A detailed look at the key players to watch for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs’ keys to victory leading up to their Week 11 game at noon Sunday at Arrowhead. The game will air on Fox (Ch. 4 in Kansas City).
Coach: Dirk Koetter, 4-5, is in his first year as an NFL head coach. Koetter, 57, spent the 2015 season as Lovie Smith’s offensive coordinator and was promoted to the position in January, after the Bucs dismissed Smith. Koetter is an offensive coach who is known for his work with quarterbacks; as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2014, he helped groom Matt Ryan. Way back in the day, he spent three years with Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the University of Missouri’s coaching staff under Bob Stull; Koetter was the offensive coordinator, while Reid was the offensive line coach. “He’s one of the finest football coaches I’ve ever been around,” Reid said.
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Offense: Todd Monken, 50, is in his first year as Koetter’s offensive coordinator and his first overall as an NFL offensive coordinator. He guided some high-scoring offenses from 2013 to 2015 as Southern Mississippi’s head coach. Tampa Bay ranks 15th in the league in passing and 17th in rushing. The Bucs have passed the ball 56 percent of the time. They are also a predominantly three-wide team, though they’ll mix in plenty of two-tight end sets and even sprinkle in formations featuring six offensive linemen.
Defense: Mike Smith, 57, is in his first year as Koetter’s defensive coordinator and his sixth overall as an NFL defensive coordinator. Smith actually hired Koetter as his offensive coordinator back when he was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons; the two worked there from 2012 until Smith’s firing in 2014. Smith has inherited a smallish defense that can run. “They’re fast — when you put it on, that’s the first thing that jumps out to you,” Reid said. “From the front, to the linebackers, to the back end — they can scoot.” The Bucs currently rank 23rd in passing defense and 25th in rushing defense. They are predominantly a 4-3 team that doesn’t blitz much (13 percent pressure rate, 31st in the league according to Football Outsiders), though they were much more aggressive in a 36-10 win over the Chicago Bears last week. The Bucs rank 15th in the NFL with 21 sacks and are tied for eighth in turnovers forced with 15.
Special teams: Nate Kaczor is in his first year as Koetter’s special-teams coach and fourth overall as a NFL special-teams coach. Kicker Roberto Aguayo, a second-round rookie, has struggled this year; he’s converted only 64 percent of his field goals. The punt team is solid; punter Bryan Anger has dropped 21 punts inside the 20 (third most in the league), while Josh Robinson is one of the league’s better gunners as the Bucs are holding teams to a third-lowest punt-return average (5.0 yards) in football. “Our entire punt team has been fantastic all year,” said Koetter, who is still wary of Tyreek Hill. Their kick return unit ranks dead last in the NFL while their punt return unit ranks 19th.
Four keys to a Chiefs victory
1. Protect the football and stop the penalties
The Chiefs could definitely try to run the ball on the Bucs, who have had some issues with tackling and gap discipline, which showed when they surrendered some long runs against the Bears last week. But Tampa Bay is very good at forcing turnovers — they are tied for second in the league in fumble recoveries (nine) — so protecting the football will be a key. “This team does a great job at taking the ball away,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “It’s certainly one of their strengths.” The Chiefs also need to knock it off with the offensive penalties; they committed five last week against Carolina. If the Chiefs don’t beat themselves, they can move the ball on a defense that’s been a little Jekyll and Hyde this year; as the Bucs have given up a ton of explosive plays (i.e. a Hail Mary before halftime last week).
2. Beware the blitz/win on third down
After giving up 824 yards in their previous two games — and watching opposing quarterback post a 100-plus passer rating over the first eight games — the Bucs finally dialed up more pressure last week against Chicago and sacked quarterback Jay Cutler four times and hit him seven times. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith also credited their communication on the back end for being “leaps and bounds better” than it had been in the previous games. For a team that gives up so many big plays, they are surprisingly good at getting off the field on third down — they rank fourth in the NFL in that category — so the Chiefs, who rank 29th in that area, will need to dial up some of their best stuff to keep the chains moving. “Our third-down percentage the last two weeks have been just terrible,” Reid said. “I have to make sure I get the guys in the right position and do stuff the right way.”
