Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter reacts in the third quarter. The Buccaneers defeated the Panthers 17-14 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Article continues below ...
What is the most important improvement the Buccaneers need to make coming out of the bye week?
The Buccaneers are in the midst of their bye week with an improved outlook, as Bailey Adams talked about after the win. The position is actually an interesting one, as we talked about in the state of the team address. They are either going to go ahead and make a run or fall off into a lost year.
The schedule lightens up a bit, giving the team a chance to make up a bit of ground. They need the injured players to return and perform, but they have a real chance.
They are looking up at several teams in the Wild Card standings, so we’ll take it one game at a time.
While we meander through the bye week, waiting for our team to resume its schedule, it’s time for the weekly roundtable. This week, each member on the staff gives their opinion as to the most important improvement that our Bucs need to make coming out of the bye.
As always, each slide will be dedicated to a staff member, so let’s get right to it.
Sep 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers (91) in action during the game in action during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeat the Buccaneers 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Time to Get Healthy
In my personal opinion, the greatest thing the Bucs need to improve upon is health. Yes, health.
As we saw in this past Monday’s game, the Bucs were playing with backups across the board. A good amount of undrafted rookies and newbies were thrown into the fire… and why is that? Health. Without running back Doug Martin and fullback/tight end Luke Stocker, the offense has looked more than one-dimensional. Unless Jacquizz Rodger’s heroics can show up week in and week out, forcing the ball to Mike Evans will leave opponent’s defenses drooling.
Even on our defense there has been issues with health. William Gholston was the only healthy starting defensive lineman going into Carolina. That’s terrible. Robert Ayers and Gerald McCoy are needed if the Bucs want to salvage a successful season. Let us hope that this bye week the Bucs are focusing on rehab to get the stars back in line.
Sep 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The Bucs’ ground game hasn’t lived up to its potential so far in 2016. Part of the reason for that is the absence of Doug Martin, who went down with an injury early in week two. Charles Sims stepped in for weeks two through four before landing on injured reserve, and Jacquizz Rodgers shifted into the starting role during week five. Oddly enough, Rodgers was the first Buc to run for 100 yards in a game, doing so against Carolina on Monday Night Football. Sitting at 2-3 with a chance to contend for a playoff spot, Tampa Bay needs its run game to get going after the bye week.
Without balance on offense, Jameis Winston has had to throw the ball far too many times, which has forced some big mistakes. The Bucs are far more effective when they can field a balanced run-pass split. Their backfield situation should improve greatly after the bye, with Martin possibly coming back as early as next week.The offense needs to be able to run the ball the rest of the season to stay competitive. Sims will be out for a while, but with Martin coming back and Rodgers emerging as another solid option, the outlook on the run game for Tampa Bay is a much more positive one.
Oct 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) talks with head coach Dirk Koetter against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Coach and the Quarterback
Sitting at 2-3, the Bucs have plenty to work on during this bye week. Getting healthy, continuing to learn Mike Smith’s defense, and spending extra time studying the 49ers are all things that jump to mind.
The most important thing, in my opinion, is to get Dirk Koetter and Jameis Winston back on the same page. Koetter has said over and over again that he has unwavering trust in his quarterback, but actions tend to speak louder than words. Koetter’s approach to the final drive in Carolina was and remains baffling, and while the drive ended in a victory for the Bucs, the means of getting there weren’t ideal. Running two straight plays to begin a drive in those circumstances suggests you’re playing for overtime and afraid to put the ball in your quarterbacks hands.
Winston must hold up his end of the bargain as well and start to reign in his accuracy and decision-making so that Koetter isn’t afraid to execute a 2 minute drill with him. The relationship between coach and quarterback is the most important on the team so Winston and Koetter must get theirs back to where it was after the Atlanta game.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) scrambles while Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (97) pursues in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
The one thing that the Bucs need to improve on after the bye is the turnover differential. The Bucs are 2-3 and they have a -5 turnover ratio. I bet if they had a positive differential they easily could’ve beaten the Rams and the Cardinals and Broncos games would’ve been much closer.
