Dirk Koetter met with the press on Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-9, in both team's preseason opener at Lincoln Financial Field. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game, meet with his team and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in the Bucs' first live action of 2016.
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' preseason loss to the Eagles.
1. The highlight of the night for the Buccaneers was the team's pass-rush.
Sometimes day-after-game video review reveals positives and negatives that weren't easily identified during live action, and sometimes it just confirms the obvious. Koetter tabbed one aspect of the Buccaneers' play as the best thing to come out of Thursday's opener, and it probably won't surprise anybody who watched the game.
"We sacked the quarterback, we hit the quarterback…if there's one thing that really stood out in a positive, I would say it would be our D-line play and that we affected the quarterback," said Koetter. "Four sacks we would take every week and we hit the guy a lot more than that."
In addition to those four sacks, Tampa Bay's defense was credited with hitting the quarterback 10 times. As Koetter suggested, Philly passers were negatively affected on significantly more plays than that, which was the main reason the home team finished with just 95 net passing yards. The new-look secondary had a nice outing, and the pressure up front obviously contributed to that.
"We contested the ball, we were a little over aggressive at time, but I thought we were in position for the most part," said Koetter of his defensive backfield. "You folks in here have said forever, the best pass defense is a good pass rush and we had that last night."
The four sacks went to Howard Jones, Clinton McDonald, Jacquies Smith and Akeem Spence. That means neither of the high-profile pass-rushers the Bucs added in the spring – former Giant Robert Ayers and second-round draft pick Noah Spence – notched a QB takedown, but both were very much a part of the overall pressure put on Philly quarterbacks. Spence didn't start the game but he came in almost immediately and had a fine NFL debut.
"Noah Spence went in there on the second play, the second play of the game in our starting nickel package," said Koetter. "Noah, like our entire D-line, affected the quarterback all night."
2. There were too many dropped passes, but there was plenty of good news regarding the wide-open receiver competition, too.
Starting quarterback Jameis Winston exited with a 148.6 passer rating but backups Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin posted ratings of 38.7 and 39.8, respectively, mostly due to a combined three interceptions thrown. In Koetter's assessment, Griffin had some good moments but forced his final throw and held onto the ball too long before being forced to fumble, and Glennon did not have his best night.
Collectively, the Bucs' three passers might have finished with better than a 60.8 rating if their pass-catchers hadn't dropped seven throws. That was the worst part of what otherwise was a better performance by the team's wideouts than may have been clearly evident.
READ:** Winston Finds Positives in Loss to Eagles**
Eighteen different players caught passes for the Buccaneers on Thursday night, including nine different wide receivers. Koetter singled out two receivers who stood out, including one who did not notch a reception in the game, and that recognition is important in what is still a very muddled depth chart situation behind the top three.
"I thought two guys stepped up and showed that they're in the mix and that's Russell Shepard and Donteea Dye," said Koetter. "Those two guys made plays. 'DD' made three really nice plays on special teams, he had that explosive pass that got called back for an OPI. There's just a lot of close calls and officials I think do a fantastic job, but it was just hard to find much fault with 'DD' on that play. He made a nice catch, ran a nice route, spun out, had a good run. Now bottom line, it got called back for a penalty on him. But those two guys I thought showed up okay."
Shepard led all players on Thursday night with 62 yards on three receptions, and he scored the Bucs' only touchdown on a 26-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter while playing with the first-team offense. Dye actually was held without a catch, but that was in part due to what Koetter described above, an offensive pass interference call that overturned what looked like an all-around great play but the young Buc receiver.
Thanks to a fumble on the opening kickoff return, it might be assumed that second-year receiver Kenny Bell hurt himself in that receiver competition on Thursday night. However, Koetter actually praised Bell's play when it came to the offense.
"As far as offense goes, Kenny Bell beat his man multiple times and just didn't get the ball thrown to him," said the coach. "On the very last drive, he ran a little double-move and was open, we overthrew him. There are probably five plays in the game where Kenny did his job and got open. Sometimes he's not the primary, but he did all he can do, he just didn't get the ball thrown to him."
3. There were plenty of reasons the running game didn't produce in Philadelphia, and some of them were simply situational.
The Buccaneers gained just 31 yards on 21 carries, numbers that would probably cause some hand-wringing if they occurred during a regular-season game. In fact, Tampa Bay's single-game low in rushing yardage last season, with Koetter running the offense, was 57 yards. The Bucs averaged 135.1 rushing yards per game in 2015, fifth-best in the NFL, and Thursday's preseason opener should not be an indication that they will take a step back in that category in 2016.
For one thing, preseason play-calling is nothing like what takes place in the regular season, particularly this early in August. Not only was there virtually no opponent-specific game-planning for Thursday's game, but there was also no real effort during the game to find and repeat the plays that were working the best.
"To be a successful run team you need to repeat runs and you need to keep feeding your ball carrier the football and we did neither of those last night because we're rotating too many guys," said Koetter. "We're wanting to run certain plays to work on certain schemes, but you're not repeating them. If a run's going, we might call the same run four or five times in a game. I don't think we called any runs last night more than twice in the game."
Philadelphia's approach on defense also affected Koetter's offensive decision-making. In a regular-season game, he likely would have approached the situation differently, and perhaps the Eagles would have, as well.
Photos from the Buccaneers' Preseason Week 1 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Martin opened the game with a very effective six-yard run up the middle, but he obviously didn't stick around long enough to get into a rhythm. The Bucs were also playing without Martin's cohort, Charles Sims, who was out with a minor injury.
"Philly played a lot of eight-man box on us and when you really look at the tape, on the interior of the line we blocked them okay," said Koetter. "In an eight-man spacing defense they force you to cut it back to the unblocked player. And their unblocked player made the tackle almost every time. Again I would say that if we had Doug and Chuck [Sims] in there every time, Doug and Chuck have shown that they're either going to break that tackle or make that guy miss. But Philly did a nice job, they were challenging us more to throw the ball. And there are tricks where we can run the ball more efficiently against an eight-man front, but those weren't things that we were going to work on last night.
"You can disagree all you want, but we've been pretty good at running the football. I think we have a pretty good grasp at what it takes to run the ball. We have two really good backs, one of which didn't play last night."