The Quiet Disadvantage

September 7th, 2022

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Because they were so good at so many things last year, the Bucs got away with the equivalent of football murder.

The NFL’s No. 2 scoring attack and a No. 5 scoring defense had to work overtime every week to compensate for a glaring weakness, a vulnerability that threatens to undermine Tampa Bay this fall.

There’s no genteel way to put this — special teams are a major concern.

Bucs special teams czar Keith Armstrong.

Yes, again.

My good buddy of 46 years, Rick Gosselin, puts out a highly anticipated special teams review after each season, ranking teams across 22 categories. Tampa Bay finished 29th out of 32 clubs, with Green Bay firmly in the league basement.

After the Packers suffered a blocked field goal and a blocked punt in a divisional-round playoff loss to the 49ers. head coach Matt LaFleur had seen enough. He wasted no time bringing in former Bucs assistant Rich Bisaccia, regarded as one of the league’s premier special teams coaches.

The Saints traditionally feature a top-rated special teams unit, so the Bucs are doing themselves a disservice if they trail a division rival in a critical area that can decide several games a year.

The problems are across the board at One Buc Place.

Ryan Succop made only 83.3 percent of his FG tries last year and his longest kick was a mere 48 yards. Rookie Jake Camarda assumes the punting chores after Bradley Pinion averaged only 42.7 yards – last in the league. Tampa Bay’s net punting average of 39 yards was four steps from the bottom.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, we come to Jaelon Darden, who returned punts and kickoffs as a rookie. Darden failed to distinguish himself at either task, however, averaging 7.5 yards bringing punts back and 19.9 yards on kickoff returns.

Can’t the Bucs do better? Perhaps rookie Rachaad White can provide an upgrade.

“I think we have to take another chance with Jaelon and take a look at him,” says special teams coach Keith Armstrong. “I like him as a returner. We’ve got to do a better job of blocking for him.”

Bucs returner Jaelon Darden.

That may be true, but Darden hasn’t helped his cause with some puzzling decisions and hesitant running. Only 11 of Tampa Bay’s 30 kickoff returns last season went for at least 20 yards. That’s not nearly good enough compared to the rest of the NFC South. Twenty of Carolina’s 30 kickoff returns went for 20 yards or more. Thirty of Atlanta’s 47 returns went for at least 20 yards.

Of the 37 kickoff returns by the Saints, 23 went for 20 yards or more.

That’s a lot of lost yardage over the course of 17 games.

The last time a Buccaneer returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, Micheal Spurlock was bringing a squib kick back all the way against Atlanta. That was in 2010, when Devin White was in middle school.

What makes this situation even worse is the 2021 draft was supposed to accentuate special teams. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Darden, K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard didn’t make a significant difference as rookies.

Todd Bowles isn’t taking special teams for granted. Training camp standout Tyler Johnson is no longer a Buc primarily because he wasn’t projected to be a special teams contributor.

Something’s got to give. As a team, the Bucs averaged a mere 7.1 yards per punt return, tied for next-to-last. As a team, the Bucs averaged a mere 19.7 yards per kickoff return, tied for 22nd.

Opponents averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return. Again, lost yardage.

Unless special teams improve markedly, the Bucs will go into most games with a disadvantage. That catches up to you after a while.

It can cost you a win or two — and it can cost a head coach his job.

Ira loves that lifetime warranty on new and used vehicles!

The Annual Season Prediction Episode Of The Ira Kaufman Podcast; Ira Fires Away On 20-Plus Calls

23 Responses to “The Quiet Disadvantage”

  1. D Says:

    But but it’s all Aaron Rodgers fault that they lost in the playoffs last year and every year except that one in which he won the superbowl because he’s a choke artist. You are not conforming to the illogical narrative of this site Ira. Watch out, or the Joe’s will put you in the tank like the rest of the insubordinates.

  2. D-Rome Says:

    Good article. I have not considered that special teams could be an issue.

  3. Biff Barker Says:

    Timely column Ira. Well written too.

    If I did my job as well as Armstrong, I’d be spit canned within the year. BA’s best coach legacy here is tarnished for ignoring a critical part of the game.

    Ultimately Licht is responsible.

  4. #8 Says:

    3 phases of the game. Cannot ignore the third. Smart, winning coaches focus on ST’s.
    Luckily we just won’t punt. So really we’re talking kickoffs & punt returns.

  5. Cobraboy Says:

    Personal loyalty at that position is hurting this team.

  6. ben Says:

    WHY is Darden still on the team ?? anyone can run out of bounds

  7. Chuckstutz Says:

    I look at the coaches being the problem with special teams.

    Incorrect schemes,incorrect talent selections,year after year.

    Yep that’s the coaching.

    Really would like to see a change.

    Packers got Bisacci. SMH.

  8. Casual Observer Says:

    Of course the coaches can best assess players. But I am among those who are puzzled by the keeping of Darden.

