Each week the PewterReport.com staff takes a look back at the previous day’s game and shares their thoughts and observations. Read what Scott Reynolds, Mark Cook and Eric Dellaratta thought about the Bucs 20-14 loss to the Dolphins.
PewterReport.com Publisher Scott Reynolds• There’s no doubt that this new Buccaneers offense is going to be a work in progress, largely in part because of the sketchy play of the offensive line. While the guard play was somewhat improved in Tampa Bay’s 20-14 loss to Miami on Saturday night with the addition of Patrick Omameh to the starting lineup, there wasn’t much running room for running back Doug Martin, although he did average four yards per carry (six rushes for 24 yards) with an 8-yard gain.
Yes, there are some big-yardage plays that Tampa Bay has run successfully in practice that the team won’t reveal in the preseason, but if the offensive line can’t consistently create running room for Martin and the reserve backs or hold up in pass protection for McCown it won’t matter in the end. After the game, Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith talked about playing “Buc Ball,” which is getting superb play on defense and special teams with an effective enough offense that doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s how the Bucs will have to win games early on in the season until the offensive line gels together and finds the chemistry necessary to put up more than 300 yards of total offense and at least 24 points per game, which could take a while.
• The injuries are beginning to pile up for the Buccaneers. After playing without defensive linemen Steven Means and Da’Quan Bowers due to groin injuries, Tampa Bay had several other players banged up on Saturday night against Miami. Running back Mike James and defensive end William Gholston suffered shoulder injuries, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and linebacker Brandon Magee incurred ankle injuries and strong safety Major Wright injured his back. Wright and Gholston are locks to make the team and James, Melvin and Magee have a strong chance to as well.
The Bucs played against the Dolphins without cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike James, who are both dealing with hamstring issues. The most serious injury the team has suffered to date is Charles Sims’ ankle, which needs surgery and will keep him out of action for 12-14 weeks. We’ll have to see if any of the injuries from Saturday night are serious enough to affect the chances of those players missing the season opener against Carolina.
• The Tampa Bay fan base has always been a big fan of the backup quarterback. Whether it was Craig Erickson with Steve DeBerg, or Shaun King with Trent Dilfer or Chris Simms with Brian Griese, the backup QB has always been a source of hope to Buccaneers fans that have craved a true franchise quarterback for decades. When new starter Josh McCown struggled in the preseason opener by completing just 2-of-4 passes for 20 yards with a pick-six, Bucs fans immediately grew restless.
After seeing backup Mike Glennon complete 11-of-19 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown with the second-team unit against Jacksonville last week, some even suggested that last year’s starter as a rookie should be in the mix to start in 2014, especially after he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and only nine interceptions to compile an 83.9 QB rating. But the tables were turned on Saturday night against Miami.
McCown received better pass protection for a change and completed 5-of-7 passes for 46 yards with an impressive 7-yard touchdown strike to Vincent Jackson in the back of the end zone and had a 4-yard scramble. McCown played just over a quarter and compiled a 128.6 QB rating.
Meanwhile, Glennon struggled a bit, completing 6-of-12 passes for 77 yards and was sacked twice. Glennon threw an interception that was called back due to a defensive holding penalty, and had two other passes that were nearly picked, in addition to a fumble that he lost in the third quarter.
Both Tampa Bay quarterbacks have plenty of work to do to prepare for the season opener against Carolina, but Glennon isn’t ahead as some might have thought after the first preseason game and McCown isn’t nearly behind, either. McCown still deserves to be the starting quarterback with Glennon serving as the backup. The good news is that the Bucs have two capable quarterbacks that could wire-to-wire as a starter, and most NFL teams can’t make that claim. But for the time being, McCown is still ahead as he should be.
PewterReport.com Editor Mark Cook• When Lovie Smith was hired as Bucs head coach back in January, one of the points he made was how he felt about special teams. Smith felt good special teams could account for a couple wins every year. It was assumed by many – including PewterReport.com – that Smith’s emphasis would be on finding a dynamic kick returner and Tampa Bay would target free agent returner Devin Hester in free agency. Of course that didn’t happen and through training camp no one seemed to assert themselves as a front runner for the position. But on Saturday night someone finally seemed ready to take the lead to be the Bucs primary kick returner. Former Gator standout Solomon Patton, a long shot to make the roster when camp began, had a great night returning kicks and punts, averaging 30.3 yards returning kickoffs and adding a 21-yard punt return.
