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.

Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: USA Toda

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.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians
Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Nick Foles?

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?

Bucs HC Bruce Arians and DC Todd Bowles
Bucs Bruce Arians and DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

________________________________________________________________________

Cannon Blast

• 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.

Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp
Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Last Laugh

• Bucs fans three of the last four weeks when co-workers try to talk to them. Yes, Skip Brown, I am thinking of you.

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About the Author: Mark Cook

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, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. 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 mark@pewterreport.com
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stlbucsfan
1 month ago

The offensive concerns about this team are strictly coaching. Jameis produced a high scoring offense so we know the talent is there it is just being misused by inept coaching. We should be running the ball every week, keeping opposing defenses off balance and then use the run game/short passing game to set up deep shots down the field on double moves etc. The defense is a mix of bad coaching and players that arent as good as many have proclaimed. The 2019 draft class(defense laden) is looking like it may give the Vernon Hargreaves class a run for its… Read more »

Buc stops here
1 month ago

Last year, the Bucs scored on average 28.7 points a game. This year is is about the same, 28.6. Last year the defense gave up 13.2 points in the first half of a game on average. This year it is 15.3 points per game on average. In the second half last year they gave up 14.1 points on average, this year they give up 8.0 points on average. The argument above is complete nonsense. The defense is better this year than last year. The offense is the same. Points are what win and lose games, the other stats just lead… Read more »

4CTheMarket
Reply to  Buc stops here
1 month ago

Are Jameis Winston´s contributions to points allowed considered in there? A turnover costs roughly 2.5 points/game over the last 20 years.

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BigSombrero
1 month ago

Very few teams go undefeated deep into the season. The ones that do typically have continuity and structure that keep them in the winning column. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. Tomlin and Big Ben have been there 12 and 16 seasons, respectively. The Patriots under BB and TB: 20 years. This team was never going to win them all. Whenever they lose, it’s funny watching the typical over-reaction that I’ve come to expect from this fan base. Fire the coach! Fire the coordinator! Scrap the outdated system! Dump the QB! Start over again immediately! The problem is the… Read more »

MWD
MWD
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 month ago

This defense is nowhere near the 2002 defense where Warren Sapp would always say- Offense, just give us 17 points and we will do the rest! Hell, the 1999 NFC Championship defense was better- same defense that shut down the greatest show on turf to 11 points in that game- the problem that year? Sean King was the QB and we had no real scoring offense.

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scubog
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 month ago

Not a bad post this time Sombrero. I suspect Bucs fans aren’t the only ones to over-react. As I recall, my hometown Steelers were ready to run Mike Tomlin down the Ohio River last season.

I admire the continuity of the teams of which you spoke. I too suspect a major overhaul from the GM on down to the Practice Squad if the team doesn’t reach the playoffs.

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twspin
1 month ago

This ain’t Miami, Chiefs, Cards or the Texans who all have QB’s who can kill you with or without an O line. Our pass protection is magnified due to our immobile QB. Brady is getting more hurries, Bum rushes, deflections and interceptions. When our O line performs we are unbeatable, So our offensive woes are not overblown at all. Bring the pressure and we are Lunchmeat. Defense is OK. Its our secondary where the deficiencies are glaring. Had it not been for the 2nd half play of our D line against the Chiefs, We would have been Blown..completely out. Please… Read more »

Horse
1 month ago

Mark, get out of your recliner chair before you become me, who has gained 25 lbs during this pandemic. Jon was the first one to alert us about Devin White and his lack of pass coverage. Yes he needs to sit on obvious passing downs. Winfied started off great, but now looks like a deer in headlights. Losing Vea reallt hurt us. Most definitely, it is the defensive scheme because we can’t play a soft passing zone with slow reacting DB’s; we are getting eaten up with it. I wonder how many Buc Fans were screaming about how far back… Read more »

Nobody
Reply to  Horse
1 month ago

With respect to Jon (who is excellent), White’s projection as someone who would struggle as a Coverage player in the NFL was made by some before we drafted him. And his play last year and this year bore that out.

This didn’t come out of left field.

The fact that he’s seeing less Pass Rush Snaps than what is typical for Bowles’ ILBs only magnifies his losses in Coverage.

