I know you’re first thought when you saw that headline. “Oh for the love of Pete, he’s quitting AGAIN?” First off, who the heck is Pete? Second, no, I’m most definitely not quitting Bucs Report.
In fact, this first half-season has been fantastic here. I’ve loved the content the site generates, I love my fellow writers. The leadership here is great and it’s a blast having an outlet.
No this DLT’s Doubloons is how I think the Bucs could have had a good, if not great, bye week and be ready for the grind of nine games to get to the playoffs and hopefully return to that Super Bowl glory. Obviously, we haven’t been in the building in the past week so I don’t know if these things actually happened and I’m not saying they did – but they needed to happen for this to be a successful bye week.
Pieces Of Eight
Number one in having a great bye week is beating this terrible virus that is still affecting all of our lives. That became even more crystal clear in Week 9. That’s when the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers and the Broncos lost Drew Lock. Losing your starting QB or other key players due to the virus could devastate your chances for homefield advantage, a division title or even making the playoffs if you’re one of these borderline teams (although the Broncos at least had Teddy Bridgewater to fall back on, Green Bay had no such luck).
The Bucs reportedly (we have to be careful now since the media “misunderstood” Rodgers’ vaccine status) are 100% vaccinated, so that helps. Rules for vaccinated players aren’t as tough as they are for the unvaccinated. While breakthrough cases can and do happen, as the Bucs have experienced a few times this year, if you are careful, you should be able to avoid most contacts and get through fine. You can also get back a lot sooner.
Of course, you never know. I am fully vaccinated and had a breakthrough case. It sucked, but my family got through it (we are all vaxxed) and none of us had to go to the hospital, thank God. Our conditions were pretty mild in comparison to those who had major complications.
I have underlying conditions that could have made COVID a death sentence, as do others in my family. This made me feel a little emboldened when I got the vaccine, thinking the pandemic was over for me. I returned to doing the things I normally did, not being quite as careful, ignoring a lot of the protocols, and it got me. I still live my life, as we all need to do, but I definitely have more respect for it and learned my lesson the hard way that even if you’re vaccinated, it’s not over yet and it may take a long time before it is.
Here’s hoping Rodgers does recover with no lingering impacts. That’s a big part of it. While the initial illness sucks (and remember, I had the mild version) but if you get through it okay, it’s “Long COVID” that really kicks your backside. I didn’t feel right until months after the infection. Some haven’t fully recovered and others may never.
Let’s also hope the Bucs players are smart and avoid situations that could be superspreader events.
To see where you’re going, you have to look back at where you’ve been. The Bucs have benefited from a pretty soft schedule this season. Both the NFC and AFC East have been downright terrible, with the exception of the Bills and Cowboys respectively. The Panthers and Falcons are who we thought they were. While the Saints were certainly better than expected with Jameis at the helm. Now that he’s not? Well, we’ll have to see, won’t we? It certainly didn’t work out against Atlanta.
6-2 is a good start in any season. At 6-2, you’re expected to be a playoff team and compete for seeding. Last season, the Bucs started 6-2, had a terrible November dropping them to 7-5, hit the bye week, and never lost again. With this bye square in the middle of the season, it will be a lot more difficult to recover from a slump in November.
The good news for the Bucs, is again, the schedule looks to be forgiving, with only the Saints and Bills boasting winning records.
The primary focus for this bye should be getting back to intelligence, technique, and fundamentals. Coach Bruce Arians mentioned many of the penalties the Bucs endured are technique. Hone that, and you should correct those errors.
The personal foul penalties speak to intelligence. If you know a referee is prone to throw roughing the passer flags, don’t even think of touching that QB after he throws, not even a “hey I’m here” love tap. Post play penalties are just stupidity. Don’t hit guys out of bounds, don’t hit the QB late, don’t taunt a guy on the ground.
Fundamentals are crucial too. You shouldn’t have to horsecollar a guy if you’re not overrunning a play (looking at you, Devin White). In fact, Tampa Bay’s tackling overall needs to improve greatly if this defense is going to continue to get better.
Offensively, how can you not be happy with the Bucs’ passing attack? Brady is having an All-Pro season and may end up becoming the NFL MVP. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown have been fabulous and Gronk, while healthy, was excellent in the Red Zone.
If I had one bone to pick with the offense, it’s they need to be more efficient in road games. The Bucs are averaging an eye-popping 40.5 points per game at home, but on the road, they’re a pedestrian 24.5 points per game and have yet to score over 30. A lot of that could be due to the fans being back. It’s a lot harder to play on the road this season than it was in 2020, but still, Tampa Bay has to be better away from the big Pirate Ship if they hope to secure a number one seed and not have to travel in the playoffs.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? It was a unique year in 2020, where the Bucs didn’t have to face rabid opposing fans while on the road in the playoffs. It’s one of the reasons Wild Cards rarely advance to the Super Bowl and that it hadn’t happened since the Packers did it in 2010.
So how do you get better on the road? Hold your water. Limit your pre-snap penalties. No more false starts or illegal procedure nonsense. Also, holding calls are drive killers, you got to stop that nonsense. You also have to be better at running the football. It’s a little easier when you are running and able to use play action off that run than if you’re bottled up and one dimensional.
Next: protect the football. Turnovers are the great equalizer in this league, as the Bucs found out last week and several other contenders found out on Sunday. If you turn the ball over 3 more times than your opponent and commit nearly 100 yards in penalties, you’re going to lose to anyone, even a below average quarterback like Trevor Siemian.
