So the Bucs won their first pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins, 26-24. Yay. There was certainly plenty to encouraged about in this first outing by the Bucs, but there were also some early warning signs as well. Are the Bucs ready yet or do they still have a long way to go?
Pieces of Eight
1) Of course, the old adage is – you can’t overreact to what you see in the first pre-season game – good or bad. Heck, the Browns and Bears looked like world beaters last night while the Eagles and Rams both looked terrible. However, you can see disturbing trends. For example, last year the Bucs offense struggled in the red zone and it followed them from the pre-season through the regular season. Their running game struggled too, and that also carried over. So yes, don’t overreact from one game where the majority of the guys on the field aren’t going to be there on September 9th, but if the Bucs continue to struggle through out the pre-season with these aspects, they could be legitimate concerns.
On the flipside, the positive stuff we came away with could all disappear by the first regular season game but if we see it consistently throughout this pre-season, maybe it shows a marked level of improvement.
2) I have to say I came away a little disappointed in the defense’s performance. The big chunk plays that we hoped would be a thing of the past were still there. Mike Smith’s defensive play calling still looked passive (again, it’s pre-season and the full game plan was certainly not installed – but be honest – did it look all that much different than what he called in the regular season last year?).
That’s not to say the defense was abysmal. No, there were definitely some signs of life, especially with the pass rush. It was in spurts, as you would expect in the pre-season, but you could see how Vinny Curry and JPP can impact both the run and the pass rush. McCoy’s sack may have been a direct result of a solid rush by Curry. Noah Spence also showed a dynamic move off the edge but needed to finish better.
I think where I was most disappointed was in the run defense, which we expected to be a lot better. The Dolphins pounded out 116 yds and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. Each one of their backs had gashing runs of 10 or more yards. That has got to be better.
3) Third down defense was abysmal for Tampa Bay in 2017, but at least for one night in Miami, the Bucs were consistent on third down, holding Miami to just 2-of-12 on 3rd down (17%). That’s the kind of numbers that’s going to help the Buccaneers defense get off the field and they need to continue to do that.
Another encouraging sign was the red zone efficiency. Mike Smith’s bend-but-don’t-break style of defense drives me insane, but Tampa Bay buckled down in the red zone, allowing the Dolphins to convert just 2-of-5 opportunities which included a goal line stand that was successful on 4th down in the 4th quarter. One of the two conversions was against the Bucs 3rd and 4th string defense (unfortunately to take the lead).
4) I thought the Bucs rookie defensive backs played very well, each having some standout moments. It was my first real opportunity to see Jordan Whitehead play and while he had a couple mistakes, he was definitely an impressive force at safety. Both MJ Stewart and Carlton Davis had some rookie moments, but they also flashed what made them high draft picks. Both guys showed tremendous coverage skills and playmaking ability on the ball. Davis finished with 2 pass defenses including one spectacular one where he showed no fear, laying out and knocking the ball away.
5) On offense, Peyton Barber showed the ability to be a starting caliber running back in the league. I don’t think Barber can ever be the home run hitter that RoJo is expected to be, but I can see Barber being an Earnest Graham lunch pail type grinder (with a bit more speed), that will get you 4 yds and if the defense isn’t careful he’ll lower his head and get you 2 or 3 more.
After Barber left, the Bucs running game stagnated a bit. RoJo certainly didn’t have a Saquon Barkley-like debut, dropping a pass and averaging just 1.1 yards a carry, but he did display his speed and vision on a goal line play that cashed in a drive following a turnover.
Also keep in mind the Bucs o-line was in shambles with injury, so the guys RoJo was playing behind are not the Ryan Jensen, Ali Marpets and Donovan Smiths.
It’s not surprising that the Bucs struggled to run the ball when their top guys retired for the night. Hopefully, as the first team gets more reps and guys return from injury, we’ll see a lot better performance out of the running game before September 9th.
6) We know the strength of the offense will be the passing game and that certainly didn’t disappoint. Each of the Bucs’ quarterbacks showed accuracy, decision making and the ability to make plays out of nothing. Fitz, a little too much – bro – get the hell down. We don’t need you running around like Michael Vick in pre-season game 1.
Jameis was stuck behind the second team offensive line and it showed at times, but he was accurate and made smart decisions with the football. Most importantly, no turnovers from the passing game.
The Bucs’ QBs combined for an eye-popping 37 of 47, 78% completion pct, 336 yds and a touchdown. Me likey.
7) A point of emphasis in this off-season has been the Bucs red zone performance and it didn’t disappoint on Thursday night. Each unit cached in for touchdowns and the Bucs finished with 60% efficiency in the red zone, going 3-for-5. That’s crucial for the Bucs success in 2018. If the Bucs can dramatically improve their red zone performance and put more points on the board, it will take a lot of pressure off of the defense as it tries to put it’s pieces together.
8) A big surprise was the announcement of Todd Monken handling the play calling on offense this week. Now, this might be a one week thing so Koetter can concentrate on evaluating players but I have to tell you, folks, for a very vanilla game plan that wasn’t designed to attack the Dolphins, I really liked his style. 399 yds of offense, 26 points on the board (could have been more if Catanzaro…don’t get me started). Let’s try it again next week, Dirk.
DLT’s Tweet of the Week
As you know, I live tweet every game. Here’s my personal favorite of in the moment tweeting.
— 👽JC De La Torre☠️ (@jcdelatorre) August 9, 2018