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. The Bucs had another come-from-behind victory to beat the visiting Cleveland Browns, 13-12, to improve to 2-1 on the preseason. Once again it was third-string QB Ryan Griffin and rookie kicker Matt Gay that won the game in the end, while the Bucs defense was dominant against a Browns offense that was under-manned with the exception of quarterback Baker Mayfield.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Bucs Defense Shows Big Improvement

If there is one thing this August that has looked night day from a year ago in Tampa Bay’s it’s the Bucs’ new defense. Todd Bowles, who is in his second stint as Bruce Arians’ defensive coordinator is applying more pressure with his front seven and having the team’s defensive backs play tighter in coverage than the soft Quarters-based scheme Mike Smith deployed over the last two and a half years in Tampa Bay.

While it wasn’t a perfect showing against the visiting Cleveland Browns in the Bucs’ 13-12 come-from-behind-win, Bowles’ defense held quarterback Baker Mayfield to just 12-of-26 passing for 72 yards and a dismal 30.6 QB rating. Mayfield was sacked just once – by defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches – but he should have been dropped by Ndamukong Suh and Carl Nassib. Mayfield showed great toughness to elude those sacks. Nunez-Roches added another sack in the second half to lead the team with two.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Getty Images

The new and improved starting Bucs defense held the Browns offense to just 75 yards in the first half, but more importantly held Cleveland to just three field goals. It was far from perfect, but the Browns were held to 141 yards of total offense and they converted just 2-of-14 (14 percent) on third down.

Last year, Tampa Bay’s defense surrendered way too many touchdowns, especially in the red zone. So what the Bucs starting defense has been able to do in terms of limiting yards and points in the preseason has been impressive. Now what Tampa Bay’s defense needs to go to the next level is more splash plays – sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

STATEMENT 2: Griffin Is Now QB2

Well, Ryan Griffin is making the team. There is no backup quarterback controversy due to the fact that Blaine Gabbert seriously injured his left shoulder after scrambling for a first down on the first series of the third quarter and immediately headed to the locker room. Griffin entered the game and finished the drive, which resulted in a field goal.

On the next drive Griffin, who has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL this preseason, led the Bucs on a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett to give Tampa Bay a 10-9 lead. When the Browns kicked a field goal with 7:32 left to go up by two points, Griffin led the Bucs to another scoring drive with rookie Matt Gay kicking his second game-winner in as many weeks – this time from 21 yards.

“I’m more than comfortable – more than comfortable,” Arians said of having to play Griffin if necessary in the regular season. “He’s proven with some of the guys he is playing with – directing them; [he’s] poised. He’s moved our team up and down the field. Just like he did again tonight.”

Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert
Bucs QB Blaine Gabbert – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Griffin completed 11-of-17 passes for 121 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against Cleveland, and has 51-of-81 passes (62.9 percent) for 652 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions through three preseason games. Because of Gabbert’s injury, which might not be that serious since it’s a dislocation of his non-throwing shoulder, Griffin might not play in Thursday’s preseason finale so that he’s healthy heading into the San Francisco game.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucs re-sign Vincent Testaverde and have him play all four quarters at Dallas.

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: What Does The Bucs Offense Look Like Without Evans?

We found out tonight – it’s scary bad. Tampa Bay was without Mike Evans, its top target, who sat out the third preseason game with a quad injury. Without Evans, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston looked lost and only seemed to have a connection with reliable receiver Chris Godwin.

There has been talk that Chris Godwin is so good that he would be a No. 1 wide receiver on other teams, but obviously he’s a No. 2 behind Mike Evans in Tampa Bay. Well, without Evans on Friday Godwin stepped up in a big way, catching four passes for 52 yards in the first half.

“It is just really something we work on at practice,” Godwin said of his connection with Winston. “That is all we really have to do, don’t have to go out there and try and do anything spectacular, nothing over the top. We just have to play like we have been practicing and have everything fall into place for us.”

