It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay emerged from its’ game at Houston victorious, winning its first preseason game, 23-16. The starters played mostly in the first quarter and got up 13-0 before the backups solidified the win. The Bucs defense forced five takeaways on the night.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
STATEMENT 1. Big Night For Some Backup Bucs
The Bucs will use the game tape from Saturday night’s 23-16 win at Houston to help determine some final roster spots. Don’t be surprised if linebacker K.J. Britt and cornerback Dee Delaney make the final 53-man roster, either. Both had great performances against the Texans.
Britt, the Bucs’ fifth-round pick, had seven tackles and a special teams stop to help solidify his standing as the fourth inside linebacker on the depth chart. The job was his to lose coming into the preseason finale, and Britt’s tackle on fourth down helped get the Bucs defense off the field on a goal line stand.
Bucs CB Dee Delaney – Photo by: USA Today
Delaney, who is battling Herb Miller and Antonio Hamilton for a backup cornerback spot, had a fantastic night with six tackles and a game-high two interceptions. Miller had a diving interception in the second quarter, but Delaney outdid him with a pick of his own in the second quarter and another big INT in the fourth quarter. Throw in the fact that Delaney, who Bruce Arians has raved about this August, also had a pass breakup on a two-point conversion attempt, and it would be shocking to see him not make the final roster.
Rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka had a huge night and his best preseason game so far. Tampa Bay’s first-round pick finished with four tackles and a sack-fumble, in addition to a special teams tackle. Tryon-Shoyinka has been better than advertised and the fact that he’s learning so fast – going from a sack last week to a strip-sack this week – means he’ll see plenty of playing time as a designated pass rusher this year. Look for Jason Pierre-Paul to kick inside as an interior rusher when Tryon-Shoyinka takes the field on obvious passing downs.
Tryon-Shoyinka also showed great improvement as a run defender with two big run stops – one at the line of scrimmage and another as a tackle-for-loss. Plus he showed great awareness in zone defense. After dropping in coverage, he saw Davis Mills roll out and immediately attacked the Texans QB, knocking him into next week with a hard – yet clean – hit to force an errant throw on third down.
Bucs K Jose Borregales – Photo by: USA Today
Quarterback Kyle Trask, the team’s second-round pick, had his best showing of the preseason. He completed 12-of-14 passes (85.7 percent) for 146 yards and his first preseason touchdown, a beautiful touch pass that traveled 20 yards and hit tight end Codey McElroy in stride at the goal line. Trask did get sacked twice and fumbled once, but showed a lot of poise in the pocket Saturday night, too. He’ll win the third QB spot, as veteran Ryan Griffin didn’t play.
Rookie kicker Jose Borregales was pressed into full-time duty at Houston, as Ryan Succop was absent due to COVID-19. Borregales had his first extra point blocked, but made his next two, in addition to a 36-yard field goal. Borregales’ final field goal attempt, a 49-yarder, was blocked as McElroy whiffed on the edge rusher. But Borregales rallied and make a potential touchdown-saving tackle. Look for last year’s Lou Groza Award winner to make the team’s practice squad if he clears waivers.
STATEMENT 2. Tampa Bay’s Starters Played Well, Too
After an awful first series, which ended in a three-and-out, the Bucs offense went to the no-huddle and Tom Brady went to work, completing 10 straight passes at one point to lead two touchdown drives of 90-plus yards. Brady finished 11-of-14 passing (71.4 percent) for 154 yards and one TD, a 24-yard strike to Chris Godwin, who led the way with three catches for 84 yards. Antonio Brown caught four passes for 42 yards in the first quarter.
Ronald Jones II won the starting running back job and finished with four carries for 27 yards (6.8 avg.) and a touchdown, while Leonard Fournette didn’t get a carry. The crisp play of the Bucs starters helped Tampa Bay build an early 13-0 lead before their night was over.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: USA Today
Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will certainly have some talking points for his starting defense after the unit allowed Houston to march down the field on an 18-play, 77-yard drive, which consumed 9:55 off the clock in the first quarter. The Bucs have had the league’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense for the past two years, but allowed 45 yards on the ground during that drive.
I can hear Bowles in the film room addressing his players and saying something to the effect of: “You guys want to keep the crown? You guys want to keep the title as the top run defense? Gotta play better than that. Ezekiel Elliot has to be drooling looking at the tape you put out in Houston.”