Winston already has ten turnovers in five games after only having 16 total last year. Winston didn’t have a turnover for the first time this year on Monday night and guess what, they actually won. Jameis had a turnover free streak in the middle of last season. Let’s hope he does it again.
Now to the defense.
They have to actually get turnovers to win the turnover battle. It all starts up front and the pass rush has been subpar this season. Hopefully with the bye this week they could get healthy and start getting after the passer. Robert Ayers has only played in a game and a half and he has been desperately missed. Especially after the loss of Jacquies Smith the Bucs have been banking on two undrafted free agents to start on the line. McCoy and McDonald missed last week as well, and the Panthers gashed the Bucs with Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker.
The Bucs aren’t going to be facing Derek Anderson every week, and dumb passes aren’t going to be easy to come by. The pass defense has been better the past two weeks but they have to keep it up if they want to keep winning. There are a few things the Bucs have to work on but getting turnovers and not giving them are crucial to this team’s success.
Oct 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) reacts after an apparent injury during the first half against the Denver Broncos at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Bucs Need Their Health
The single area I want to see the Bucs improve on the most is health. This team has been one of the most injury bug bitten teams in the NFL this year, and with guys like Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Gerald McCoy and Robert Ayers missing time already it’s almost amazing they even have two wins.
Watching the match-up against the Broncos may have been the hardest to watch as the Bucs seemed to go down another player with each snap.
This team has a very winnable next few weeks with games against the Raiders, Falcons and Bears at home following a Week 7 trip to San Francisco.
If this team can get healthy and stay there for a few weeks then it’s fully feasible for this squad to rip off four in a row and get back into the fringe of the playoff hunt.
Three of the next five contests feature opponents who are bottom five in either passing or rushing defense, making the return of Doug Martin that much more important as he should be able to take advantage of poor run stopping ability across the line, and keep the balance for Jameis Winston to exploit weaker secondary units.
On the other hand, the Raiders have allowed Derek Carr to be the least hit quarterback in the NFL this season, so the Bucs need to get their defensive line healthy again to try and get pressure on one of the game’s most promising signal callers.
As bleak as this season was becoming for Dirk Koetter and company, the next month after the bye will be a make-or-break period for them, and if they can keep their players available throughout then things could turn up real quick.
Oct 10, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker (43) carries the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers strong safety Chris Conte (23) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
A lot of the Bucs’ struggles have been due to key injuries. The loss of Robert Ayers affected the pass rush, the losses of Doug Martin and Luke Stocker affected the running game, while injuries to Louis Murphy and Cecil Shorts in addition to the stupidity of Austin Seferian-Jenkins left Jameis Winston with minimal weapons in the pass game.
The area that the Buccaneers need to improve the most in is the secondary. Vernon Hargreaves has been very good in his first five professional games, but we’ve seen Alterraun Verner struggle immensely and Brent Grimes have flashes of brilliance as well as frustration. However, the position where the Bucs struggle the most is at safety, where any improvements are a long shot.
Chris Conte has been putrid, Bradley McDougald has been a disappointment, and Keith Tandy is lucky to still have a job. None of them can cover in pass defense and it’s taking its toll. The corners can only do so much and when the safeties are blowing coverages and missing assignments it leads to big, demoralizing plays against this defense.
It’s about time to give the rookie Ryan Smith a chance back there. To see if he can light a spark in the secondary and boost the play of the defense.
I mean, it can’t be worse than what we’ve had back there already, right?
Sep 11, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) celebrates a defensive stop against the Atlanta Falcons late in the game at the Georgia Dome. The Buccaneers won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
The Pass Rush
This one is going to piggy-back on the comments of James on the previous page. The pass defense has been bad. When your first round draft pick has been your most consistent player, it’s an issue. The Bucs are ranked 22nd in the league against the pass. Didn’t they spend some money to fix this problem?
But, they are also allowing the quarterback to have a drink in the pocket picking a receiver. They are not generating a consistent pass rush. Nine sacks are all they have been able to manage. That simply isn’t going to cut it. After 2-3 seconds, every defensive back is going to have difficulty staying with their man. They have to get to the quarterback.
The returning players from injury will help. But there are no excuses for injuries in this league. To make a run, the Bucs have to get it done. Period.