  9. CrackWise Says:

    For what it’s worth, that average yard’s number is a bit deceiving. Rojo had a game where he averaged over 10 yards per carry. Why did we get rid of a guy like that?

    As far as 20-yard returns go. Is it not the same field position or better if you just don’t return the kick? I wonder how many of those 20-yard returns had them starting at or behind the 25-yard line?

    As far as punts go. It’s hard to do anything with them when you have a guy hitting you as you catch the ball. Seems like that is a trend no matter who we put back there to return punts.

    Darden certainly deserves a chance to develop some confidence in the overall return game. It’s not like you’re gonna get much more out of the unit as a whole until everyone improves.

  10. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Agree with coach when he said blocking needs to improve- this was especially evident in Titans pre-season game- Titans’ special teams blocking was vastly superior.

  11. CrackWise Says:

    Wait I just re-read that. Darden averaged 19.9 yards on kickoff returns and he is being shamed because other teams had returns of 20 yards or more.

    LMAO. WOW. ok, He sucks, you know, because he is not averaging 20 yards or more.


  12. Goatfarmer Says:

    First of all – Keith Armstrong sucks. “…take another chance with Jaelen”

    You don’t take chances with your returner, you look at their demonstrated results! The sample size is big enough now. He was the same in preseason as all of last year. Armstrong would have been better off saying “take a chance” with someone else. Darden is a known commodity. He can’t run a route in a game, can’t break a tackle in a game, can’t catch in a game, can’t block anywhere, and falls down when a warm wind blows. Apparently he does these things well at practice when his opponents are his teammates, and aren’t going at him like rabid starving dogs, kind of like Kenny Bell was as a receiver.

    This guy has sucked, sucks, will suck, and will have sucked. And we cut Tyler and kept this guy. Because Tyler wasn’t a special teams contributor. Well – at least Tyler was a promising WR prospect but he’s now a Texan and when Julio hangs it up after this year, we’ve lost an ascending player.

    Dard-On plays special teams, sure. And sucks at it.

    No one would be happier if DardOn shuts me up on Sunday night with some nice returns or god forbid a return touchdown. It would be more likely to find Kay Adams taking a nap all hammered on my pool deck.

  13. Cometowin2 Says:

    Unfortunately i feel the same on Darden. Seems unwilling to use his speed on runbacks. Let’s see what White can do. Hated seeing Tyler Johnson go. Just gets open and catches the ball.

    Armstrong needs to be on the hot seat. Go Bucs!

  14. Bucs Win Says:

    I have been saying Armstrong’s is terrible and should be fired since the first season this regime took over. Darden stinks, how come they can’t see him slip and fall every freaking time he touches the ball like the rest of the football watching world does? It makes zero sense. SMH

  15. Goatfarmer Says:

    No one is going to fire Armstrong, unfortunately. So, promote him to special assistant to the head coach and let one of the other 74 Bucs assistant coaches have a chance with special teams.

  16. Vinny from Vermont Says:

    Armstrong is BA’s bro. As I have said on at least 2 or 3 occasions, this coach should be shown the door. I would love to see some stats on exactly how many losses the Bucs have suffered where his ST performance either directly lost a game, or their failures were significant contributors to a loss.
    Viewed in a different perspective, I can’t think of a single game since he arrived as coach of the ST, that a win was significantly attributed to his ST play performance. That’s 55 games where his ST performances have yet to directly contribute to a single win!! MAYBE if the Bucs HC or front office are unable or unwilling to take action, the Glazers might want to intervene?

  17. DavidBigBucsFan99 Says:

    I’ve always said either Rich Bissaccia or Joe Marciano, our best ST coaches and look who was smarter than we are. Pretty sad we sit pat on this

  18. MadMax Says:

    Giovani after Darden is given one last chance….then send him to the practice squad and activate Thompkins and see what he can do.


  19. Jerseybuc Says:

    Armstrong sucks! He sucked in atlanta. He def. Should of been replaced this offseason

  20. Goatfarmer Says:

    Reading these posts makes me want to drink.

  21. unbelievable Says:


    Special Teams has been quite poor under Armstrong.

  22. Crickett Baker Says:

    I really liked Goatfarmer’s Draton post. I had begun thinking that since he was showing so much in practice and obviously wooing the coaches that he would be better this year. But I was reminded that he is playing against our own team in practice. He will be better, I am certain, but improvement for him is nowhere good enough. I think he may be better in another position but they keep him on kick and punt returns. To me, it is like trying to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.

  23. Bucsfan13 Says:

    Czar?? We know the only reason that this man has not been fired after a failed stint in ATL and his embarrassing tenure with us. No one wants to say it because SJWs might come for them. No accountability at all. People like to throw Bowles under the bus for that ill-timed blitz call in the Rams game, but it was the Special teams that were the biggest liability. Fire Armstrong!!