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 began the season with a convincing 29-7 win at home against the Chicago Bears (1-1) after an unexpected Week 1 bye due to Hurricane Irma postponing last Sunday’s Bucs vs. Dolphins game at Miami to Week 11.
TWO BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: The Bucs Were Rested – Not Rusty
Would the Bucs starters be rusty after an impromptu Week 1 bye week? Nope. Tampa Bay came out eager to start their season and was full of energy and enthusiasm, taking a 17-point lead on offense in the first half thanks to two Bears turnovers and a slew of Bears penalties (five for 34). A pick-six by new nickel cornerback Robert McClain pushed Tampa Bay’s lead to 26-0 at halftime.
Quarterback Jameis Winston proved to be the rustiest Buccaneer, missing three deep passes – two to DeSean Jackson and one to Charles Sims. Winston did lead the Bucs to five scoring drives, but had two interceptions that were dropped by Bears defenders. The Bucs had to settle for a couple of field goals as two drives stalled inside the red zone.
Winston was an efficient 18-of-30 (60 percent) for 204 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers with a 91.5 QB rating. Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans was targeted nine times and finished with seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. A good day for Winston, but it could have been much better against an overmatched opponent.
“The biggest takeaway is that there is a lot of room for improvement,” Winston said. “We can’t just sit on one game. Me personally, I’ve just got that mentality that we’ve got to get better we’ve got to get better to keep pushing each other because we’ve got next week. The game is over now. We can’t do anything about that. All we can do is prepare for next week and keep this train rolling.”
On defense Tampa Bay put the emphasis on stopping the run this offseason, hence the acquisition of 320-pound defensive tackle Chris Baker. With Jordan Howard, the league’s second-leading rusher last year, and electric rookie Tarik Cohen providing a solid one-two-punch at running back for Chicago, Tampa Bay’s game plan began with taking away the ground game and making Mike Glennon beat the Bucs defense through the air.
The Bucs defense did just that, holding Howard to seven yards on nine carries and Cohen to 13 yards on seven carries. Chicago totaled 20 yards on 16 carries, a 1.25 yards per carry.
“Definitely,” said Bucs defensive end Will Gholston, who had five tackles, including a tackle for loss. “[Jordan Howard] ran for 1,300 yards plus last year? That’s a great job. I think the whole offseason, OTAs and camp, we wanted to be a dominant front. I think we took one step – one step out of 16. We got the first game down. Now we have to go to Minnesota and make sure it is a consistent thing. If we can consistently do this all year, we won’t have a problem.”
Making the Bears one-dimensional worked as Glennon was an efficient 31-of-45 for 301 yards and a touchdown, but his three turnovers doomed Chicago from the start. Glennon wasn’t helped by his receivers, as they had problems catching the ball in last week’s loss against Atlanta. The Bears receivers dropped at least five passes against the Bucs.
“The ‘D’ stole the show today,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said.
STATEMENT 2: Glennon Was No Match For Smith’s Defense
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith wasn’t shy about showing some new wrinkles early. In fact, the Bucs came out with a 3-4 look on the first defensive play with Kendell Beckwith and Noah Spence outside and Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander inside with Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker and Will Gholston as the defensive linemen. Tampa Bay’s linebackers were active early and often, with Alexander picking off Glennon in the red zone in the first quarter and David recovering a fumble forced by a Spence’s sack in the second quarter.
“I’ve been a part of some great defensive performances,” said new safety T.J. Ward, who had two tackles and a pass breakup in his Bucs debut. “I’ve never been in a situation where we were up 26-0 in my eight years [in the league]. We have a bunch of playmakers on this defense and that is amazing to be part of. We want to be great and we feed of each other. One person makes a play and everyone else feeds off of it. That energy is just contagious. That is a great thing to be a part of.”
If there was a disappointing element to the way the Bucs defense played against Glennon it was that he dropped back to pass 45 times and was only sacked once. Tampa Bay’s pass rush, especially its front four struggled to get to Glennon, and for a good part of the game he had ample time to throw.
“I think he had a lot of knockdowns and pressures, but sacks equal more turnovers,” Gholston said. “If we get more sacks, we get more turnovers.”
Glennon also completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 301 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Glennon threw a last-minute touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson to foil the Bucs’ hopes of getting an opening day shutout.
TWO PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: How Serious Is Alexander’s Hamstring Injury?
Alexander, who was listed as questionable for the Bears game with an illness, got things started for the Bucs defense when he stepped in front of Bears tight end Dion Sims at the Tampa Bay 16 and picked off Glennon’s pass, returning it 22 yards to the Bucs’ 38-yard line. Then he suffered a hamstring injury in the first half and didn’t return to the game. How long will that sideline him, and will Alexander miss next week’s game at Minnesota against Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook?
Alexander, who had a hamstring injury in training camp, was seen dancing on the sidelines in the second quarter after leaving the game, so there’s a chance he could be playing next week in Minnesota. The Bucs played Beckwith early in the game at SAM linebacker and he replaced Alexander at MIKE in the second quarter and played well. With the Vikings having to rely on the running game with quarterback Sam Bradford’s questionable knee, the Bucs will need to be stout against the run up the middle. Alexander told me after the game that he would be ready for practice on Wednesday and ready to go next Sunday in Minnesota.
