Dave Choate: What's going on with the Buccaneers? Talented defense, weapons at skill positions, new coaching staff, and yet the results have been extremely disappointing thus far. Is it Josh McCown, Lovie Smith, or is this all a bit of a fluke thus far?
Sander Philipse: In short: three bad decisions by Josh McCown, conservative decision making by Lovie Smith, a ridiculous amount of injuries and some bad special teams play. Most of it seems more unfortunate than a long-term reflection of the state of this team -- but then that's what people always think at the start of terrible seasons. It's not every day that you see a field goal and a punt blocked in the same game, though. Nor do you often run for over 150 yards and lose a low-scoring game.
Dave Choate: Speaking of McCown, how is he faring thus far? Does he have a long leash in Tampa Bay, or are we going to see Mike Glennon sooner rather than later?
Sander Philipse: Josh McCown has been okay, outside of three really bad interceptions. And those three plays are crucial: if he keeps throwing stupid interceptions, you will see Mike Glennon at some point this season. I won't say soon - he certainly has a pretty long leash with Lovie Smith and the rest of the coaching staff. But if there's one thing Lovie Smith can't handle, it's dumb turnovers.
Dave Choate: Gerald McCoy fractured his hand. Will he play Thursday night, and if he does, will he be effective? If not, how will the Buccaneers gameplan to ensure his loss doesn't torpedo the defense?
Sander Philipse: I'd be shocked if he managed to play on Thursday. McCoy did say he would be a game-time decision, but with just four days to recover his playing would be a minor miracle. Even if he does play, he should be a little less effective than usually is: large portions of interior line play are about hand-fighting, and McCoy will be limited in executing a few moves that are usually a staple of his game.
As for replacing him, the Bucs can't. It's impossible to replace a player of his caliber. What they'll do is move over Clinton McDonald from nose tackle to under tackle -- he's an above average player at either position. They'll also bring in Da'Quan Bowers on pass rushing downs to play him inside. And they'll have to hope that Michael Johnson is healthy -- when both he and McCoy were out last week, the Bucs resorted to blitzing on nearly every play and still couldn't regularly affect the quarterback. If they can't get pressure with four, they'll blitz -- and that will give Matt Ryan opportunities in the secondary.
Dave Choate: Who should we be looking for Thursday night in terms of unheralded players who will be key to any kind of Buccaneers turnaround? Do you have a back or receiver who can catch short passes and blow by a bunch of guys in space, and if so, could you bench him?
Sander Philipse: Hah! Look for Robert Herron to see increased playing time. He's a sixth-round pick with a lot of speed, but he struggles to catch the ball. The Bucs barely played him in the first game, but he played around 1/3 of the snaps on Sunday and I'd expect that to increase this week. I don't know if he'll be the key to a turnaround, exactly, but
One other player who will have to be a key to a turnaround is William Gholston. Adrian Clayborn landed on injured reserve last week, which means Gholston is now the starting left end. He's very tall and strong, but not overly explosive. The Bucs picked him in the fourth round last year and he's shown flashes of quality play, but he has to become consistent for the Bucs to do well going forward.
Dave Choate: Predictions for this game, your season and how the NFC South shakes out in 2014?
Sander Philipse: Ever the homer, I'm going to say the Bucs win, 17-14. Their defense takes a step forward, they get lucky a little, and their offense does just enough to win the game. Sure, holding down Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is tough. But they're going to do it anyway. As for the NFC South -- I'm really surprised at these first two weeks and especially the state of the Saints' defense. I think the Panthers' offense is good enough this year where they stand a very good chance of winning the division, while the Falcons and Saints seem to be about equal in strength and should be fighting for a wild card.
As for the Bucs, at this point they're pretty far behind and have to start a turnaround really quickly to have a chance of doing any kind of damage. It's not impossible - players returning from injury should help, and the Bucs should get rid of some growing pains - but it's hard to see them as anything other than last in the division right now.