PEWTER REPORT PUBLISHER SCOTT REYNOLDS
• Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown has had two solid outings over the past few games and is inspiring confidence with how he has moved the offense – which features a work-in-progress offensive line – and put points on the board. McCown had a touchdown pass in last week’s game against Miami and threw another TD against Buffalo on a 24-yard scoring strike to rookie wide receiver Mike Evans.
McCown completed 13-of-16 passes (81.3 percent) for 112 yards against the Bills, and has completed 20-of-27 throws (74 percent) for 178 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. McCown has led Tampa Bay on four scoring drives (24 points) in three quarters worth of work, and that’s encouraging.
While he also brings the added dimension of scrambling, as he’s rushed for 38 yards on five carries (7.6 avg.), McCown needs to get rid of the bad habit of sometimes throwing off his back foot. Both of McCown’s interceptions this preseason have come when he hasn’t stepped into his throws.
• Helping McCown have success was the improved play of the starting offensive line. For the second straight game, Patrick Omameh started at right guard and appeared to be steady. The weak link on the offensive line seems to be left guard Oniel Cousins, and it was discouraging to see Anthony Collins struggle a bit in pass protection. He and Cousins surrendered a sack in the first quarter.
What was different about Saturday’s game in Buffalo was the holes that were opened up for Doug Martin, who ran the ball very hard against a stout Bills defense. Martin rushed the ball for 38 yards on 12 carries in the first half, and ripped off a nice, 13-yard gain and scored a 1-yard touchdown.
With the Panthers and Rams bringing a ferocious pass rush to Tampa Bay in the first two weeks of the season, it will be important for the Bucs to be able to run the ball and create balance on offense. Saturday’s first half against the Bills was a good start for the starting offensive line.
• It was nice to see new Bucs defensive end Michael Johnson continue to improve his game. Johnson recorded two tackles, had half a sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by nose tackle Clinton McDonald and returned for a 17-yard touchdown in the first half.
Johnson recovered a fumble last week against Miami, so it was good to see him be a part of two takeaways in back-to-back weeks, in addition to getting to the quarterback alongside fellow defensive end Adrian Clayborn. The Bucs really need Johnson to become a pass rushing force off the right side and record double-digit sacks in 2014.
• While the Bucs defense and offense both showed up in Buffalo and played well, that’s nothing new. Last year, the 4-12 Bucs beat the Bills 27-7 at Raymond James Stadium and the defense recorded a season-high seven sacks and four interceptions in the win. On Saturday against the Bills, the starting defense recorded a defensive touchdown, two sacks and three takeaways in the first half while keeping Buffalo off the scoreboard.
The Bucs were a better team than the Bills last year and nothing has changed. They still are. Buffalo is not a good football team and will likely be in the bottom five in the NFL as long as E.J. Manuel is under center. While it was great to see Tampa Bay dominate and take care of business on both sides of the ball, I’m not sure if the Bills were that big of a test for Lovie Smith’s crew. PewterReport.com editor Mark Cook
• I will have to admit that after Lovie Smith was hired and began cleaning out under-performing veterans like Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and others, I assumed that Bucs tight end Luke Stocker’s release wasn’t too far behind. Stocker has battled injuries since being a fourth-round selection in 2011, and even when healthy, had little production. When OTAs began earlier this spring and Stocker was still a member of the organization, it was obvious he would be given a shot make the team. The odds were stacked against him, though.
Tampa Bay added Brandon Myers during the opening day of free agency in March, and in May selected Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round. I was convinced Stocker’s time in Tampa Bay was short. Now here we are, a few months later, and not only is Stocker still on the team, he has a very good chance to not only make the roster, but to contribute often in Jeff Tedford’s offense.
Last spring I spoke to Stocker for a story after watching him destroy the blocking sleds in one of the OTAs. It was clear Stocker was not only healthy, but also very strong. The former Tennessee standout told me he was trying to carve out his niche in the NFL and in order to do that he needed to stay healthy. It appears Stocker has done just that, and with an offensive line still in limbo and trying to adjust with four new starters, having Stocker as an extension of the running game as an additional blocker has likely earned him a place on the Bucs' 53-man roster. While it isn’t a definite that Stocker makes the team -- Tampa Bay could decide that Myers would be adequate in that role -- it is looking much better for the former Volunteer. That's much better than most – maybe even Stocker himself – expected earlier this year.
