Mid-term grades? The Bucs still aren’t passing

by Gary Shelton on November 9, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

So far, Mike Evans has been the Bucs' MVP./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

So far, Mike Evans has been the Bucs' MVP./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

It's halfway to what we had hoped would be a new day. Sadly, we're stuck in the middle of last year.

And the year before.

And a lot of years before that.

Halfway through a season, the only thing that seems clear is that those who thought this would be the turnaround season for the Bucs were being a trifle optimistic. The defense has not been fixed. The offense hasn't progressed. The kicking game is a punchline.

Egads. The Bucs are, unfortunately, still the Bucs.

They have three wins, and two of them have come against backup quarterbacks Derek Anderson and Colin Kaepernick. There is no pass rush. There is no safety play. The receivers are slow. The running backs keep getting hurt. There is no depth. Another top draft pick seems inevitable.

And furthermore, ouch.

It is depressing. It has now been 13 ½ years since the Bucs won a playoff game. It has been 8 ½ since they even made the post-season. Who knows when the Bucs finally make it back?

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Does Winston have enough  weapons in his huddle?

Does Winston have enough weapons in his huddle?

This was to be the year it all changed. There was a new coach in town, and new corners and new pass-rushers. There were free agents and draft picks. The quarterback was supposed to vault off a successful second half of the season.

Instead, very good quarterbacks (Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Carson Palmer) have been great, and average quarterbacks (Case Keenum)  have been very good. And the Bucs' safeties have played chase. The Bucs are 3-5, and it feels worse. It feels like Dexter Jackson is back at wide receiver and Sabby Piscatelli at safety and Eric Curry at defensive end. It feels like Josh Freemans are everywhere.

And so the report card isn't very good. Most years, in this Raheem Morris-Greg Schiano-Lovie Smith-Dirk Koetter relay race, they haven't been.

First half MVP, offense: Mike Evans, WR. True, the most important performer on the Bucs's offense has been Jameis Winston. But Evans has played closer to his potential than Winston. Evans is fifth in the NFL in receptions with 55 catches for 745 yards. He's tied for the league lead in drops again, but his eight touchdowns have far eclipsed last year's three. Winston loses points because of his frustrations throwing the deep ball.  Runner-up: Winston.

First half MVP, defense: Kwon Alexander has assumed ownership of the Bucs' defense, for whatever that's worth. He leads the team in tackles with 72 (former annual leader Lavonte David is fourth with 44). The sad part? There aren't a lot of other candidates on the Bucs. Runner-up: Brent Grimes.

Biggest win: It came in the opener, a 31-24 victory over Atlanta. It was the only time all season the Bucs beat the team's main threat at quarterback in Matt Ryan (although Ryan threw for 334 yards).

Remember the hope you felt that day? It was a long time ago, wasn't it?

Best newcomer: Brent Grimes, cornerback. This year, Grimes has 12 passes defensed; the other three members of the Bucs' secondary have combined for 14. It hasn't been a great season for newcomers, however. Noah Spence, a No. 2 draft pick, has three sacks, but he's played only in spot duty. Robert Ayers has been hurt. And we all know about the struggles of kicker Roberto Aguayo. Runner up: Jacquizz Rodgers.

Play of the Year: The Bucs faced a third-and-seven against Carolina from their own 17-yard line with 42 seconds to go. Winston hit Mike Evans  for 11 yards. A few plays later, Aguayo hit the winning field goal; Runner-up: Winston hit Evans on a 45-yard scoring pass against Atlanta and a 31-13 lead.

Biggest loss to injury: This was supposed to be a huge year for Doug Martin, who finally earned his payday last year. But the world's longest hamstring issue has limited him to two games and 85 yards. It's an old issue with Martin, who has struggled to stay on the field. Runner-up: J.R. Sweezy.

Biggest loss to attitude: Can there be anyone else but tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who is destined to join the long list of lousy No. 2 draft picks?

Biggest loss to performance: So far, it's close. The offense has fallen nine spots, from fifth to 14th. The defense has has fallen from 23rd to 28th.

Best opponent: Derek Carr threw for 513 yards against the Bucs. Darryl Lamonica never did that. Nor did Jim Plunkett or Kenny Stabler. Runner-up:  Matt Ryan (344 yards).

Best former Buc: We always knew that if Aqib Talib ever grew up, he could be an excellent player. He has done so in Denver to the point he's being asked about the Hall of Fame. Really. Runner up: LeGarrette Blount, New England.

Worst coaching decision: Koetter insisted the Bucs had sufficient plays to pull out the Rams game after he didn't call a time out. But he didn't have all the plays he could have had in a game that ended with the Bucs on the 5-yard line. A goof. Runner-up: Not moving the Falcons back, possibly out of field goal range, in the second quarter while the game was still close.

Worst player: Call it the Golden Piscatelli, after former Bucs' safety Sabby. It goes to Chris Conte. Runner-up: Bradley McDougald.

Most likely No. 1 draft pick: Wide receiver. The Bucs have a lot of need, but a receiving corps that has overachievers Adam Humphries and Cameron Brate could use reinforcements. Runner-up: The grades may demand that the Bucs pick a safety instead.

Biggest improvement: Really, the Bucs are better at something this year. Last year, they tied for the most penalties called against them. This year, they're 16th.

More than expected: Adam Humphries has 30 catches for 327 yards. A year ago, he caught 27 for 360. Runner-up: Brate.

Ugliest play: Seth Roberts ended the game against the Oakland Raiders, going 41-yards on a catch from Derek Carr for the winning score as the Bucs' defensive backs collided. Runner-up: Trailing 24-20 in the fourth quarter against the Rams, Ethan Westbrooks returned ed a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown.

Losing to the Calendar: What player showed the most sign of age regression this year? Even before he was injured, wide receiver Vincent Jackson struggled. He had only 15 catches for 173 yards and no touchdowns. He will have to be replaced in a year. Runner-up: Tight end Brandon Myers.

The Waiting Game: It is 167 days until the NFL draft. Just thought you'd like to know.

The Games to Come: The Bucs schedule seems imposing, but the team has a chance to win Sunday against the Bears (the Bucs are No. 27 in the NFL.com power rankings; Chicago is 28.) Still, NFL.com has called a Chicago win. After that are games at Kansas City (No. 3), Seattle (No. 6), at San Diego (No. 16), New Orleans (No. 22), at Dallas (No. 2), at New Orleans (No. 22) and Carolina (No. 25). Is Chicago the Bucs' last chance?

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