The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: Which Buc Needs To Step Up In Carolina?
Scott Reynolds: CB Carlton Davis
The obvious choice is quarterback Jameis Winston, but I’ll let someone else profile him. Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis had a rough outing the last time he was in Carolina. As a rookie he was hurdled by running back Christian McCaffrey on a big gain, and was inches away from breaking up a touchdown pass to wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the end zone in Tampa Bay’s 42-28 loss in Carolina. Davis was credited with just four tackles on the day, and even after making a great play on third down to force a punt in the second half, the rookie from Auburn then was flagged for celebrating his good deed too much, as he taunted wide receiver Devin Funchess.
Davis is someone that needs to have some good fortune go his way, and Week 2 against the Panthers would be an ideal time for that to happen. Davis missed the Bucs vs. Panthers rematch in Tampa Bay, which was won by the men in red and pewter, so he’ll get his second shot at Carolina on Thursday night.
Davis is still looking for his first career interception, and came close to perhaps achieving that feat last week in Tampa Bay’s 31-17 loss to San Francisco if only he had a bit better ball awareness on a few errant throws. The 6-foot-1 cornerback did make a splash play when he recovered a fumble in the Bucs’ red zone in the second quarter, but later nullified a Jordan Whitehead sack on fourth-and-2 at the Tampa Bay 36-yard line with a 5-yard defensive holding penalty that continued San Francisco’s drive that would end with a field goal.
Davis needs to make more splash plays in Carolina and stay away from penalties. Getting his first career interception off Cam Newton was be a nice trophy for the second-year cornerback.
Mark Cook: QB Jameis Winston
I almost went with wide receiver Mike Evans who had his worst game as a professional last year in Carolina. But after debating it has to be quarterback Jameis Winston. The train can’t drive without the engineer and this offense can’t run without the quarterback, and that just happens to be Winston.
After the game on Sunday I was perplexed, confused and stunned at what we saw from Winston. While I knew there will be growing pains in a new offense, I never envisioned three interceptions against a 49ers defense that had a grand total of two interceptions all of 2018. Two.
But after listening to the coaches this week, while also re-watching it, it wasn’t quite as bad as it first appeared. Two of the three interceptions weren’t on Winston according to head coach Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich. Unfortunately the one that was clearly on Winston was the last one and the most damning. Quarterback reputations are made with fourth quarter comebacks. And this was the perfect opportunity to show the NFL, the fans and the Buccaneers organization that this was his year. Go down and score a touchdown and all of the previous 58 minutes of struggles would be forgiven. It wasn’t to be as Winston threw an inexcusable pass on first down that the 49ers returned for their second score of the day.
Thursday night is another one of these “opportunity” game for Winston. And Winston is running out of time. Winston doesn’t have to necessarily win the game, but don’t lose it.
Trevor Sikkema: OC Byron Leftwich
Look, I’m just going to say it. I didn’t love the game plan and the play designs from the Buccaneers in their first game of the season. After watching the All-22, I saw a lot of the same stuff that Dirk Koetter was doing; long routes, asking Winston to hit tough throw on a consistent basis, not a lot of stuff over the middle. It just didn’t look easy — we assumed it was going to be an offense that made things easier for Winston. Instead we were getting comeback routes on 3rd-and-10, out routes on 3rd-and-5, odd spacing down the field, nothing much over the middle, and not a lot of play action.
Maybe it’s just a matter of the quarterback and the play caller getting in sync. Perhaps there were layers of plays that I didn’t see from my first week of viewing this new offense. But, as I re-watched that game, the offensive line wasn’t as bad as I thought it was — it still wasn’t great — and even Winston’s initial blame seemed slightly too harsh. But where I became more worry after my second look of the game was in the play calling and the play designs.
I have a feeling the Panthers are going to push the Bucs to keep up this week. Running back Christian McCaffrey and guys like Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore are going to be tough matchups for players like Calton Davis, M.J. Stewart and Devin White. I believe the Bucs are going to have to score at least 20 to keep up in this one.
Can this offense keep things simple and less predictable against Carolina? We didn’t see that last week.
Taylor Jenkins: TE O.J. Howard
After being drafted with the 19th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, O.J. Howard has entered his past two seasons with the Bucs’ carrying huge expectations. He’s shown flashes of brilliance but has also failed to finish either season healthy, missing the final six weeks of the 2018 season with an ankle injury.
He hauled in 6 touchdowns in his rookie season while starting 14 games and all of his numbers jumped in his sophomore year. In 2018, over 10 games, Howard’s catch percentage rose, his receptions per game more than doubled to 3.4 and he totaled 565 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions.
His expectations to start 2019 were no different as everyone looked at Tampa Bay to see how new head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator would take advantage of such a powerful weapon whose athleticism and blocking ability allow him to stay on the field for a high percentage of the team’s snaps, but it wasn’t the debut Howard or the Bucs were hoping for.
Specifically, in the first half Tampa Bay had two red zone touchdowns to Cam Brate called back on holding penalties to Demar Dotson, but were in prime position to add three points and bring the score even at 3-3 with San Francisco until Howard fumbled the ball on a third down reception and gave the ball back to the 49ers. Then, with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, Tampa Bay took over with a chance to drive down the field and add to a 7-6 lead before halftime but on the first play of the drive a pass to Howard went off his hands and was intercepted by the 49ers linebacker Mark Nzeocha.
Howard is a huge weapon for Tampa Bay’s offense and a big bounce back performance will be important if the Bucs want to pull out a win against Carolina on a short week.
Matt Matera: OLB Carl Nassib
Besides from Jameis Winston, one of the next choices is Carl Nassib. Named as team captain for the first time in his career, Nassib was expected to step up without Jason Pierre-Paul around, but his presence was hardly felt in the Bucs opener.
As team captain, more responsibility gets put onto your shoulders, and while he might be good presence in the locker room, it did not translate to last Sunday. He only registered two tackles against the 49ers, and what was even worse was that he had no quarterback pressure or really came close to touching quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles mentioned that Garoppolo did a good job of getting the ball out quick, but Nassib’s fellow edge rusher Shaq Barrett still managed to get a sack.
Facing Cam Newton this Thursday is a much tougher challenge with his size and ability to run. Coach Bowles likes to blitz but the Bucs can’t rely on that all the time. They’ll need Nassib to pick it up and put his stamp on this game. I have no doubts that Nassib can regroup, but the Bucs need to have the kind of play that Nassib brought last year, the Carl Nassib that played with a chip on his shoulder after getting cut by the Cleveland Browns. He’s supposed to be the top edge rusher on the Bucs’ 2019 defense, and he doesn’t have the luxury of the opposing offense having to worry about Pierre-Paul on the other side of him for the next month or two.
Nassib has the tools to lead the team in sacks. One game won’t tell the whole story, but it was apparent that he needs to step up. Cam Newton is not an easy quarterback to play against but someone has to stop him, and Nassib needs to be a factor if the Bucs have a chance of pulling out a victory on the road.