• The Buccaneers wasted little time in signing QB Josh McCown during free agency in March and I'll admit I wasn’t overly impressed at the time. Handing the keys of a new offense to a well-traveled journeymen quarterback seemed a little strange, even if McCown had impressed during an eight-game stretch in relief of an injured Jay Cutler for the Bears in 2013. But meeting and speaking to him during his introductory press conference, it was clear that he offered a sense of confidence and leadership that had sorely been missing at that position for a number of years in Tampa Bay.
McCown was impressive once the offseason workouts began. Decisive, athletic and appearing to have a firm grasp of the offense, McCown wowed most of the media in attendance with his accuracy and above-mentioned adjectives. However when it was time for the real bullets to fly three weeks ago in Jacksonville, the McCown we had witnessed during the offseason was missing in action. How much better is McCown than Glennon? That's what I was asking myself early in the preseason. Thankfully for Bucs fans – and Lovie Smith – the veteran QB settled into his role and it was no coincidence that the offensive line also started playing better last week. Saturday’s game created a huge sigh of relief throughout the Bay area, as McCown finished 13-of-16 on the night. RB Jeff Demps should have caught one of those incompletions, and another was an interception where tight end Brandon Myers slipped. If those two passes had been completed it was a 15-of-16 night for the veteran signal-caller, with the only other incomplete pass being one to Mike Evans that sailed high.
There are still question marks left to answer, and no one is ready to call McCown the next Tom Brady or the late-in-his-career salvager Rich Gannon. However, McCown needed a night like Saturday night and Bucs fans across the country woke up feeling a little better about their team and their quarterback on Sunday morning.Bucs beat writer Eric Dellaratta
• I mentioned after the Jacksonville Jaguars game it could be rough sledding for the Buccaneers running game because of poor blocking up front. Those struggles presented themselves again against the Bills on Saturday. The Buccaneers failed to eclipse 100 yards rushing for a third consecutive preseason game, gaining 99 yards on 38 carries (2.6 avg.). Taking into consideration that 21 of those yards were from two Josh McCown scrambles, and Buccaneers running backs only accounted for 78 yards on 36 carries.
The most impressive runner on Saturday was third-year pro Doug Martin. The former Boise State rusher looked like the running back we saw from his stellar rookie season, showing excellent acceleration and running with authority. As good as Martin looked on select runs, there were far too many plays where he was hit too soon after receiving the handoff. In the first quarter, guard Oniel Cousins gave up the inside leverage and allowed a Bills defender to have a clean shot at Martin before he could get to the line of scrimmage. Martin was hit behind the line of scrimmage on four of his 12 carries.
Second-year running back Bobby Rainey, who acted as the second-string rusher spelling Martin, had to do a lot of dancing behind the line of scrimmage because of a lack of push from the offensive line. Bills linebacker Keith Rivers absolutely blasted Rainey on an inside handoff early on in the game. Within a second of receiving the handoff from Josh McCown, Rivers blew through the running lane and put a serious hit on the second-year runner. Rainey finished the contest with 13 carries for 14 yards.
As talented as the Buccaneers runners are, the blocking in front of them will play a major role in their success or downfall. It is imperative that the Buccaneers find a combination of guards that work together well as both pass-blockers and run-blockers in order for the offense to be the well-oiled machine that it wants it to be.
• Connor Barth is still the favorite to win the Buccaneers’ kicking job, but Patrick Murray was rock solid throughout camp and made his 27-yard attempt on Saturday. The 23-year old has also done some punting work for the Buccaneers in preseason and has been praised by members of the Buccaneers coaching staff. Murray has been competing with Barth, who is set to make $2 million in 2014 and $3.3 million in 2015.
The chances that the Buccaneers decide to go with Murray as their kicker are slim. In the event that he is released from the team, Murray would likely be one of the top kickers on the market and should get some looks from other teams with unstable kicking situations.
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