Staying Grounded

December 28th, 2016



Before closing the book on the 2016 Buccaneers, let’s read between the lines.

Not good enough. Not tough enough. Not talented enough.

The trenches weren’t kind to the Bucs this season and GM Jason Licht won’t forget that failing when free agency and the draft come along.

While Tampa Bay fans pine for a speedy wide receiver and an impact safety, Licht will also be on the lookout for better play up front on both sides of the ball.

A team that was flexed repeatedly down the stretch simply didn’t flex its muscles often enough to end a postseason drought that now extends to nine years.

A dismal ground game and poor run defense stand in stark contrast to last season’s performance on both counts.

A year ago, the Bucs averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 135.1 rushing yards. That was good enough for a No. 5 ranking and it helped Tampa Bay establish a franchise record for total offense under coordinator Dirk Koetter.

Those numbers pale in comparison to 2016, with the Bucs averaging only 3.5 yards and 100.3 yards on the ground. That lack of production triggered Doug Martin’s demotion in New Orleans.

But an equally discouraging dropoff occurred on the defensive side when it comes to Job 1 — stopping the run game and turning teams one-dimensional.

In 2015, Buc opponents averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. Only one team was stingier, the AFC-champion Broncos. Teams ran for 100.4 yards per game, giving the Bucs an average 35-yard rushing edge on opponents last season.

That stout run defense has vanished before our eyes.

Full Flip

Heading into Sunday’s finale against Carolina, Buc opponents are averaging 4.4 yards and 116.5 yards per game, despite fewer carries.

Now the Bucs are minus-16 yards on the ground instead of plus-35.

Big difference.

Only five teams ran for at least 119 yards against Tampa Bay a year ago. That’s already happened 10 times this season.

What’s gone wrong?

Message heard

Message heard

Tackling has been lousy for sure, but there’s more to this tale of woe. Derrick Brooks and Kwon Alexander are on record suggesting that hustle and effort are issues to be addressed in the offseason.

When a Hall of Famer and a future Pro Bowler wonder out loud why more players aren’t swarming to the football, that speaks volumes.

You can be sure those words reach the ears of the general manager, the head coach and the gentlemen who sign the checks.

Unwavering Commitment

With Koetter still calling the plays, the Bucs have remained extraordinarily committed to a running game that has left Jameis Winston facing too many 3rd-and-7s.

The Bucs averaged 28.4 rushing attempts last year and that number is 28.5 this season. Koetter’s faith hasn’t been rewarded, and a relatively healthy offensive line hasn’t blocked well enough.

Not even close.

These problems up front on both sides have had a dramatic effect on overall efficiency.

Despite going 6-10 in Lovie Smith’s off-key swan song, the Bucs averaged 5.9 yards per snap, compared to 5.2 yards for opponents.

Those numbers have been reversed in 2016, with Tampa Bay averaging 5.2 yards per snap, compared to 5.9 for opponents.

Overall, this team is going in the right direction, but it’s obvious there is much work to be done before the Bucs gather together again in the spring.

In a league built for the forward pass, Tampa Bay has to do a much better job of staying grounded.

Ira Kaufman, Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, pens columns for every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award-winning podcasts fire on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ira also eats all the french fries and pizza at world headquarters.

10 Responses to “Staying Grounded”

  1. Waterboy Says:

    One issue I have with comparing last years stats to this years stats is strength of schedule. Tampa faced 3 teams out of the gate this year that were either in the Super Bowl last year or 1 game from it. Although several of those teams have come back to earth since last year when Tampa faced them early on they were riding high on confidence. Then in the middle of the season this year Tampa went on to face 3-4 teams more tough teams that will be in the playoffs this season. Last year’s schedule was a walk in the park facing the AFC South and the NFC East with Chip Kelly and his mess along with the Dak and Zeke-less Cowboys and Kirk “you like that” Cousins leading Washington.

  2. bucsfaninchina Says:

    But I thought we had pro bowlers up and down the O line? Only fix that needs to be made is that dang Joe Hawley?

