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NFL Draft

Are Buccaneers Really Ready For Super Bowl Run?

  • The Draft Network
  • November 9, 2020
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Embarrassing. That’s the only word that truly comes to mind. 

When you have the lowest rushing attempts in NFL history in a single game (four carries with one kneel down) because the scoreboard got away from you so quickly. That’s embarrassing.

When you failed to get Mike Evans a single target before the game was already out of reach in the first half. That’s embarrassing.

When you give up three consecutive sacks to the same player on back-to-back-to-back plays. That’s embarrassing.

When you take what made you successful all year long on the defensive side of the ball (rushing players with tight man coverage on the back end) and decide to do the exact opposite (rush four all game with soft zone coverage in the back) in a manner that actually plays to your opponent’s strengths. That’s embarrassing.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had bad losses before. They lost 45-0 to the then Oakland Raiders in 1999. They were down 56-0 to the Atlanta Falcons in 2014. Later that year they were down 35-0 at halftime to the Baltimore Ravens. They were down 45-3 on their way to lose 48-10 in Chicago in 2018 where Mitchell Trubisky threw six touchdowns against them.

Somehow this was worse. Why? Because there is more talent on this Buccaneers team than almost any Buccaneers team in franchise history. This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Yet it happened. Just like it had many times before. How? Coaching, and now that’s something we will have to question with this team as they move forward.

Like their roster, on paper, the Buccaneers coaching staff is ideal. Bruce Arians is a seasoned head coach in the league who has seen it all and been through it all. His experience and relationships with his players are one of the best. At offensive coordinator, Arians, a long-time play-caller himself, hand-picked Byron Leftwich to be the man with the headset. Leftwich was even touted as a future head coaching in the making. On defense, Todd Bowles, a former head coach himself, is one of the best defensive minds in the game, and some of the defensive performances from his team this season speaks to that.

All three of them failed the team on Sunday night—before it began, and when asked to adjust.

On offense, the Buccaneers came out just as flat and uninspired this week in primetime on Sunday Night Football as they did last week on Monday Night Football. Misplaced run plays, puzzling play calls in certain situations, and head-scratching target choices in the passing game led to a touchdown-less night for what was boasted as one of the best offenses in football. On defense, the Buccaneers, who had made their mark on the league with constant pressure on the pocket, blitzing more than almost every team in the league while playing lockdown press coverage in the secondary, decided to play soft zone coverage while only rushing four all night against one of the best and smartest quarterbacks in NFL history. 

They chose those game plans, and they went down with the ship.

After the game, Arians said he was shocked the Buccaneers looked as ineffective as they did on both sides of the ball, noting the team had a strong week of practice. The problem was, that strong week of practice was a strong week of running plays and game plans that were doomed to fail.

The question is: what now? What do we make of this Buccaneers team that almost every broadcaster in front of a TV camera picked to win the game? One that is now 6-3 but no longer in control of their division?

Well, for starters, we need to remember that this is still a good football team. For as much of a liability as the offensive line was, their best offensive lineman, Ali Marpet, was out with a concussion. When he returns to the lineup, the play of the entire line will elevate. The Buccaneers still have one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, playing at a high level, and their offensive weapons are still elite. On defense, their players are still good, they just weren’t put in a place to show that on Sunday.

No matter how talented a team may be, there are two factors that play key roles in that talent coming to fruition on the scoreboard: usage and execution. The Buccaneers failed miserably at both on Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean they always will. As crushing of a loss as this game was, it was just one game. If you want to find some silver lining, the coaching game plans were so against the strength of what this team does well that when the game plans go back to executing what the players do well the results should swing much further into their favor.

The Buccaneers are still a good team. I would tell you they are still one of the best in the NFL. Of the teams who are their biggest competition in the NFC, Seattle took a step back after their loss to Buffalo, and the Buccaneers still have a monster win over the Packers. As for the Saints, they clearly have the Buccaneers’ number. You would hope a third meeting between the two wouldn’t go like the first two.

But the coaching staff feeling confident marching out the game plan they did against the Saints is worrisome. Not of their playoff hopes—I still think this team is destined for the postseason—but it does bring questions as to whether or not this team (coaching staff included) is ready for a Super Bowl run, mainly facing the top teams in the league for four weeks straight.

Before the season, I made my claim that I thought the Buccaneers would be a playoff team, but I did not predict them to be a Super Bowl team. I thought the roster needed a full year with Brady and company before they really were able to come together to solidify an identity for a title next season. I still stand by that, but it appears the coaching staff might be in that same boat as well. For as high as their ceiling still is, their consistency is not.

Fortunately, Arians didn’t shy away from the criticism after the loss to the Saints. He said that his team got their ass kicked in every phase, but coaching was one of them—I would argue the biggest. 

It’s one game. The ceiling of the Buccaneers roster and staff is still high. But it’s not a squad worthy of a Super Bowl yet. They still have the talent to beat any team in the NFC, but they’re not the juggernaut many predicted them to be prior to this week.

They learned that the hard way on Sunday night.

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