Sunday October 12th, 2014

It turns out it's not all that easy to just flip the switch and revive a franchise, as some thought Lovie Smith might do in his first season with the Buccaneers.

After an 0-3 start, Weeks 4 and 5 provided a glimmer of hope -- Tampa Bay upset Pittsburgh and then pushed New Orleans to overtime. But the season on the whole so far has been a colossal disappointment, highlighted by a nightmare 56-14 loss in Atlanta in Week 3 and an even worse first half versus Baltimore on Sunday, en route to a 48-17 loss to the Ravens. 

Perhaps the offensive woes can be somewhat forgiven, either because of Josh McCown's injury (and subpar play before it) or the absence of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford with a medical condition.

Catch up on everything you missed from Week 6 in the NFL

Smith, a defensive-minded coach, was counting on Tedford to get the Buccaneers offense rolling. Without him, it has bombed. 

Due to Smith's prior reputation, the Buccaneers' struggles on defense are far more noticeable. The Falcons' Matt Ryan lit them up in that Week 3 blowout loss and Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes of action Sunday. 

Flacco's performance came shortly after the Tampa Tribune reported on how difficult the transition to Smith's preferred Tampa-2 defense has been on the Buccaneers.

"This is a completely different type of Cover 2 scheme," cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "They’re asking me to do some things here that I’ve never done before in my entire football career."

Linebacker Lavonte David added that "it’s a lot more intricate than people realize," while safety Major Wright, who played for Smith in Chicago, admitted that it took him until his second Bears season to become comfortable in the scheme.

"It took that long to learn it," he said. "It really slowed me down at first."

[nfl_media_id:baef1bf8d44140979b6d4585791a5614]

All of the drastic changes were somewhat overlooked as the Buccaneers' bandwagon filled up this offseason, in large part because the move from former coach Greg Schiano to Smith was supposed to bring such a tactical advantage. It may in the long run, but the Buccaneers continue to have mind-numbing breakdowns all over the field.

Worse yet, at least in the loss to Atlanta and matchup with Baltimore, Tampa Bay appeared totally unprepared for action. Losing a game is one thing. Being run off the field on multiple occasions is another.

So where do the Buccaneers go from here?

Well, Step 1 will be figuring out how long Smith's leash will be moving forward. Because of his pedigree and the contract he received from Tampa Bay (a five-year deal believed to be worth around $25 million), it's hard to imagine the trigger being all that quick. Smith does not have an ideal answer at quarterback, plus there remain obvious holes on the defensive depth chart around the likes of Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy.

Changing course abruptly again would do little to help the Buccaneers find their footing. And as Wright pointed out to the Tribune, Smith's system can become easier to understand the longer a defense runs it.

Will another year benefit the offense, as well? Most of that answer depends on what Tampa Bay decides to do at quarterback. With prospects like Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston potentially available next draft and the Buccaneers headed for a high pick, the answer might be obvious.

Still, the frustration level is understandably high on account of these humiliating losses. A head coach -- any head coach -- can survive only so many games where his team completely lays an egg before his seat begins to feel a little warmer. 

Smith already has two under his belt as the Buccaneers' head coach. 

"I'm embarrassed by our play," Smith said after that Atlanta game. "We failed in all phases. Of course it starts with the head football coach. ... I talked to the team and told them we have a scar. Scars don't go away. The rest of our lives, we're going to remember this game."

Maybe, but this has become another season to forget. 

 

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.