Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off a dominant 29-7 drubbing of the Chicago Bears in their belated season-opener. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs were able to start fast after an unexpected break at the beginning of the season.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Koetter and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' Week Two victory over the Bears.
1. Koetter and his coaching staff were indeed concerned that the team's extended layoff would affect the players' readiness for Sunday's opener, though there was no way to know for sure until the game was played.
Hurricane Irma's arrival in Florida on what would have been the Buccaneers' opening weekend forced the NFL to move the game against Miami into Week 11. That decision was made on Wednesday, September 6 and it sent the Buccaneers (and Dolphins) into an immediate approximation of a bye week. The team didn't get back onto the field until a week later, and on that day Koetter was asked what it would be like to play after an extended and unplanned break.
"What is it going to be like? I don't know what it's going to be like," he responded. "There's no right or wrong answer. We are playing a game on Sunday, so it doesn't matter what it's like. It's probably going to be hard on them, but I don't think anybody is going to be feeling sorry for us. I know the Bears aren't going to be feeling sorry for us."
The game's final score and some of the contributing statistics indicate that the players handled the unusual situation just fine. It wasn't a perfect game, but the Buccaneers committed just one turnover and four penalties and were in control from start to finish. They scored on their opening drive and got a turnover on the Bears' first possession.
Still, it was obvious to Koetter that his team wasn't quite in midseason form in terms of its conditioning. Fortunately, the September Florida heat was tough on the visiting team, too. Koetter hopes his team is more prepared to handle the conditions in two weeks when the Bucs return home to face the New York Giants.
"Well on a really hot day, it wasn't good enough," said the coach. "But, we aren't going to have a really hot day for at least two weeks as far as a game goes. It's going to be 72 and perfect in our next game, but we are coming back home in a couple of weeks and it very well could be. It's going to be like that probably Wednesday at practice. It's just something that we have to deal with and I would say that was a concern going in, mainly because of the timing of how many days we had off. We didn't have a chance to account for that in our planning, so it really didn't surprise me that that was an issue. I also think, the first time you play with 46 guys on game day, I think it was just as much of an issue for Chicago. If you look at that last drive of the third quarter – when we had the ball and we went no-huddle – when Peyton [Barber] was in there, both teams were walking out of gas when that horn went off to end the third quarter."
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 2 matchup with the Bears.
Barber ran for 47 yards on 10 carries in the second half as the Bucs' protected a big lead. He did much of that plowing directly into a Bears front line that had fared very well against Atlanta's running game the week before. Barber's effectiveness (more on that below) was one of quite a few positive notes for the Bucs in their opener, but it was far from a perfect opener. Nor did Koetter expect that it would be.
"It was a fun day," he said. "It was a good start, but by no means was it a clean day. We have plenty of things to work on. It was our first game [and] from conditioning to technique to execution, we have areas to improve in."
2. Peyton Barber's opportunities won't always be confined to the second half.
The Buccaneers mounted an effective, 117-yard rushing attack against a good run defense on Sunday, with Jacquizz Rodgers (19 for 67) and Barber accounting for most of that. As it worked out against the Bears, Rodgers was able to provide enough balance to keep the Bears honest in the first half while Barber was able to move the chains and keep the clock rolling in the second half. Rodgers split his careers nearly down the middle, with 10 before halftime and nine after, while Barber had all 10 of his totes in the second half.
That wasn't specifically the plan going into the game – though it worked – and it isn't necessarily going to become an established pattern.
"Just the way the situations worked out, it didn't work out in the first half," said Koetter of getting Barber some carries earlier in the game. "We had a plan going in to make it similar to how it was in the second half. I don't think 19-10 is a bad split for your first two ball-carriers, but I don't ever have a number in mind of what it should be. I thought Quizz played fine as well and when Peyton got in there – other than getting tired when he carried it a few plays in a row, I thought he got tired – other than that I thought he did a nice job."
The Buccaneers kept only three backs on the initial 53-man roster, though veteran Doug Martin will be eligible to return after serving two more games on a suspension that carried over from 2016. With Sims mostly working in passing situations, where he has excelled throughout his career, the majority of the rushing load will be split between Rodgers and Barber, a second-year player who made the team as an undrafted rookie in 2016. If Barber continues to run as he did in the preseason and the season opener, and if he shows an increased ability to handle a number of carries in a row, he'll likely get some handoffs earlier in the games to come.
3. The Buccaneers know they have to do a better job of maintaining momentum after an encouraging opening-game win than they did a year ago.
Tampa Bay's 29-7 defeat of the Bears was their most lopsided win to start a season in 30 years, since they opened the 1987 campaign with a 48-10 blowout in Atlanta. It's hard to say whether that is a more inspiring win than the one that kicked off last year's schedule, as Tampa Bay won on the road against a Falcons team that would end up in the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the 2016 Bucs, they didn't build off that Week One momentum. Instead, a Week Two trip to Arizona resulted in a resounding 40-7 defeat, which in turn kicked off a three-game losing streak. The Buccaneers righted the ship and won five of their next seven, but in the end it wasn't enough to avoid playoff elimination on a tiebreaker.
In other words, every game counts and the Buccaneers want to make sure this year's opening win is a catalyst for more of the same. Tampa Bay heads to Minnesota this weekend to face a team that looked very sharp in Week One before falling at Pittsburgh on Sunday without the services of starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
"There's points of emphasis every week based on what the situation of the game is and I think that's already been brought up to the players, not by me, but I think it's a legitimate concern," said Koetter. "We went on the road and we got handled pretty good last year in Arizona. Now that shouldn't have any carryover to this year and I would hope it wouldn't, but we know Minnesota is a good football team. Coming off of a loss yesterday, with Coach Zimmer they are going to have their hair on fire. We are going into a hostile environment with a loud crowd and a dome stadium and it presents its own set of challenges. Going on the road is one of those."