“Any given Sunday.” It’s a football adage that tells us that any team can win any game. Though it’s a cliché, there is some truth to it. Just ask Pete Carroll the next time he calls a goal-line slant.
The element of luck is often downplayed in the game of football, but it’s an essential facet to every outcome. With 22 men on the field, a handful of choices beget countless possible outcomes that no one can truly predict for every snap in every game.
Luck can be a cornerback slipping on the turf, leaving a wide receiver clear to run 60 yards for a score. It can also be a cornerback committing a facemask penalty on the same play as a big turnover by the defensive line or a fumble that may have been overturned had it not occurred behind a lead blocker.
If these last two instances sound familiar, it’s because that’s what happened to the Bucs on Sunday. Of course Alterraun Verner had to pull on a receiver’s facemask 20 yards from where Gerald McCoy batted the ball for Will Gholston to recover. That first Doug Martin fumble may have been overturned if not for Logan Mankins falling in front of him.
Circumstance is a fickle machine, assembling an order of events that’s never quite as anyone plans.
But make no mistake. Luck did not make the Bucs lose this game.
Poor coaching and poor play set the Bucs up for failure. The offensive line came out completely flat against a mediocre Bears run defense. Jameis Winston’s ball placement remained erratic. Luck had nothing to do with Doug Martin keeping a hold of the ball in the first place.
The defense allowed Jay Cutler to complete 74 percent of his passes. For all the blame that Lovie likes to assign to personnel for this problem, the secondary’s consistent and overall failure to cover receivers falls on him
The Bucs are allowing a league-worst 69.5 percent of opposing passes to be completed. This was a problem last year (when the Bucs were also dead last in completion percentage allowed) and it has remained a problem throughout this season.
Completion percentage doesn’t tell the whole story as the Bucs could be simply forcing opposing offenses to take short pass plays. The problem is, they’re not short enough. The Bucs are also allowing 7.4 yards per pass attempt which is about average.
What’s both strange and horrifying about this stat is how few big plays the Bucs defense allowed this season. They’re tied for second-fewest plays over 20 yards allowed at 40, and they’re tied for fewest plays over 40 yards with just 4. Quite simply, big plays do not skew the yards per attempt average.
What this means is, the Bucs make it very easy for opposing offenses to move the chains. No one needs to attempt big plays against the Bucs because first downs are just waiting to be plucked every 7.4 yards.
There are plenty of issues to point at causing this abominable stat. A lack of pass rush, injuries in the secondary, too many coaches for the secondary, etc. There really is only one person to blame: Lovie Smith.
He has no business blaming personnel for the coverage issues. He got to pick most of the players. The only defensive backs remaining from the Mark Dominik era are Johnthan Banks and Keith Tandy, and Banks even led the Bucs in interceptions last season.Good coaches adjust to the talent they have available. Lovie Smith can’t seem to even recognize that there is a problem with how his scheme is executed. He appears content to haphazardly swap the same pieces in and out and expect a different result.Maybe Smith believes that one of these days, he’ll stumble upon the right combination of cornerbacks to adequately execute his scheme. That would be pretty lucky, wouldn’t it?