It’s clear that in his third year, Godwin is polished enough to take on a lead receiver role if necessary. Evans has proved to be quite healthy during his first five years of his NFL career and the Bucs certainly hope that continues. But if Evans is out for any period of time, Godwin has shown that he can take over for Winston. Where Evans would be missed is down the field. Evans is still the best deep threat on the Bucs, as Winston failed to connect with Breshad Perriman on three deep shots in the first half of the Cleveland game.

The problem for the Bucs’ starting offense on Friday night – aside from the starting offensive line surrendering five sacks – was that Godwin didn’t have any help. Tight end O.J. Howard only had one catch for four yards and Perriman had just two catches for 15 yards.

QUESTION 2: Why Do They Play The Preseason Games?

Because it is the preseason games that separate the practice players from the gamers. Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, the team’s second-round pick, was a player that was gaining a lot of momentum and generating a lot of buzz in shorts during the OTAs and mini-camp. Even once the pads came on in training camp, Murphy-Bunting was looking good and challenging for the nickel cornerback job.

But then the Pittsburgh game came and Murphy-Bunting struggled and hasn’t been the same player since – in practice or games. Murphy-Bunting was called for a special teams penalty, a pass interference penalty and gave up a touchdown against the Steelers. After not making a play against Miami in the second preseason game, Murphy-Bunting was largely invisible again versus Cleveland on Friday night.

M.J. Stewart hasn’t been perfect, but he’s made some plays and appears to have a firm grip on the nickel cornerback job heading into Week 1. Murphy-Bunting did have a pass breakup on the final play of the game, so maybe that will spark a resurgence in his play that will carry over to next week’s preseason finale at Dallas.

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Bucs Offensive Line Will Rebound

The Bucs’ starting offensive line looked awful in surrendering five sacks and not generating much push in the ground game against the Browns’ front seven. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said the linemen “got their asses kicked,” and he’s right. But he isn’t worried about the line moving forward because the starters played well in the first two preseason games and did a good job in practice in training camp. Quarterback Jameis Winston isn’t worried, either, and said that in his post-game press conference.

Bucs G Alex Cappa and QB Jameis Winston
Bucs G Alex Cappa and QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Right guard Alex Cappa looked the shakiest of the linemen, surrendering two sacks against veteran Olivier Vernon. Cappa had looked solid in the two previous games and will learn from this one as he’s entering his first year as an NFL starter.

The main difference between the offensive line this year and last year is that Arians and offensive line coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert will hold the linemen accountable and not tolerate another performance like that. The Bucs don’t have many options in terms of replacements outside of the versatile Earl Watford and Caleb Benenoch, who is exclusively a backup right tackle. But the guess here is that the O-line gets chewed out by Arians, Goodwin and Gilbert in a way it never has before when the team watches the film on Saturday morning, and that we see a much better showing against San Francisco in Week 1.

PREDICTION 2: Bucs Preseason Finale Will Be Awful

Tampa Bay’s preseason finale at Dallas on Thursday night might be unwatchable. As of right now, the Bucs don’t plan on playing either healthy quarterback – Winston or Griffin – and Gabbert certainly won’t be able to go. That means they’ll likely have to re-sign Testaverde, who barely knows the offense and isn’t a good passer, so that the Bucs offense can function. It’s a real shame that Nick Fitzgerald has missed all of camp and the preseason with a hamstring strain. That was the costliest beach volleyball game Fitzgerald will ever play because he would have started the entire fourth preseason game if he were healthy.

What really hurts is the evaluation process of the Bucs wide receivers as the team is still trying to find a fourth and fifth option on the depth chart. Bobo Wilson might be in the driver’s seat with Justin Watson, Scotty Miller, Anthony Johnson and newcomer Emanuel Hall vying for the final spot.

And because the Bucs will likely rest Peyton Barber, Ronald Jones II, Dare Ogunbowale and perhaps Andre Ellington, rookie Bruce Anderson will likely get 20-30 touches and become a tackling dummy on Thursday. Or a piñata.