  3. Bucsfanman Says:

    Ira is spot on with this. It begins and ends in the trenches. Logan Mankins was a good player but I refuse to believe that his absence alone has lead to our woes. Add to that we upgraded the talent on the D-line, LB, and DB and had worse production.
    Either we need to weed out the loafers or bring in better talent, or both. I’m thinking that there will be some interesting moves in the off-season.

  4. Kobe Faker Says:

    Remember Kobe said repeatedly there are only 2 important positions in a nfl team

    the QB and the GENERAL MANAGER

    *coaches can only coach who they have. koetter cant force Julio jones to tampa to coach him

    GENERAL MANAGER brings in talent through free agency and the draft

    both Atlanta and tampa were non playoff teams in 2015 but ATL are 2016 division winners and heading to post season

    WHY? and HOW?

    atl GM Thomas Dimitroff

    2016 free agency- homerun

    alex mack center
    mohamend sanu wr
    talor gabriel wr cut by clev picked up waiver wire

    2016 draft- homerun

    keanu neal s
    deion jones lb
    austin hooper te

    *losing shut down corner tuifant will cost atl from nfc championship

    You see, matt ryan didnt become twice as good. It is the GENERAL MANAGER

    Matt ryan is a very good QB and the ONLY other person that decides playoffs and winning – GENERAL MANAGER

    QB and GM and nothing fvking else…so help me god

    it is the GM, that is the reason why atlanta is in the post season and winning

    new olearns mickey loomis- 2016 nfl best draft picks

    car panthers 2015 exe of the year david gettlemen made a bonehead move releasing norman but a great mind

    *again shows you the importance of gms and influence of winning

    tampa bay bucs- gm forrest gump

    so it is only QB and the GM

    so how does tampa compare and are you confident licht can out manuver these 3 compedent GMs?

    JASON LICHT decides if we win or not

    we have our franchise QB, but without a GM

    we have nothing

    kobe has posted, and it shall be

  5. Pickgrin Says:

    God you are an idiot Kobe Welcher. And annoying as hell.

    Leave. Vamoose. Scram. Skeedaddle. Scat. GIT!!!

    You lost your bet and are NOT a man of your word.

    STFU Kobe Welcher!!

  6. BlameitonLicht Says:

    Kobe, you have to be the best armchair GM around. You must be the best at MADDEN. It doesn’t matter to you that the FA picks where he goes not the GM. The GM could be the best salesman but if Alex Mack wants to go to ATL vice TB that is not Licht’s fault. You have no way of knowing how much effort the TB staff went into trying to get any player.

  7. Defense Rules Says:

    Excellent article Ira, especially your observations about our run defense. Tend to think Bucs coaches changed a few things between 2015 & 2016: (1) Melton & McDaniel were pretty stout against the run in 2015; this year our rotational DTs aren’t nearly as stout in my opinion; (2) Lovie emphasized stopping the run in 2015, at the expense of pass defense; this year Mike Smith has kinda reversed that it looks like; (3) tougher schedule this year and we’ve seen some much better run offenses; (4) biggest factor to me: our MLB isn’t getting into the hole & shutting down the run at the line; I love Kwon but he’s getting blocked out too easily on too many plays and is making too many tackles down the field. Go back and review the film and see how many times each game that happens. (Hint: far too many).

  8. ben Says:

    I agree that bucs gm is not showing much..2 high draft picks for a kicker says a lot and the free agents have not been wow. Everybody knew bucs needed a receiver in the draft except Mr. Licht.

  9. orlbucfan Says:

    Ira’s comments regarding the defense are one reason why I’m not totally sold on Mike Smith. Lrt’s face it: the coaching roulette wheel has to end now. It’s killed this team. Bucs finish 8-8 or (I hope) 9-7 and this long time fan will be content. Earth To Glazer Brothers: NO COACHING CHANGES FOR THE NEXT 2 SEASONS!!

  10. Bob in valrico Says:

    I had to laugh at your misinformation.Dimitrov was responsinle for the lack of
    talent that got Smith and Koetter fired..He was on the hot seat.Two former Gm’s
    Scot Pioli and Billy Devaney were brought in to help right the ship