BUCS – AFTER THE DUST SETTLES : AUGUST 22
By Leo Haggerty
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a major step forward in their quest to prove to their fans, but more so to themselves, that they are a playoff contender and not a pretender. The Bucs starters on offense scored on three of their four first half possessions and the Pewter Pirates defense pitched a halftime shutout against the Jaguars. The only weak link, in my mind, is still the kicking game with another missed field goal and a blocked extra point.
Lets take a look at each of the three phases of the game and I’ll start with the offense. You can see QB Jameis Winston is starting to get comfortable with all the skilled toys he now has at his possession. #3 is starting to look to incorporate all his offensive talent and not exclusively look for WR Mike Evans on every pass play. The fact that the Jags, who probably prepared to roll their coverage to #13, had to change that scheme when the Bucs took the opening kickoff and moved the length of the field for a RB Doug Martin 2-yard scamper to the end zone.
That fact that the former Texas A&M product was not even targeted in the opening touchdown drive paid huge dividends for the Bucs on their next two possessions. The Jaguars defense was now forced to modify their coverage scheme to stop Martin as well as WR DeSean Jackson and the tight end tandem of Cameron Brate along with rookie O.J. Howard. This left Evans with lots of room to operate and became a contributor instead of a decoy that led to two Nick Folk field goals.
The fact that the Bucs have, arguably, the most talent on the offensive side of the ball is remarkable. It will take some time for Winston to assimilate all the weapons he has at his disposal. When he does, and this group can stay relatively healthy, look out National Football League defenses. The Pewter Pirates offense is for real.
On the other side of the ball, the Tampa Bay defense was lights out in Jacksonville. The Bucs kept the Jags off the scoreboard for the first half. Yeah, I know Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles is struggling and battering ram rookie RB Leonard Fournette didn’t play due to a foot ailment. Still, I don’t care if you’re playing the Little Sisters of the Poor, holding any team scoreless for a half is an accomplishment. If the opposition is getting paid to play the game, the goose egg is even more impressive.
The most important facet of the defensive performance was the pressure they put on Bortles. Tampa Bay, a majority of the time, was able to do it with a four man rush but, on occasion, effectively used LB Lavonte David in blitz situations. #54 recorded an unblocked sack and kept the Jags offensive line guessing by disguising if he was dropping into coverage or bringing the heat. This was an outing, by the starters, that would have made the turn of the century Bucs defenders proud.
Sadly, there is a negative and that’s the kicking game. K Nick Fold hit two field goals but missed on another as well as having a PAT blocked.
After the Buccaneers just jettisoned Roberto Aguyao, their 2016 2nd round pick, in favor of the 11-year veteran out of the University of Arizona, it was an inauspicious beginning as the kicker for the Pewter Pirates to say the least. Please remember, though, that getting a kicked blocked rarely is on the kicker. The guys on the other side of the ball are also getting paid and there are times when someone happens to make a play especially one of those 6’6″ or taller defenders rushing right next to the center.
Now, missed field goals are another story. Unlike any other position in the NFL, kickers are expected to convert every kick. No margin for error and that’s just the nature of the beast. Don’t miss or you’ll be looking for a job.
Make sure you don’t miss the Week 3 encounter with the Browns at Raymond James Stadium this Saturday. This will be the closest it will come to resembling the regular season because the starters will play into the second half. Let’s see how the Tampa Bay starters respond to almost a full game as well as the expectations of the home crowd. Don’t miss it.