By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Not much has gone right for the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.READ MORE: Car Crashes Into Arlington Heights Home After Driver Suffers 'Medical Episode'
Widening the lens a little bit, not much has gone right for the organization since coach Jon Gruden left after the 2008 season. They’ve lost two-thirds of the games they’ve played since then and have churned through three head coaches in the process.
The Bucs have gone from the over-promoted Raheem Morris to misfit Greg Schiano only to go back to their roots a bit and bring back Lovie Smith, who was a linebackers coach for the Bucs under Tony Dungy from 1996 through 2000.
Obviously, Bears fans know Smith well after his coaching stint in Chicago from 2004-’12. All too well in some respects. His docile demeanor is diametrically opposed to the screamy Schiano and was a safe hire in the eyes of the Glazer family, Tampa’s owners.
With the Bucs now at 2-8, outside perception is that Smith’s seat might be hot in his first year. But given the patience the Glazers demonstrated with both Morris and Schiano, it’s doubtful that he’s coaching for his job.
The Bucs were a preseason media darling and a popular sleeper pick for a worst-to-first turnaround. Pundits looked at the existing talent in place on defense, then followed their $55 million free-agent spending spree under new general manager Jason Licht. The hype was believed by many.
All the while, they ignored the fact that the team was unproven at the most important position on the field — quarterback.
Josh McCown somehow parlayed his five-game stretch as Jay Cutler’s fill-in in Chicago into $10 million with $4.75 million guaranteed. Kudos to McCown and his agent for striking such a deal, but it serves as a cautionary tale for front offices.
Aside from that small sample size with the Bears — in which McCown faced three bottom-eight pass defenses — McCown was 17-40 as a starter in nine NFL seasons prior to that five-game stretch and was completely out of the league for a time, working as a high school football coach.
The Bucs tried to replicate the Bears’ 2013 formula by giving McCown two towering wide receivers — Vincent Jackson and first-round draft pick Mike Evans — and paired him with another Canadian Football League quarterback whisperer — Jeff Tedford.
The plan hasn’t come to fruition.
McCown is 1-4 as a starter, and his 82.6 passer rating ranks 26th in the league. McCown is an anticipatory thrower, but the Bucs’ route combinations tend to unfold slowly, and he hasn’t had consistent time in the pocket to survey the field.
Tedford had heart surgery at the end of the preseason and is on indefinite leave from the team. Consequently, play-calling duties have been handed over to 34-year-old quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who was entering his first season as an NFL coach after coming up through the college ranks.
All season, the Bucs offense has had no rhythm and has been plagued by slow starts. Playing from behind with a barely above replacement-level quarterback and an unproven play-caller has been disastrous. They’re predictable and unimaginative.
Save for the rapid ascension of Evans, who has 458 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games and last Sunday became the youngest player in NFL history to have more than 200 receiving yards in a game, the offense is stagnant.READ MORE: Builder Creates 'Neighbor-To-Neighbor' Relationships With Affordable Homes In North Chicago
They operate primarily out of 11 and 12 personnel groupings but are unsettled at running back — however, they may have found their load back in rookie Charles Sims — and the offensive line has struggled to both open holes in the run game (86 rushing yards per game) and has given up the 10th-most sacks (27).
Defensively, it hasn’t come together for the Bucs either. They rank 22nd against the run (118 yards/game) and are 30th in both passing yards (266) and points allowed (27.2/game).
Smith brought his zone-based scheme with him, coordinated by former Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier.
The aim of the defense is rather simple — take away the explosive passing game by keeping a top on the defense, while conceding underneath passes to test the execution and patience of the opposing quarterback.
As is the case with most schemes — but particularly the Tampa-2 — it’s only as successful as its front four. With a two-deep, five-underneath coverage shell, there are voids that form in between the coverage droppers. So if the pass rush doesn’t get home, the quarterback has ample time to patiently sit in the pocket and wait for a receiver to settle into a soft spot.
In addition to the pass rush, there are specific qualities required of the players who execute the scheme: a middle linebacker with elite speed and coverage skills to carry the No. 3 (inside) receiver up the seam and serve as a de facto third safety; an athletic outside linebackers who can cover from the hash to boundary as well as attack downhill in the run game; and physical cornerbacks who can re-route No. 1 receivers with outside leverage back to where their help is and contribute as force defenders in the run game.
The Bucs have some of the necessary elements to execute Smith’s one-gap scheme, but not all.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a prototypical three-technique under tackle with an explosive first step to shoot the gap and collapse the pocket from the inside. McCoy has evolved into one of the best young three-technique defensive tackles in the league. His athleticism was never in doubt; it was a matter of him polishing his fundamentals.
This year, McCoy has tied together his explosive footwork with active, violent hands at the point of attack. By using the under front in the manner Smith and Frazier do, they essentially scheme their three-technique as a third defensive end and get him single-block opportunities.
Weak-side linebacker Lavonte David is an explosive athlete who plays with instinct and burst to read, react and rally to the football. David lacks the bulk to play in traffic, thus playing him at the Will backer allows him to play in space, where he can use his feet to work through the wash, opposed to taking blockers on straight up. David has been reliable in run support but has been a liability in pass coverage, as he doesn’t always get the necessary depth on his drops.
In free agency, the Bucs spent $24 million guaranteed on defensive end Michael Johnson (previously with the Bengals), which was a large sum for a player who has only posted double-digit sacks once in his career. Even with the presence of McCoy on the inside, Johnson has yet to live up to his big contract.
Additionally, the Bucs spent $14 million on cornerback Alterraun Verner (previously with the Titans) to man the left cornerback position. Verner has been strong in run support, but quarterbacks have successfully targeted him all season, and he’s surrendered five touchdowns in coverage.
Save for their six-sack, three-takeaway effort last week against the lowly Redskins, the Bucs defense hasn’t produced on a consistent basis this season, and the rush and coverage aren’t in sync. It will likely take more time for Smith’s scheme and opportunistic philosophy to take root. Furthermore, the Bucs will be searching for a franchise quarterback this offseason.
Short of those elements, this project is years away from taking form. Will Smith last long enough to see it through completely?MORE NEWS: Man Stabbed On CTA Blue Line Train Near Irving Park Stop
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.