Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to 1-1 on the season with a 40-7 defeat at Arizona. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs took their first loss of the season.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Dirk Koetter and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' game in the desert.
1. The extent of RB Doug Martin's injury is still undetermined, but the team is prepared to handle his absence if necessary.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Cardinals.
Doug Martin left Sunday's game in the first quarter due to a hamstring injury after logging only seven carries. He did not return to action, and as of Monday his prognosis for the weeks ahead was still unclear.
"Not sure about that yet," said Koetter. "We've got three or four guys that got dinged up last night. When you're losing good players in the course of the game, other guys' roles change and they have to step up. As we sit here today, a lot of times what they want to do is MRI some of those things on Tuesday, so we're not going to really know the total extent of those injuries until later tomorrow. But we did get beat up a little bit."
Though he had only 23 yards before his departure, Martin was running the ball effectively for the second week in a row. His first carry converted a second-and-two, and he then ripped off a 12-yarder on the next snap. After a play-action rollout on the Bucs' first play from scrimmage, the team gave it to Martin on five of the next six first downs, the last of which was a sweep that lost two yards when Martin was hurt making a cut. It clearly changed things for Tampa Bay's offense when their top tailback exited.
"Doug's one of the top running backs in the league, so even though we feel like we have really good backups at that position – Charles Sims, and Jacquizz Rodgers came in and did a good job for only being here a week – when you take that top-level player out, you usually don't have exactly the same caliber player behind him, even though we're very high on Charles Sims," said Koetter. "Yeah, it definitely hurts you but that's the NFL. You're only healthy for one week and then you're hoping that you're fortunate enough to stay healthy the rest of the year. We didn't have good fortune in that department yesterday but this will be a new week."
A less heralded injury loss in the first quarter also affected the Bucs' offensive strategy, as tight end Luke Stocker went down with an ankle injury.
"Luke is a role player who plays his role very well," said Koetter. "He's our main point-of-attack blocker, and when Luke went out the other three tight ends that played in the game kind of split up the workload in that area. But those guys have different skill sets than Luke. Luke is a valuable player and he's another guy that will know more tomorrow where we stand with him."
Martin joined a list of notable running backs who were sidelined in Week Two, including Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, Miami's Arian Foster and Carolina's Jonathan Stewart. All of those teams will be turning to reserves in varying degrees in the weeks ahead, which is part of the reality of an NFL season. The Buccaneers are confident their rushing attack can remain relevant if Martin misses any time. Koetter said that Martin's primary backup, Charles Sims, can be a featured back, and that the recently-added Rodgers can be relied upon, as well.
"[Sims] is a little bit different style," said Koetter. "He's not going to break as many tackles as Doug is; he's maybe a little more elusive on the outside, a little bit better in the screen game. Really the guy who resembles Doug's style is probably Jacquizz. Jacquizz was our number-two guy in Atlanta behind both Michael Turner and later Steven Jackson, so if Doug's out we still have two good guys there behind him. We'll be fine."
2. The run defense was good again in Week Two but the Bucs need more of a pass rush to help out the secondary, especially against a quarterback like Carson Palmer.
Despite enjoying a big lead for the entire first half, the Cardinals finished the game with a fairly pedestrian 101 rushing yards on 29 carries, with an average of 3.5 yards per tote. Combined with a strong outing in Week One in Atlanta, the Bucs' defense has allowed 76.5 rushing yards per game thus far, and 3.0 yards per carry. That was one of a small handful of things that remained a positive from a Week One win to a Week Two loss.
"Other than the one drive late in the third or early in the fourth quarter, where they went with three tight ends and they ran it successfully three times in a row, our run defense was really pretty good," said Koetter. "We missed too many tackles overall in the game, but not too many in the run game. They were still less than four yards a carry in the run game, which you would take every week. We had a lot more issues in the pass game than we did in the run game."
In general, Koetter wasn't looking to put too much blame on the Bucs' defense, even after a 40-point loss. He began his Monday talk by stressing, for good reason, that the five turnovers committed by the offense were the main factor in Sunday's loss. The defense was put in tough situations on repeated occasions against the Cardinals, who just happened to have the NFL's number-one ranked offense in 2015, with mostly the same cast.
What definitely needs to improve going forward, however, is a pass-rush that looked dominant in the preseason but has generated four sacks and little consistent pressure the past two weeks. That was particularly the case on Sunday when DE Robert Ayers sustained an ankle injury early on.
"No matter how good your coverage is, the rush is the coverage's best friend," said Koetter. "Especially after Robert Ayers went out, when we were just in four-man rush we just didn't have a great pass rush. In the first two games now we've seen two really good quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer. Arizona's got really good wide receivers as well, especially with [Larry] Fitzgerald. A quarterback like that, that has that kind of time, it's going to be tough.
3. The Bucs had some communication issues on both sides of the ball on Sunday, but they are of varying concern.
Late in the second quarter, with the score still just 10-0, the Buccaneers' defense forced a third-and-10 at the Arizona 32. A third-down stop and a punt would have given Jameis Winston a chance to put together one of his patented two-minute drills. Instead, Palmer completed a 27-yard pass to WR Jaron Brown, who found himself wide open down the left seam after an apparent coverage breakdown. It was reminiscent of a 59-yard catch by Atlanta's Mohamed Sanu in Week One, in that NFL players rarely get that wide open without some sort of communication breakdown on defense.
That play was, in fact, a mistake by the Bucs' defense, but that doesn't mean that there are widespread communication problems for that group.
"We actually did better at that this week than we did at Atlanta," said Koetter. "On the one long pass right before the half, that was just the safety got beat over the top. There was another one later in the game on a third-and-10 when they threw that in-route and he was wide open. We ran a combination coverage where they're going to pass the guy off at a certain depth, and the guy that they were reading, usually he breaks out at five yards; he took it to about 10 or 12 yards and that created the controversy on that play. Two of our guys jumped the same game, thus the in-cut was wide open. So that was one glaring miscommunication, but in general it was better overall."
Of more concern is the lack of a connection between Jameis Winston and veteran wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Jackson has just six catches for 62 yards through two games and for the second straight week he was the target on a pass that was intercepted without the receiver having a real play on the ball.
"We're having too many instances where Jameis and Vincent, the precision isn't there right now, the precision that we need between Jameis and Vincent," said Koetter. "We're talking about our two captains on offense. The precision between those two players just isn't what it needs to be right now, and that's something we're going to have to get straightened out real soon."