Ask Gary: Improved Bucs still have shortcomings

by Gary Shelton on September 29, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Bucs, Tampa Bay Rays

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

Monday night the Bucs looked a lot like the 2017 version of themselves with turnovers, penalties, lack of a running game, pass protection failures and an over matched defense. Even the comeback that came up short was reminiscent of last year. There is no help in sight for the running game and the defense is hampered by a new injury every game. If the team is going to revert back to making turnovers, excessive penalties and poor pass protection it won't matter who is the quarterback. Did the Fitzmagic-led offensive explosion of the first two games mask the fact that this team, just like the team of 2017, has serious deficiencies that still have not been corrected?

Larry Beller
Certainly, it masked a lot of things. This remains a flawed team with some serious shortcomings. Personally, I think the personnel is better than a year ago, but even a great start can't hide some flaws.
The running game is no better. The team, evidently, missed badly on No. 2 draft pick Ronald Jones II. The rebuilt defensive line hasn't harassed, really harassed, an opposing passer. The secondary still allows too high a completion percentage.
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But under Ryan Fitzpatrick, this team has been better. The comeback fell short, but Pittsburgh isn't a terrible team.  This team just can't fall 20 points behind and live. It's still made up, basically, of the same bunch who went 5-11 last year.
Hey, no one ever expected this year's Bucs' team to go 16-0. Losing one of its first three isn't a tragedy. I think we'll know more after the team plays Chicago, and Carolina, and Atlanta.
But this defense has to improve, and there has to be at least a semblance of a running game for this team to get anywhere north of .500. For the most part, I'm encouraged (but not convinced). I thought this would be a team that was slightly, but not greatly, improved.
I get what you're saying. If you're judging the Bucs off of three games, you'd have to be pleased with the bottom line. But if you're looking analytically, there are still a lot of areas where the Bucs have to get better.
Your comment that "it won't matter who the quarterback is" struck me as right on it, and I say that knowing that Fitzpatrick has been hot. But I always thought the fatal flaw with the Bucs was that they would draft a new talent, then expect him to be the best player on the field. We could be takling about Winston or Testaverde or Dilfer or McCants or Curry or anyone. The Bucs wanted a new toy to make up for the errors in the roster design.
That can't happen with one guy. Again, I think the Bucs talent is better. We just need to see them play some ordinary teams before we can decide.
Whose decision is it to select the starting Bucs' quarterback for the upcoming Chicago Bears game?  Dirk Koetter's?  Jason Licht?  Both of them?  Or some other combination?
Scott Myers
Most organizations, the good ones and the bad, talk about it. If you have Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll, they may simply pronounce who their guy is, but most teams sit around a table and talk about all the details of making a decision. How will the short week affect things? What about Winston's history against the Bears? What about Fitzpatrick's hot streak? What does Todd Monken think? Jason Licht?
In the end, though, it's a game decision, so it's Dirk Koetter's call. If the wrong guy starts, or isn't stuck with, then Koetter is the guy you would blame.
Licht has what is called "the 53." That means that he has the final call on who makes the team. Still, he'd be a pretty stubborn guy not to listen to the coaches who work with the players each day.
Hey, jobs are on the line here. You want to be careful with each decision, and you want to weigh a lot of different viewpoints. In the end, though, it's Koetter's call.
What are you hearing about the Rays financing efforts for the proposed stadium? When do you expect we'll get some "breaking news?"
Barry McDowell
The team is plodding along toward its Dec. 31 deadline. I don't expect we'll hear much before that.
The Rays and Tampa both seem to want this to work. But right now, I still think the biggest issue is how to pay for this project. How much will the team contribute? How much will voters pay for? Is there any kind of tourist tax that can pay for it?
Eventually, those ideas have to be floated. Now, building a stadium is never a popular idea. You can simply look south to Miami to see how a community that isn't sold on baseball can waste money. I think it's going to be a tricky thing to get it financed, even though the team is very popular after the season it's just had.
The RayJay was built after a close vote in which a lot of infrastructure was approved -- roads and government buildings, etc. I don't know that the Rays' version of the Taj Mahal will have that. I do think it's going to need a lot of impetus before it gets approved.
Did you notice Fitzpatrick was less mobile Monday night? And sporting a new knee brace. To me, Koetter and Monken also got outcoached on offense, there were free blitzers getting to Fitz.
Carlos Ubinas
Fitzpatrick didn't break the pocket as often as he had in the past, but I attributed a lot of that to the 3-4 defense that Pittsburgh played. Fitzpatrick hasn't been on the injury report, and after Monday night's game, he was asked about his health and said he was fine.
As far as getting outcoached, I don't think we know enough to make a final decision. Sure, you can say that this breakdown or that one was because of coaching, but we don't know if, say, a back was assigned to pick up a blitzer and failed. If so, that's not coaching. That's bad play.
Still, it's a fan's right to think the team wasn't coached well enough here or there. For instance, you can quibble with the Bucs decision to punt the ball with 2:39 to play. Koetter said it was a 20 percent or less proposition as far as making the first down, but that defense holding someone and getting the ball back might have been lower than that.
Coaches are certainly responsible for blame. They pick which players run which plays. So don't get me wrong. I'm not defending anyone here. But when a quarterback is sacked, sometimes it isn't the coach who is at fault.

Can you please explain to me how IMG Academy is set up? It always has excellent sports teams with excellent
athletes from all over the country. Who pays for them to go there? Why do they get to play schools that can
only get athletes from their district?

Jim Willson

Jim, there are a lot of high schools who don't think their schools should allow IMG Academy to compete with them. As of now, IMG has a loose association with the Florida High School Athletic Association. IMG is allowed to compete, but it can't participate in the playoffs and it can't recruit Florida high school athletes.

It's a marvelous facility if you've never been there. It has fields upon fields, and sports is always going on. Football over here, lacrosse over there, baseball over there. The thing that struck me was that not all of the athletes were of world-class appearance. There were some undersized football players, too. Considering what a scholarship costs (roughly $72,000 a year). some parents are going to be disappointed.

Of course, those kids might have been there for a summer camp, too. But still...

The Rays got a one-time $50 million dollar payment from MLB this year due to the sale of the digital arm BAMtech. Has any local writer asked Sternberg where this money was applied?

Jim Willson

Jim, the Rays have never discussed how they spend their money. They're a private business; they don't have to. It doesn't matter if it's luxury tax, if it's a TV contract, if it's merchandizing, you'll never get it from anyone in the organization just where this money goes and where that money goes.

I do know that their attendance is the second worst in baseball, and they don't have a good TV contract, and there aren't many local businesses lined up to be sponsors. So, just guessing, I would imagine it goes into the fund to pay players, run minor leagues, run scouting and take care of other costs. That's not an all-out defense of the Rays, but baseball is an expensive sport.

If I owned the Rays, I'd save that money toward my share of the new stadium.

Also, I'd buy Crackerjacks.

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