Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell, 42-14, to the visiting Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium. In the interim, Smith and his team had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in Week One of the 2015 season.
RELATED: BUCS STUMBLE IN SEASON OPENER
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith, his players and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' loss to the Titans.
1. The results weren't good for the Buccaneers' secondary on Sunday, but some of that started up front.
In the first set of league rankings sent out on Monday, the Buccaneers' pass defense looked respectable, coming in third in the NFC and ninth in the NFL (with Monday night's games still to be played, obviously). That's misleading, of course, as those rankings are based on yards, and while 185 net yards allowed is a good number in a vacuum, it loses some of its meaning when paired with four touchdown passes, no interceptions and a mark of 10.3 yards per pass play for the Titans' offense.
There were some unfortunate moments in the secondary – the long play to Kendall Wright down the middle for the game's first touchdown is clearly the one that sticks in Smith's craw – but the problems didn't solely belong to the back end of the defense. In addition to the obvious point that more pressure from the front line would likely have disrupted Marcus Mariota's timing, Smith said the big guys up front could have done more to throw off the Titans' short passing game.
"There were some [coverage] breakdowns," said Smith. "We had a few breakdowns, but some of them, there were tight throws on his part too. You have to give him some of the credit. There weren't a whole lot of just true breakdowns where we didn't have anybody there. It's just not coverage. A lot of those, there is a small window. There should be somebody in the throwing lane. A lot of them were low passes that were being thrown. I'm just going to say it was a combination of both. In order for us to go forward we need to prove that up front. The linebackers were a part of it and the secondary too. We shouldn't give up long runs. [If] there's one disappointing play. It was their first touchdown. That shouldn't happen. That gave them momentum that we shouldn't of."
Check out behind-the-scenes photos from the Buccaneers' game against the Titans at Raymond James Stadium.
Sacks are the ultimate goal for the defensive linemen (well, actually, a sack with a forced fumble is the ultimate goal), but knocking down a pass at the line can just as effectively end a drive. That is easier for a defensive lineman to accomplish if he's moving his opponent around, and not vice versa. DE George Johnson says he and his linemates have to do a better job of physically controlling the line.
"We have to be more physical," said Johnson. "They came in here and 'out-physicaled' us. They were willing to come in here and do whatever they had to do. We didn't have that same mindset and it kind of showed on the field and on the scoreboard.
"Well, execution has a lot to do with it to, but to us we feel like we had to be physical. When we're physical, we can set the tone. When you're not physical, teams feel like they can run anything. We can't let anybody 'out-physical' us. We have to be the most physical team on the field."
The linemen are also the first line of defense against the run, and Tennessee simply had too much success in that aspect of the game to allow the Bucs' defensive plans to succeed. The Titans ran for 124 yards on 32 carries and were able to create too many inviting third-down situations. Tennessee was three-of-five on third downs needing six or fewer yards, and one of four on third downs needing seven or more.
"When you're playing third-and-three, they have a lot of plays that they can run," said Johnson. "They can go from pass to quick pass to deep pass. When they're getting three or four yards on first and second down, it's kind of hard to stop them on third down when they don't have far to go."
Photos from the Buccaneers' game against the Titans at Raymond James Stadium.
Johnson said the process of becoming a more physically dominant team by next weekend starts on the practice field on Wednesday. If the defensive line can succeed in that goal, the results will hopefully be vastly different on Sunday in New Orleans.
"On the D-Line we always feel like we have to be the engine of this team," he said. "We feel like as we go the team should go. I think it all starts with our D-Line. If the D-Line picks it up, everybody else is going to pick it up around us."
2. Buc defenders need to take the personal foul decisions out of the officials' hands.
Last year, the Buccaneers were charged with 118 penalties, tied for the seventh most in the NFL. That was also the fourth-highest total of penalties in a single season in franchise annals, though it should be noted that it was actually a slight decline from the year before.
