Bucs repeat too many flaws in opening game

by Gary Shelton on August 12, 2016 · 1 comment

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston fumbled early, but he was seven-for-nine before leaving./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Winston fumbled early, but he was seven-for-nine before leaving./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Friday, 6 a.m

Is this really the way to start an era?

With turnovers? With penalties? With no running game? With one visit to the end zone? With third-down failures? With nowhere near enough crispness as this team will need if it's going to be taken seriously?

Really? Is this the way?

“Not what I had in mind,” Koetter said.

And furthermore, ouch.

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The Tampa Bay Bucs opened their 2016 schedule Thursday night, and five seconds later, they wanted to close it again. The Bucs lost, 17-9 to the Eagles, but it isn't the result that should give Bucs' fans pause. It's that the team repeated too many of last season's errors along the way.

Someone asked Dirk Koetter if he felt butterflies before the game. No, he said. But when the Eagles jumped to the quick lead, he said “I got pissed.” Well, a lot of Bucs fans were right with you, Dirk.

That said, exhale. Relax. It was only a dress rehearsal. No one ever remembers the preseason for very long (Koetter is the eighth Bucs' coach to lose his first game). But again, if the preseason is about clues and trends, well, Tampa Bay has a lot of work to do.

For instance:

Turnovers: The Bucs had five, and two of them led to Eagles touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game.

Penalties: The Bucs committed 10 for 92 yards, which is hardly cleaning up one of last season's most embarrassing aspects. “I think our running game will emerge,” Koetter said.

Third down: The Bucs were three-of-14 on third down.

Points: Hidden in the early sloppiness was this: The Bucs scored only nine points against a pedestrian defense in the Eagles.

The rushing game: Blame it on Doug Martin or on his offensive line, but the Bucs didn't run at all. They carried the ball 21 times for 31 yards. Martin had 13 yards on five carries.

The receivers: For all the talk about Adam Humphries becoming the team's third receiver, the nominations might not be closed. Humphries had one catch for two yards. Russell Sheppard, on the other hand, had three for 62 and a touchdown.

The kicking: I still think Roberto Aguayo works out fine. But when a team drafts a kicker in the second round, it's troublesome when his first extra point bangs off an upright.

If you are Koetter, where do you start to mop up this mess? I would imagine you start with the turnovers. No NFL team is going to win very often with five turnovers. It just can't happen unless you plan to draft awfully high.

After that, I let my team know I'm close to a meltdown over penalties. There are a couple of different kinds of penalties in pro football. One is a lack of mental focus. The other is a lack of physical ability. Offensive linemen who are being beaten hold. Defensive backs who can't keep up grab. And so forth.

Next? I address my offensive line. Bigger holes need to be open for Martin. Less pressure needs to be in Winston's face.

After that, I have a long conversation with Jason Licht, and with my coaching staff, about my receiver corps. Is Humphries really a third-receiver talent?

Oh, it wasn't a complete debacle. It seldom is. The regular defensive line rotation had four sacks in the first half. Winston was seven-for-nine for 97 yards. “It's hard to find fault with our defensive line,” Koetter said.

Still, it wasn't anywhere near good enough. The Bucs have to be better than this if they're going to be better than last year. They need more impact from their receivers. They need to establish Martin. They need to take it personally if the pass rush gets anywhere close to Winston.

Next week will be better.

Won't it?

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