Based on the numbers alone, the most surprising thing about the Bucs’ return from the bye week Monday may be that Mike Smith still is their defensive coordinator.
It’s more than the Bucs’ 48-10 loss at Chicago on Sept. 30. After all, Smith’s defense finished last in the NFL in total yards, sacks (22) and was tied for 22nd in points allowed (23.9) in 2017. Through four games this season, Tampa Bay ranks last this season in scoring defense by allowing 34.8 points per game and 31st in the league with 445.8 yards per game.
Bucs coaches spent the bye week evaluating their mistakes through their 2-2 start. Without providing any detail, Koetter said the Bucs will try to implement some new things beginning with Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
But Koetter has been consistent in saying the blame doesn’t rest solely on Smith.
“Every week, every game, it’s way bigger than any one guy,” Koetter said. “It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than Mike. It’s bigger than Gerald McCoy. It’s bigger than any one person. It’s a team game. That was my whole point. Anytime anybody, me included, singles one person out for the cause of all our problems or the cause of all our success, guess what? That’s not right. It just isn’t. It’s much more than that.
“I mean, I know how we game plan as a staff. I know how guys coach on the field, just like I know how guys play in practice and sometimes carry it over to the game better than others. So, it’s the greatest team game in the world so any criticism. … I get how, shoot, I’m a fan of my son’s (football) team or my daughter’s volleyball team. Shoot, I talk just like fans when it’s my kids. And then I have to check myself on that. You know, the coordinators in the NFL call the plays in. All right? They call the plays in. They help organize the game plan. They don’t do the whole game plan themselves.
“Look at that from both positive and negative. It’s never one person’s fault and it’s never all one person’s credit. Certain people in the league —quarterbacks, coordinators —get more credit or more blame than they deserve.”
A week ago, prior to Bucs players leaving for six consecutive days off during the bye week, Koetter asked players to write down a few areas they believed needed improvement.
“Dirk is really good about communicating with players,” guard Ali Marpet said. “And he will make changes if they need to be made.”
Koetter said there were a few recurring themes to the players’ feedback, including the need to start games faster, and he shared them with the team Monday.
“A week ago today, I asked the players to give me feedback on that and I kind of compiled all of that into a few thoughts I shared with the team today,” Koetter said. “So I think our team needs to get off to a faster start.
“I’m not going to tell you the areas, but just some areas I felt I wanted to see. When you’re a college coach and guys aren’t leaving town, from time to time you meet with every guy on the team. Well, I didn’t have time with everybody leaving last Tuesday with everybody leaving for six days to meet with every guy. So I put together a very short thing and I asked some guys to give me some feedback and they did an awesome job. I appreciate their honesty because sometimes honestly can be self-defeating and make yourself look bad. But I appreciate their honesty and you know the communication both ways, player coach-coach player, was good.”
Bucs defensive backs coach Jon Hoke says all the assistant coaches on defense share the blame for the failures on that side of the football.
“I’ve got all kinds of faith in Mike Smith,” Hoke said. “We all as assistants take that responsibility, too. We all work for Mike and he gives us the direction and it’s on us as position coaches to have our guys ready to go and prepared. So, you know, obviously, because he’s the guy up front, (the blame) goes that way. But it’s a trickle down. Trust me. We all feel responsible for it, not just Mike Smith. Every coach on the defensive side of the ball, we all take responsibility and should take responsibility.”