Preview: Bucs struggling in numerous areas

If the Vikings are looking for a good road opponent to turn their season, the Bucs are it. Tampa Bay has been inconsistent on offense and dreadful recently on defense. (Photo: Josh McCown and Mike Glennon/USA TODAY)

There has been a lot of turmoil surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the team has gone from being one of the more promising young squads in the NFL to one of the worst in the league in the span of just a couple of years.

Greg Schiano was brought to the team from the college game (Rutgers) two years ago with the intention of bringing a new enthusiasm to the franchise. Instead, he imploded and was fired after just two tumultuous seasons in which he rid the roster of several players who didn’t fit into his mindset of what a player’s attitude should be. Looking for some stability, the Bucs hired longtime Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who made former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier one of his first hires as his defensive coordinator.

To date, that pairing has been an unequivocal bust. By just about any measure, the Bucs are one of the worst teams in the NFL through their first six games. They have the 30th-ranked offense, the 32nd-ranked defense, have allowed a league-worst 204 points (34 a game), have been outscored on average by 14 points a game, in the last four games they’ve allowed opponents to have scoring days of 37, 48 and 56 points, have been outscored 72-17 in the first quarter of games and 123-27 in the first half.

It doesn’t get much worse than that.

The problems have been on both sides of the ball, despite the Bucs having talent on offense and defense. The plans the team had coming into the season simply hasn’t materialized and the problems have been mounting as the weeks have gone on.

The biggest change that was made in the offseason was the signing of Josh McCown to be the team’s quarterback. McCown started the first two games of the season, but was knocked out early in the third game (a 56-14 blowout loss to Atlanta) and was replaced by Mike Glennon. While Glennon hasn’t been awful – he has seven touchdowns, three interceptions, two 300-yard passing games and a passer rating of 86.2 – he hasn’t been providing enough consistent offense. But, it isn’t all his fault. The running game hasn’t provided the anticipated spark.

Doug Martin is the starting running back, but he got hurt in the first game of the year and missed the next two. He’s been back for the last three games and has reclaimed his starting job, but is averaging just 2.9 yards a carry and hasn’t had more than 45 yards in any game. With a running game that has consistently come up short in giving the offense good down-and-distance situations, the offense has sputtered because they become predictable when they get behind and the running game isn’t there.

It isn’t that the Bucs haven’t been effective when they run – they’re averaging 4.3 yards a carry – but they have averaged less than 21 carries a game. Since Week 2, no running back has carried the ball more than 14 times and the Bucs have had to pass 32 or more times in all but one game.

The biggest weapon the Bucs offense has is its two gigantic wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. While they have been consistent, both of them have caught more than four passes in a game just once and, in the 11 combined games they’ve played (Evans missed one), they’ve had more than 55 receiving yards just three times – twice for V-Jack and once for Evans.

As much as the offense has struggled for Tampa Bay, the defense has been just as culpable in the demise of the team this season.

The numbers are just as bad defensively as they are offensively. Opposing teams have run the ball 189 times (a 31.5-carry average) and scored seven rushing touchdowns in six games. Even more troubling is the pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged more than 300 yards a game, throwing 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions and a combined passer rating of 111.9. You don’t win many games that way.

On the front line, the only player who has started all six games has been defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Left end Adrian Clayborn was lost in the season opener and placed on injured reserve, DT Gerald McCoy has missed a game, and three different players have started at right end. They have achieved a little stability in getting the same unit on the field for consecutive games, but it isn’t the front four they intended to have.

The same has been true at linebacker, where only weakside linebacker Lavonte David has started every game. When you have such a significant amount of shuffling in the front seven, it has been difficult for Frazier and his defense to get any sense of continuity.

The secondary has remained intact, but without a consistent pass rusher or second-level blitz pressure, the Buccaneers have been picked apart. Opponents have averaged 8.4 yards per attempt and high-priced free agent cornerback Alterraun Verner hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding.

The Bucs are a team desperate for a win to keep their season from continuing its downward cycle. Teams in this situation are likely going to be willing to pull out all the stops. There will likely be gadget plays on offense, blitzes on defense and the potential for fakes on special teams.

On paper, the Bucs look like a punch-drunk fighter ready to get knocked out. Even the 2-5 Vikings should see plenty of reason for optimism that they can turn their season around at the expense of a team that is wallowing at this point of the season, with the worst defeats coming the most recently.

If the Vikings are going to turn their season around and erase the memory of the win that should have been last week, the Bucs look like as good a road opponent as they could have.

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