Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.
While certainly not perfect, and struggling at times, it isn’t the Bucs offense that might keep the team out of the playoffs.
It’s the other side of the ball.
The Tampa Bay defense.
The Tampa Bay defense that was a Top 6 unit over the last half of 2019.
The Tampa Bay defense that kept their core intact by re-signing outside linebackers Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and nose tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The Tampa Bay defense that would take an even bigger leap in 2020 as it entered its second year in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles scheme.
The Tampa Bay defense that decided it could roll into 2020 with a rookie starting safety with no offseason or preseason and second-year cornerbacks in Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Burning, expecting them to keep up their ending to the 2019 season for all 16 games in 2020.
You know, that Tampa Bay defense.
One of the advantages – or maybe disadvantages – from working at home is I am frequently in my recliner with my laptop working with the television on for in most cases just white noise. Except for the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right. That’s must-watch TV right before the daily Bucs conference calls. I still miss Bob Barker. But that is neither here nor there. Normally my TV is tuned to NFL Network’s Good Morning Football early in the morning then I like to switch it to ESPN’s First Take and some of the other football programming.
Lately, the main topic of Bucs conversation has revolved around the issues and troubles of the Bucs offense. One of the debates this week with Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman was a supposed rift between Bruce Arians and Tom Brady and how the offense doesn’t fit Brady’s strengths. As far as tension between the two, I don’t believe that is a serious issue. Most players and coaches butt heads from time to time. Michael Jordan didn’t always agree with Phil Jackson, slugger Reggie Jackson despised Billy Martin, and John Tortorella likely didn’t receive many Christmas cards from his players in the seasons leading up to the Lighting winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Competitive people aren’t always going to agree. Heck, you should hear when I get into it with my boss, Scott Reynolds. We don’t hold a lot back. And I imagine behind closed doors Arians and Brady have likely had a couple “come-to-Jesus” meetings.
So the offense isn’t perfect, but so far this season they have put up, 23, 31, 28, 38, 19, 38, 45, 25, 3, 46, 24 and 24 points. Okay, one of their touchdowns came from a defensive score, still the Bucs are currently ranked seventh in the NFL is scoring, averaging over 28 points per game, and ahead of teams like the Cardinals, Colts, Bills, Ravens, Raiders and Patriots.
The biggest problem in my opinion isn’t the Tampa Bay offense, it’s the defense which is giving up an average of 23.3 points per game. Sure it is tops in the NFL in stopping the run, but ranks 24th in pass defense. If you are an offensive coordinator, are you even worrying about running the football against the Bucs? The Chiefs and Rams each ran it 20 times, while the Panthers ran the ball only 16 times.
Teams would be foolish to even worry about running, unless I suppose they want to give their quarterback’s arm a rest occasionally. Patrick Mahomes passed for 462 against this defense. Jared Goff put up 376 yards on Monday Night Football. Drew Brees breezed the Bucs secondary with only 222 yards, but four touchdowns as the Saints built a 31-0 lead behind his 202 passing yards in the first half. Daniel Jones had 256 passing yards, but easily missed another 100 yards on errant throws. Derek Carr was 24-of-36 for 284 yards through the air.
The last time the Bucs truly shut down a legit passer was in Week 6 when they held Aaron Rodgers to 160 yards, but then allowed Nick Foles to complete 30-of-42 passes in a win over Tampa Bay.
The legendary Bucs defenses of old, feasted on rookie quarterbacks. Just made them want to play a different sport entirely. But in their one match-up this season with a rookie, Justin Hebert of the Chargers, the first-year player finished the game with 137.9 QB rating.
For the sake of his own health, I hope Monte Kiffin wasn’t watching that game.
So what is the problem? Scheme? The players?
Likely both, but we have seen the players perform much better than they have as of late. Over the last month or so we have heard Bruce Arians in his post-game press conferences talk about how pleased he was that Todd Bowles and the staff made adjustments and got things together and played better in the second half?
The second half?
That’s okay and works if you are playing against an inept offense, but didn’t work out too well against the explosive Chiefs, who raced out to an early 17-0 lead. And of course we know how the Saints game on Sunday night turned out. Okay, the defense only gave up one second half score, but the 31 points scored in the first half still counted.
I am not letting the offense off the hook completely. You want to stop Mahomes and the potent Chiefs offense? You don’t do it by going three-and-out as often as they did to start the game last week. And if not for Barrett’s strip-sack that seemed to give a little spark to the entire team, the score likely becomes 24-0 in the second quarter, and not 17-7. That game could have turned out as bad as the Saints game if not for a big takeaway.
I’ll admit my expectations were probably too high this season. At least offensively. Like Arians said on Monday, everyone was handing the Bucs the Lombardi Trophy last August. It doesn’t work that way.
The problem is, each season is so different. The Bucs have a lot of rented gunfighters this year, some playing on borrowed time. Plus, with a decrease to the salary cap coming in 2021 due to lost revenue because of COVID-19, some tough decisions have to be made this offseason. This team will look different next year. Probably a lot different.
The Bucs have four games to gets things back on track and into the playoffs. And they absolutely can. Bowles didn’t just wake up one day and forgot how to coach defense. I’ve said it often and will again – most NFL football coaches have forgotten more about football than many of us will ever know.
I believe that to be the case with this staff.
But let’s stop stressing about a feud between Arians and Brady and how Antonio Brown might have messed the on-the-field chemistry, and look at what I see as the real issue – a defense that isn’t playing – or being coached – up to its capabilities.
• With the recent Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. fight in Las Vegas, it got me thinking of which two Bucs old-timers I’d like to see step in the ring. I finally figured out my main event – Warren Sapp vs. Alvin Harper.
I have no idea of their relationship in 1995-96 when they were teammates, but knowing Sapp’s demeanor and his disdain for guys who weren’t known for being as hard a worker as he was, I am guessing Sapp wasn’t a bit upset following Harper’s departure.
As far as who would win? I don’t even think it would be close. While Harper would have the reach being 6-foot-4, Sapp has the power and surprisingly quick hands. Harper would get in a few jabs, but like Muhammad Ali, or even the fictional Rocky Balboa, he would be taunting Harper in the ring, “That all you got? That’s it? C’mon man, my grandma growing up used to whip me harder than that!”
By the way, my under-cards would be Hugh Green against Cecil Johnson and Dirk Koetter taking on Abe Gibron.
• Isn’t it a little crazy how some in the media and many fans are a little dismayed with the Bucs 2020 season so far? (Raises own hand). They are 7-5! Left me repeat that for those in the back – 7-5!
Wouldn’t we all kill for 7-5 after 12 games at any point in the last 10 seasons? Greg Schiano and Dirk Koetter both flirted with the playoffs in the first seasons as head coach, but were never 7-5. And here we are today complaining about a three-point loss to the reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs? I am as guilty as anyone – only because I know the Bucs are capable of playing better.
You don’t ground your D-grade child when he brings home a C, but you do ground your B-grade child when they bring home a C. We know they can be better, I suppose, and that’s why we constantly harp.
I get it Bucs fans. My Noles should have at least three wins this season, but Clemson, Florida and Virginia ducked us.
• Bucs fans three of the last four weeks when co-workers try to talk to them. Yes, Skip Brown, I am thinking of you.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com