Tampa Bay has yet to win two games in a row as the Bucs fell at Chicago, 21-13, after winning at Washington, 27-7, two weeks ago. What’s going right with the Buccaneers and what is going wrong in Tampa Bay? Find out in this week’s edition of The State of the Buccaneers.
WHAT’S RIGHT WITH THE BUCCANEERS
Smith Continues To Shine As A Pass Rusher
Buccaneers defensive end Jacquies Smith has been a great free agent find and continues to make general manager Jason Licht good. Smith has been on a tear recently, collecting his fourth sack in the past four games with a takedown of Jay Cutler in Chicago during his first career start. With nine tackles, four sacks, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery as mostly a part-time player Smith has outperformed starter Michael Johnson (18 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble) down the stretch and is deserving of more starts this year.
Bucs Are Mathematically Alive For The Playoffs (Sigh)
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith continues to tout the mathematical truth that Tampa Bay is still in the running for the NFC South title. While most media outlets suggest the Bucs are two games back, the team is really three games out of first place because Tampa Bay is 0-4 in the division and was swept by Atlanta, which is 4-0 in the division and the NFC South’s current leader. For Bucs fans that want to see their 6-10 team win the NFC South and make the playoffs – albeit undeserved, I suppose this is a positive.
Bucs Offense Continues To Pass The Ball Well
Tampa Bay’s passing game continues to click, evidenced by the fourth straight game with a 100-yard receiver. Rookie Mike Evans did the honors against Cleveland, Atlanta and Washington, and both Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy accomplished that feat at Chicago. Quarterback Josh McCown contributed three turnovers, but threw for a season-high 341 yards in Sunday’s 21-13 loss to the Bears. Tampa Bay’s offense has its challenges (see below), but to its credit, it has piled up at least 320 yards of total offense in four straight games – thanks to throwing the ball.
Evans Is Bucs’ Top Point Producer
At the start of the season the Bucs envisioned a run-first offense that would lead to play-action passes. But with a running game that has been nearly non-existent this year, rookie Mike Evans has emerged as the offense’s most potent weapon. With at least one touchdown in the past four games, and six scores in the past month, Evans leads the team with eight total touchdowns, which is six more than the closest non-quarterback in Tampa Bay, as running back Bobby Rainey, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy only have two scores.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BUCCANEERS
NFC South Title Could Cost Bucs On Draft Day
ProFootballTalk.com brought up a great point on Tuesday that could impact the Buccaneers on draft day. If Tampa Bay were to win the abysmal NFC South division with a 5-11 or 6-10 record, the Buccaneers wouldn’t pick until the 20s in the first round due to them qualifying for the playoffs. A 5-11 record would likely net a team a top 10 pick this year and could cost the Bucs a shot at a top quarterback or one of the better players in the draft with a much later draft pick. Besides, if the Bucs advanced to the Super Bowl the team would still have a losing record entering that game, which would be an embarrassment to the NFL.
Bucs Have No Running Game
Tampa Bay’s passing game is clicking in large part because the team can’t effectively run the ball. The Bucs own the league’s 29th-ranked running game, averaging just 84 yards per game. The Bucs’ 207 rushing attempts rank 27th in the NFL and the team has had just one 100-yard rusher this year (Bobby Rainey in Week 2). Tampa Bay doesn’t have any running back with at least 400 yards on the ground or a running back with more than one touchdown. The offensive line has struggled in run blocking all season and the team’s continual starting overrated running back Doug Martin, who has averaged 2.8 yards per carry and has yet to rush for more than 47 yards in any game despite six starts.
Tampa Bay’s Offensive Line Continues To Disappoint
Bucs head coach Lovie Smith admitted what we’ve all known for weeks – Tampa Bay’s retooled offensive line has failed the organization this year. The Bucs have gotten marginal play from left guard Logan Mankins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith and sub-par play from left tackle Anthony Collins and right guards Patrick Omameh and Garrett Gilkey. Right tackle Demar Dotson has adequately when he’s not committing penalties, but leads the Bucs with 10. The Bucs offensive line has failed in terms of pass protection with 32 sacks allowed and in run blocking as the Bucs have only rushed for more than 100 yards in a game just a few times this season. Don’t be surprised if this unit gets overhauled again in the offseason.
Bucs’ Return Game Has Struggled All Season
Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith stated how the team needed to get impact plays in the return game from his first day on the job. But instead of signing former Bears return specialist Devon Hester, the best returner in NFL history, the Bucs went with rookie Solomon Patton, who was released in favor of Trindon Holliday, who was cut after he his season-long hamstring injury flared up. Marcus Thigpen was brought in as a replacement, but struggled to hang on to the ball. Bobby Rainey will get the chance to return punts and kicks, in addition to Mike James handling kickoff return duties as the team is on the lookout for its fourth return specialist(s) this year.