By Max Luckan
It’s gotten ugly quickly in Tampa, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have now lost five games in a row. Their latest loss came this past Sunday to the St. Louis Rams, who have won four of their past five games. While the Rams have been playing well recently, the Bucs have fallen apart, and quite frankly, have embarrassed themselves two weeks in a row. Coming into Sunday, the Rams were technically still in the playoff hunt, but the Minnesota Vikings beat the Houston Texans, and as a result, St. Louis was mathematically eliminated, despite their 28-13 victory over the Bucs. With the loss, the Bucs dropped to 6-9 on the year and they have one game remaining against the Atlanta Falcons.
There weren’t many pretty aspects of the game for the Bucs on Sunday, including the coaching. Questionable coaching decisions were aplenty all game long against the Rams. The catastrophe started when, in the first half, the Bucs decided to bring in running back LeGarrette Blount for pass protection. Blount struggles with pass protection, and the result was a sack. The decision was just baffling.
But not to be outdone, head coach Greg Schiano decided to go for it on fourth down late in the third quarter when the Bucs were down 28-13 and in need of points. The result was a turnover on downs instead of three points. Against the Rams, some of the decisions made were just bad decisions overall. Grade: D
It seems as though the Bucs’ offense has regressed to an extreme low. The offense was unable to score a single point against the New Orleans Saints last week, and they only managed 13 against the Rams. It starts with quarterback Josh Freeman, who has thrown four interceptions in each of his last two games. Turnovers are a root cause of big losses, and Freeman’s been absolutely careless the past couple of games.
Also, the Bucs wanted to get back to running the ball much more frequently, but Doug Martin has struggled and the Bucs fell behind early again against St. Louis. Martin finished with 62 yards on 18 carries, but the offensive line played poorly overall, so he was unable to get going. The Bucs’ offense has been plagued by poor play and that poor play has been magnified on the scoreboard. Grade: D
Surprisingly, the defense didn’t play as poorly as the final score may indicate. Yes, the secondary struggled again, but that has been a common theme all season long. And the front four wasn’t able to pressure Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, but there were some solid plays made.
Rookie Lavonte David continues to be the best player on defense for the Bucs, and he had another strong performance against the Rams. David is consistently the first one to the ball and his tackling has been strong. Leonard Johnson and E.J. Biggers missed most of the game because of apparent injuries, but Danny Gorrer and Anthony Gaitor played relatively well in their place. Gorrer even managed an interception. It would be wrong to say the defense played well, but while they allowed 28 points, they held their own at times. Grade: C
There hasn’t been much reason to criticize the play of the special teams this season. That’s because the Bucs have done a great job on special teams for the most part. Kicker Connor Barth nailed two field goals against the Rams, and those field goals actually kept the Bucs in the game. The offense struggled, but because of Barth, the Bucs had a chance in the second half.
Roscoe Parrish hasn’t done an outstanding job as punt returner, and the kick returners haven’t given the Bucs excellent field position, but the mistakes have been few. The special teams unit has been able to neutralize some of the mistakes on both offense and defense. Grade: B
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.