The Buccaneers started the 2015 season firing the cannons… directly into their own ship.
There are several words that could be used to describe the Bucs’ following the 42-17 rout they suffered at the hands of Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans. Humiliating, pathetic, infuriating all come to mind when recalling how easily the other top quarterback of this year’s draft stomped the team that passed on him.
The one word that may not immediately manifest is inevitable. Hope and optimism permeate freely among NFL teams and their fanbases before a season begins, but reality usually comes crashing through their dreams of January and reminds them how bad their teams really are.
The Bucs were not going to be good this year. They have a rookie quarterback in an offense playing under its fifth offensive coordinator in five years. Their offensive line is either too old or too green. Their defensive ends and safeties would likely not start on most other teams.
Some of these issues are likely to improve over the course of the season. Dirk Koetter is a seasoned offensive coordinator known to produce even with limited talent on the field. Jameis Winston is a very talented passer who needs time to adjust to the NFL, and his offensive line should improve as it continues to gel.
None of these issues are all that troubling. They’re not even the reasons why the Bucs were repeatedly roundhouse-kicked in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The real problem is Lovie Smith.
Smith is almost exclusively a defensive coach. He built his reputation on it in Chicago. While his offenses were consistently inconsistent, his defense was an immutable monolith rising out of Soldier Field for nearly a decade.
Whatever Smith did to build his temple to defensive consistency in Chicago was apparently lost when he came to Tampa Bay. It took Smith a year to get his defense working in Chicago. A year and a game into his tenure with the Bucs, Smith made no apparent progress.
Yes, there are some talent deficiencies, particularly in the secondary defensive ends, but not enough to allow four touchdowns in one half.
The confusion on defense leapt off the screen. Otherwise smart and dependable players like linebacker Lavonte David were lost in the confusion wrought by the Titans’ superior planning and execution.
Does this one game mark the end of the Bucs’ season? No, but expectations should be tempered. If Lovie Smith couldn’t prepare his team in three months, how are they going to look each week?