Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter have begun to put together quite the little team for our Buccaneers, have they not? When this team is clicking on all cylinders, they feature a stifling defense and an offense that can make plays to beat you each and every week.
I mean, in one season, the Bucs were a sniff away from the playoffs. That’s some impressive work by the leadership of this franchise if you ask me.
Led by a franchise quarterback, this team has the chance to do some special things in the coming years. Earlier this week, I took a look at five things the team has to be excited about as we move ahead.
But it’s not all sunshine and beaches in Tampa.
Today, I want to look at five specific areas of concern. They aren’t all necessarily player upgrades that need to be made. Some are simply some areas of play, firmly held with incumbent players, that simply need to get better.
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) drop back against the Carolina Panthers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Now don’t get angry. I am not advocating for the release of Jameis Winston or anything crazy like that. Remember I said that there were some aspects of play, held by incumbent players, that need to get better? Well, here is one of them.
First, the good.
Winston has all of the physical tools to be one of the best. Just watch him play. Some of the plays he can make both with his legs and with his arm are absolutely unbelievable. Remember the throw to Adam Humphries for the score during the Dallas game? That was one of the best throws ANYBODY made all season long. His touchdown totals did jump from 22 in his rookie season to 28 in 2016.
Two stats also jumped up that shouldn’t. His sack totals went from 27 to 35, and his interceptions went from 15 to 18. Some of the sacks were on the offensive line but some weren’t. At times, his pocket awareness is lacking, and it leads to sacks. Sometimes it leads to fumbles as well. He has to have a better feel for when to hang in there and when to get out. He has to make that decision and GO!
Too many times, Winston throws the ball into tight windows, makes bad decisions, and ends up getting picked off. Now, the spirit of trying to make a play is good, but he has to be selective. Sometimes it’s better to throw it away and live for the next down. Sometimes he follows that rule, but not always.
If he steps this part of his game up, he will take the next step and become elite. If he continues this way, he will be the decent quarterback that could have been so much more.
Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) kicks and makes a field goal as Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Bryan Anger (9) holds the ball during the first half against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We have talked about this young man a lot, on this site especially, but with the topic, his name deserves repeating.
We all know the story behind the selection of Roberto Aguayo. Too many times, the Bucs had been beaten in close games, where the kicking game could have made the difference. So Jason Licht made the bold move of selecting a kicker in the second round of the draft.
Aguayo brought with him the distinction of being the most accurate kicker in the history of college football, but in 2016 it didn’t translate. He went 22-31 on his field goal attempts, and 32-34 on extra point attempts.
He did kick a game-winner against the Panthers, but it wasn’t enough to resurrect a season that was a disappointing one. According to Jenna Laine of ESPN, the Bucs plan on bringing in competition in 2017. That’s a good idea, because the kicking game has to be better if the team ever wants to take the next step.
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown (10) runs with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes (24) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Let me clear up some confusion. In the five reasons to be excited post, I highlighted Vernon Hargreaves as one of the five. This is true, as he is a player that showed a nose for the football, can make a tackle, and is only going to get better. Hargreaves posted good grades against the run in 2016.
However, against the pass, Hargreaves posted a Pro Football Focus grade of 50.1, which placed him as the 101st ranked cornerback in the sport. Brent Grimes had the best year out of the cornerbacks, posting an 89.9 against the pass. Nobody else was even close.
They had some flashes. Keith Tandy proved that he deserves a position as the starting safety. He made plays on the ball, and posted a pass defense grade of 80.9, ranking him 21st in the league in that category among safeties.
Overall, however, the numbers were not good. In 2015, the Bucs allowed 240 yards per game through the air. In 2016, it jumped to 250 yards per game. The completion percentage went down from the 70% of 2015, but it was still over 63%, which simply is not good enough.
Jan 1, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive back Kurt Coleman (20) breaks up a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) in the second half at Raymond James Stadium. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Carolina Panthers 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Number Two Wide Receiver
We have to get the man in the picture some help!
Everyone knows the greatness of Mike Evans. We have talked about it time and time again. He’s an elite receiver that doesn’t get the respect around the league that he deserves. Maybe it’s the Tampa market, who knows? That’s neither here nor there. Evans is great and we are lucky to have him.
He needs an assistant. I talked about Cameron Brate emerging as another weapon in my previous post, but they need a guy on the outside. Evans is not the speed guy, he is the possession receiver. They need a guy that can take the top off of a defense.
The secondary weapon will also help Winston and his problem with forcing the ball into tight spaces. With another receiver that he can trust, he doesn’t have to look for Evans on every down. According to Fantasy Pros, Evans led the league with 171 targets. That doesn’t have to happen.
Aug 31, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line gets set during the second quarter of a football game against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Brian DeFeo touched on these guys earlier this week in his off-season needs piece, but they were so hard to watch at times I needed to delve into the numbers myself.
The film on these guys is bad enough. Does anyone else pray that Gosder Cherilus, aka the Turnstile, never plays a down for the Bucs ever again? How many times did we say his name, followed by expletives, during the Dallas game? Probably too many to count.
Now take a look at the numbers. They allowed eight more sacks than they did in 2015. According to Sporting Charts, the Bucs had the sixth-highest percentage of runs that were “stuffed” at 11.9%. Football Outsiders ranked the line 21st overall, with an “Adjusted Line Yards” stat of 3.74 yards per carry.
That’s probably even higher than most of you expected. I know I was surprised by it. They must get better.