, and it won’t be the last. I’m not sure Dotson’s surgically repaired knee is 100 percent and that he has the power to push off on it quickly in the run game and close the inside gap. This has caused several runs over the first month of the season to stop before they have a chance to start.
• What has happened to the Bucs defense since 2016 when Tampa Bay actually had the top-ranked third-down defense? Do you know what the key to that defense was? A gap blitzes by middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and double A gap blitzes by Alexander and linebacker Lavonte David. They were nowhere to be found in the first half.
The Buccaneers didn’t blitz one time in the first half, and when they did on the Bears’ first drive of the second half, Alexander came free and drilled Trubisky as he threw the ball, forcing an incompletion. Except that a bogus call on cornerback Ryan Smith bailed Chicago out and gave them a first down on that play. The Bears were in max protect on that play and yet Alexander still got to Trubisky. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith needs to stop coaching scared and bring more pressure as giving quarterbacks all day to scan the field and open receivers isn’t proving to be a sound defensive philosophy.
• On Tampa Bay’s lone sack, the Bucs used an exotic look on third-and-7, standing defensive end Carl Nassib up and having him blitz the A gap with defensive end Vinny Curry on the left side playing a wide 5 technique, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy playing nose tackle over the center and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul standing up and playing a wide 5 technique. Nassib and McCoy run a stunt inside to force Trubisky to wheel to his left and right into Pierre-Paul. A great outside rush from Curry also played a role in Trubisky trying to escape the pocket and winding up in JPP’s grasp. Why Smith didn’t even try this look one more time baffles me.
• Right guard Caleb Benenoch really struggled in Chicago. Like really struggled. He gave up two sacks – one to Akiem Hicks and one to Roy Robertson-Harris – and two pressures to Hicks. Benenoch also whiffed when blocking Jonathan Bullard to start the third quarter, allowing Bullard to tackle Barber for a two-yard loss. Evan Smith, who played 22 snaps while Benenoch played 41, fared much better in his assignments in Chicago and probably deserves to start.
• I’ve spent a whole section talking about Vita Vea in this SR’s Fab 5, so I won’t dwell on him here, but Vea needs to do a better job of looking for the ball and not at his blocker. On a first-down run by Tarek Cohen with 7:00 left in the second half, the diminutive Bears back shot right past him while Vea was still engaged with his blocker. Vea has the tools to be a good and potentially very good player, but it’s going to take some time. The fact that he didn’t play a single snap the preseason was evident on Sunday.
• On the Allen Robinson touchdown with 2:11 left in the first quarter, the Bears receiver was lined up on the slot against rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart, who was in the trail position from the snap. On Taylor Gabriel’s diving 30-yard catch, he blew past Stewart and put his hand up to wave for the football after his fifth step. Stewart didn’t jam Gabriel at the line of scrimmage or attempt to re-route him and didn’t have the speed to hang with him as a result. Stewart was also caught flat-footed on Gabriel’s 2-yard touchdown on a shovel pass with 4:56 left in the first half.
If I’m Atlanta, and Tampa Bay starts Stewart at nickel cornerback next week, I’m rotating Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones in the slot and targeting the rookie cornerback all day. Stewart doesn’t have the deep speed to stay with either Falcons receiver.
• Bucs rookie running back Ronald Jones dropped a very easy, catchable pass on second-and-5 at the Chicago 12-yard in the first quarter, but that wouldn’t have been a touchdown. Wide receiver Chris Godwin failed to block his man and cornerback Kyle Fuller was in position to make the tackle. Had Jones caught the ball, he likely would have gained two yards – not scored a touchdown as it appeared he might at first glance.
But first Jones has to catch the ball, and that drop was a big reason why he was inactive for the first three games of his rookie season. After watching this happen far too often in training camp and the preseason, I have some serious concerns about Jones’ game and how it translates to the NFL. I’m certainly not calling the kid a bust yet, but I haven’t seen much evidence that leads be to believe he’ll become a quality starting NFL running back, either.
• To say that Tampa Bay really struggled with bunch formations would be an understatement. On the Josh Bellamy touchdown at 8:59 left in the second quarter, it didn’t help that the Bucs had a reserve defensive line of Vea, Nassib, Jerel Worthy and Will Clarke in the game attempting to get to Trubisky, either.
If the Bucs linebackers and defensive backs can’t get their assignments fixed over the bye week, expect the Falcons to use bunch formations all day in Atlanta next Sunday and for Matt Ryan to have a field day. You can pencil in yet another 400-yard game allowed by Tampa Bay’s defense right now.
• Bucs left guard Ali Marpet played his worst game of the season, especially in the second half. On Jameis Winston’s first interception, Marpet pulled on the play-action pass and was charged with blocking Mack. Marpet used poor technique and ducked his head, which allowed Mack to scrape by him and hit Winston’s arm as he threw the ball. Marpet whiffed on blocking Nichols, and surrendered a three-yard tackle for loss.