Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter and his family used to host Marvin Lewis for Thanksgiving dinners when the two played together at Idaho State University.
Now they will be competing against each other for the first time in their careers as NFL coaches as Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals meet the Bucs on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
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Koetter talked about his relationship with Lewis and other things regarding their teams during a conference call with media in Cincinnati earlier this week. Here are five things he said about Sunday’s matchup:
1. Close friends duking it out
While a senior at Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho, Koetter used to watch Lewis and the Idaho State University football team practice. After committing there himself, he thought he and Lewis would be competing for the quarterback job, as Lewis was the scout team quarterback at the time.
The next year, Lewis switched to defense and the two became good friends. Koetter always thought they would end up coaching together but as it turns out, they are facing each other instead.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Koetter said. “Marvin used to sit in the back of our graduate classes and draw plays back and forth how we were going to attack each other and that was quite a few years ago, but it’s weird how things work out.”
Just how close are they? Lewis introduced Koetter to his wife, Kim, and Lewis’ daughter, Whitney, was a flower girl in their wedding.
2. Moving the ball
Tampa Bay’s offense has moved the ball more than any other team, in terms of offensive yards, but Koetter said the Bucs have to cut down on turnovers in order to be successful putting more points on the board.
The Bucs are No. 1 in total offense and passing yards – behind quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick – but 30th in turnover differential at minus-9.
“We are talented (on offense),” Koetter said. “It starts with protection, and our guys are doing a good job in protection, but our group of tight ends and receivers and both of our quarterbacks that have played, we’re doing a good job moving the football. We have to do a better job of turning yards into points and avoiding turnovers, but as far as moving the football through the air, we’re doing a good job with that.”
3. Former Bengal has impressed
Koetter has been a fan of Fitzpatrick since he saw him playing with the Bengals in 2008 when Koetter was offensive coordinator for the Jaguars. Fitzpatrick led Cincinnati to a 21-19 win over Jacksonville that year.
Fitzpatrick hasn’t played since Game 4 when Winston returned from suspension but he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three straight games to open a season.
“We had a lot of confidence in Fitz,” Koetter said. “… We knew last year when he had to start three games when Jameis was hurt we were 2-1 in those games and we know that Fitz, we weren’t going to miss a step with him in there, and he came out of the gate smoking this year. This couldn’t happen for a better guy. He’s a great teammate. He’s a lot of fun to be around, whether you are a 21-year-old player or a 59-year-old coach. Fitz is a lot closer to 59 than 21. He’s a great guy to have on your team.”
4. Huge loss at linebacker
The Bucs lost two middle linebackers to injury Sunday against Cleveland, as Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy both suffered ACL tears. The loss of Alexander in particular was a blow to the defense.
He was leading the team with 45 tackles, six tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
“Kwon is the heart and soul of our defense and maybe even our entire team,” Koetter said. “He is a beloved player by our guys. It was emotional. It was the second to last play of the half when Kwon got hurt last week and that was tough on our team emotionally to see Kwon and know he wouldn’t be with us anymore, so big shoes to fill in the middle of our defense this week.”
5. Changes on defense
The Bucs are still adjusting to new defensive coordinator Mark Duffner, the team’s former linebackers coach who replaced Mike Smith as coordinator two weeks ago, but Koetter saw a little improvement last week against Cleveland. Duffner began his NFL coaching career with the Bengals (1997-2001).
“That’s not fun to make changes during the season,” Koetter said. “…I would never make a move like that to say I was looking for a spark but our defense did some things better, and you never know in this league from game to game, there could be a lot of other factors, but our defense had probably their best or second best, as far as this season goes, in the game last week.”