Another week of this god forsaken season down and another loss in the books. The kicker is that this loss officially ended the Buccaneers playoff hopes. The bright side of that is now we can all watch these last two games worry free. I guess that’s a positive. Anyway, the Ravens game was like a lot of other games this season. The Bucs got off to a good start early only to fold up and die in the second half. That seems to be the theme for this entire season. This team only plays two of the four quarters in every game. Whether it’s getting off to a fast start like in New Orleans or digging themselves into a huge hole like in Chicago, the Bucs haven’t been able to put four quarters of solid football together in most of the games this year. Week 15 in Baltimore was no different. The Bucs hung in there in the first half down just 12-9, but in the second half the Ravens were able to run all over the field and close out a 20-12 win.
My “Playaz 2 Watch” for Week 15 were quarterback Lamar Jackson and linebacker Terrell Suggs. The Bucs were able to keep “T-Sizzle” away from Jameis Winston as well as Peyton Barber and he finished with a big goose egg on the stat sheet with zero sacks and zero tackles. Jackson finished with one of his typical stat lines completing 14 of 23 passes (61%) for 131 yards and 1 touchdown while rushing 18 times for 95 yards. The Ravens 2nd ranked defense held the usually potent Bucs offense to just 241 total yards and a season low 156 yards passing. The Ravens finished with 370 total yards of offense thanks to 242 rushing yards allowed by the Bucs defense. And because Baltimore was able to run the ball so effectively, they destroyed Tampa in time of possession 37 minutes to 23 minutes. All of this, plus the 40 degree, rainy weather added up to the Bucs 9th loss of the season and guaranteed them their 7th losing season in the last 8 years. It also mathematically eliminated them from playoff contention, which means they will miss the postseason for the 11th straight season. It’s a Bucs life.
This week, despite having nothing to play for except pride and a paycheck, it doesn’t get much easier. The Bucs are traveling to Dallas to play the up and down Cowboys. After starting the year 3-5, they made a trade with the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Amari Cooper and ended up rolling off five straight wins, including a manhandling of the Saints offense in Week 13. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Cowboys are coming off of a tough loss where the Colts dismantled them 23-0 in Indy. I’m sure they’ll be looking to get back on track against the Buccaneers and keeping their one game NFC East division lead on the Eagles and Redskins. If the Bucs want to spoil the Cowboys weekend and throw a wrench in their playoff chances, they’ll have to keep en eye on my “Playaz 2 Watch” for this week.
OFFENSE- WR AMARI COOPER #19/RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT #21
I haven’t had two players to watch on one side of the ball yet this season, but there’s a first time for everything. This Dallas offense does not function without running back Ezekiel Elliott, however since trading for wide receiver Amari Cooper the Cowboys are 5-2. So I’ve decided that the Bucs defense needs to contain both of these superstars in order to have a chance at winning this game. Elliott has already racked up 1,349 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns to go along with 543 receiving yards and 3 touchdown catches. He’s averaging nearly 5 yards per carry and 100 yards per game on the ground and he’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark in half of his games this season. Up until last week the Bucs had been pretty solid at stopping the run this year, but they’ll have to put forth a better effort this week against “Zeek” and that Dallas offensive line than they did against Baltimore.
Cooper was wasting away in Oakland under Jon Gruden for whatever reason totaling just 22 catches for 280 yards and 1 touchdown in 6 games. Since coming to Dallas, he’s got 44 catches for 674 yards and 6 touchdowns in 7 games including a 10 catch/ 217 yard/ 3 touchdown game against the Eagles in Week 14. He is averaging nearly 100 yards per game with the Cowboys as well, so Brent Grimes and/or Carlton Davis will need to be on top of their game/s in order to keep him under wraps. Dallas has a ton of speed in their receiving corps with Cooper, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley so this young Bucs secondary will have their work cut out for them if they’re going to slow down this offense.
DEFENSE- LB LEIGHTON VANDER-ESCH #55
At 22-years old, Leighton Vander-Esch is one of the best young linebackers in football…and he’s just a rookie. In his first 14 games in the NFL, he’s already totaled 116 tackles, 7 passes defensed and 2 interceptions. He’s a 6’4″/255lb tackling machine. A hard hitting hammer with speed and athleticism. He’s a big reason that the Cowboys have one of the best run defenses in the league and the Bucs will need to make sure that he’s blocked and neutralized each play in order to get their offense going. I almost went with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence as my defensive player to watch. He does lead the team with 8.5 sacks this season and will probably be a handful for either Demar Dotson or Donovan Smith. However I think it’s more important for the Bucs offense to get their run game going in order to control the clock and keep the Dallas offense off of the field, so controlling Vander-Esch’s effect on this game will be key in them doing so.
With the playoffs out of reach, the Bucs are left playing for their pride, for their paychecks and more importantly for their jobs. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the team will be moving on from head coach Dirk Koetter after this season. However, the rest of the coaching staff could be staying put if they end the season the right way. Some of the players may not be so fortunate. Some of the players may be playing their last couple of games in a Buccaneers uniform. On the other hand, the Cowboys are still playing with a purpose. At 8-6, they currently lead the NFC East by one game over the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles who are both 7-7 so far. Bucs fans seem to be torn at this point in the season. Do we want the team to win and end this dreadful season on a high note? Or do we want them to lose and get a better pick in the upcoming draft? My personal opinion is that I will always root for my team to win no matter what the circumstances. If they lose these last two games and do gain a better draft position, then so be it. But I will want them to win every time they step on to the football field. In order to do that, they’ll have to shut down my “Playaz 2 Watch” for this Bucs vs Cowboys game and we’ll see if they’re up to the task when the toe hits the leather on Sunday!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!