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BucHarbour
Reply to  Horse
1 month ago

(Holding hand up) Yeah, that soft zone crap needs to go. This is not a good zone team, and they play too far off the receivers, letting them run underneath the zone and catching easy passes for 6 or 7 yards. Kind of hard to stop teams when you are giving them that all the time. This defense is much better with man coverage, mixing in the press with regularity, and bringing an extra rusher, or two, from various spots. It’s easy to see how bad we are in zone, and I really don’t understand why we run it so… Read more »

fredster
1 month ago

The offense has issues too but it’s fixable to me with better play calling and better run game. They have plenty of talent.
The defense is a problem and can’t be fixed this year. Play calling has been horrid but They lack players and talent in secondary. They lack pass rush depth of any kind, and lastly they miss Vea giving push up middle. It is not better than last year imo. Stats can be misleading. They get carved up every week giving up huge yards. We were lucky the Chiefs game was 50-24.

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Last edited 1 month ago by fredster
BigSombrero
Reply to  fredster
1 month ago

You make a good point in your entry. I would say the same exact comment could have been written one year ago and you would have been just as correct.

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Last edited 1 month ago by BigSombrero
MWD
MWD
Reply to  BigSombrero
1 month ago

The problem last year also was that our offense often gave up 7 or more points to opposing teams in the form of pick sixes and turnovers

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fredster
Reply to  MWD
1 month ago

Brady has thrown less Int. overall so far…but I wouldn’t say turnovers are thing from last year. Brady has had multiple turnover games too as well as pick 6’s. Didn’t he throw two against super bowl Chiefs? You can’t win throwing 2-3 int’s against great teams.

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cbbucfan
1 month ago

I completely agree with you, Mark. If your offense is scoring on average almost 30 points per game 12 games into the season, your record should not be just 7-5. Too many fingers are being pointed at the offense, like they are expected to score a touchdown on every possession. Scoring defense is the problem!! The Bucs are allowing opponents to score too many points, especially early in games. Opponents are averaging almost 29 points per game the past 4 games. No team will win many games allowing 4 touchdowns per game. The pass defense has been flat-out embarrassing at… Read more »

MWD
MWD
Reply to  cbbucfan
1 month ago

cbbucfan- the secondary plays way too soft in coverage- even when they double teamed and the corner has help over the top, the corners are still playing too soft and often 10 yards off of a receiver so then the short game is wide open vs just going balls to the wall- double teaming and having the corner press the shit out of the receiver with a safety over.

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plopes808
Reply to  MWD
1 month ago

and ironically, the game where we SHOULD have been playing soft coverage against Hill, we had no safety help over the top for Davis who is our slower corner smdh

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Naplesfan
Reply to  cbbucfan
1 month ago

Except that the Bucs have been two entirely different teams in the first half vs. the second half of the season. Over the last five games the Bucs scored 25 or fewer points in four of those five games, and that includes a defensive touchdown. The difference is in coaching, not players, or injuries. In the first half of the season we were doing whatever Arians and Bowles required, and other teams didn’t know what to expect. Then those other teams made adjustments from watching our game tape, yet Arians and Bowles made no adjustments whatsoever to adjust to opponent’s… Read more »

plopes808
1 month ago

This roster is much better than our record. Coaching is the big issue and if that can be fixed, we will have a deep playoff run

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Naplesfan
1 month ago

Look at the last five games, in which the Bucs scored 25 or fewer points in four of those five games. That is a trend. There clearly is a problem with offensive production. Consider also that the Bucs are getting off to slow starts and quickly getting behind by two or more scores. That not only takes our offense out of the preferred balanced pass and run approach, but also puts a great deal of stress on the defense. The way to win games consistently in the NFL is with complementary football. Each unit – offense, defense and special teams,… Read more »

fredster
1 month ago

Oh and I do agree defense is the bigger and harder to correct issue, but I certainly don’t agree with the title here of “offense concerns over blown” is that a statement or question? Lol Bucs have serious problems arising last few weeks and have been starting games so poorly with 3 and outs galore. To me to sum it all up going into end season and MAYBE playoffs: The defense gets shredded for 14-17 points in first quarter of games now, offense goes 3 and out mostly in first half, Brady is good for 2-3 int. Against playoff caliber… Read more »

Theerealdiehl
1 month ago

Offense – the main issue is play calling. Who knows who the heck is doing it, but it needs to change ASAP. We can’t be throwing low percentage 9 routes on the outside on short yardage downs. Tom Brady needs his mojo back. Nothing is wrong with his arm, but ever since that Saints game he hasn’t trusted his receivers or line to perform. That’s clearly affected his decision making and his accuracy. They need to hire a hype man or something for him and he’ll look like he did the first half of the season. Lastly and probably most… Read more »