If you choose not to watch the preseason finale, you can always turn to PewterReport.com. We have to watch it – so we’ve got you covered.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]pewterreport.com

24 COMMENTS

  1. While the offensive line was, well, offensive during most of the reps with the ones, I did notice that Donovan Smith was much more consistent in protection than Demar Dotson. Dot has been a mainstay who’s endured some bad years, but the right side of this line is going to need some serious help for the 2019 Bucs to get to .500. The reserve units – outside of Watford, who I thought had a pretty decent game – also didn’t look promising.

    While I really like Cam Brate, he’s a more polished and much more expensive version of Tanner Hudson at this point. Is it worth it to consider moving Brate for some quality OL depth?

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  2. Serious question, volleyball or not…why do we have so many hamstring pulls this year?

    Why aren’t we keeping 6 receivers? (Evans, God, BP, Watson, Miller, and Bobo), esp. since Jones clearly isn’t a kick returner and Ellington’s not making the team.

    Did we draft Bunting simply because Bruce likes him so much as a person? Greedy was right there.

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    • You mean the same greedy Williams that went off the field with a shoulder injury?

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    • SMB is more physical and tackles opposing players. Greedy doesn’t.

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  3. The Bucs final Pre-Season game will be awful because it will all be 3rd team players fighting for that last one or two positions and unfortunately will show our lack of depth in a couple of positions on both offense and defense.

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  4. What does the offense look like without Mike Evans? It looked no different than it would have if he was in last night. What kind of question is that?

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    • I agree with you Wright. I do not believe Evans would have brought much in the way of continuity to the offense. The offense might have connected on a few more pass plays but I do not believe Evans presence would have led to more sustained drives for the Bucs. Two problems I saw last night was the right side of our offensive line got their asses handed to them and Winston’s accuracy on the deep ball just sucks. We left a couple of touchdowns on the field because Jamis could not put the ball where it needed to be placed. Of the two problems, the line will be the easier to fix. Unfortunately, after watching Jamis for four years, I believe his deep ball accuracy is as good as it is ever going to be. What you see is what you get. Hope I am wrong on that but he has not shown me anything to think otherwise.
      On the bright side….the defense looked pretty damn good last night against a very respectable offense and they are only going to get better with the return of Vea, JP and David.

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    • Agree with you. Receivers and RBs looked good. The OL looked horrible. I sure hope Scott’s right and this won’t happen during the regular season. Otherwise, I might have to apologize to Buc ass bob.

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  5. Mayfield had looked good all preseason until facing this Buc’s secondary. He was forced to improvise more than he liked.

    10 0f 26 for 72 yards and 1 interception.

    Holding the Browns to four field goals kept the Bucs close considering the Browns started four drives across midfield. Excellent fortitude by the defensive guys.

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  6. I disagree with the assertion Bucs offense looked bad without Evans. Perriman was open underneath and downfield multiple times as well as OJ Howard.

    Bucs offensive line has to improve in pass pro and run blocking. No way around that.

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  7. Let’s play apples to apples. The Bucs defense surely looked good and especially the secondary. But Baker Mayfield didn’t have his best weapons on the field either as Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Nick Chubb sat out. Best not to speculate what would have happened if either side had more firepower. It was what it was and our defense came to play. Go Bucs!

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  8. Here’s Surferdudes bold predictions. Licht will not draft any O linemen next year, but will draft two kickers to compete with Gay. Griffin will play in the regular season after J.W. goes on I.R. when either Cappa, or Dotson whiff on a block. The next G.M. will cut Cappa, after no team claims him he’ll go on to be a bouncer at one of Tampa’s many strip clubs. Noah Spence does not make the team, but has a new career as a magician, since he already has the best disappearing act I’ve ever seen. We once again won’t have a 1000 yard rusher. Bunting will go down on the long list of Licht’s second round busts. Jameis will not be the first Buc QB to get a second contract. He’ll sign with the Eagles as Wentz’s back up. After Wentz gets injured once again Jameis will save the season for the Eagles, and go on to be super bowl MVP. Arains will retire, and Licht will be fired after two years of back to back 6-10 seasons.

