Fire Nick Folk.
Well the Bucs have one less problem to fix. The rest aren’t so simple.
Tampa Bay should have won last Thursday’s game against the Patriots. Chiefly, they soundly won the turnover battle. They committed fewer penalties. Ultimately they had more opportunities to score than the Patriots.
Still, the loss doesn’t rest solely on the leg of Folk. The box score does not reflect just how mediocre Jameis Winston was against the Patriots defense. He pinned the pass game on forcing the ball to Desean Jackson. While Jackson got his first 100-yard game in Tampa, Winston’s proclivities left the rest of the pass offense out to dry.
Before the fourth quarter, Winston went 13-for-25 for 109 yards. It took the return of Doug Martin to get the Bucs down the field and in the endzone (more on this in a second). Winston turned it on in the fourth quarter, going 13-for-21 for 225 yards and a score (as well as a rush touchdown that was called back due to an otherwise meaningless penalty on Evan Smith).
The Bucs can’t afford for Winston to spend most of a game trying to build a rapport with Jackson, nor can they wait until the fourth quarter to get the pass game synchronized.
The solution may lie with the returned and reinvigorated Doug Martin. On the Bucs’ second quarter touchdown drive, Martin carved up the Patriots defense for 48 yards on five carries. Without Martin’s 1-yard scoring run, he averaged a crushing 11.8 yards per carry.
As Martin’s suspension kept him away from practices, Dirk Koetter kept him on a snap count. Still, he took a vast majority of the rushing snaps—13 to Jacquizz Rodgers’ three and Charles Sims’ one. However, Sims took a majority of the overall running back snaps with 26 though he was often split out wide as a receiver.
It is only a matter of time before Martin takes over as the feature back. In case it wasn’t obvious from his performance last Thursday, Martin is by far Tampa Bay’s best ball carrier. He jumped gaps almost instantaneously and broke virtually every initial tackle on his runs.
Credit is also due to the Bucs offensive line, which opened some good holes against the Patriots front. However the line historically struggles with consistency and is as likely to force Bucs running backs to make their own running lanes.
Martin is the key to the entire offense, at least until Winston becomes more consistent. The Bucs offense is built on medium-to-long range passes—higher risk plays. They need a potent running game to keep defenses honest and open things up for their receivers.
Jacquizz Rodgers hasn’t proven capable of carrying the run game. Martin’s 13 carries last week exhibited far more promise.
There’s not much to say about the defense except to commend them for how well they played against the NFL’s top offense. The Bucs were soft against the run, but they bullied and battered Tom Brady into a mediocre outing and were the first team to hold New England under 20 points.
All this was accomplished with several starters missing. No Lavonte David, no Kwon Alexander, no TJ Ward, no Keith Tandy—the next men up did their jobs. Justin Evans is progressing faster than expected, and Kendall Beckwith is yet another linebacker gem found by the Bucs.
Next week the Bucs face the Arizona Cardinals, a team that stomped them in Week 2 last year. However, the teams find themselves on opposite trajectories. The Bucs have a resurgent Doug Martin and opportunistic defense against an aging, decrepit offense and an underperforming defense.
On a personal note, I was in Tampa this week but not for any Bucs related reason. My grandfather passed away last week. He lived in Tampa my entire life, after a career as an Air Force chaplain including a tour in Vietnam. He’s the reason I became a Bucs fan. He was a good man and I’ll miss him.