3. Be disciplined vs. the play action
Outside of receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate, the receivers don’t give you a ton to worry about; that’s why the Bucs rank near the bottom of the league (24th) in completions over 20 yards and Chicago opted to double Evans so much last week (season-low four targets). But Tampa Bay is one of the league’s most play-action-heavy teams — they use it 20 percent of the time, which ranks fifth in the league according to Football Outsiders — so the Chiefs will need to read their keys and stay disciplined to keep the Bucs from moving the ball. That includes cornerback Marcus Peters, who missed all week of practice because of a hip injury but has a reputation for being a tad susceptible to double moves. If he plays, quarterback Jameis Winston will be aware of the ball hawk’s presence. “He’s one of the best corners in the league — he has great eyes, he’s able to cover his man and keep his eyes in the backfield,” Winston said. “He’s one of the best I’ve seen do it.”
4. Keep Winston in the pocket
Winston is a slow starter; he’d thrown just one touchdown in the first quarter of the Bucs’ first eight games. But he is a dangerous quarterback, someone who can stand in the pocket and throw and also use his feet to create. He’s one of the league’s more elusive (16 broken tackles) and accurate quarterbacks on the move. “Very active in the pocket, moves around,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. His scramble and 39-yard completion to Evans last week was extremely impressive. “Those are the plays he can make and that’s what you love about him, his competitive spirit, his will to want to make every play,” Monken said. “He’s good outside the pocket, so we’ve got to continue to do our part. Whether it’s sprint out nakeds, (we need to) get him on the perimeter.”
Four Buccaneers to watch
No. 3, QB Jameis Winston, 22 years old, 6-4, 231, second season
Former No. 1 overall pick who completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl. Is playing really good football lately; has thrown 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions the last five games and has completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,349 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. Loves to hold the ball in the pocket and look for big plays; has been pressured the second-most times of any quarterback in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Is dangerous both in and out of the pocket; has lost weight and can now slide away from pressure and is among the league’s most accurate quarterbacks on the move. “A lot of times you find guys that don’t want to run it and you find guys that don’t want to throw it,” Monken said. “He’s one of those guys that has a rare quality, he can do both.” Ball placement can be spotty at times. Has a long delivery and a big arm and is not afraid to use it, but he’ll occasionally trust his arm too much and make some ill-advised throws, as most young quarterbacks are wont to do. Plays with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. Loves football and can rally teammates with his words. Is one of the league’s most promising young quarterbacks.
No. 13, WR Mike Evans, 23 years old, 6-5, 231, third season
Johnny Manziel’s former security blanket at Texas A&M can best be described as a jumbo-sized receiver with excellent ball skills. Has recorded 59 catches and is fifth in the league in yards with 811. Former basketball player who wins jump balls with ease and can attack the ball in the air like a power forward; leads the league in touchdown catches with eight. Jam him at your own risk. “Mike is just a superstar — he always finds a way to get open,” Winston said. “My job is to give him a catchable ball. Anywhere I throw it around him he’s going to catch it.” Most of the time, at least. Has dropped seven passes this season, according to Football Outsiders, which is the second most in the league. Is a tad stiff as a route runner but his ball skills and size make up for it. Competitive run blocker who can overwhelm corners with his size and strength and also flashes nastiness.
No. 54, WLB Lavonte David, 26 years old, 6-1, 233, fifth season
Ranked No. 53 on the NFL’s Top 100 list for 2016. Nicknamed “The Flash.” Undersized weakside ’backer with very good instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed. Absurd production; has averaged 144 tackles from 2012 to 2015 and has recorded 46 tackles (11 for loss), three quarterback pressures and two pass deflections in 2016. Run-and-hit type who sees the game well and operates best in space but occasionally rushes off the edges. Can be overwhelmed at the point of attack but generally does a nice job ducking under or darting around hulking linemen in the box. Solid in coverage; covers ground and generally handles running backs and tight ends. Three-down player who never has to leave the field. “These linebackers are a lot faster than what we played last week — these guy can move well,” Chiefs co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said.
