Dirk Koetter spoke with the press on Monday afternoon, two days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell to the Saints in New Orleans, 31-24. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of how the Bucs suffered a serious blow to their playoff hopes.
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 16 game in New Orleans.
1. An 11th-hour lineup change to the offensive front worked out well, considering the circumstances.
The Buccaneers started a third different player at the right tackle position in the last four games on Saturday, but they were not expecting that to be the case as recently as the middle of last week.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' Week 16 match-up with the Saints.
Third-year man Kevin Pamphile, who has drawn consistent praise for his play at left guard this season, moved down the line to that right tackle spot on Saturday, with steady veteran Evan Smith filling the resulting vacancy on the interior line. The switch was necessitated when neither Demar Dotson nor Gosder Cherilus were cleared to play, Dotson due to a concussion and Cherilus due to leg injuries suffered last week in Dallas.
"We put Kevin in a challenging situation because we didn't even make the move [right away]," said Koetter. "He had one day at practice at right tackle because we thought it was going to go a different direction and because of injury, it didn't, because of a couple of injuries."
Though he didn't specify what the original plan at right tackle was, Koetter was almost surely referring to Dotson, who started the first 12 games of the season before suffering his concussion in San Diego. Dotson was on the practice field to begin the week while Cherilus was not, but Dotson's participation went from limited to out as the week progressed. That's why the Pamphile solution wasn't put into motion until after preparations for the Saints had already begun.
"As far as Evan going at left guard, he's always working in the rotation at center and guard and it seems like every time Evan gets in a game in a role like that, he does pretty well and this was no exception," said Koetter. "Now Kevin moving out to right tackle, left guard to right tackle, that's a much bigger move and he was playing against the Saints' best [defensive] player. And I think based on the situation that we were in – being down two right tackles – I think Kevin did a good job representing himself."
Quarterback Jameis Winston was sacked twice, a fairly acceptable number given that the Bucs spent much of the second-half in obvious passing mode thanks to an imbalance on the scoreboard. Pamphile spent much of his time dealing with Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan, who leads the Saints with 7.5 sacks. Jordan did have one of the Saints two sacks but was not credited with any other quarterback hits and was generally stopped from wreaking havoc in the backfield.
Pamphile played tackle at Purdue after switching over from the defensive line in his sophomore season, and that was his indicated position when the Buccaneers used a fifth-round draft pick on him in 2014. He proved his value and versatility by filling in at left guard during an injury to Logan Mankins in 2015 and won that job to open 2016 after Mankins retired. Now Pamphile's versatility has paid off again with a temporary switch back to his original position.
2. Though their playoff hopes have not been completely extinguished, the Buccaneers are keeping their focus on trying to beat the Panthers this coming Sunday.
Tampa Bay's loss to the Saints coupled with a number of other unfavorable results on Saturday put the team's playoff chances in serious jeopardy. A loss by Cincinnati on Saturday evening while the Bucs were returning home made matters worse but Kansas City's victory over Denver on Sunday night at least kept the postseason door open. It will take an unusual combination of results in Week 17 (and on Monday night in Dallas) for the Bucs to get through that door, but there's only one part of the equation on which they have any control.
"More than anything, before any of that happens [we have to win]," said Koetter. "So, maybe we should just worry about that. Maybe we should just let that be the motivation, how's that?"
Buccaneer players reviewed Saturday's game on Monday after returning from a day off but the focus will soon shift to the Panthers. It appears as if Koetter's approach to Week 17 has already permeated the locker room.
"We've got to beat Carolina – that's where our mindset is at," said team captain Gerald McCoy on Monday. "We don't think about that. We've got a chance to finish with a winning record; who wouldn't want to do that? Carolina's next up. It doesn't matter if everything is place, all the scenarios could happen, if we don't beat Carolina it doesn't matter. So we've got to do our part."
3. Judging the success of the Buccaneers' 2016 season is something that won't take place, at least internally, until it is completely over.
In one respect, since the ultimate goal in every season is to win the Super Bowl, only one team out of 32 can claim a truly successful campaign each year. More practically, though, every team is judged through a variety of lenses, and some are viewed more favorably than others.
While obviously chasing the same trophy as everybody else, Koetter has a very specific approach to judging the success of any team.
"I'll tell you how I [gauge success]: when a team that you're coaching comes as close as possible to playing up to that team's potential," said Koetter.
How Koetter views the Buccaneers in 2016, his first year as the team's head coach, will be a very interesting evaluation…for which we'll have to wait a while longer.
"We'll talk about that when the season's over because the season's not over," he said. "Every team that I've coached my whole life, in my opinion, should only be judged on how close to that team's potential did they come. And again, I'm sure we'll have a nice little get-together like this at some point when the season is over and we can assess that. But today, that's not on my radar for today."