“I’ll be back this week,” Alexander said. “I didn’t do anything to it, it’s just swollen. I’ll be back on Wednesday.”
To Beckwith’s credit, he finished with five tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the red zone in the fourth quarter, including one on fourth down against tight end Zach Miller that resulted in a turnover. Beckwith played well in his rookie debut.
“It went pretty good,” Beckwith said. “You’re always going to have some things you have to work on, but for the most part in went pretty good. You just have to be ready. I’ve been doing it since camp. When my number gets called I have to go in and fill that position. I have to be ready to step up.
“I think I can speak for the whole defense when I say we wanted that goose egg. It would have been nice.”
Alexander, who had one tackle in addition to his interception, was proud of his former LSU teammate in his first NFL game.
“He’s been doing great, been doing awesome,” Alexander said. “We come from LSU, so we’re going to ball regardless. I’ve been saying that. He’s been on it. I’m proud. He is going to keep getting better and better. I think we are going to be one of the best linebacker groups in the NFL. That’s how we’re going to play.
“LSU is LBU [Linebacker University], too. You see linebackers all around the league from LSU. They might need to change LSU to LBU and DBU.”
QUESTION 2: Are The Bucs This Good, Or Are The Bears This Bad?
Tampa Bay whipped up on Chicago during its 2017 regular season opener. But are the Bucs this good or are the Bears that bad? The Bears had defending NFC champion Atlanta on the ropes last week in Chicago, but couldn’t finish off the Falcons. Off of last week’s performance the Bears looked more formidable than expected, but would that hold up against a Bucs team that hadn’t seen its starters play in a football game in three weeks?
The short answer? Nope. Instead of a close contest – as I predicted – this game was a blowout thanks to Tampa Bay’s defense and special teams that forced four first half turnovers. In fact, it was reminiscent of last year’s 36-10 demolition of the Bears at Raymond James Stadium.
After seeing Sunday’s 29-7 victory, it’s clear to see that the Bears are really bad and it will only be a matter of time before they start quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who was their first-round pick, and the Bucs are this good, especially on defense.
“Stopping the run is one of the things we want to be great at doing,” Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said. “When they pull up the tape and say, ‘Who stops the run the best?’ We want to say, ‘Tampa Bay Buccaneers.’ When they put on the tape and say, ‘Who rushes the passer the best?’ We want to say ‘Tampa Bay Buccaneers.’ When they say, ‘Who defends the pass the best, as far as DBs and in the backfield? We want to say, ‘Tampa Bay Buccaneers.’”
TWO BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Sims May Be Inactive When Martin Returns
Let me put it this way – Sims should be inactive when Doug Martins returns from a three-game suspension. Let’s put it that way. Koetter loves Sims’ receiving ability, but why Koetter turned to Sims on a third-and-1 situation in the first half escapes me. As expected, Sims slowed up in the hole and danced around before being tackled for no gain.
Why didn’t Koetter turn to 5-foot-11, 225-pound Peyton Barber, a chain-moving big back that had a great preseason? Sims finished the game with two carries for two yards and two catches for seven yards. The fourth-year running back also fumbled in the third quarter, which was Tampa Bay’s only turnover of the game.
Barber finally got in the game in the second half and rushed for 47 yards on 10 carries, including a game-long 14-yard carry. His 4.7-yard average was the best of any rusher, and Barber was just 20 yards behind starter Jacquizz Rodgers, who had 67 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (3.5 avg.).
When Martin returns, I would bench Sims instead of Barber in Week 4 against the Patriots. Koetter likes to use Sims as a weapon in the passing game, but after catching 51 passes for 561 yards (11 avg.) and four touchdowns in 2015, Sims had just 24 catches for 190 yards (7.9 avg.) and one score last year in seven games. Barber is playing better, is a more reliable runner and plays on special teams and brings more value than the occasional check down catch or wheel route than Sims will run.
PREDITION 2: The Bucs Start 2-0 With A Win In Minnesota
Tampa Bay had a crazy stat last year, winning five games on the road, but only four at home. Winning on the road is often more difficult, but the Bucs found a way to get a victory at some tough venues, including Atlanta, San Diego and Kansas City. After a 29-7 win at home to start the 2017 campaign, Tampa Bay travels to Minnesota to face the 1-1 Vikings, who may be without starting quarterback Sam Bradford for a second straight week.
The Bucs have the chance to take an early lead in the NFC South and in the playoff race with a victory against the Vikings and backup quarterback Case Keenum, who was 20-of-37 (54 percent) for 167 yards (65.9 QB rating) in a 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh. Carolina is 2-0 after two unimpressive wins over San Francisco and Buffalo, but could be 3-0 after hosting against the 0-2 Saints next Sunday. Atlanta (1-0) is hosting Green Bay (1-0) on Sunday Night Football and then travels to Detroit next week.
The Bears game was winnable, as is the upcoming Vikings game. In the NFL where every game is important, it’s vital to win the winnable games against lesser opponents. The Bucs, who have now won five straight games at Raymond James Stadium dating back to last year, understand that and will return home for a Week 4 game against the New York Giants 2-0.