Clear Fix, Clear Path

March 21st, 2018

BY IRA KAUFMAN

It’s been awhile since this town felt good about its football team.

So much has changed in the 15 months since the Bucs reeled off a five-game winning streak that thrilled a loyal fan base. A different chief executive was working out of the Oval Office and Evan Longoria was still holding down the hot corner for the Rays.

But in looking ahead toward the challenge facing the 2018 Bucs, it’s instructive to remember the joy and confidence that emerged in the fall of 2016 and wonder whether it can happen again.

That glorious run followed two of the worst defensive efforts in recent Buc history — and that’s saying something.

Oakland had just beaten Tampa Bay 30-24 in overtime, rolling up 626 yards while overcoming an NFL-record 23 penalties. Four days later, in a prime-time Thursday matchup, the Falcons cruised to a 43-28 triumph as the Bucs inducted John Lynch into the Ring of Honor.

Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp stood on the sidelines that evening, embarrassed by the Buc defense.

When Tampa Bay’s season continued 10 days later, everything changed. The Bucs downed the Bears, Chiefs, Seahawks, Chargers and Saints in succession, generating 14 takeaways and frustrating some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Keith Tandy came off the bench for an injured Chris Conte and looked like Ed Reed for a month. Opponents converted only 29 percent on third down as the Bucs vaulted into playoff contention.

And guess what? Raymond James Stadium rocked with a passion not seen since Jon Gruden roamed the sidelines.

Back To Earth

Gerald McCoy was pumped at the prospect of his first postseason appearance. The Bucs finished 9-7, but it was fun while it lasted.

Man, was it fun.

“You’re only as good as your weakest link and I always said, if we don’t have any weak links, then how good can we be?” McCoy said.

O.K. That’s enough nostalgia … let’s return to the planet Earth.

The takeaway from 2016? If this embattled franchise is ever going to emerge from a 10-year slumber, swarming defense will have to lead the way.

Hope Lies In Buckner, Draft

That’s just the way it is in the Bay area. Even the new assistant coach in town knows our pedigree.

“It goes to a certain fiber of that city, to the fans,” says Brentson Buckner. “A lot of fans have appreciation for the tough hardness of the game — which usually is associated with the defense. Pittsburgh is going to be associated with defense. They could have the leading offense in the history of the world, but that’s a defensive city.

“I think Tampa Bay, just the way it was built, those guys came in and built something special. They were winning games 6-3, 3-0. We need to [remember] that we have the Lombardi Trophy in there and one of the top defenses of all time.”

Despite a stellar trio of linebackers, Tampa Bay’s defense is riddled with concerns. We’re always told that pass defense is comprised of rush, plus coverage. At the moment, the Bucs appear short on both fronts.

Right now, that majestic five-week run in 2016 looks like a fluke.

There’s little depth on the defensive line and in the secondary — killer issues when facing NFC South quarterbacks.

The answers will have to come in the draft, where Jason Licht needs to duplicate his 2014 haul. Buckner will have to bring out the best in Noah Spence and any rookie additions.

“People are going to like what they like and this city longs for that type of defense because they saw what Sapp and them did by putting that trophy in there.” Buckner says. “We have to try to duplicate that.”

Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in town. He has hung his hat at JoeBucsFan.com world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays during football season, and see him now on Mondays and Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360. Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

Be there for Thursday’s Round 1. Arrive early. Return for Rounds 2 and 3 the following day.

36 Responses to “Clear Fix, Clear Path”

  1. The Buc Realist Says:

    Wish that the offense would have a 5 game “fluke” like that and carry the team for once!!!!!!!!!!

    Go Bucs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. BetterBuccinBelieveIt Says:

    Ira says:

    “If this embattled franchise is ever going to emerge from a 10-year slumber, swarming defense will have to lead the way.”

    It was another good column by Ira, but with all due respect, there is absolutely nothing wrong with winning games 34-28 for instance. In this Bucs fan’s opinion, the CURRENT Bucs roaster has many more chips already laid in that direction, and SA-QUON can quickly add that tremendous piece to do just that, constantly out-will the opposing squad for higher highs.

    The time (and luck chance) it would take for the CURRENT Bucs roster to obtain that many pieces needed to have a “swarming” defense again just isn’t going to happen through all avenues (draft, FA, etc.) anytime before 2020 or likely later. Just won’t. the ’94-’95 draft classes of Sapp, Brooks, Lynch, etc. aren’t walking through those draft doors.

