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 lost to the Steelers, 30-28 to open the preseason in what was a sharp performance by quarterback Jameis Winston and the starters, but a sloppy showing by Tampa Bay’s reserves. The Bucs finished with 14 penalties for 112 yards, which won’t make Bruce Arians and his coaching staff happy at all.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Brilliant Initial Drive From Winston
The only thing Jameis Winston didn’t do on Tampa Bay’s initial drive in the first preseason game was complete a deep pass attempt to Breshad Perriman at Pittsburgh. Otherwise, Winston was perfect as a passer and a decision-maker on the Bucs’ 12-play, 81-yard drive consuming 6:29 off the clock to give his team a 7-0 lead.
Winston completed 5-of-6 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, throwing an 11-yard pass on third down to convert a first down, tossing a five-yard screen pass to Ronald Jones II, who also had two carries for 13 yards on the drive, before throwing a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin at the line of scrimmage on a quick smoke route. Winston was also smart enough to tuck the ball and scramble for 10 yards to pick up a first down on another third down on Tampa Bay’s initial drive.
Winston’s failed deep shot attempt happened on first down, and with Bruce Arians at the helm, you will see Winston being directed to take more deep shots in first-and-10 or second-and-short situations. That’s smart football. And that’s the focus of Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen – to make Winston a smarter, more relaxed, more comfortable, more efficient quarterback in 2019, which is a critical contract year for the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Winston’s night ended after just one superb drive. He finished the game with a QB rating of 134. What a great start for Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback in his first game in a new offense.
STATEMENT 2: RoJo Looks Like A Different, Better Runner
A bigger, better Jones has created some buzz during training camp, running with more burst, more confidence and showing more tackle-breaking ability. Would that translate to the preseason games when the lights come on? If Friday night was an indication, that’s a decent-sized “yes.”
Jones first touched the ball on the game’s opening kickoff, which he returned 19 yards out to the 19-yard line. From there he rushed for 18 yards on four carries (4.5 avg.) before giving way to Andre Ellington and Dare Ogunbowale. Jones had an explosive eight-yard gain and also had a five-yard catch on a screen pass from Winston.
Keep in mind that Jones had just 22 yards on 28 carries in four games during the entire preseason during his rookie year in 2018. In just one game, he was more productive than he was all of last August.
For a running back that had only 44 yards on 23 carries in his rookie campaign last season, this was a heck of a start for Jones, who has bulked up to 221 pounds this year.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Who Impressed In The Bucs’ Preseason Opener?
Bucs’ fourth-year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III did give up a 43-yard catch to Steelers wide receiver James Washington in the first quarter, but came back to record an interception on a mid-range throw to the sidelines. However, the pick didn’t count because of a penalty on outside linebacker Noah Spence.
That was Spence’s only mistake of the night as he had a tremendous game in the first half, drawing a holding call, getting some great individual pass rushes and pressures, and nearly missing on two sacks that linebacker Deone Bucannon and Carl Nassib were able to finish in the first half. Spence also had a nice tackle for loss in the run game and looked his best since his rookie season.
Tampa Bay rookie receiver Spencer Schnell was a surprise star and took advantage of Scotty Miller’s absence on Friday night to do his best Adam Humphries impersonation, catching a game-high seven passes for a game-high 119 yards in the second half, including a 30-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.
Second-year tight end Tanner Hudson had three catches for 54 yards in the first half, and finished with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Both Schnell and Hudson did a good job of getting open for quarterback Ryan Griffin, who threw a touchdown pass to Hudson in the fourth quarter to pull the Bucs to within eight points with the Steelers leading 30-22.
Griffin had two fumbles in the game, one of which was recovered by Pittsburgh, but completed 26-of-43 passes for 330 yards and one touchdown in three quarters of play. However, he was 0-for-3 on two-point conversions.