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    • If Cappa gets cut he’s not taking my job Surfer!

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  9. Not only was Evans missing, but Winston’s #1 security blanket was missing, Brate.

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  10. Liked the way Scotty Miller fair caught the ball with 15 yards of cushion in front of him. He doesn’t look like an NFL receiver, or play like one. Bobo, and Watson are a hundred times better then him, waste of a 6th round pick. Maybe he makes the practice squad, not the final 53. I’m not as optimistic as you Scott that the O line will rebound. Yelling at Dotson won’t make him any younger, and getting on Cappa won’t make him talented enough to play guard in the NFL. The kid is way over his head in this league, never should’ve been drafted let alone in the third round. Unless Mike Evans played guard, or tackle having him on the field wouldn’t have made any difference last night. Hard to find an open Evans while on your backside!

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  11. Why do they play pre-season games?

    It has less to do with football and more to do with $$$. As I understand it, there is no revenue sharing in PS games, and no players salaries to pay.

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  12. Right now I think Bobo Wilson has the edge as the #4 WR. Watson, Miller and Johnson are all in the conversation as the #5 WR though so it will be a battle to cut down day.

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  13. Wow one pre season game and ready to stick in the fork Surfer? Lol. It wasn’t a great game, but I’m not jumping off the cliff yet.

    O line is really biggest concern here. I thought at least one deep ball to BP was on the money and looked close to pass int. The one that got challenged.

    Anyways I agree it did look lot like same old shit different day last night. Right side o line sucked, no run game, Winston missed deep, and Gay missed easy 37 yards that you have to make!

    On positive it was not same old shit on defense! Much improved. Let’s hope Arians and staff can get O line playing better. Or will be another long year….he’s o agree Would likes at least on me o lineman taken in second RD this year but defense was more of a joke….hindsight 20/20 and all too. Lol.

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  14. Meant I agree would have liked to see O lineman taken in 2nd rd this last draft….

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  15. Whew! I feel so much better after reading your article Scott. I’m so happy that I must have been sleeping through the game and had a bad dream about how poor the Bucs looked. I’m so happy Scott you woke me up and set me straight that everything is A-OK and this is just the normal life of a Buccaneer fan.
    Go Bucs!

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  16. Wow Scott. You have great insights at times, but carrying the water for Jason Licht is not one of your strengths. And by the way, we all see it.

    Last season you hyped the D line that was pure garbage. Those of us that have been around for a while called BS on that early and often.

    The O line will get better – really. Last season our O line was the four highest paid in the league – and was horrible. This year we’ve doubled down on average to below average talent. Posters on this site blew a gasket when we drafted a small school CB at the top of the 2nd round when starting caliber O lineman were there. Now the O line is revealed to be horrible again and Jamies is on your Disappointing list. Please. Shocked you didn’t call out the RB’s too.

    Adding you to the Most Disappointing list…..

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  17. Bold Statement 3: Jameis winston sucks at throwing the deep ball. Like yeah the O-line played horribly. But this dude can’t hit anyone past 40 yards downfield, or he throws them out of bounds. And this guy is hoping to get paid next year….lol

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  18. Third straight game the Buccaneers outyarded; out first-downed; and won time of possession decisively. If this continues, they will win a considerable number of games. Bowles is a top defensive coordinator. Can’t help recalling the emergence of New Orleans when they changed defensive coordinators (after three straight 7-9 seasons).

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  19. Winston failed to connect with Breshad Perriman on three deep shots in the first half of the Cleveland game.

    Get ready for Perriman’s ineffectiveness. There is a reason he was on the free agency market, and it was not because the team that had him could not afford him – they dropped him for his drops. Unless he improves his mental focus the Bucs will have a third WR who is a weak imitation of what they had last year.

    Not being negative but a realist about Breshad Perriman’s ability as he seems to have a mental block on catching the ball.

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