Defensively, despite last week’s gut-punch of a setback, Tampa Bay has been steadily improving from their awful showing early in the season. The Bucs’ defense has risen from the depths of mediocrity to be a top ten defense (7th) and their much-maligned pass defense has shaved off nearly a hundred yards in average despite the secondary being devastated by injuries.
The Bucs had a slow start with their pass rush which contributed to the dreadful early numbers, but the Bucs have improved there as well, although it still could be much better.
As we mentioned previously, the Bucs have to get better at getting the ball carrier down. Too many missed tackles have turned sacks into scramble first downs or passes downfield, turned tackles for losses into plus yardage, and turned one-yard gains into 20 yds. That must stop.
The defense has to be smarter, players cannot just run around the field like madmen and expect great things to happen. There’s a method to Todd Bowles’ madness and if you deviate too much it can cause big issues.
Tampa Bay also needs to hold their water in the red zone. The Bucs defense was great last season at limiting teams to kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. That hasn’t translated to this season. The Bucs need fewer touchdowns and a few more field goal attempts per game to make this defense soar.
Heading down the stretch, if you want the God honest truth, while that loss to the Saints was painful, it couldn’t have been better for the Bucs. Had the Bucs found a way to win that game and improved to 7-1, Tom Brady wouldn’t be as ticked off as he is right now. Devin White wouldn’t be catching heat from the media about his erratic play. The Bucs wouldn’t have to see videos of Jameis on crutches dancing in the New Orleans locker room. Winning is a great deodorant while losing stinks. The loss to New Orleans was a slap in the face that should wake up the Bucs. This will help them realize they’re not quite as good as they think they are and need to be better in all the areas we discussed earlier.
In addition, the bye week is all about getting healthier. It looks like Sean Murphy-Bunting and Scotty Miller may be closing in on a return. Gronk should be closer, too, if he didn’t reaggravate anything with that ill-advised attempt to play last week. Richard Sherman should be back and Carlton Davis III shouldn’t be out for too much longer. Antonio Brown, we’ll need to see. He’s still in a boot with that injured ankle but recently posted a video on his Insta where he’s riding a bike, so maybe it’s closer than expected?
Reinforcements are coming, folks, which should make this team that much better down the stretch.
As I look down the schedule, I’m not really concerned with Carolina or Atlanta. A road game against Washington doesn’t feel quite as daunting as it did when the schedule was released. The Monday night home game against the Giants, who have surprised some teams this year (including the Raiders on Sunday), still shouldn’t be a challenge at Raymond James Stadium. I think this season comes down to a four game stretch for the Bucs.
While the trip to Atlanta isn’t particularly daunting, the Colts Jekyll and Hyde team can be one of those games that Bucs go in favored and get bit in the backside. The Buffalo game could be a Super Bowl LVI preview with two of the best teams in the NFL facing off (although seeing Buffalo’s pathetic performance against Jacksonville makes this one a little less scary). Then there’s the Saints – which very well could decide the NFC South and whether the Bucs can repeat as Super Bowl champions. No team in NFL history has won back-to-back Super Bowls without winning a division title.
What do I think will happen? Personally, I don’t believe we’ll see the Bucs lose again this season – but what do I know? The NFL is a weird league, folks, as many contenders found out on Sunday.
The Bucs sat on the couch and watched nearly everything break right for them. In the NFC South, Atlanta nearly “falcon’d” away victory in the Superdome. But Matt Ryan and Cordarrelle Patterson saved the day and Atlanta shocked the Saints, leaving the Bucs remaining atop the NFC South. Meanwhile, Sam Darnold did against New England what Sam Darnold always does against the Patriots, threw interceptions and Pick-Sixes like they were early Christmas gifts. Despite the return of Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers fell to 4-5.
In the chase for the number one seed in the NFC, Arizona moved 8-1 with an improbable victory on the road against the Niners. Arizona was without several starters, including starting QB Kyler Murray and top WR DeAndre Hopkins and still blew the doors off San Francisco. Everything else, though, went great for Tampa Bay, with Green Bay, Dallas, and the Los Angeles Rams all taking losses.
Up next for the Bucs is a road trip to face the Washington Football Team. The WFT is also coming off a bye after a dreadful 2-6 start. Their offense doesn’t really put fear into anybody while their defense is shockingly bad. Particularly against the pass and they surrender a little over 28 points a game. Sounds like a get right game to me.
DLT’s Who to Root For This Week
We’re moving into Week 10, time for us to really start figuring out what helps the Bucs the most in the NFC playoff chase
Falcons over the Cowboys – While the Bucs own tie-breaker advantage over Dallas, another conference L helps if the Bucs get stuck in a three or four-way tie.
Titans over the Saints – Let Tennessee help the Bucs by creating a little distance between Tampa Bay and their division rivals (with apologies to Saints fans who believe the Bucs aren’t their rivals).
Seahawks over the Packers – Rodgers might be back, so might Russ, can the Seahags save their season and hang another L on Green Bay?
49ers over the Rams – That loss in Week 3 is a thorn in the Bucs’ side, more losses by the Rams make that go away.
Panthers over the Cardinals – YUCK. Rooting for two division rivals in the same darn week? I need to go take a shower. But yes, a loss by the Cardinals helps the Bucs’ hopes for the first seed.
Tweet of the Game (Bye Week Version)
It’s OVER. The #Falcons SHOCK the #Saints, despite trying their best to blow it. Unreal. The #GoBucs remain alone in first place in the NFC South. #DirtyBirds pic.twitter.com/fe6tPTOmMM
— 👽 🏴☠️ Lord JC De La Torre🏴☠️ ✌️ (@jcdelatorre) November 7, 2021