A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Cowboys.
Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Cowboys in Dallas, 26-20, to end their five-game winning streak. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs came up short in an exciting battle in front of a national audience.
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 15 game in Dallas.
1. Kwon Alexander had a big impact on Sunday's game, and that's the result of a whole year's worth of work.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 15 match-up with the Cowboys.
Second-year linebacker Kwon Alexander racked up 21 tackles against the Cowboys, which is either the most or the fourth-most a Buccaneer has ever had in a game, depending on your source of choice. That effort was in a losing cause, ultimately, and the Cowboys did run the football very well with the league's leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott. Still, Alexander helped limit the damage in many instances, which kept the Bucs within striking range until the very end.
"Kwon, from a numbers standpoint, he had a huge night," said Koetter. "Any time you get in the 20-tackle range … that's huge. In coverage he was matched up against [tight end Jason] Witten a lot, and Witten's a wily veteran who's going to be in the Hall of Fame some time."
Witten caught 10 passes but that accounted for just 51 total yards, as most of his grabs were quick check-downs that were quickly tackled. Alexander also got the ball out of Witten's grasp in the fourth quarter, giving the Bucs a shot near midfield to grab the lead back after Lavonte David recovered the loose ball.
Other than a late-game sack on a broken play in the fourth quarter by Sealver Siliga, the Buccaneers' defensive tackles were not credited with any tackles on Sunday night. Obviously, they were occupying blockers while defenders like Alexander and safety Keith Tandy (14 tackles) were filling gaps. Still, 21 tackles is a clear indication that Alexander was making plays all over the field, not just in the box. That takes quick reactions, which are the result of an inherent understanding of the defense.
"Kwon, his mission all season has been to become the leader of the defense," said Koetter. "It's been well-documented, all his extra time spent with [Mike Smith], spent with [Linebackers] Coach [mark] Duffner. I think he's reaping the rewards in how fast he's playing from sideline to sideline. He had some big, physical hits last night, as well."
2. An injury late in the game increased the degree of difficulty for the Bucs' offensive line but the struggles on offense weren't solely due to troubles up front.
The Buccaneers ran for a season-low 52 yards on Sunday night and averaged 2.6 yards per tote. Quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked four times, and he was hit while throwing on two of his three interceptions. Those numbers would seem to paint a picture of a rough night for the Bucs' offensive line, but Koetter knows it's not as simple as that.
"Everybody gets credit when we do well, and everybody gets to share in the blame – including coaches, including me – when we don't do well," he said. "I'm not one to pin all of our woes on the offensive line.
"We're having some trouble in multiple spots. We're too inconsistent overall on offense. We just got out of our rhythm. We've been in a nice little roll of not turning the ball over and we got back to putting our defense in bad positions. We had a couple chances early and we've got to finish with touchdowns. Those two field goals we kicked in the first half, [that was] eight points we left out there by not finishing with touchdowns. Those looked pretty big at the end of the game. And the fact that a couple offensive turnovers led to field goals the other way."
Cowboys defensive tackle David Irving had a string of big plays rushing off the right side of the Buccaneers' line during the visitors' last few possessions, in part because veteran right tackle Gosder Cherilus was, as Koetter explained, trying to gut out a groin injury he suffered on a screen pass to Charles Sims with eight minutes left in the game. Rookie tackle Leonard Wester eventually played a handful of snaps.
The Bucs were in an increasingly desperate position to push the ball down the field as the fourth- quarter clock drained away, which was obvious to the Dallas secondary. The more eligible receivers the offense could put out in patterns would give Winston more options, but the Bucs did continue to try to give extra help to their blockers, especially with the situation at right tackle.
READ: 5 Takeaways from Bucs vs. Cowboys
"We were trying to help him. I don't think many people in the league do as much as we do to try to help in protection. But when you're in that kind of situation, time and score, it's difficult to stay in seven-man protection. In that situation, probably every team in the league is going to be in some form of six-man protection, and we're no different. We were trying to give some help over there."
3. There are a couple spots in the secondary that might spark discussion this week, but not necessarily any changes to the lineup.
Keith Tandy started the Buccaneers wins over San Diego and New Orleans after fellow safety Chris Conte suffered a chest injury late in the team's Week 12 downing of Seattle. Tandy played well in Conte's place in both of those contests, particularly with a pair of game-sealing fourth-quarter interceptions. Of course, it's worth noting that Conte had made several huge plays of his own in the first two weeks of the five-game winning streak.
Thus, there was some question as to who would start when Conte returned from his injury. The coaching staff understandably declined to tip its hand before ultimately leaving Tandy in the lineup on Sunday in Dallas. Tandy finished second on the team with 14 tackles and delivered a couple of memorable hits.
On Monday, Koetter lumped Tandy's performance in with the rest of the defense, noting that there were ups and downs across the board.
Pictures of players in the NFL who have accumulated 100 tackles or more so far this season.
I think he played fairly well again. When you look at the tape, every player that played is going to have some plays that they look back on and say, 'I did this well, I did this well, but I wish I could have done better on this particular play.' Every time Elliott broke off one of those significant-yardage runs, somebody's getting cut out of their gap or somebody's in the wrong gap. Again, much like we say on offense, there's a different culprit at different times. Dallas is so talented on offense, they make you pay for your mistakes.
Meanwhile, undrafted Javien Elliott remained the team's primary nickel back for the third week in a row, contributing four stops and one tackle for loss in Dallas. Elliott assumed that role a week after cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah began serving a four-game suspension levied by the league office. Those four weeks have now passed, and one might assume that the more experienced Adjei-Barimah would stop in as the main nickel back. However, that does not appear to be the case, and it's not a performance-based decision.
"He's coming back into the building [but] I don't think he's healthy," said Koetter. "At the same time the suspension hit, Jude also had an injury. Since we haven't been allowed to talk with him…he will be back in the building today or tomorrow, I know the training staff has talked to him. He's been rehabbing off-site, and he's not going to be healthy at this point."