As the Bucs enter the final quarter mark of the season, they are stumbling along as they enter the stretch run. After starting the season 6-2, the Bucs have dropped three out of their last four. The Bucs are now 7-5 on the season. The Bucs trail the New Orleans Saints by three games in the division and their chances of winning the division are slim to none. The Bucs currently have the number six seed in the NFL, and if they are to make it to the Super Bowl, they would have to win three games on the road. With COVID limiting attendance in NFL stadiums, home-field advantage is not nearly the advantage as it was in past seasons.
Expectations were high for this Buccaneer team in training camp as many had the Bucs penciled in as favorites to play in the Super Bowl. Many of those same folks had the Bucs winning the Super Bowl. For the Bucs to right the ship and get things turned around, there are two things that they need to do to get back to consistently winning:
The Bucs have gotten behind early in all four games during their 1-3 slide. The Bucs trailed the Saints 31-0 at halftime. The Bucs trailed the Panthers 14-7 in the second quarter. The Bucs fell behind the LA Rams 17-14 at the half and had to dig themselves out of a big hole against the Kansas City Chiefs, trailing 17-0 at the end of the first quarter. The slow start has plagued both the offense and defense. The defense has struggled to stop teams in the first quarter and doesn’t seem to find their rhythm till the second half.
The offense has too many three and outs. Many of those third downs have been manageable third and less than five, and the Bucs have not been able to convert. Third down has also plagued the defense early in games, as the defense has let the opposing teams convert third downs and keep the chains moving.
The Bucs need to have quicker starts on both sides of the ball to win down the stretch. The Bucs have been out-scored 52-7 in the first quarter of the last four games.
Better play from the defense
The secondary is still young and still learning. The Bucs do have some good young defensive backs; Antoine Winfield Jr. will be in the conversation for rookie of the year, and Carlton Davis will get Pro Bowl consideration. As a unit, they have to play better. The Bucs have to do a better job neutralizing the opposing teams’ speed. Too many times, receivers have gotten behind the secondary and made some big plays.
The zone that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles likes to play has seen mixed results. If the front seven is not applying pressure to the quarterbacks, it will be a long afternoon. If the front seven is getting that pressure, the Bucs secondary will play well. It is like that with many teams, but the Bucs defense has no one to lock down the opponents’ number one receiver one on one.
In the last four games, the Bucs defense has allowed 12 touchdown passes and has allowed 390 yards a game. That is not a recipe for winning football games. So how do you fix this problem? It comes down to one word, fundamentals. Better fundamentals. According to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, linebackers coach Larry Foote, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. That was the one keyword that was a common theme among the Buccaneers defensive players and coaches at the media sessions this week.
Todd Bowles spoke to the media on Thursday and said:
“We’ve got to get back to what we’ve been doing best and what we know how to do, and that’s the fundamentals of football. Whether it’s eye discipline, backpedaling, gap recognition and technique, hat-and-hands, just old-school football and playing the way we know how to play.”
The Bucs will take on another team Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings, who are fighting for their playoff lives. The Vikings have won five of their last six and will be looking to improve their playoff chances with a win. If the Bucs start quickly on both sides of the ball and get back to playing good defense, this team has all the tools to make a deep playoff run.