The Bucs have had a very soft training camp with nothing more than thud tempo during contact periods and no live tackling periods. The lack of physicality showed in the preseason opener at Cincinnati where the Bucs had trouble getting their running game started as well as stopping the Bengals’ ground game, as Tampa Bay surrendered 140 yards on the ground.
Well, that lackluster showing in Cincy, plus a much more physical and competitive week of practice in Jacksonville against the Jaguars apparently did the trick.
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs wanted to focus on running the ball and stopping the run against the Jaguars – and did just that in a 12-8 victory in Jacksonville.
Tampa Bay’s ground game was quite effective in the first half with the starters. The Bucs rushed for 55 yards on 11 carries (5.0 avg.). Doug Martin led the way with 30 yards and a touchdown on five carries (6.0 avg.), in addition to catching two passes for 11 yards. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson had the longest carry with a 15-yard end around.
“Coach wanted us to start fast as a team and as an offensive unit, we really wanted to come out here and start off with a good drive,” Martin said. “We’ve been practicing against them for the past few days so we really wanted to get out there and impose our will on them.
“It felt real good to get into the end zone. I haven’t been in there for a while so it was good to score.”
Running the ball in Jacksonville can be a tall order as the Jaguars have a big, physical defensive front four.
Defensive end Calais Campbell is a 6-foot-8, 300-pound giant who lines up next to 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle Malik Jackson and 6-foot-4, 318-pound nose tackle Arby Jones. Sack specialist Yannick Ngakoue is the lightest of the bunch at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds and rotates with Dante Fowler, Jr., who is 6-foot-3, 255 pounds.
With Ali Marpet getting his first start at center after missing the Cincinnati game, the Bucs offensive line was able to open up some holes and get some push in the running game, especially up the middle. Tampa Bay’s reserves kept the running game going as the team finished with 130 yards on 33 carries (3.9 avg.) led by Peyton Barber, who rushed for a game-high 42 yards on nine carries.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston and C Ali Marpet – Photo by: Getty Images
“We were able to run it and throw it so that’s always the toughest thing to defend,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said.
The effective running game helped Winston start the game red-hot, completing 14-of-18 passes for 138 yards before finishing the first half completing 21-of-29 for 196 yards. It was another good showing for Winston, but his night wasn’t perfect.
Winston reverted back to some old bad habits of trying to do too much on third-and-goal in the second half. Instead of eating the ball and taking a sack to preserve a field goal opportunity, Winston threw the ball up for grabs in the end zone as he was being sacked and was intercepted in the end zone.
It was a stupid play that Koetter chastised Winston for on the sidelines. Those are the kind of plays Winston must rid himself of if Tampa Bay is going to take the next step and make the playoffs this year.
The Bucs lucked out and got a mulligan when the officials ruled that Winston down before the ill advised throw, and Nick Folk connected on a 29-yard field goal, his second of the night, to salvage the drive with some points. Aside from having his extra point attempt blocked, Folk finished 2-of-3 on field goals, missing a 47-yarder just like Roberto Aguayo did last week.
Winston’s night would have been better had Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans not dropped a 43-yard touchdown that hit him in the hands at the goal line. Evans did everything else right as he led the Bucs with five catches for 57 yards. Adam Humphries had five catches for 42 yards.
As good as Tampa Bay’s running game was in Jacksonville, its run defense was even better.
The Jaguars, who rushed for over 200 yards last week, were held to just one yard rushing on seven carries in the first half as Tampa Bay built a 12-0 lead. Jacksonville didn’t convert a single third down in the first half, going 0-for-6 against one of the best third down defenses from a year ago.
The Bucs had pressured beleaguered Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles all week during practice and that continued in Thursday’s game. Bortles completed 8-of-13 passes, but for only 65 uneventful yards before giving way in the second quarter to Chad Henne, who was 0-of-2 in the first half.
Bucs LBs Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After mustering just 66 total yards in the first half, Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone kept his starters on the field to start the third quarter against the Bucs’ second-team defense. That didn’t matter as Tampa Bay’s run defense continued to be stout. Through the third quarter, Cory Grant had four carries for 13 yards, T.J. Yeldon had two runs for two yards, and Chris Ivory had minus-2 yards on four carries.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith challenged his run defense and his players certainly answered the call. While the front four didn’t register a sack for the second straight game, although McCoy came perilously close to bringing Bortles down, Smith dialed up some linebacker blitzes that allowed Lavonte David and Adarius Glanton to take down Bortles and Chad Henne, respectively.
David and Glanton were game-wreckers on defense for Tampa Bay. Glanton led the Bucs with six tackles and a sack, while David had four tackles and his quarterback capture. Third-string middle linebacker Riley Bullough had five tackles in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t put on the best performance last week with the ones,” Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy told ESPN’s Lisa Salters. “We knew we had to come out and fix it. We had a great week of practice against these guys, so we just wanted to finish it off by having a great performance in the game and I think we did pretty well tonight.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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