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TOPIC: Tampa Bay's best start in eight years has dissolve

Tampa Bay's best start in eight years has dissolve 1 week 1 day ago #1477

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d into a .500 record that raises more questions than it answers about whether this finally will be the year the Buccaneers end their long playoff drought.The Bucs (2-2) weathered Jameis Winston's suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy better than reasonably could have been expected , thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick becoming the first player in league history to top 400 yards passing in three consecutive games.A porous defense, however, is threatening to undermine a season that looked so promising after Fitzpatrick led the team to wins over New Orleans and Super Bowl champion Philadelphia to start the season.Last Sunday's 48-10 loss to the Chicago Bears sent the Bucs into their bye week amid questions about whether coach Dirk Koetter might fire defensive coordinator Mike Smith during a break that couldn't arrive soon enough.Despite being throttled by a Bears defense led by Khalil Mack. Tampa Bay has the NFL's top-ranked passing attack and is No. 3 in total offense.The flip side is the Bucs have allowed a league-high 139 points through four games and have given up more yardage than every team except the Kansas City Chiefs, who are 4-0 despite their shortcomings on defense."We've got to own it and we have to fix it," coach Dirk Koetter said in the wake of what the coach described as a "horrific" performance against the Bears.Koetter is adamant, though, that firing Smith, the former Atlanta Falcons head coach, is not the answer.Not even after the Bucs were shredded by Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, for 354 yards passing and six touchdowns."Sure, any play-callers on both sides of the ball would love to have calls back ... anything that doesn't work," Koetter said. "But we have to figure that out, and the nice thing about having a bye right now is we've four games of our own to look at."Since firing former coach Lovie Smith after the 2015 season, in part because Tampa Bay was having problems stopping opponents, the Bucs have invested heavily in the defense through free agency and the draft.Injuries have tested depth on the defensive line, as well as in a secondary missing cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Chris Conte.The absence of a consistent running game, capable of keeping opposing quarterbacks on the sideline for extended stretches, has hurt, too, considering the Bucs faced Drew Brees, Nick Foles and Ben Roethlisberger in the first three games."It was easy for me to stand up here and say we faced two Hall of Famers and a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. That wasn't the case (last Sunday) New Orleans Saints Womens T-Shirt ," Koetter said. "Tip your hat to Trubisky for doing what he had to do. We need to focus on what we need to do better."Lovie Smith was let go after a season in which the Bucs finished 10th in total defense, allowing 340.4 yards per game.Through the first month of the season, the current Bucs are allowing 358 yards per game through the air, 445.8 yards overall.Opposing quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes in 2015. It's 77.1 percent after four games this year.Koetter has a longtime relationship with Smith. They worked together as assistants under Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville, and Smith later hired Koetter as his offensive coordinator when Smith became the head coach in Atlanta."First, let's get one thing straight. It has zero to do with relationships, OK? None of this is about relationships," Koetter said."This is business," the coach added. "This is how I make my living, and it's how every guy in this building makes his living, so we can put that one to rest."One change that is occurring, though, is Winston regaining the starting quarterback job. He sat out the first three games while serving his suspension and replaced Fitzpatrick in the second half against Chicago with the Bucs trailing 38-3."Fitz's combination of experience, talent and leadership is valued at a very high level here," Koetter said in announcing the decision to bench the 35-year-old journeyman backup and play the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft."At the same time, Jameis Winston is the guy that's going to be here way longer than I am," Koetter added. "He needs to be playing, and he will be unless he gets hurt."The Bucs return to action on Oct. 14 at Atlanta.The 3 most impressive training camp performances: Week 1 edition Sometimes it can be difficult to discern whether a player is performing well in training camp or if it’s just that his competition is sub-par. Today, we don’t have that problem as we’re going through the 3 most obvious producers through 5 days of camp.Marcus WilliamsFrom being a 2nd round pick, to being an enormous contributor on a rising young defense, and then to being the centerpiece of an unbelievable up-and-down playoff game, Marcus has had quite the past 14 months. What’s clear about the 21 year-old Mr. Williams is that he’s intent on transitioning from good young player to an absolute terror in the middle of the field. After seemingly living in the gym during the 2018 offseason New Orleans Saints Hats , he’s translated his year of experience and NFL-caliber training into a 5-day training camp performance worth writing about. One of the best compliments you can make towards a defensive back is that he is always around the ball. With Marcus, it’s not that he’s just around it, he’s making contact with the ball every single day in practice. Whether that’s breaking it up or intercepting the pass, his propensity to be at the catch point from sideline to sideline in the deep part of the field is something opposing offenses will have to contend with in 2018. Dennis Allen’s defense already deploys a top-tier cornerbacks duo of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, making the passing windows already tight. The presence of Marcus Williams makes it so that the smallest of errors turn have serious potential to turn into big defensive plays.Michael ThomasIt’s extraordinarily difficult to find something to complain about when it comes to Michael Thomas. Mike gives maximum effort even when the ball doesn’t come his way, lines up all over the field, and he’s always elated to share in the success of his teammates. All of those compliments don’t even address how dominant he is as an actual receiver. He can run every route in the route tree, has a genuinely elite catch radius, and almost never drops a pass. What more do you want from your #1 wide receiver?Mike’s performance through the first week of training camp is what it looks like when a player in his physical prime has become a master of his craft. I think it can be dangerous to try to gleam too much from 1-on-1’s in training camp, however I can’t in good conscience write this article without showing this route. Michael Thomas uses his outside arm to club Crawley towards the middle of the field, implying that Mike’s intention is to gain separation before he breaks outside. However, as soon as Crawley turns outside to play the out, Mike takes advantage of Crawley’s blindspot and breaks inside on the dig route. That type of attention to detail and route running mastery, using his hands and feet in unison to set up the defensive back, is the sign of a wide receiver that is primed to abuse defenders on the way to another Pro Bowl berth in 2018.David OnyemataThis one isn’t necessarily about him being the most impressive player out there, but about being most impressed in the incredible jump he seems to have made in the past 8 months. David Onyemata has been a top-tier athlete at the defensive tackle position since entering the league 2 years ago, but his pass rush toolkit has been rather limited in terms of variety. He’s been a bit of a brute-force rusher for the past 2 years but since camp started last week, he’s been able to show that his hand usage is starting to match his physical abilities. Onyemata has been consistently re-adjusting his hands in the middle of the rush to regain control of his blocker and give himself a better chance at getting pressure when his initial rush plan falters. If Onyemata performs as well as he did last year, the Saints are looking at perhaps the best defensive line in the Sean Payton era; if Onyemata matches his physical potential with the same level of technical proficiency, he can help propel the unit to being the best defensive line ever fielded in the Saints 51 year history.
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