Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, approximately 24 hours after the conclusion of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week Seven loss at Buffalo. Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game to gain a better understanding of what transpired on in the Buccaneers' thrilling comeback-turned-painful loss
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' 30-27 defeat in Buffalo.
1. The Buccaneers' failings on defense are largely self-inflected and the team won't win consistently until it cuts down on mistakes.
After Mike Evans scored with 3:14 left in Sunday's game at Buffalo to give the Buccaneers a 27-20 lead, kicker Patrick Murray blasted the ensuing kickoff into the end zone for a touchback. That meant the Bills would need to drive 75 yards in order to tie the game before time ran out.
Obviously, the Buccaneers' defense wanted to make Buffalo struggle for every yard and fight an eventual losing battle with the clock. Unfortunately, it took the Bills all of 10 seconds to move the ball from their own 25 to Tampa Bay's 16. Deonte Thompson's 44-yard sideline catch on the first snap of the drive and a tacked-on unnecessary roughness penalty proved to be the big play the Bucs just couldn't give up in that situation.
As Koetter explained on Monday, the breakdown in the Bucs' coverage that allowed Thompson to get wide open stemmed from the safeties not lining up at the right landmarks for the defense that was called. Koetter described it as a "slow-developing" play that requires good protection, and/or a quarterback like Tyrod Taylor that can buy time by moving around in the pocket.
"We were in the right coverage," said Koetter. "We just weren't in the right position. We weren't on our landmarks, we didn't re-route it properly and the centerfielder, against that particular set, needs to get to the three-receiver-side hash and he didn't make it over that far. That would've helped the corner. The corner had no chance on that play."
Thompson's catch was the Bills' longest play of the day, but it was one of eight that went for 22 or more yards. Buffalo brought one of the league's least-explosive offenses – statistically, at least – into the game but the Buccaneers' defense gave them too many opportunities to succeed.
"Eight of their plays accounted for almost half of their yardage," said Koetter. "Eight plays accounted for 200 yards of their 400 and change. Five of those eight plays were on third down. All of those plays – the thing they had in common – we either had a missed tackle or we let the quarterback out of the pocket and he either ran with it or threw with it and we dropped coverage."
Last year, Tampa Bay's defense was among the league's most porous for the first eight games of the season before it abruptly turned a corner and was one of the stingiest units down the stretch. There's no guarantee that the current unit will make the same transformation, but the team believes it's possible because its problems can be identified and corrected.
"As a team we're making too many mistakes – that is why we are 2-4," said Koetter. "We're the only ones who can correct them. When you look at them on tape, the majority of our mistakes are self-inflicted, meaning we caused them ourselves and we are the ones that have to fix them."
2. The move of Vernon Hargreaves to the nickel back role led to some improvement but circumstances may make that a brief experiment.
After the Buccaneers' loss at Arizona, Koetter confirmed that he was concerned about the play of second-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. Hargreaves understood, saying he simply hadn't provided the production that was expected of him.
On Sunday, the Bucs switched up the secondary to try to get that production out of Hargreaves and the right cornerback spot. Hargreaves moved into the slot and former nickel back Robert McClain took over on the outside, opposite Brent Grimes. Hargreaves took to the new role well, breaking up a couple passes, while McClain recorded eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass defensed.
"I think Vernon played better," said Koetter. "Obviously when you are playing nickel, depending on what the other team does with their personnel – his snap count was basically cut in half and that's dictated by how much nickel defense we are in. We were pleased with the way Vernon responded and that's the first step."
Koetter also gave McClain a decent review for his work on the outside, though he indicated that the veteran cornerback had a couple errors in his run-fits. Given those results, the Buccaneers might have been expected to stick with the new alignment a while longer. However, that may not be possible in the short term because McClain is currently in the NFL's concussion protocol. The same thing has kept safety Josh Robinson out for the last two games.
"That's going to depend on injuries," said Koetter. "You only have so many guys who can play corner and so many guys who can play nickel. Robert McClain who we moved outside is now in concussion protocol, so that will have some play in it."
If McClain is sidelined next Sunday, the Buccaneers could choose to replace him with second-year man Ryan Smith, as they did late in Sunday's game after McClain was injured. Or they could put Hargreaves back in his previous spot and use Javien Elliott in the nickel. That is the current extent of the team's cornerback depth.
3. The Bucs' offense once again took a little too long to start putting the ball in the end zone, but that wasn't because quarterback Jameis Winston was limited by his injured shoulder.
In Week Six, Winston left an NFL game due to injury for the first time in his three-year career. He hurt the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder and wasn't able to throw with as much zip as he needed. Ryan Fitzpatrick came in and threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns during the Bucs' furious comeback attempt.
That development obviously put Winston's availability for Sunday's game in Buffalo in doubt. He did not throw at all in practice on Wednesday or Thursday, as per the team's plan. However, Winston had shown enough improvement by the end of the week to take all the first-team snaps in practice on Friday. After that workout, Koetter announced that Winston would start against the Bills.
Winston ended up throwing 44 passes in Buffalo, and at no point did it look like his shoulder was an issue. He completed 32 of those throws for 384 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, finishing the game with a passer rating of 112.3. Statistically, it was one of his better games as a pro, and even his one interception didn't end up hurting the Bucs' much. Buffalo got into scoring range after that pick but ran out of time before they could get a field goal attempt off.
"Jameis really played pretty well," said Koetter. "He had an ill-advised interception there before the half. We were kind of nickel and diming it on the two previous plays and he tried to force that one in there. Luckily that particular one didn't hurt us. The fact that Jameis wasn't able to throw on Wednesday and Thursday and come out and play like he did [with] the number of explosives [and] his numbers in the second half. I thought Jameis played pretty well."