Since the start of the 2016, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a 5-7 record in road games. That .417 winning percentage is almost right on the overall NFL road winning percentage of .438 in that span, as well as the 32-team mean of .440.
The Buccaneers, of course, are not satisfied with being slightly below average in this or any other category, but they have not lost confidence in their ability to win away from home. The problem is in how that 5-7 road record unfolded: The Buccaneers won five of their first six away games under Head Coach Dirk Koetter but have lost the last six in a row. That includes, obviously, an 0-4 run this season, and that type of mark at the midway point tends to generate questions about how the team handles playing away from its home turf.
Koetter remains adamant that the Bucs' 2017 struggles on the road have nothing to do with location and everything to do with execution. The team's run of success in away games last year – the first time in franchise history the Bucs won five times in a stretch of six road games – would seem to lend credence to that belief.
"[It's just] inconsistent play," said Koetter, whose Buccaneers will get their fifth road test on Sunday in Miami. "It has nothing to do with the road. We've had the same issues at home. We also won five games on the road last year, so we know we can win on the road. We've got to prove it this year; we haven't done that yet. Inconsistent football, whether you're at home or on the road, is going to get you beat."
Pictures from the Buccaneers' practice on Wednesday.
When it comes to road games, the Buccaneers' most notable lack of consistency in execution has come in the first halves. Tampa Bay has scored nine points in eight first-half quarters on the road this year, but 71 points in eight quarters after the intermission. Some of that is the result of a more aggressive approach after the team has fallen well behind by halftime, but slow starts have clearly been an issue. At home, the Buccaneers have scored 55 first-half points and 38 second-half points.
That trouble getting off to a good start on the road can also be seen in one area that has been an overall problem for the Buccaneers this season on both sides of the ball: Third-down efficiency. In the first halves of road games in 2017, Tampa Bay's offense has converted on 30.8% of its third-down tries; in the second halves, that number rises to 55.6%. Meanwhile, the first and second-half splits for the Buccaneers' third-down defense this year is 64.0% and 46.2%.
On Wednesday, Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith noted that the Buccaneers' rush defense has not been good in the four road games, and that is the main reason the team has struggled to be consistent on defense. But the Buccaneers stopped the Jets' rushing attack this past Sunday and believe they can do the same thing in Miami.
"Right now, what we've shown on the road is that we are not very good, so that is who we are," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. "But we can change all that this week, having two back-to-back weeks of good defense. It's going to start with stopping the run, though. We have to stop the run. We have to."
Tampa Bay will seek to recapture its 2016 road-game success on Sunday in Miami, 10 weeks after the game was originally scheduled thanks to the Hurricane Irma-induced postponement. A fast start would help, and more consistent execution can make that happen. The fact that the game will be played at Hard Rock Stadium instead of Raymond James Stadium shouldn't prevent that from happening.
- The Buccaneers' ongoing rotation at cornerback looks to have a good chance at continuing in Week 11.
In nine games so far, Tampa Bay has used five different combinations to fill their three primary cornerback spots, including the two outside corners and the nickel back. Due to injuries and the decision to move Vernon Hargreaves into the slot, that lineup has been different each of the last three weeks. Depending on the fortunes of two hamstrings, it may be different once again in Miami.
Robert McClain, who had moved from the slot to the outside when Hargreaves got his new assignment, missed last week's win over the Jets due to a hamstring injury. With Brent Grimes returning from injury, the team kept Hargreaves in the slot and played Grimes and Ryan Smith on the outside. Now Hargreaves has his own hamstring ailment, suffered against the Jets, while McClain returned to full participation in practice on Wednesday.
So far, the Buccaneers have not had to decide which three of those four corners to put on the field since Smith assumed a bigger role, thanks to the aforementioned injuries. That would still be the case if Hargreaves is out against the Dolphins.
"Vern has a hamstring that he's battling," said Koetter. "He didn't practice today. He is going to have to make some improvement. As I said last week, we had three guys last week that they told me at the first of the week weren't going to make it and all three of them did make it, so we will see how the week goes."
Hargreaves is the new element on a nine-man injury report that otherwise features the same names and specific ailments it did last week. However, in addition to McClain's full-go status, there are some improvements from a week ago. Last Wednesday, starting offensive tackles Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith were unable to practice until Friday; this week, both players were on the field on Wednesday, albeit in limited fashion. The same was true for starting defensive end Robert Ayers, who is dealing with ankle and calf injuries.
The status of quarterback Jameis Winston (right shoulder) and defensive end Will Gholston (neck), however, is unchanged. Both have already been ruled out for this Sunday's game.
- Gerald McCoy has taken over the Buccaneers' 2017 sack lead. He just needed a few extra days to do it.
The Buccaneers' win over the Jets on Sunday was powered by six sacks from the Buccaneers' defense, a single-game season high for a crew that produced just eight QB takedowns through the first eight games. One interesting angle on that six-pack of sacks was that they were credited to six different individuals, each with exactly one full sack. It was just the fourth time in team history that six different Buc defenders recorded a full sack in the same game.
Thanks to film review, however, Sunday's game no longer belongs on that list. On Wednesday, the NFL sent out its weekly list of stat corrections based on game review, and there were two that applied to Buccaneer defenders. One was the simple addition of a QB hit to Ryan Russell's tally. The second, however, was the reclassification of one of those sacks. It had been credited to Robert Ayers; now it belongs to McCoy.
With that correction, McCoy now has 4.0 sacks on the season while Ayers has 2.0 and Clinton McDonald has 3.0. McCoy's career sack total improves to 45.5 and he needs one more to record his sixth straight season with at least five sacks.