    Buckner’s comments are refreshing and expected, when being newly hired as the soon-to-be Defensive Coordinator lime-lighting as the D-Line coach.

    Like any good “management” team would do, one tries to achieve the quickest, most impactful, and simplified action(s) to get back on track. ESPN had a stat on NFL Live on Monday that showed that the W-L improved by 7 wins when Zeke was drafted to the Cowboys, and Jacksonville’s W-L record increased by 9 Wins(!) when Fournette was drafted. THINK…about those! And Fournette is NO SA-QUON.

    When the Bucs were 3-7 in one score games in 2017 like Dirk loves to cite (as some de facto Capt. Obvious way of implying they will tilt in their favor next year (?!?)…the way to WIN close games, and play to the EXISTING strengths of the Bucs roster is………….mister SA-QUON Barkley. Win 34-28 games. Supplement defense here or there, and Buck can coach up.

    Go Bucs!

  3. BetterBuccinBelieveIt Says:

    * oops…meant moonlighting, not lime-lighting

  4. Joeypoppems Says:

    Relying on Buckner and some rookies for a pass rush is a risky move. This could easily blow up in Licht’s face.

  5. LakeLand Says:

    So many holes to plug in the tire…they may need a new tire.

  6. Bucsfanman Says:

    Realist- If the defense doesn’t, the offense has to. The problem there is that it will likely be the same offense: No creativity, no adjustments, and no physicality. There will be no more patience, they MUST win now and we’re banking on the same coaching staff to get us there. Color me apprehensive!
    This draft will make or break this team.

  7. JAB83 Says:

    He is callimg out the 12th man. He just spoke softly….

  8. tmaxcon Says:

    Lakeland

    way too many holes… 8 keepers max on this roster everyone else easily upgraded or replaced.

  9. ben Says:

    Hay Joe..The bucs have the cash and have to many needs for the draft. Is it Licht or the owners fault that the bucs Have NOT done much in free agency?? I can’t understand the lack of effort .

  10. Pickgrin Says:

    Awesome piece Ira. Man you are good on that computer keyboard.

    “We…We…We” I’m liking this Buckner hire more and more. Sounds like he’s all in on this job and determined to be a catalyst for returning the once proud defensive tradition this franchise always identified itself with. It truly does all start up front.

    Get him some help in this draft Jason. I expect at least 3 of our 8 picks to be used on DL players. Gotta take a shot at a DE sometime in the 1st 3 rounds despite the less than stellar class. There’s quite a few good DTS this year so have to grab at least one of them.

  11. tmaxcon Says:

    buckner is a fine hire just Hays was a fine hire etc etc etc…. don’t get comfortable mr buckner more qualified men than you have been ran off by cancer93 the disease is real the losing culture is real.

  12. StPeteBucsFan Says:

    I’m not nearly as worried about our DBs as our DL.

    Our DB’s are ok but they’re not good enough to overcome a QB who has all day to select his targets and never has to fear for his physical safety. But if they played behind a strong rush they should hold up ok..provided of course we sign another FA CB.

  13. Gambelero Says:

    When they asked John Wooden “Who were the toughest guys to coach against?” He said. “The ones with the best players.”

    Get some good players, Chubb, Barkley or Nelson at 7 or Minkah, Derwin or Vita at 12 + Gwynn, Guice or Davenport at 22.

  14. Lord Cornelius Says:

    Winston and this offense scoring 25+ PPG = the biggest key to success next year imo.

    When supposedly 100% healthy; the offense averaged 23.5 PPG (week 1, and last 5 weeks of the season); vs 20.9 for the entire season. That was with a really bad run game still.

    25+ PPG = top 8-10 scoring offense. With an improved run game/o-line and a healthy Winston – this should be the biggest jump we see next year; and hopefully the defense improves as a byproduct along with the talent infusion / new D-line coach.

    If we scored just 23 points every week in 2017; we’d have been 8-8.
    If we scored 25 points every week in 2017; we’d have been 11-5.

    This is why as bad as we need Defensive help – I still want RB/OG in the top 4 rounds.

  15. 813bucboi Says:

    BUCSFANMAN

    I AGREE!!!…..dirk is “suppose” to be an offensive guru……we’re still waiting for the offense to show up!!!!!!

    #NOEXCUSESIN2018!!!!!….NOPASSESIN2018!!!!!….GO BUCS!!!!

  16. Joeypoppems Says:

    @BetterBuccinBelieveIt

    The problem with winning games 34-28 is this team cant score over 20 points consistantly. Even when they had a running game in 2015 they struggled to score.