No. 93, 3T-DT Gerald McCoy, 28 years old, 6-4, 300, seventh season
Ranked No. 63 on the NFL’s Top 100 list for 2016. Currently has 20 tackles, seven pressures and 4 1/2 sacks. Classic three-technique defensive tackle who is one of the league’s best interior players. Is consistently disruptive thanks to his excellent combination of quickness and strength. Repeatedly wins off the snap of the ball; is tough to reach in the running game and guards can’t afford a lapse in concentration on passing plays. Has effective swim and rip moves. Tough guy who played through a torn rotator cuff for most of the 2015 season and finished with 34 tackles and 8 1/2 sacks. Must be accounted for at all time. “Beast,” Nagy said. “He’s a dominant player. The way he plays with his motor, he’s tough to stop.” Was used as a fullback on three plays last week.
Projected Buccaneers two-deep
KEY: Bold+**=Player to Watch, C=Captain, AP=2015 All-Pro, PB=2015 Pro Bowl, *=See “additional notes” section below for more info on player
No., Name, Ht., Wt., Years
**3 Jameis Winston (C, PB), 6-4, 231, 2**, | 8 Mike Glennon, 6-6, 225, 4
*22 Doug Martin (PB, AP), 5-9, 223, 5 | 43 Peyton Barber, 5-11, 225, R
10 Cecil Shorts III, 6-0, 202, 6 | 11 Adam Humphries, 5-11, 192, 2
**13 Mike Evans, 6-5, 231, 3**, | 89 Russell Shepard, 6-1, 195, 4
11 Adam Humphries, 5-11, 192, 2 | 16 Freddie Martino, 6-0, 195, 1
*84 Cameron Brate, 6-5, 245, 2 | *88 Luke Stocker, 6-5, 253, 6
*76 Donovan Smith, 6-6, 338, 2 | 66 Leonard Wester, 6-6, 305, R
*77 Caleb Benenoch, 6-5, 305, R | *72 Ben Gottschalk, 6-5, 315, 3
*68 Joe Hawley, 6-3, 302, 7 | *72 Ben Gottschalk, 6-5, 315, 3
74 Ali Marpet, 6-4, 307, 2 | *72 Ben Gottschalk, 6-5, 315, 3
69 Demar Dotson, 6-9, 315, 8 | *78 Gosder Cherilus, 6-7, 316, 9
91 Robert Ayers, Jr., 6-3, 275, 8 | *57 Noah Spence (R), 6-2, 251, R
**93 Gerald McCoy (C, PB), 6-4, 300, 7** | 67 John Hughes III, 6-2, 320, 5
*98 Clint McDonald, 6-2, 297, 8 | 97 Akeem Spence, 6-1, 307, 4
*92 Will Gholston, 6-6, 281, 4 | 96 Ryan Russell, 6-5, 275, 2
51 Daryl Smith, 6-2, 250, 13 | 52 Cam Lynch, 6-0, 229, 2
*58 Kwon Alexander, 6-1, 227, 2 | 53 Adarius Glanton, 6-1, 230, 3
**54 Lavonte David (C, PB), 6-1, 233, 5** | 53 Adarius Glanton, 6-1, 230, 3
*28 Vernon Hargreaves III, 5-10, 204, R | 21 Alterraun Verner, 5-10, 187, 7
*23 Chris Conte, 6-2, 203, 6 | 37 Keith Tandy, 5-10, 205, 5
*30 Bradley McDougald, 6-1, 209, 4 | 29 Ryan Smith, 5-11, 189, R
38 Jude Adjei-Barimah, 5-11, 200, 2 | 21 Alterraun Verner, 5-10, 187, 7
*24 Brent Grimes, 5-10, 185, 10 | 38 Jude Adjei-Barimah, 5-11, 200, 2
19 Roberto Aguayo, 6-0, 207, R
9 Bryan Anger, 6-3, 205, 5
29 Ryan Smith, 5-11, 189, R
11 Adam Humphries, 5-11, 195, 2
48 Andrew DePaola, 6-2, 230, 3
Bonus notes on the Buccaneers
▪ Martin, who is nicknamed “The Muscle Hamster,” checked in at No. 33 on the NFL’s Top 100 list for 2016. Coming off an All-Pro season in which he rushed for 1,402 yards in 288 carries — an outstanding average of 4.9 yards per carry — and six touchdowns. Plays the game hard; strong back with good vision who can plow over defenders or run around them, when healthy; led the league in runs over 20-plus yards and yards after contact last year. “He’s a real force — hard to bring down,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. Has dealt with plenty of injuries in his career; missed six games this year due to a hamstring injury. Just returned last week and did not look like his normal self, rushing 16 times for only 33 yards. He also did not force a single missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus.
