Sometimes things need to get worse before they get better.
The Buccaneers and their fan base already suffered through last year’s two-win season that sunk them to the NFL cellar. The draft picks and personnel moves that followed are part of the plan to turn things around, but until Tampa Bay starts winning some football games it’s not entirely clear if last year was rock bottom or if that thud’s yet to come.
FIRST QUARTER BLUES
The first quarter has not been kind to Tampa Bay during head coach Lovie Smith’s short tenure at the helm. That goes for the first quarters of individual games and blocks of seasons.
Coaches and players like to visualize their 16-game season as a four-quarter game: the first is games one through four, the second is games five through eight, and so on.
Sunday marked the end of the Bucs’ first quarter and the results tend to mirror their performance on the field during the first 15 minutes of games. Tampa Bay owns a 1-3 overall record and has been outscored 38-6 in opening periods through those four games, while also posting a pair of goose eggs.
The Bucs were 1-3 last year at this juncture and outperformed in first-quarter scoring, 38-17. For the year, Tampa Bay ended up being blanked in the first quarter nine times (56.3 percent of the games) and outscored 102-43.
A positive this year, at least, is that the Bucs are 1-1 in NFC South play compared to 0-2 in 2014. But in the brief Lovie Smith era, a lot of words have been spoken about starting fast and the Bucs have found themselves fighting up from their backs at the start of the second quarter 15 times in 20 games.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE
To say confidence in the offensive line was low to open the season would be a massive compliment.
Not many outside of One Buccaneer Place felt great about entering this season with a unit missing its most senior member and rookies starting at left tackle and right guard. On paper it looks like a downgrade from a line that was already one of the NFL’s worst in 2014.
There’s still a long way to go, but some credit does need to be given to how this year’s five-man assortment is holding up despite the overhaul and its inexperience.
After allowing quarterback Jameis Winston to be sacked seven times during the first two games, the line has surrendered just two in as many since. Both of those came yesterday against Carolina to former Buccaneers defensive end Ryan Delaire and Houston’s fearsome front seven didn’t register a single sack last week.
Keeping this pace would result in 36 total sacks allowed all year compared to 52 last season, exactly one less per game.
It should be noted that some of the improved numbers may be associated with Winston’s ability to escape pressure more effectively than Mike Glennon or Josh McCown did last year and it’s not like Winston’s been standing in roomy pockets scanning the field for open targets all season. But with the way the year’s started so far, let’s call this a small display of potential.
MAMA SAID THERE’LL BE DAYS LIKE THESE
Anyone expecting Jameis Winston to get through a full 16-game rookie season without a few days like Sunday is either blinded by their fandom for the 21-year-old or the most unwavering optimist in the greater Tampa Bay area.
Four interceptions, including another pick-6, and a fumbled snap all in the span of one afternoon can’t be tolerated, but chances are this won’t be Winston’s final dud of the year. The Bucs drafted him first overall with the expectation of him becoming their quarterback of the future, not so much their first-team All-Pro of the present.
Hoping for him to blast through the gates and play like a potential Pro Bowl contender is fine, but realistically expecting it and being irate when the opposite happens is illogical.
Wanting to see progress, however, is another story. And that’s what Winston needs to display moving forward, in defeat and (hopefully) victory.
Plenty of talk focused on Winston’s winning background prior to the NFL Draft this spring. High school and college, football and baseball, he’s always been on teams that won more often than not.
Assuming Winston enjoys a nice, long professional career, losses are going to come at some point. It just so happens that they’re coming in bunches right now and it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to the adversity.
SWING AND MISS?
Tampa Bay’s search for consistent, effective edge rushers continues.
George Johnson and his whopping six sacks as a backup in Detroit last year was brought back to town this offseason as a remedy to the Bucs’ feeble pass rush.
Three games into the year, Johnson has already lost his starting spot at left defensive end opposite Jacquies Smith.
Third-year pro William Gholston overtook Johnson yesterday and played like a guy who wants to see more action. Gholston only finished his day with three tackles, one for a loss and a batted down pass, but that’s pretty disruptive compared to Johnson’s production of one assisted tackle.
Smith continues to show that head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have some hits when it comes to evaluating talent, but Johnson is following in the footsteps of another similarly named fella who proved to be a big whiff last year: Michael Johnson.