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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. No Staff Changes In Tampa Bay Seems Crazy
The old saying goes that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are intending on bringing the current coaching staff back for the 2018 season without any changes – which is what I’m hearing – I would suggest that there might be a good deal of insanity taking hold at One Buccaneer Place.
Former Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin once told me that you either get better or you get worse, but you never stay the same. Of course Kiffin didn’t coin that phrase, but it’s certainly true.
Somebody has to be held accountable, right?
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith?
Defensive line coach Jay Hayes?
Special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor?
Tampa Bay’s record got worse in 2017, going from 9-7 to 5-11.
The scoring offense got worse, going from 22.1 points per game to 20.9 points per game despite even more weapons at Jameis Winston’s disposal.
The scoring defense got worse, falling from 15th in 2016 to 22nd in 2017. Total defense fell from 23rd to dead last in 2017. It was a similar fall in passing defense from 22nd in 2016 to dead last in 2017. The Bucs finished dead last in sacks with just 22, and went from first in third down defense in 2016 to dead last in third down defense in 2017.
So bringing back the entire coaching staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball, is going to fix things in Tampa Bay, right?
If the organization isn’t going to make any changes to the coaching staff, what that does is directly implicates the players for the team’s shortcomings in 2017. It’s saying that better players are needed to win – not better coaching.
If that is the line of thinking at One Buccaneer Place, I beg to differ.
As I reported in last week’s SR’s Fab 5, if the Bucs weren’t going to be able to land former head coach Jon Gruden then Dirk Koetter was going to get another year. Six hours after I published my column, that’s exactly what happened at 3:00 p.m. on Friday.
Koetter gets one more year to get this team to the playoffs.
He enters 2018 already on the hot seat for a do-or-die season.
That was the Glazers’ decision and I’m all on board with it since they couldn’t – or wouldn’t – outbid Oakland for Gruden. The players like Koetter and obviously played hard for him down the stretch.
The Bucs offense could move the ball at will for most of the season, it just bogged down in the red zone where better play-calling and better execution will be needed in 2018. Koetter’s offense had to settle for too many field goal attempts and with the erratic nature of former kicker Nick Folk in the first quarter of the season, there were too many points left on the field.
With the talent the Bucs have, Koetter’s scoring offense, which is ranked 18th with 20.9 points per game, needs to match its total offensive ranking, which is ninth overall, averaging 363.5 yards per game. There’s no reason why Tampa Bay can’t average at least 24 points per game next year. The Bucs should have done that this year.
The Bucs defense is a much different story. Take a look at the tale of the tape between the Mike Smith’s defense in 2016 compared to last year’s defense:
2017 Bucs Defensive Rankings
32nd in total defense (378.1 ypg)
32nd in passing defense (260.6 ypg)
23rd in run defense (117.5 ypg)
22nd in scoring defense (23.9 ppg)
32nd in third down defense (48 percent)
32nd in yards per play (6.0 avg.)
32nd in sacks (22)
15th in interceptions (13)
2nd in FF (18)
2nd in FR (13)
2016 Bucs Defensive Rankings
23rd in total defense (367.9 ypg)
22nd in passing defense (250.8 ypg)
22nd in run defense (117.2 ypg)
15th in scoring defense (23.1 ppg)
1st in third down defense (34 percent)
25th in yards per play (5.8 avg.)
9th in sacks (38)
4th in interceptions (17)
7th in forced fumbles (16)
6th in fumble recoveries (12)
Looking at the stats themselves (to the right, in parenthesis) rather than the rankings (to the left), the numbers are eerily similar except for the huge discrepancies in third down defense and sacks. Now there is a strong correlation between sacks and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and a defense’s success on third down. The more sacks and more pressure from a defense, usually the more successful third down numbers.
The Bucs’ pass rush regressed in 2017, and that was a big culprit in the team ranking last in total defense, pass defense, third down defense and sacks. But take a closer look at the 2016 rankings when the defense helped key a five-game winning streak that helped earn Smith a pay raise to keep him in Tampa Bay in 2017.
The total defensive ranking, as well as the rankings for run defense and pass defense were all in the bottom third of the league. Tampa Bay’s scoring defense in 2016 was middle of the pack.