But the Bucs held the Texans out of the end zone with a fourth down stand. Linebacker Lavonte David was a one-man-gang, finishing with eight tackles in the first quarter alone.
Expect a better performance from the run defense against the Cowboys in the season opener. The Bucs can’t take it for granted just because they have a great run defense scheme and the personnel to pull it off. The return of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who missed Saturday’s game due to COVID-19, will help.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: What Do We Make Of Vaughn’s Play This Preseason?
Yikes! It was awful. It’s hard to believe all the offseason hype from the organization about second-year running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who capped off his disappointing preseason by rushing for a woeful 29 yards on 15 carries (1.9 avg.) at Houston. Vaughn came into Saturday’s preseason finale rushing for 74 yards on 35 carries (2.1 avg.) with one touchdown.
His longest run of the night was just seven yards against the Texans. Vaughn isn’t fast, nor is he elusive or capable of powering through tackles. He lacks any special qualities as a runner, and he even has suspect hands catching the ball out of the backfield. The Bucs over-drafted him in the third round a year ago and he did nothing on offense this preseason to earn any playing time in the regular season behind veterans Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard.
Bucs RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn – Photo by: USA Today
In fact, don’t be surprised if the Bucs try to find a more dynamic RB4 on the waiver wire to replace him. It’s hard to imagine Tampa Bay feels good about him becoming a rotational back next year when either Jones or Fournette departs in free agency.
Vaughn was awful as a kick returner in the preseason, showing no burst or ability to make any tacklers miss. His lone return in Houston was a 17-yarder, and he fumbled as he was tackled. Vaughn also fumbled on a handoff from Kyle Trask in the second half.
To be fair, Vaughn did flourish as a gunner on special teams and maybe he wins a spot on the active game day roster in that capacity. For some reason he plays faster running down covering punts than he does as a runner or returner.
QUESTION 2: What Will Happen To McLendon?
The Bucs will likely cut veteran defensive tackle Steve McLendon. He didn’t play a down on Saturday night despite the absence of Ndamukong Suh. That could be a telltale sign that the Bucs will cut McLendon, because if he suffered a serious injury on Saturday night, the team would have been liable for his entire $987,500 cap number.
The 35-year old McLendon won’t be subjected to waivers, as he’s a vested veteran. That means he can be re-signed to the practice squad or the active roster if he and the team reach an agreement. As a vested veteran, his 2021 salary would be fully guaranteed if he was on the roster Week 1, which is another reason to release him as the team pares its roster down to 53 by Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.
Bucs DT Steve McLendon – Photo by: USA Today
With the 34-year old Suh and McLendon likely playing their final years in the NFL this season, the Bucs need to develop youth at the defensive tackle position. Khalil Davis and Jeremiah Ledbetter, who each recovered a fumble in Houston, have had strong preseasons. Davis should make the 53-man roster along with reserve D-lineman and special teams ace Pat O’Connor, while Ledbetter has a chance. If he doesn’t make the final 53, look for Ledbetter to possibly join McLendon on the practice squad.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Bucs Will Drop 30+ Points On Cowboys In Opener
Tampa Bay’s offense looked sharp in the preseason finale at Houston. The Bucs have a seven-game streak of scoring 30 points or more in games, dating back to a 31-27 win at Atlanta in Week 15. Tampa Bay scored 30 points or more in all four postseason games, including 31 points against Kansas City in Super Bowl LV.
Dallas’ offense has the potential to put points on the scoreboard, too. If Dak Prescott is healthy and humming, the 2021 season opener could be a shootout unless Tampa Bay’s defense is stout, especially in pass coverage. But there are serious question marks about the Cowboys defense with new coordinator Dan Quinn at the helm. Look for the Bucs to go no-huddle and up-tempo to confuse the Cowboys defense early.
PREDICTION 2: Darden Will Be Inactive For Week 1
It was a disappointing preseason for rookie receiver and return man Jaelon Darden. The fourth-round pick has the tools to be productive in time, but making the leap from North Texas to the NFL has proven to be difficult so far. Darden had three catches for 35 yards, including a 26-yard grab in Houston. He also had a 17-yard punt return that was impressive, unlike his 16-yard kick return.
Darden hasn’t won the return job by any means, which will likely force the team to keep Jaydon Mickens around early. With Tyler Johnson clearly the better receiver at this point, Darden will start the year as WR6 or WR7. If he isn’t returning punts and kicks, he’ll likely be inactive in Week 1 when the Bucs take on the Cowboys.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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