Bucs DT Gerald McCoy - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
There wasn’t a whole lot to complain about in the Bucs overall performance Friday, due in no small part to the defensive effort during the 30-13 victory over the Browns.
Tampa Bay successfully rushed four while playing man coverage in the back end throughout the first half, and as coach Dirk Koetter said after the game, “When you have a pass rush and you can hold up in man coverage, that’s pressure. That’s pressure on the quarterback and I know that from being on the other side of it.”
The Bucs defense, which racked up eight sacks and four in the first half, came out firing Friday night and kept the pressure on during the most important game of the preseason. Read how each unit graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
Back in the lineup for Tampa Bay was Gerald McCoy and his presence was felt by the Browns front five. The double-teams on the dominant three-technique led to pressure from the edge and a constantly collapsing pocket for Browns QB Robert Griffin III.
“The thing about that, going back to when I coached in Atlanta, of course we played Tampa – and we doubled Gerald every play,” Koetter said after the game, illustrating McCoy’s dominant presence. “Our philosophy, when I coached in Atlanta, was Gerald McCoy is not going to beat us. So we doubled him. And even when we were sliding the front the other way, we told the center top peak back. Find No. 93 and peak back. Gerald is somewhat of an underrated and underappreciated player at times.
“He is an excellent football player and he’s played well all camp. I’ve said before, I think Robert Ayers brings a little bit of an edge and then Gerald picks up on that.”
Speaking of McCoy and Ayers teaming up, the duo combined for a sack-fumble play on third-and-15 in the second quarter. The play summed up their half of action Friday.
Jacquies Smith also contributed with two third-down sacks, having a game reminiscent of his Week 2 performance in New Orleans last season where he had three sacks. And rookie Noah Spence put his name in the sack column at the end of the half when he brought down Griffin on his final drop-back of the night.
The defensive line set the tone in limiting the Browns to 81 yards rushing, as well, with no gains longer than 13 yards. Koetter had this to say about the unit as a whole, who also had contributions from DEs Kourtnei Brown and Howard Jones, each with a sack, in the second half.
“Jacquies Smith showed up, Will Gholston had a sack, Kwon had a sack, Howard Jones made a couple plays, Kourtnei Brown had a sack there at the end,” Koetter said. “Smitty played a lot of man coverage tonight. I was listening in on the headset and he kept saying, We have to see if these guys can play man. And they did.
“When you have a pass rush and you can hold up in man coverage, that’s pressure. That’s pressure on the quarterback and I know from being on the other side of it.”
With the defensive linemen winning their gap battles, the Bucs linebackers were able to play fast and they did.
Kwon Alexander, as Koetter mentioned, added a sack of his own in the third quarter and could also be seen diving over the pile in an effort to stop a QB sneak on third-and-1 – this was a preseason game, mind you. The second-year linebacker, who had a game-leading seven tackles, was a force through three quarters Friday night.
Lavonte David, for his part, also contributed three tackles and broke up pass over the middle to Browns tight end Randall Telfer in the first quarter. His stats didn’t pop as much as Alexander’s did, but David was sound as usual.
Daryl Smith, the starting 34-year old Sam linebacker, and rookie Devante Bond sat out again, so Josh Keyes, Luke Rhodes and Adarius Glanton saw extra time. Keyes, who started, wasn’t able to break into the stat column while Rhodes and Glanton each picked up a tackle. In a tough competition for the final couple linebacker spots, it remains to be seen if either player separated himself from the pack.
Overall, there didn’t seem to be any mistakes by the Bucs linebacker corps Friday night.
After the game Koetter revealed that the Bucs starting cornerbacks, featuring first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves III and free agent signee Brent Grimes, were in man coverage for the most of the night – an ideal scenario if the front four can apply pressure.
The rookie held his own and hardly heard his name called, which is a good thing, while Grimes let up a couple passes to Josh Gordon. In Grimes’ defense, though, there may not have been a cornerback in the NFL who could’ve stopped Gordon on that incredible 43-yard touchdown grab. Hargreaves and Grimes each contributed with two tackles.
Alterraun Verner, who ran with the second-team Friday, made his best play in the third quarter when he raced in to bring down Browns running back Rajoin Neal four yards behind the line. Verner, who’s never shy to come in for a tackle, finished with two stops Friday, as did Johnthan Banks who quietly turned in a nice performance.
Banks notched two tackles and appeared to be locked-in in coverage during the second half. For a player who’s had his name thrown around in trade speculation, Banks gave the Bucs reason to believe that a tall, long-armed cornerback may be good to have on the roster.
As for the safeties, Chris Conte tallied five tackles to start and Keith Tandy picked up where he left off, adding five of his own in a reserve role. Bradley McDougald recorded three. With steady pressure and solid coverage on the outside, it was a relatively quiet night for safeties in the passing game.