▪ Stocker, the Bucs’ starting tight end, is questionable with an ankle injury, but don’t sleep on Brate, who has emerged as a legitimate end zone threat and security blanket for Winston (35 catches, 375 yards, five touchdowns) .
▪ Smith has terrific size and good feet, but he’s inconsistent in pass protection, so it will be up to Tamba Hali — or whoever else is over there — to take advantage of the Bucs’ talented-but-still-developing left tackle.
▪ Benenoch is another player the Chiefs might be wise to target. The rookie is fine in pass protection but he struggles as a run blocker, so either Chris Jones or Rakeem Nunez-Roches need to take advantage of that matchup, especially if the Bucs try to get the ground game going and Martin looks like his old, dominant self.
▪ Hawley is questionable because of a knee injury, but if he can’t go, there are worse options than Gottschalk, who earned praise from Koetter for his performance as a fill-in last week.
▪ The Bucs will occasionally turn to Cherilus as a sixth offensive lineman when they want to set the tone up front and run the ball.
▪ Spence has some good athletic tools and has the potential to be a good pass rusher — he’s already shown some real promise in that area — but his run defense needs work, particularly when it comes to consistently setting the edge. “He’s strong-handed, he’s quick off the ball, he can bend and I think we’re seeing the more opportunities he has to rush, the more success he’s going to have,” defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. “I still believe that the ceiling’s a lot higher than what he’s performing right now.”
▪ Gholston is coming off a good game; he recorded four quarterback pressures on just 13 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
▪ McCoy gets the hype, but McDonald is an underrated “one-technique” penetrator who fits the defense well.
▪ Alexander is a quick, productive player who fits the Tampa 2 mold well. He’ll miss the occasional tackle, but racked up 93 tackles as a rookie last year and is on pace to record 124 this season.
▪ Hargreaves is an excellent athlete who is having some rookie struggles. He’s a willing tackler, but teams are throwing his way plenty.
▪ Conte had a nice game last week, returning an interception for a touchdown. But he’s missed some tackles this season.
▪ McDougald, a former Chief and Kansas Jayhawk, has worked himself into a productive starter in this league. He’s a very willing hitter who does his best work against the run.
▪ Grimes might be 33 years old, but he remains an excellent player thanks to his fluid hips, plus athleticism and ball skills.
Prediction: Chiefs 27-13
Here’s the deal: the Chiefs are the better team, so unless they turn the ball over and beat themselves with penalties, this shouldn’t morph into the dreaded “trap” game with a primetime showdown looming against Denver. Doug Martin hasn’t regained his pre-injury form, and the Bucs could have a tough time moving the ball on the opportunistic Chiefs if they can’t run the ball. Meanwhile, the Chiefs should be able to move the ball by playing smashmouth football against a front seven that has been spotty with its run fits. If the Chiefs do that to set up the passing game, they should be fine.