The Bucs started the 2015 season by drawing 12 penalties against the Titans. In the grand scheme of things, that wasn't the team's most glaring problem of the afternoon, though it did hamstring a few drives before they got started. Certain calls like the defensive pass-interference penalty on Alterraun Verner that set up a touchdown or the offensive pass-interference flag on Vincent Jackson that negated one are essentially unavoidable over the course of a season. When the ball is in the air and being contested, there will occasionally be flags, no matter how one side or another feels about their accuracy.
One penalty that did seem to affect the momentum of the game, however, occurred very early on. After a high, hanging kickoff and great coverage forced Tennessee to start its opening drive on its own 11, Mariota threw incomplete to running back Bishop Sankey on the first play from scrimmage. Already howling about the stop on the kickoff, the capacity crowd at Raymond James Stadium went up a notch after safety Major Wright helped disrupt that play with a very hard hit on Sankey.
However, Wright was flagged for unnecessary roughness and the Titans got 15 free yards, kicking off a long touchdown drive. Smith says his defenders, no matter how they may feel about the validity of such calls, have to adjust their approach. Wright appeared to hit Sankey shoulder-to-shoulder but probably could have avoided the flag by coming in closer to the running back's waist.
"To me it's pretty simple," said Smith. "The officials call it. We have to lower our target. As I told Major, [it's] as simple as that. You lower your target, we get the same effect. Running backs would rather you hit them higher than down low. We have to lower our target and aim down there and that play can count."
Mariota may very well have continued the drive without incident after that play, even without a flag. It would have been second-and-10 at the 11, and a few moments later he converted a third-and-10 from the 26 with a pass down the middle to tight end Delanie Walker. However, the reversal of fortune did take some decibels out of the noise from the stands, and it might have affected the action on the field as well.
"I don't think we were physical enough," said linebacker Lavonte David. "I think we didn't execute our defense better than they executed their offense. I think a fire wasn't there. We kind of let that first play, that penalty, knock us off our momentum so we let that get to us. We've got to look past that and keep going."
3. However, Sunday's opener made you feel, the Buccaneers are determined not to let it define their season…or even the next game.
Statistically, the Buccaneers lost by four touchdowns on Sunday. In the standings – which are the very top level of statistic, in terms of importance – the Bucs are in the same place as last year's defending NFC Champs, even though the Seattle Seahawks only fell by three points in overtime in St. Louis.
That's the point of view Tampa Bay players and coaches are adopting as they prepare for their Week Two game in New Orleans and look to get the season pointed in the right direction. The lopsided nature of the loss is only a problem in the long run if it's a true indicator of the Bucs' capabilities. In other words, a string of lopsided losses would obviously be a problem, but one is just a single 'L' in the ledger. The nature of it won't matter at season's end if the team is still in the playoff hunt, as it expect to be.
Since Buccaneer players and coaches believe their team is much better than the opener would indicate, they won't find it hard to move on from Sunday's disappointment.
"Not hard at all," David stressed. "First game of the season didn't turn out as we expected. Luckily, we got what – 15 more games left? So we look forward to that and now we get started for New Orleans, get ready for New Orleans. Division opponent, will be a tough, another hard-fought football game for us and [we are] ready to get up there and fight our butts off."
The Bucs also understand that they have to prove that they are right about their team in order to make believers out of everyone else. They had hoped to start that process on Sunday in front of the home crowd but let that opportunity slip away. That stung quite a bit, but now they have to focus on the next opportunity, in New Orleans on Sunday.
"I can't tell you in words how disappointed we all are," said Smith. "As I told the football team – of course we are watching video right now of it – it does count as one loss only. There are a lot of other teams that are disappointed one week into the season. One disappointing game does not define our season. We won't let it.
"This isn't an old Buc team of the past. Our 2015 version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we are very disappointed in how we played for one game. Whenever you lose a home game it's a big deal. Opening the season, we realize the magnitude of the loss. We have to keep in mind as we move forward, we can get it back. There is nothing like getting a road NFC South victory that can make us feel a lot better."