Sitting at a 2-4 record at the bye week, the Bucs record isn’t what the players, coaches, and many fans expected them to be at during their week off.
There’s been a series of ups and downs this season for the Bucs, with the highest of highs coming in an upset win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 4, to the lowest of lows coming from last Sunday, where seven turnovers committed in London gave Tampa Bay their worst loss of the season and two straight defeats.
With the players having a week off before they play the Titans in Week 8, we examine the good and the bad from the offense, defense, and special teams.
Improved Rushing Attack
Bruce Arians said the Bucs were going to run the ball more once he took over as head coach and he has stuck to his word. The Bucs are averaging 98.2 yards per game, which is 13 yards higher then the Bucs’ 85.5 average through six games in 2018, but you also have to factor in who was running the ball. Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick were the Bucs second and third leading rushers in 2018, accounting for 433 yards of the Bucs rushing offense.
Winston this year has only ran for just 38 yards. The Bucs are getting production from their running backs the way it should be, providing support so the offense isn’t one dimensional.
The biggest help to the run game this year has been the improvement of Ronald Jones. In his second year, Jones has benefitted from the new coaching staff and more importantly, a confident mind set. Though he and Peyton Barber have shared the carries, Jones is the one that has provided a true spark when in the game, making defenders miss and hitting the hole. The run game has had an impact this season, which couldn’t be said a year prior. Eventually Jones should become the starter, only helping the cause.
All-Pro Season For Chris Godwin
Godwin has hands down been the best offensive player for the Bucs this season. He is well on his way to the 100-catch season that Arians had predicted this offseason, and is also on the path to his first Pro Bowl, if not All-Pro honors. Godwin leads all of the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns, with 662 and six respectively.
At times it looks like Godwin and Winston are just playing pitch and catch out there. Godwin surely benefits from defenses focusing on Mike Evans, but three straight games of over 125 receiving yards is impressive no matter who your teammate is. Arians also said he’s one of the best blockers in the run game, again proving how valuable he is. Godwin is the Bucs’ team MVP through six games.
Too Many Sacks
The biggest story this past week was Jameis Winston’s six-turnover fiasco in London. Some of those interceptions can be attributed to poor protection but Winston bears some responsibility for the number of time he’s been taken down in 2019.
The Bucs have been sacked 13 times in the last two games and 25 times on the year, which is third worst in the NFL.
“The biggest thing is holding onto the ball and getting sacked,” Arians said on Winston’s problems. “First of all, you don’t want him to get hurt. When you make one guy miss, or you scramble to the side of the field [and] there are no receivers, throw it away. It’s very simple.”
The offensive line continues to take one step forward and one step back, going from shutting down Aaron Donald to allowing seven sacks in London. Even with promising performances from Ryan Jensen, Donovan Smith and Cappa, it still hasn’t been enough to hold Winston up right.
The Disappearance of O.J. Howard In The Pass Game
Everyone had such high hopes for Howard coming into his third year, with the only question coming into training camp was if he could stay healthy for 16 games. But a slow start to this season has turned the question whether he can still be viable for the offense.
Howard has 13 catches for 176 yards and no touchdowns this year. He was shut out in Week 2 at Carolina and has three catches over the last two games with some drops mixed in between there. Meanwhile, Cameron Brate has had 12 catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns while playing significantly less snaps. Howard’s been an important factor blocking in the run game, but more is expected from the former Alabama star as a receiving threat.
Best Run Defense In The NFL
Christian McCaffrey (twice), Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley and Alvin Kamara. These are the best running backs in the league and a lineup of players that the Bucs shut down all in consecutive weeks.
The Bucs defense have a league-low 68 yards rushing allowed per game and it’s more impressive given the players they have stopped. Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh have clogged up the middle, allowing no teams to find their footing in the ground game. Teams like the Rams and Saints didn’t even bother trying to run against the Bucs because of how good their front has been. They’ve essentially forced teams to pass the ball on every down.
The highlight of the defense has been Shaq Barrett and his nine sacks, but teams are focusing on him now and he’s cooled off over the last two weeks. One of the more impressive units on the defense has been the middle linebackers and how deep their depth has been.
Lavonte David has been a rock on defense, continuing to be one of the most underrated players at the position. He’s in on most plays while flying around the field, and it’s no surprise that he leads the defense with 41 tackles. The great depth of the Bucs linebacker came from the production of Kevin Minter, who replaced an injured Devin White for three games.
Minter hasn’t missed a beat when taking over for White. And speaking of White, he’s had to battle through some tough injuries to start the year, but in his return in Week 6, White led the team in tackles with eight. He’s got plenty of football left ahead. Out of all the positions on defense, inside linebacker is the least concerning in terms of worrying about putting in a backup should a starter go down.
This is a narrative that has been beaten into the ground already, but it still rings true. The Bucs secondary has made rookie and backup quarterbacks look like Super Bowl MVPs. Vernon Hargreaves has struggled going against opponents number one wide receivers. Carlton Davis, while better than in his rookie season gets flagged too often for holding and pass interference penalties. M.J. Stewart has improved but still struggles at times, and Sean Murphy-Bunting is still learning how to play at this level.
The Bucs continue to get torched in the passing game with 304 yards per game, last in the NFL. As good as the run defense has been, it does’t really matter if you can’t stop anyone on second and third down. Receivers are left wide open, and no one seems to have an answer. The speedy rookie Jamel Dean has returned from a knee injury, but that doesn’t mean it will fix everything.
Lack Of Pass Rush Outside Of Shaq Barrett
The start to this season for Shaq Barrett was nothing short of spectacular. Through four games Barrett had nine sacks with three forced fumbles and interception. But since then he’s received more double teams as offenses key up on him, and Barrett has gone sackless in the last two.
Barrett’s nine sacks make up a majority of the 13 on the season. Carl Nassib has two, Will Gholston has one, and Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea each have a half sack. Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen had all day to throw last Sunday, as did Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater a week prior. As much as the secondary has struggled, they haven’t received much help from the pass rush unless Barrett is the one doing it. Help could be on the horizon, though, with Jason Pierre-Paul returning prating during the bye week.
Matt Gay’s Improvement Since Week 3
Fear of the Bucs kicker curse made waves to Raymond James Stadium when Matt Gay missed a game winning 34-yarder in Week 3 as the Bucs fell to the Giants 32-31. Gay also missed an extra point on the first score of the game and had his next one blocked. Since that game, Gay has regrouped and been productive for the Bucs, especially from long range.
In weeks four through six, Gay has hit all 11 extra points and made all four of his field goals. Three of those four field goals have been beyond 40 yards, hitting them from 41, 54 and 58 yards. He makes the longest of field goals seem easy and looks to have figured out how any early kicking issues he had been having.
Return Game Disaster
Field position is so important in the NFL and the Bucs haven’t been able to flip it much. Both the kick and punt return game has failed to garner any kind of big return. Bobo Wilson had 2.8 yards per punt return on this season and has since been released by the Bucs for a lack of production. T.J. Logan was specifically brought in by the Bucs to return kicks. It’s been his only responsibility for Tampa Bay and he’s been a non-factor as well.
Touchbacks are common on kickoffs and that will happen, but when taking kicks out Logan has averaged just 18 yards per return. Logan also had a head scratching return in Los Angeles with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Bucs up 11. Instead of taking a the touchback, he returned the ball for just 11 yards and pinned the Bucs back deep in a tough situation. Winston eventually threw a pick six to cut the game to eight, but the Bucs held on to win. Logan could have a chance to be the new punt returner and see if he can be an upgrade.