I’m going to give credit to Steven Beck (@becksync78), who is one of our most intelligent @PewterReport followers on Twitter, for pointing out that last year’s five-game winning streak consisted of smoke and mirrors.
Chicago was a bad football team that got trounced, 36-10.
Kansas City was missing three defensive stalwarts for the Tampa Bay game in cornerback Marcus Peters and outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali in a two-point Tampa Bay win.
Seattle was missing safety Earl Thomas, defensive end Michael Bennett and running back C.J. Prosise, while quarterback Russell Wilson was dealing with a knee injury in a five-point victory by the Bucs.
Reserve safety Keith Tandy came up with three fourth quarter, clutch interceptions against New Orleans, San Diego and Carolina to help Tampa Bay win those respective games by seven points, five points and one point.
Based on how Smith’s defense regressed in many areas last year, it leads me to believe that the 2016 defense just wasn’t as good as we thought it was.
And I’m afraid I don’t see it getting much better in 2018, even if the defense added a free agent pass rusher like Ziggy Ansah or a rookie defensive end, and upgraded the cornerback position by re-signing Brent Grimes and either drafting a cornerback in the early rounds or adding Malcolm Butler or Trumaine Johnson through free agency. Those players would help, but would they be enough to make Tampa Bay’s defense elite? I don’t think so. I’ve seen enough poor game plans from Smith and poor defensive line stunts directed by Hayes to think otherwise.
The fact that the Bucs have yet to make any coaching moves is an indication that Koetter apparently believes in his staff. That’s admirable. But loyalty and stubbornness make for deadly bedfellows in the NFL.
Earlier in the week I suggested that the Bucs consider looking at former Oakland and Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio, who was a defensive coordinator in Carolina (2002) and Denver (2012-14) and known for quick turnarounds. But it’s hard to attract good coaches for what could be just one year before the next regime change if Koetter doesn’t win 10 games and get the Bucs to the playoffs in 2018.
I don’t know if that’s the necessary mandate that the Glazers have given Koetter in order to make it to 2019, but it would certainly be mine if I owned the Bucs. Playoffs or bust in 2018.
Del Rio, who Koetter worked for in Jacksonville, wasn’t going to come to replace Smith. He could be seen as a threat to replace Koetter if the Bucs fell short of the playoffs, but the defense played well – the way Koetter ended up being the in-house replacement for Lovie Smith when the offense played well in a 6-10 season in 2015.
Koetter has seen that movie before. He played a leading role in it.
So after two-year hooks for Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith, the Glazers are going to try the continuity route with Koetter and his staff.
I happen to think that’s a little crazy.
I believe keeping the Bucs’ coaching staff intact for the 2018 season is a mistake.
I hope I’m wrong.
Without any changes I have a feeling like 2018 is going to be a wasted season in Tampa Bay and that there will be regime change this time next year.
Again, I hope I’m wrong.
For the record, I have absolutely nothing against Koetter. If you’ll recall, I campaigned for him to replace Lovie Smith as Tampa Bay’s head coach during the 2015 season, and applauded his hiring and his 9-7 season during 2016. Koetter has treated me fairly and that’s all I can ask of any head coach that I cover.
I’m sure he didn’t appreciate all of the Gruden articles I wrote, but I was just doing my job. PewterReport.com uncovered that there was legitimate interest in Gruden’s desire to return to coaching in 2018 in Tampa Bay, and there was legitimate interest from the Bucs hiring him as Koetter’s replacement.
I was simply reporting what I knew to be true at the time – the Raiders just made a better offer for Gruden in the end. And given what’s been reported in terms of Gruden potentially getting $10 million per year and a potential ownership stake (which has been refuted by Gruden), I don’t blame the Glazers for passing on Gruden. That is a monumental investment.
My job as a Bucs beat writer is to take snapshots of what is going on with this football team and analyze them for our PewterReport.com readers and 620 WDAE listeners. Right now, the picture I’m analyzing is that of Koetter’s bad, underachieving, 5-11 football team, one that could be just as bad next year without a great draft and free agent haul – and an upgrade in the coaching department.
Based on what I’m hearing right now, I don’t see the latter happening. And I happen to find that a little crazy.