Last week Jeff Demps and Eric Page both took their turn but neither really stood out, in fact it was a late 31-yard Patton return in the Jacksonville game that most likely made the coaches pay a little more attention to Patton and give him a shot on Saturday night against Miami. One game won’t be the determining factor, but it appears finally someone had taken the lead. Can Patton hold on to the lead? Was it was it fluke? Can Jeff Demps or one of the other kick return candidates show enough to win the job? With two games to go before the season opener against Carolina it should be an exciting battle to watch and one that can mean the difference between an 8-8 or 10-6 season according to Smith.
• On the surface the Buccaneers defense looks ready to hit the season opener firing on all cylinders, with the potential to be a Top 10 defense in Lovie Smith’s first season. And that very well could end up being the case. Through two preseason games the starting unit has only given up three points to the opposing team’s starting units– a pretty good start. But where is the outside pass rush from Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson? Johnson did recover a fumble of Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill on Saturday after Gerald McCoy got the sack and strip, but so far in two games, in limited reps, Johnson has put very little pressure on the quarterback.
Clayborn is learning to play exclusively on the left side and doesn’t look completely comfortable rushing the passer from that side yet, although he did play the left side around 40 percent of the time last year. Clayborn is a more physical player than Johnson and excellent against the run as evidenced by his 19 tackles for loss in 2013, second on the team to only Lavonte David in that category. But pressure off the edge is crucial in any defensive scheme, particularly in a zone scheme.
It is still early, and certainly not time to panic, but the Buccaneers will need someone other than McCoy to generate a pass rush this year. This Saturday’s game at Buffalo, where the starters are set to play at least the first half, will be a better indicator of exactly where this defense is and hopefully show the staff and fans more pressure from the defensive ends on both sides.
Beat writer Eric Dellaratta• I wrote last week about how well I thought the second-team defense played against the Jaguars. The same cannot be said about their performance on Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins.
The pass-rush was non-existent and gave backup quarterback Matt Moore far too much time to throw. The Buccaneers lone sack was recorded by Gerald McCoy on the sack-fumble that resulted in a turnover for the defense. The second-team defense had just one quarterback hit, which was recorded by defensive end Scott Solomon. The unit did a nice job in run support but there were far too many receivers running open down the field.
Miami’s passing game took advantage of the Buccaneers second-team linebackers in coverage. Matt Moore went 13-of-19 for 158 pass yards and a beautiful touchdown strike to Rishard Matthews. Most of the Dolphins’ completions came on passes over the middle of the field.
It doesn’t help that the Buccaneers lost safety Major Wright to an injury in the second quarter. Wright was one of the team’s best performers against Jacksonville last week and the team is relying on him to be the first safety off the bench if Mark Barron or Dashon Goldson were to go down. Another big injury for the Buccaneers second-team unit happened in the second quarter when big defensive end William Gholston injured his shoulder. Hopefully both players aren’t seriously injured.
For a second-straight week, the Buccaneers have played incredibly well against opposing rushing attacks. Miami struggled to get anything going against on the ground against the Buccaneers first-team defense. The Dolphins finished the first have with negative net rushing yardage, with their leading rusher Lamar Miller racking up just three yards on three carries. The Buccaneers backups weren’t too shabby against the run either, as Miami finished the entire game with just 46 yards on 26 carries (1.8 YPC). Last week the Buccaneers held the Jacksonville Jaguars to 91 yards on 33 carries (2.8 YPC).
Linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy form a two-man wrecking crew against the run and the additions of Clinton McDonald and Michael Johnson have helped solidify the Buccaneers front seven as a unit. Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are two thumpers on the back end that can punish ball-carriers if they make it to the second level of the defense. Assuming the team can stay healthy, I believe Tampa Bay will have one of the top run defenses in all of football.
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