The Houston Texans were the second-worst team in the NFL last season. This year is somewhat better thanks to stellar play from rookie quarterback CJ Stroud and a first-year head coach in DeMeco Ryans who actually seems to know what the hell he’s doing.
However, it’s important to note that Houston gave the worst team in football so far this season, the Carolina Panthers, its first regular season win last week. So, while things are certainly looking up for the young Texans, there’s still plenty of work to do in Texas.
All of this points to the Bucs (hopefully) adding one to the win column for the first time in almost a month in a 21-17 victory on the road.
More important than a silly road game, the Bucs made no moves at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay enters Week 9, the halfway point of the 18-week season, 3-4. The Bucs are a team without an identity or direction. So it could be time to take a serious look at some more important and broad topics, like what to do with the QB position, what positions they need to prioritize this offseason in both the draft and free agency, and head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht’s job security.
A lot of these questions are not yet answerable, because there’s still half a season left in a very winnable division, but I don’t know that the Buccaneers winning such a crappy division and making a first-round exit should give them pause before making any major changes this offseason.
Let’s start with Baker Mayfield. The former first-overall pick got off to a hot start when the Bucs got to take on two teams that are destined for top-10 draft picks in the Bears and Vikings, but since has regressed back to his career averages that have earned him either cuts, trades, or twirls with free agency in the past year.
So far this season the Baker man has been average in the major statistical categories, and below-average in the peripherals, such as yards-after-catch from his receivers, bad throw percentages, and completed air yards.
All in all, he’s a very serviceable solution for the remainder of this season and maybe even next, if he’s willing to return on another single-year prove-it deal while the Buccaneers either draft and develop a guy or continue to retool their aging roster for whoever they decide to choose as their franchise QB.
Which takes us to our next topic: roster construction. The Buccaneers have done a pretty decent job on giving some younger guys some chances to shine so far this season, with offensive lineman Cody Mauch, undrafted slot corner Christian Izien, and others starting immediately, while even more rookies like first-rounder Calijah Kancey and edge rusher YaYa Diaby being given more of a rotational role in their respective positions.
As receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin move on to greener pastures (both in payday and team outlook) and the Bucs presumably bring in their hopeful QB of the future, they’ll need to bring in more playmakers on the outside to give their young QB some kind of support, lest they end up in a vicious and endless cycle of new QB after new QB like the Cardinals and Jets have been in for seemingly decades.
Plus, running back Rachaad White has had an incredibly disappointing season. Do I place the blame entirely on him? Of course not; center Robert Hainsey and guard Matt Feiler need to be replaced by next season, and Mauch will need to go soon after if he doesn’t improve in the second half of the year. But, it doesn’t look pretty.
If Tampa Bay wants to replace White, fair enough, but the Bucs need to prioritize the interior of the offensive line if they don’t want to continue to waste third round picks on running backs that don’t pan out.
And finally, that brings us to probably the most difficult yet arguably most important problem of all; leadership. Todd Bowles was handed a pretty talented roster last season and proceeded to run it into a first-round exit. He has a decent roster this season in a weak division, and yet the Bucs could very well miss the playoffs entirely due to being outplayed by the lowly Falcons or Saints.
You look at the drafting decisions of Jason Licht and he’s had a decent enough winning percentage to justify maybe sticking around, but time will tell just how much leash he earned by crafting a Super Bowl-winning roster. Ownership will likely be tricked into keeping him by that, but some context; Tom Brady was a big reason those rosters were able to be put together with so much success. Without him, many of those talented veteran free agents go elsewhere.
So honestly, in this humble sportswriter’s opinion, Bowles might just be past his time as a head coach. The NFL is built around cutting-edge, analytically-driven decision-making with offensive creativity being the focus. Kansas City is successful primarily because of Patrick Mahomes, but Andy Reid plays a big part in that, too. The Bucs would be better off looking for an offensive-minded head coach (Eric Bieniemy has somehow turned Sam Howell and the Washington Commanders into a kind of fun offense) that would pair with their new QB.
That’s just one man’s opinion, and the Bucs can certainly go a completely different direction, like keeping everyone listed above that I wanted to replace and continue their quest for true mediocrity. It’s still a Bucs life.