Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secured a critical victory in Kansas City, running their 2016 road record to 4-1. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs snapped the Chiefs' 10-game home winning streak.
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 11 victory in Kansas City.
1. Rookie K Roberto Aguayo has settled into a groove, which appears to be the result of a mental victory.
Tampa Bay's third-down offense was consistently entertaining in Kansas City, and Chris Conte's game-changing interception was part of an exciting trend for the Bucs' defense. In contrast, the Buccaneers' kicking game barely raised a stir on Sunday…and that was a good thing. A very good thing.
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Chiefs.
Roberto Aguayo scored 13 of the Bucs' 19 points in a narrow win, but in decidedly undramatic fashion. The rookie kicker calmly made field goals of 22, 31, 36 and 41 yards, plus the one extra point he was asked to deliver. It was a far cry from the preseason and the first month of the regular season, when Aguayo's every appearance on the field was bathed in a harsh spotlight.
Aguayo has made seven field goals in a row and 10 of his last 11, only missing on a 50-yard try in San Francisco in Week Seven. After some well-publicized early struggles, he has been the dependable weapon the Buccaneers were expecting when they drafted Aguayo late in the second round of April's draft. Koetter said Aguayo's ability to settle into a groove was mostly about winning a mental battle.
"I think [it was] just mostly between his ears," said Koetter. "I think he got shaken, confidence-wise, a little bit there with some misses. That's the thing about the NFL: you hear about it from all sides. You hear about it from the coaches, from the fans, from the media, of course. You get hammered. For a young guy, that can rattle your bones a little bit and I think he just went back to the basics, worked on his routine, really cleaned up his mental approach."
Aguayo is one of 12 kickers in the NFL who have made 90% or more of their field goal tries since Week Seven, which is when Tampa Bay came back to work off its bye week. Aguayo is 12 of 13 on extra point tries in that span, but four others in that group of 12 have also missed PATs since Week Seven. There were a total of 12 missed extra points on Sunday across the league, a single-day record that underscores the increased difficulty level of that play. Simply put, the Bucs are now getting the level of consistency they need out of their placekicker.
The extra time off during the bye week might have been Aguayo's opportunity to simplify his mental approach.
"I think he was a little bit all over the place with how he was approaching his kicks, to use a golf term," said Koetter. "What his 'swing thought' was or thoughts, maybe having too many. He seems to be hitting the ball much better now and was clutch yesterday."
2. Young linemen Caleb Benenoch and Ben Gottschalk helped the Bucs' offensive front have one of its better performances of the season in terms of pass protection.
The Buccaneers faced the NFL's top takeaway defense on Sunday but only turned it over once, and that was essentially a fluke. On the 11th play of Tampa Bay's first offensive possession, Jameis Winston took a shotgun snap from the Chiefs' 16-yard line and tried to fire off a quick screen pass in the direction of Adam Humphries. However, the football slipped from his grasp before he could start his throwing motion, resulting in a fumble that Kansas City's Steve Nelson fell on at the 21-yard line.
Because Winston was trying to throw a pass, that play also technically counted as a sack for the Chiefs' defense. That would end up being the only sack Winston would take in 40 drop-backs, and that sort of protection was critical to the Bucs' almost ridiculous amount of success on third down. Tampa Bay converted 11 of 16 third-down tries and Winston was 12-of-14 with a 130.1 passer rating in those situations.
Right guard Ali Marpet had a strong day, which was to be expected to some degree. What was uncertain when the day began was how effective the play would be at left guard with Kevin Pamphile still out due to a concussion. The Bucs' top interior-line reserve, Evan Smith, was also out with a knee injury, so the job fell to first-year man Ben Gottschalk, who was just promoted from the practice squad eight days earlier.
In Week 10, Gottschalk ended up playing nearly the entire game at center after Smith was hurt, making his NFL regular-season debut. On Sunday, he was off to a good start before he suffered his own injury and had to miss much of the proceedings. Rookie Caleb Benenoch, who started at left guard in Week 10 but experienced some struggles, stepped in and kept the line strong.
"[Benenoch played] much better, and that's to be expected," said Koetter. "I think I said he had a rocky debut, rocky enough that we started Ben Gottschalk instead of him and Ben was playing fine. First on Ben before I get to Caleb: to come in off the practice squad and play 69 plays against Chicago at center and then start at guard, 19 plays until he had an injury, [was impressive]. And then Caleb came in and played 56 plays, played much better."
The Buccaneers piled up 442 yards of offense and might have buried the Chiefs in a big hole early if not for problems in the red zone. The team hopes to get Pamphile back on the field soon but is pleased to see Benenoch's progress, as he may be counted on to fill in again.
"I feel like he's on a similar track as Kevin Pamphile," said Koetter of Benenoch's development. "I wasn't here in 2014, but 2015 [Pamphile] did will. He played a lot of positions and did a solid job and then this year he stepped in as a starter and done a really nice job. Hopefully we can get him back here pretty quick. But Caleb, he's just missed so much time with missing OTAs because of the school thing and then hurt in preseason and then you just don't get a lot of reps right now until all of a sudden you have to play and this is real. This is real football, real speed, real physicality."
3. As injuries have tested the Buccaneers' depth, veteran cornerback Alterraun Verner is one of the latest reserves to play well in a relief role.
The Buccaneers dealt with a large number of injuries during the first half of the season but no more than several other teams in the league. In Tampa Bay's case, the difficulty came from the fact that the ailments were heavily clustered around the defensive line and running back positions. Quietly, several other units went mostly unscathed, including the offensive line and cornerback positions.
The O-Line, as noted above, has dealt with its own adversity in the last two weeks, and on Sunday in Kansas City the cornerback crew finally had to make some adjustments. Starter Brent Grimes, who is among the NFL leaders in passes defensed, was sidelined by a quad injury in the first quarter, and the Buccaneers turned to Alterraun Verner.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 11 matchup with the Chiefs.
Unlike Benenoch and Gottschalk on the O-Line, Verner is no untested rookie. He played four seasons in Tennessee, making the Pro Bowl in 2013, before signing with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in 2014. Verner started all 14 games he played in his first year as a Buc, then another six last year during a season of secondary upheaval in Tampa. He owns 14 career interceptions.
Since he lost his spot as an every-game starter last year, Verner has been the consummate team player, and he has kept himself prepared for the inevitable moment when his services would be needed again on defense. That moment came Sunday, and Verner answered the call well. Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill got behind Verner for a 42-yard gain in the second quarter but the secondary otherwise limited the big play.
"I know Alterraun has not been happy with [playing time], not as a complainer or anything but he's playing behind two other corners and he's played a lot of football in this league and here we are five plays into the game and [Brent] Grimes can't go anymore," said Koetter. "Alterraun came in and played a heck of a game. Other than one pass, he made some tackles, had some pass breakups, was in position all day."
Verner's unselfish approach to this situation is indicative of how the Bucs' depth has served the team well this year, particularly of late.
"Let's face it, in real life, everybody's willing to play their role, but everyone wants a slice of the pie too," said Koetter. "And it's easier to do the grunt work, do the dirty work when you're getting some of the glory. When you win, there's usually enough to go around. Everybody wants a ball thrown to them, everyone wants to touch the ball, everyone wants to be at the point of attack on a run play, everybody wants to blitz off the edge, everyone wants hear their name called out there, that's just human nature. And these last two games, we've been doing a really good job as a football team of playing our roles."