  17. JimmyJack Says:

    LOL at this formula.

    Just write in 25 on the scoreboard for every game……BOOM…..11 wins!!

    Let’s try 28……. hahahaha……..let’s not.

    But if you are going to try 28 I must insist you use 28.1…. I’m not sure you you know what to do if there was a tie.

  18. GhostofSchiano Says:

    Ira Says:Keith Tandy came off the bench for an injured Chris Conte and looked like Ed Reed for a month.

    The Tandinator, The fine and tandy, that’s just Tandy, It’s Tandinomium, Tanderiffic….

    Yeah I could really root for this guy…GO TANDY

    When teams play the bucs the offense says it is just dandy,

    Until they encounter the Ed Reed clone named Tandy,

    He storms the field like hurricane Sandy,

    This aint no Mayberry like Andy,

    This aint no Barry Manillow’s Mandy,

    This aint Dennis Quaid or his brother Randy,

    This is Tampa’s own Lynch 2.0 Keith “Ronnie Lott” Tandy

    Guess I should have stopped after that fifth of brandy.

  19. JimmyJack Says:

    Ghost…..How do you go through all that and not include the term “handy”?

  20. Mike Johnson Says:

    Bucs should have just made Buckner the new DC. Instead we get another year of Pressbox Smitty sitting on top of his perch..taking the discredit or credit. I have no faith in Smitty’s leadership. None whatsoever!

  21. Stanglassman Says:

    2016 Bucs adj score was 22+, scored less than 20 six times winning 4 of those low scoring games. Assuming you were referencing the 2016 9-7 season.
    Not trying to prove anyone wrong just found it interesting.

  22. JimmyJack Says:

    Mike Johnson I hope our next 3 decades of coordinators all choose to call plays from the press box just for you. Hahahahaha……Such a silly criticism. Well actually it’s not even a criticism.

  23. Defense Rules Says:

    Sorry Ira, but I guess I missed something. ‘Clear Fix, Clear Path’? While GM Licht is obviously pushing the offense (and has for 4 yrs now), sound to me like your ‘clear fix’ ahead is to fix the defense (pass rush & secondary). How is that a ‘clear path’ ahead when our GM is convinced offense will win us enough games to overcome a bad defense? Sounds to me like you & Jason don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

  24. Lord Cornelius Says:

    @Jimmyjack

    Not a formula. Just a point about how our offense was scoring 19-20 points too many times for the weapons and talent we have. That offense should have been scoring closer to 30 points most weeks last year than 20. The point is that – if we did – we’d have been flirting with playoffs instead of saying this team is a dumpster fire.

    And with a franchise QB; more solid O-line; the weapons we have; and a better run game; there is no reason not to have top 8-10 scoring offense as our expectations.

    The defense is another story. There’s no reason to assume anything there given the questionable talent. We focus all offseason on the defense – but in reality the offense is by far what has the best chance to execute like a top unit in 2019; and carry the team. I think we’ve been waiting to see that since all the pieces we’ve added. It’s just a matter of it coming together.

  25. Bucsfanman Says:

    @Ghost- LOL, it’s 5 O’Clock somewhere dude! Cheers!

    Lord C- Don’t go spewing that nonsense that it wasn’t ALL on the defense! That our OFFENSE might’ve helped!
    I’m going to start drinking with Ghost! Where are the shots G?!

  26. First Down Tampa Bay Says:

    When we beat the Seahawks and Silenced the Kingdom was one of my best memories as a Bucs fan in a LONG time.

    How I miss those days…

  27. BetterBuccinBelieveIt Says:

    @ Poppems…

    Two words. Saquon Barkley.

    Just because the run game was better in 2015, doesn’t mean they had a run game. Even back to James Wilder, or Cadillac’s rookie year, or Warrick Dunn’s best year. Bucs have never had a Sa-quon.

    Take 3rd down and 4. All the red zone touches at 2nd and 6 or more, 4th down and 2, or better yet 1st down RUNS….(shhhh, that’s against the rules) ha!

    Bucs have NEVER had a SA-QUON, Say-gone Barkley. Gets real easy to get to 34 points as an offensive unit, once you have SA-QUON in the fold. See Kamara in NO (Sa-quon’s better), See Gurley, See Lev’ Bell. Just used the same way.

    Go Bucs!

  28. JimmyJack Says:

    Lord C….I agree. Just had to poke a little fun there.

    The offense defientaly needs to step up and lead this team. My biggest problem is that they never give us any leads. It does affect the defense. There is a different mindset when you get on the field to defend a lead. It also affects the other offense as well. Momentum in sports is not just something broacasters say to fill dead air. It’s real.

