MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S SCOUTING REPORT: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Posted Dec 6, 2017

Mike O'Hara takes a look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shape up on offense, defense and special teams.

There is a direct correlation between what has been a disappointing season for quarterback Jameis Winston and his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As Winston has struggled through his third season because of injuries and inconsistent play, the Bucs also have fallen short of projections.

A talented young quarterback, and a young team that had expectations of building on last season’s 9-7 won-loss record are both playing out the season without hope of reaching the postseason.

The Bucs are 4-8 going into Sunday’s home game against the Detroit Lions, who also have experienced their share of disappointment recently but still have the possibility of making the playoffs with a 6-6 record.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter had a stock answer to a stock question posed to him in his conference-call interview with the Detroit media Wednesday. 

What would it mean to finish off the season with a winning streak?

“That’s what we get paid to do,” Koetter said. “We’d love to finish it off with four straight wins.”

There were legitimate reasons for optimism for the Bucs this season. Last year’s 9-7 record gave them their first winning season since they went 10-6 in 2010.

And Winston had shown steady progress since being drafted first overall in 2015.

Winston broke in at a high level, making the Pro Bowl as a rookie with 22 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions on a Bucs team that went 6-10. And as the team’s record improved last year, so did Winston’s stats – 28 TD passes against 18 interceptions and a rise in his completion rate from 58.3 percent to 60.8.

With key players added on offense – big-play wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency and tight end O.J. Howard as a first-round draft pick – the Bucs looked ready to take that next step.

They didn’t. They stumbled instead.

Winston missed three starts and parts of two other games because of a shoulder injury, and the defense has not played well. The Bucs have not generated a pass rush. They have a league-low 17 after tying for ninth for the full season a year ago with 39.

Winston returned to the lineup last week after his three-game absence and played well in an overtime loss to the Packers. Winston completed 21 of 32 passes for 270 yards and two TDs without an interception.

The Bucs gave up 199 rushing yards, including a 20-yard run by rookie Aaron Jones for the winning TD in overtime. They didn’t lose the game because of anything Winston did wrong.

“Every time he goes out there it’s more experience,” Koetter said. “He’s 23 years old. As I look at (Lions QB Matthew Stafford) from when he came into the league, I think he’s having a terrific year, and I would be willing to bet that he would say that experience has helped him more than anything else.

“He’s gotten better each year, the more he’s played, and I think the same will happen for Jameis.”

How the Bucs got to 4-8: The season cratered with a five-game losing streak after the Bucs opened the season by winning two of their first three games. In that losing streak two of the losses were by five points and one by three.

They got the season somewhat back on track with wins over the Jets and Dolphins, but any possibility of rallying to contend for a playoff berth was eliminated by losses to the Falcons and Packers in the last two games.

Ryan’s song: Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is following a familiar beat as an example of how veteran quarterbacks with starting experience are in demand as stop gaps. The Bucs are his seventh team in 13 NFL seasons, and fifth in the last six seasons.

In six games, with three starts, Fitzpatrick has completed 96 of 164 passes for 1,103 yards, seven TDs and three interceptions. He is 2-1 as a starter.

Rookie relief: The Bucs have gotten encouraging performances from two of their rookies.

Howard was regarded as the best all-around tight end in this year’s draft and he’s backed that up. He’s a solid blocker and has four TD catches and an average of 16.6 yards on his 21 catches.

Third-round pick Kendell Beckwith has started nine games at strong-side linebacker and is second on the team with 49 tackles and third with six tackles for loss.