The secondary allowed Griffin 119 yards passing (43 on one pass) on 8-of-14 completions, McCown 65 yards on 6-of-11 and Cody Kessler 27 yards on 5-of-6 attempts. In a game like this, where the opponent fails to rush for 100 yards, the Bucs will take 211 yards passing all day.
A phase of the game that’s caused scrutiny and added pressure on the Bucs this preseason, the special teams unit made a statement on Friday.
Adam Humphries took a 52-yard punt back 73 yards to the end zone in the second quarter and Bernard Reedy capped off the third quarter with a 43-yard return to the Browns 34-yard line. Those are the type of splash plays and field position changes Tampa Bay wants to see out of its return game, and Dirk Koetter credited the effort to special teams coach Nate Kaczor.
“He did a great job with those guys,” Koetter said of Kaczor. “He put in a new punt return just for this game. That was the first time we ran that return, other than in practice. I was sitting in the special teams meeting and he told them that return was going to work if we got the right kick and there it was. I was actually surprised Adam had enough speed to outrun that guy at the end, though. But he did.”
Koetter was only joking about Humphries.
“No one has higher expectations for Adam than me and him,” he continued on Humphries, who had two receptions for 39 yards in addition to the return. “He had such a great night.”
But no one on special teams had a better night than Roberto Aguayo. After three missed kicks the past two weeks – FGs from 32 and 49 yards and a PAT in Week 1 – the rookie kicker came back Friday, under the bright lights and supportive crowd at Ray Jay, to drill a 48-yard kick on the opening drive. He was also good from 21 and 27 yards out as the night progressed and booted all seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
“We said a while ago, he’s a tough-minded kid,” Koetter said of Aguayo. “He was definitely in a little bit of a slump there, no question, for about three or four or five days, whatever it was.”
Over the course of the week, as it appeared, he got out of it. And Koetter told reporters that Aguayo did, in fact, kick on the day of the final joint practice – just not at One Buc.
“The day that you guys all thought he didn’t kick, even though he did kickoff about 10 times that day against Cleveland, Nate brought all the specialists here and they kicked in the stadium,” Koetter said.
“I think that was good for him, to come over here with a couple of special teams coaches, two punters and two holders and the long-snapper. They came over and kicked. He kicked about 25 here in the stadium, with the scoreboards on him and everything. It was great to see. That’s definitely the guy we drafted and that’s what he’s getting paid to do and he did it.”
Koetter said he did well that day in the stadium, his first time kicking at Raymond James since a punt, pass and kick tournament in 2005. It made him more comfortable and you could hear it off his foot, Koetter said.
“When a kicker is on, there’s a certain sound when he hits that ball. He definitely had not been having that (before Friday), but you could see the ball jumping off his foot a lot more. We were hopeful that he had turned the corner.” On Friday, at least, Aguayo did.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: [email protected]
Have to be excited about our new Defense. They really got it done. It would appear we are stronger at the DL where we needed it most. And when you have a pass rush, your secondary cannot help but look better. I was saying before this season we might not see any increased wins, but still be improved but after Friday’s game, I wonder. Maybe even 8 wins are possible this year ? Maybe even a playoff berth ? Ok, don’t get exited yet….
I was more impressed with the move Gordon put on Grimes oh his first catch than on his TD grab. That was a beautiful move and I don’t know if there is a CB in the NFL who wouldn’t have bit on it.
Gordon definitely has a height advantage on Grimes and it wouldn’t have hurt to see what the taller and longer armed Banks could have done against him.
CB play has definitely improved this year and it shows.
Defense really confused and befuddled RB III. His only two impressive plays were to Gordon. Other than that, he stunk up the place although if you listened to the CBS broadcasters you would have thought you were witnessing the resurrection of Jim Plunkett.
Was it me or did anyone else think Josh McClown looked more composed and tossed the ball better than RG III
Good observations drdneast. While some here chose to be critical of Grimes and risk the wrath of Miko; Josh Gordon deserves some credit. I agree with you about RG III at times looking rattled. He made the one great play to Gordon, but other than that he looked a bit shaky. Since I was at the game I didn’t see the TV broadcast. It doesn’t surprise me that the announcers would gush over him. I thought McCown looked as they often said about DeBerg, “good enough to get you beat”.
True Scubog. But RG III is a sure thing to get you beat. Even his coach Hue Jackson said after the game his team couldn’t jut rely on the deep pass to win games.
That was Bill Walsh who made that comment about DeBerg, who was never really given a chance with a good team until he landed in Kansas City at the very end of his career where he won more games than he lost..
Watched the game on TV cause I didn’t want to travel up from Sarasota to watch a practice game after watching practice on Tuesday. Also got in 18 holes of golf at the Claw where the greens were in pretty good shape.
it always good to have greens with your meal, good ole greens with onions
Your right Inspecto. I love turnip greens with ham. Yummy.
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