    On the opposite side of things it is demorilizing to be a defender always getting on the field when your team has zero points or is behind. Especially with this team, the defense should not be asked to always keep us in every game.

    Our offense needs to lead the way. It’s how we were built, and there is no excuse. They have to give us a lead and give momentum to the D. It’s called complimentary football.

    And while I am at it Dirk needs to quit with his long failing experiment of deferring kickoffs. It does more harm then good. Unless you had a great defense there is no reason why you should want the ball first to take momentum and control of the game and set a tone. Instead we put our weakest players on the field and give the other team the opportunity to take control. It really makes no sense to give that to a guy like Bress, for example. It’s a wimpy move and your players mirror to corwardness on the field.

    ***END RANT***

  29. BetterBuccinBelieveIt Says:

    Ya know…[email protected] Corn’s takes above seem eerily similar to a certain other poster’s comments prior, at 12:12 pm. Hmmm.

    🙂

    Go Bucs!

  30. Lord Cornelius Says:

    @Jimmyjack

    Well the problem is our offense only gave our defense 1 score leads which they can’t hold onto – especially late when it matters.

    I will never feel comfortable with anything less than an 7 point lead and 2 minutes left with the other team having the ball until our D proves they can actually choke someone out / rush the passer when it counts. Until then – if we are up 6 I’m assuming we lose by 1 when the other team marches down and scores a TD. If we are up 2 then we are losing by a FG at the end of regulation.

    Historically we always lose in those situations. That was literally like 4 losses last year alone – leads the defense couldn’t hold late. I’d rather be down 2 with 1:30 left and Winston giving us a chance to win the game and it isn’t close. And that shouldn’t be the case.

    So until our D can get stops when it counts at the end of games; we need to be going up by 2 scores on people.

    My biggest issues with Dirk is settling for FGs / having terrible schemes and red zone play calls / and the lack of more quick passing options. Having a run game would be huge for 2018 – especially the damn red zone. Most great scoring teams had a great run game.

    Hopefully Monken’s new role = all about figuring out how we can maximize scoring. With a great run game we can control TOP and take bigger leagues vs relying on Winston late in games.

  31. Lord Cornelius Says:

    @betterbuc

    I think a lot of us on are on the same page about this.

    It’s just the most reasonable & realistic thing to point at imo – in terms of what part of our team has the chance for the most dramatic turnaround.

  32. Lord Cornelius Says:

    bigger leads*

  33. Bob in Valrico Says:

    We need fast starts by our offense.First quarter scoring has to improve.
    That said, first drive of second half is equally critical and we did not capitalize enough in either situation IMO.

  34. John meeks Says:

    A lot of people complaining about Mike Smith being in the press box instead of on the field,but in reality it doesn’t matter where he is.the defense he calls is either going to work or it’s not.with the lack of pass rush we had last year, no defense was going to work.people say blitz,well that will not work very long!we have to get a few more pass rushers before our defense can take off.mike Smith has not forgotten how to coach.he was the best head coach Atlanta ever had,that’s what people forget.he was a damn good dc in Jacksonville, that’s how he got a head coaching job.our GM needs to get some rushers and this team can play with any team!fix the defensive line!

  35. BucsFanFromSaintsLand Says:

    Davenport…..trade down or not!!!!

  36. Duke Says:

    Betterbuc,

    The dream of Barkley is as close as Buc loyalists will get I’m afraid. You’re right about the team never having a take it to the house threat.

    Fortunately, the opportunity to acquire one is not diminished by Not drafting Barkley. There are many players in this year’s draft class that have the ability to be a legitimate threat from any down and distance. Barkley is not the only option.
    He may not be the best , time will tell us definitely if He is or isn’t.

    Point is, the Bucs need to actively seek out and invest a premium pick for a potentially dangerous back. The idea of waiting for a RB in the latter rounds is predicated on the idea that RB production is easily acquired and essentially interchangeable. The idea sounds nice but this franchise can not point to it’s long history of elite RB production and possibly come to that conclusion. The opposite direction is, at this time, far more persuasive as an idea.

    If the team is going to change their minds and invest in the position, the timing is great for finding that guy, as this year is deep at the position. But it can’t be the guy that’s available in RD 5-7. Why? Because it hasn’t worked previously and there’s nothing to suggest that is going to change. Guice, Chubb, Penny, etc etc
    All have a shot at being the league’s rushing leader. Smoochie Brown not so much.