Bucs running back Dare Ogunbowale led the Bucs in rushing with 34 yards on 10 carries (3.4 avg.), including an electric 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Ogunbowale also scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left to pull Tampa Bay within two points at the end. I’ve talked and written extensively about Ogunbowale, who has had a great camp, including in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column, and he had a great game in Pittsburgh.
Rookie wide receiver Bryant Mitchell had four catches for 28 yards in the first half, and finished the game with five receptions for 32 yards before injuring his left ankle in the third quarter, which caused him to be carted off the field.
Wide receiver Justin Watson was featured in the game and he had a good night. It was good, but not great, as Watson couldn’t haul in a tough touchdown catch, and he had another drop, but it was a good showing in extended action. Watson, who was playing in his hometown, had a nice 21-yard catch in the the red zone in the third quarter and finished with four catches for 37 yards.
Reserve defensive backs Mazzi Wilkins and Isaiah Johnson got the ball back for the Bucs with Tampa Bay trailing 30-22 late in the fourth quarter. Wilkins forced a fumble with a big hit and Johnson recovered for Tampa Bay to give the offense one last chance to tie the game.
QUESTION 2: Why Did Arians Go For It On Fourth-And-1?
With the Bucs in the midst of a kicking competition between veteran Cairo Santos and rookie Matt Gay, the team’s fifth-round pick this year, Arians decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 with the second-string offense early in the second quarter instead of opting to get a look at either Santos or Gay kick a field goal. Santos connected on his extra point attempt, but given as many issues as Tampa Bay has had with field goal kicking, you would think that Arians and the Bucs’ brass would like to see as many field goals attempted this preseason as possible.
I get the fact that Arians is the “no risk it, no biscuit” guy, and that he wants to set an aggressive mindset on offense right from the get-go. That’s a worthy goal – if this team had an established field goal kicker. But it doesn’t, so that’s one missed opportunity to find that guy.
In the only field goal attempt in the game, Gay connected on his first NFL kick – and from 55 yards, which was good to see. But Arians opted to skip an extra point attempt in the third quarter with the score 20-16 in Pittsburgh’s favor after Ogunbowale’s touchdown run, and strayed from extra points two more times in the second half after Griffin’s TD toss to Hudson and Ogunbowale’s final TD.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Arians Will Chew Bucs Out Over Penalties
Arians’ first game in Tampa Bay was far from perfect. There were plenty of positive plays on the offense and defense that will make Arians smile, but one thing that will drive him crazy and cause him to cuss out his players in the next team meeting was the amount of times the Bucs were flagged in the preseason opener at Pittsburgh.
Tampa Bay had six penalties for 37 yards in the first half, including two holding penalties on special teams on kickoff returns. An illegal formation penalty on rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on the initial kickoff of the second half was the seventh penalty (for 42 yards) by Tampa Bay. Murphy-Bunting also had a 27-yard pass interference penalty in the third quarter.
The Bucs also had another holding penalty on special teams on Hudson in the fourth quarter, and a delay of game on a punt in the fourth quarter. Most of the Bucs’ 14 penalties came on special teams. The Bucs finished with 14 penalties for 112 yards.
Outside of the performance of Gay and Santos, Arians will also be upset with the performance of Tampa Bay’s special teams, especially the kick return unit, which did nothing but disappoint on Friday night.
PREDICTION 2: Murphy-Bunting Will Rebound
It was a rough night for Murphy-Bunting, who made his NFL debut in Pittsburgh. The Bucs’ second-round pick had a penalty on special teams and a 27-yard pass interference penalty in the third quarter, in addition to giving up a touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Steelers a 27-16 lead. Murphy-Bunting was really upset with himself as he failed to plaster Pittsburgh wide receiver Tevin Jones on the TD.
Murphy-Bunting is a good, confident and talented kid. He’ll watch the film, get coached up by by cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross and rebound next week against Miami with a better showing in the second preseason game. I think Murphy-Bunting has a very bright future in Tampa Bay.