Bucs search for answers after huge defeat

by Gary Shelton on November 12, 2020

in general

Arians' team hasn't had a lot of answers lately.JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

There for a while, the Tampa Bay Bucs were all about statements. Heck, on some Sundays, they came with exclamation points.

Now, all there are are questions.

Following a 38-3 flogging at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, the Bucs are a mass of interrogatives. They are a puzzle wrapped in a haze and surrounded by fog.

And you could tell just how bad it has gotten Wednesday by the tone of the questions at Bruce Arians' press conference.

Ah, usually a press conference is centered around a few questions about health, a few about the upcoming opponent and a few about the hot player on the team. This one was more about whether this problem can be fixed, and why that problem has surfaced, and if that shortcoming has been addressed.

For instance:

Arians was asked about the identity of the offense, not that three points leads to a lot of identity. "We have the ability to have different plans each week with matchups we like," Arians said. "Obviously, we want to run the football more than we did the other night, but the game dictated (that we didn’t). I think with the personnel we have healthy now, it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

He was asked if cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting have regressed: “(I) don’t know it’s as much regression as they’re getting targeted because (opponents) aren’t throwing at Carlton (Davis III)," Arians said. "He’s playing outstanding with all the interceptions and stuff. I think both of them are still growing. I don’t think there’s any cause for concern with those two guys. Antoine (Winfield Jr.) – each one of them – they’ll keep going in their role.”

Then came a question about using running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette (who combined for four carries) more effectively; “Don’t fall behind – that’s the biggest thing," Arians said. "I think they both have had really good roles. I think RoJo (Ronald Jones II) is in a really good spot right now (and) I think Leonard and Shady (LeSean McCoy) are as well. I think we’re solid there and I think the 1-2 punch is really back in full force.”

But is Mike Evans' problem getting the ball because he's missed practice or because Tom Brady doesn't have time to throw? "Both," Arians said. "They’re the answers to the question.”

He was asked why opponents are using multiple tight ends . “I think it’s more to keep us out of nickel," Arians said. "In base defense, you only can do so much. Nickel, you can get pretty exotic with them. I think the three tight ends is something that tries to get you in base defense to throw the ball more than run it. Taysom Hill – we just didn’t stop the power play. We stopped [Alvin] Kamara really well, but we didn’t stop Taysom Hill. In the Giants [game] we got out of our gap twice and tried to do too much. I’m not concerned with the running game right now. I think we’ll bounce back pretty good against a really good, talented backfield.”

But why has the offense had trouble scoring in the first period? "Third-down conversions," Arians said. "We’re not maintaining possession of the football long enough to start games right now.”

He was asked if Brady's problems were because of the receivers taking too long or the duress he was under. “I think the duress," Arians said. "We put some up in the Cover 2 that we were trying to fit in the holes, but the Saints defense played well [and] we didn’t play very well offensively. The protection was the worst part.”

Then came a question of whether the Bucs were bad on third down because they gain so little on first and second downs. "A little bit," Arians said. "Last week we opened up with a shot – didn’t hit it – ran the ball for six [yards] and don’t make a third-and-4. When you’re playing a third-and-4, you should be winning 70 percent of the time. Our goal is to always play in third-and-6 or less – [it’s] very manageable. We had way too many third-and-longs because of sacks. Not being able to run the football hurt in that ballgame and we’ve just missed a couple early third-down plays that normally we were hitting early, getting jump-started and getting going.”

He was asked about getting over that lopsided loss. [We have a] 24-hour rule. That game is over. We’ve got a heck of an opponent in Carolina. You have Monday to lick your wounds and Tuesday you get ready to start for the next one. That’s the beauty of coaches and players – we don’t have to worry about [it for long]. Everybody has to worry about it for a week [but] we go back to work [and] we’re on to the next one. That’s in the rearview mirror now.”

The important thing here isn't the answers. It's the questions. In one brief interview, Arians was asked about the poor performance of Brady, of the running backs, of the offensive line, of the secondary, on third down, in the first quarter. Recently, he has also been asked about playing in prime time, and the penalties, and the tackling. In other words, the picture is that of a team that is hurting in most of its areas.

Remember, the Bucs' problems didn't start with the Saints. They didn't play well against the Giants, either.

There is a lot of healing that needs to go on before the Bucs play at the Panthers at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

After which, there will be more questions.

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