What will it take for Koetter to save his job?

by Gary Shelton on July 18, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Koetter must succeed or else../CARMEN MANDATO

Koetter must succeed or else../CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 a.m.

As we speak, they are stacking up the odds at his door.

His team isn't highly regarded. His schedule is tough. His quarterback is suspended. His defense was last in the league a year ago, and no one seems to buy into the improvements. Although the team likes its offensive line, it seems that no one else does. The secondary is a jumble. They are the fourth-best team in a four-team division. There is very little history, and not much of it has come lately.

So how does Dirk Koetter save his job?

Well, if he's going to do it, it'll come a step at a time.

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Oh, there are doubters. Heck, there are some who thought Koetter should have been fired last year after dipping from nine wins to five. There are others who note that it has been since the postseason of the 2002 season since the Bucs won a playoff game, so why start now with the league's fourth-hardest schedule?

Those who are into the ghoul-pool rankings have Koetter among the coaches with NFL's hottest seat. Sporting News has a list where he's second. Herosports.com has a list where he's third. He's fifth on USA Today, sixth on Sportsnaught.com.

Before you decide whether Koetter can save his job, it's important to say what you're talking about. Would six wins save it? Eight? Or would it take 10 and a playoff berth?

Koetter's challenges:

1. Start with quarterback Jameis Winston, who is suspended (and shamed) for the season's first three games. Granted, Tampa Bay was going to be a heavy underdog in all three games against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers, but a quarterback can gain footing against good teams. Even while the team struggles, it can work on parts of his game. As it is, the Bucs have to hope they can steal one of the three games.

2. Try to survive with Ryan Fitzpatrick. No, he isn't going to threaten Winston for the starting job. But in the NFL, if a team can win a third of the games or so, they're okay.

3. Don't baby the rookies: Like most coaches, Koetter likes to ease in the youngsters while the vets play. That might not be the way it needs to work this year. No one on the field has the burst of Ronald Jones II. Cornerback Carlton Davis should figure in early. Defensive tackle Vita Vea was a top 10 choice to start with.

4. Be competitive in the division: The games against Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans count heavily in a schedule. If you don't believe it, look at the way that New England has dominated a weak division in the AFC East. It's beatings of Miami, New York and Buffalo are usually a start to a post-season bye.

5. Hope there is something left in the defensive ends. Hey, there was a reason the Eagles and Patriots didn't hang onto Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny  Curry. The Bucs have to count on them still having the juice to help its last-place pass rush of a year ago.

6. Get on a good streak sometime in the year: Remember 2016? The Bucs won more than half of their games in a streak that included wins over the Bears, Chiefs, Seahawks, Chargers and Saints. In particular, no one would have thought the Chiefs and Seahawks games were winnable. So are there opportunities this year? Sure. In October, the Bucs play the Browns, Bengals, Panthers, Redskins, Giants, 49ers and Panthers (again). That's a chance to get hot.

7. Finish strong: By the home stretch of the season, the Bucs should have all their weapons in order again. They'll need them. In a row, they play the Saints, Ravens, Cowboys and Falcons. The Bucs have rarely survived December.

8. Hope the Bucs are right about the offensive line: You have heard the coaches rave about their offensive linemen (especially Donovan Smith). But those who analyze line play don't think that much of the players (especially Donovan Smith). For the Bucs to have a fighting chance, they're going to have be better up front that the critics believe they can be.

9.Grow the second-year players. Everyone gets caught up in the draft of the previous year. But how about the draft before that? If the Bucs can get something from O.J. Howard, Justin Evans and Kendell Beckwith, it will help.

10. And how about the class before that? The Bucs keep saying they still believe in Vernon Hargreaves III. But when you move that player to another position (nickel back) and then draft a guy for that position in the second round (M.J. Stewart), it sounds a little concerning.

11. Are the Bucs cursed at placekicker? Teams all over the league find guys in late rounds or in free agency. Not the Bucs, who whiffed on Roberto Aguayo and Nick Folk. This time, they'll hope that Chandler Catanzaro is better. Isn't it about time?

12. Hope Ali Marpet can find a home. Marpet is thought of as a fine lineman for the Bucs. But he's on his third position in three years. Does a great player move that often?

13. Try to get DeSean Jackson going, but not at all costs. The Bucs still have Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin ended the season like a star. There are plenty of targets for Winston. If Jackson isn't open, throw to someone else.

14. Win more close games: Seven of the team's nine losses last year were by less than a touchdown. Even a league where most games are close, that's hard to live with at times. If Winston is better, and if the team doesn't have to rely on him as much, it will help.

15. Score, darn it: The Bucs were only 24th in the red zone last year, which made them rely on field goals, which made them walk off the field frustrated.

16. Stand up to the opposing quarterback: The Bucs, again, will face some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL; Drew Brees and Matt Ryan and Cam Newton. Eli Manning and Carson Wentz and Ben Rothlisberger. Alex Smith and Dac Prescott and Jimmy Garappolo. That means the Bucs' back end needs to be stronger. Last year, it gave up the sixth highest-ranking to the quarterbacks it faced. A better line and better secondary could help.

17. Survive the war of attrition that is waged by most NFL teams. Players get hurt. Units get decimated. That's going to happen with the Bucs some, too. What happens if Winston misses another three games? Or if Jones is banged up? Or Gerald McCoy? The Bucs simply can't afford the type of injury that costs them games.

18. Don't forget about the glue guys. They may not have world-shattering physical gifts, but players such as Cam Brate and Adam Humphries can account for a lot of first downs.

19. Special teams. Yeah, they're important.

20. For goodness sakes, keep Winston out of Ubers.




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