FAB 2. Inside The Bucs’ Over The Jaguars
Tampa Bay got its first win in the preseason in Jacksonville, 12-8, and there were several things that stood out to me in the victory. Here are some of my notes on the Bucs vs. Jaguars game.
• Rookies Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard were impressive in the passing game at Jacksonville with the wide receiver catching two passes for 30 yards and the tight end making two catches for 28 yards. Each rookie had a 15-yard gain and Thursday night was the first time that Howard had been targeted in the passing game during the preseason. Godwin caught one pass for 14 yards during the preseason opener at Cincinnati. Both players will see significant playing time during the regular season.
• Quarterback Jameis Winston started the Jacksonville game hot, completing 14-of-18 passes for 138 yards in leading Tampa Bay on two field goal drives and one touchdown drive. He finished 21-of-29 for 196 yards against the Jaguars and has put together two very good preseason performances.
While he hasn’t thrown a touchdown in the preseason – Winston had a potential 43-yard TD pass dropped by Mike Evans at the goal line – Winston hasn’t thrown an interception yet, either. Although he nearly threw two against the Jaguars, including one in the end zone that was negated when the officials ruled him down and whistled the play dead before he threw the ball.
What’s been most impressive is his accuracy, which has taken a considerable jump this preseason. Winston was a 62 percent passer last year, but has completed 71.4 percent of his throws (30-of-42) through the first two games for 295 yards and a 91 QB rating. It’s doubtful Winston will complete 71 percent of his passes over the course of an entire season, but even if he improves to 65 percent this year that’s quite an improvement.
• The Bucs’ adventures in kicking continued in Jacksonville. Nick Folk’s first extra point attempt was blocked by 6-foot-8 defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who blasted past guard Evan Smith to block the kick, which is a little lower than Folk should have kicked it. However, he did make a 35-yard field goal on the first play of second quarter and later connected on a 29-yard field goal.
But Folk missed a 47-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have put the game away, and his miss was eerily similar to Roberto Aguayo’s miss last week at Cincinnati. Aguayo’s miss also came from 47 yards, and like Folk’s, it was wide right kicking from the left hash.
After the game Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was less than pleased.
“Nope, not quite what we were looking for.” Koetter said.
The Bucs will definitely need to score more touchdowns this season because the field goal kicking situation still can’t be trusted in Tampa Bay. Of course the Bucs still haven’t made an extra point in either preseason game, but six points is still better than three.
• Caleb Benenoch and Leonard Wester split time at right tackle with the starting lineup in the second quarter after Demar Dotson suffered a groin injury. Benenoch, who gave up a sack last week, had a holding penalty in the second quarter that backed the Bucs up and set up first-and-19 on a drive in which Tampa Bay didn’t convert and was forced to punt.
Wester replaced Benenoch on the final drive of the first half and surrendered a sack-fumble to Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. The Bucs certainly hope that Dotson won’t miss much time as the production of the offense declined in the second quarter in his absence.
• Wide receiver Josh Huff had a 29-yard gain on an end around negated on a 10-yard holding penalty by tight end Luke Stocker. Huff is a great athlete with good speed that the Bucs would like to see make the team as a kick returner and fifth wide receiver, but his hands are just not consistent enough and he doesn’t always make the best decisions on bringing kicks out of the end zone. Huff finished the Jacksonville game with one catch for six yards, a 10-yard run and a 27-yard kick return.
Huff’s main competition for the fifth wide receiver role appears to be Bernard Reedy at this point. Reedy had a 29-yard kick return, averaged 9.5 yards on two punt returns and had two catches for 16 yards against the Jaguars. As always, the fifth receiver spot will come down to which player contributes more on special teams.
• Reserve running back Peyton Barber has been impressive during training camp and the preseason as he fights for playing time this year, especially in the first three games during Doug Martin’s suspension. Barber had a strong showing in Jacksonville where he led all rushers with 42 yards on nine carries (4.7 avg.), including a 13-yard run. Barber has 17 carries for 63 yards (3.7 avg.) to led Tampa Bay in rushing through the first two games.
• Now we see why the Bucs dedicate so much specific time to blitzing linebackers and working on blitz pick-up for running backs and tight ends in practice. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith unleashed some blitzes in Jacksonville and both linebackers Lavonte David and Adarius Glanton got to the quarterback and were unblocked. Smith’s defensive alignments confused the Jaguars quarterbacks and offensive line, and that’s the next step this year in the evolution of his defense – more blitzes. Expect both David, who had four tackles in Jacksonville, and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander to have at least five sacks apiece while blitzing more often in 2017.
• How important is defensive end Noah Spence to Tampa Bay this year? He is extremely important because the Bucs don’t have any pass rushers with any speed among the reserves outside of perhaps Ryan Russell and maybe George Johnson, neither of whom are guaranteed to make the 53-man roster. That’s apparent after two preseason games.
Tampa Bay’s reserve defensive linemen including Sealver Siliga, Stevie Tu’ikolvatu, Sterling Bailey, Channing Ward Tavaris Barnes, Justin Trattou, and Davonte Lambert don’t offer much in the way of pass rush at all and struggle to win one-on-ones against reserve offensive linemen. None of those players is exceptionally quick and only Bailey has a sack, which came last week at Cincinnati when third-team linebacker Riley Bullough missed Jeff Driskel on a blitz and forced the Bengals quarterback to step up and into Bailey’s arms.
Through two games the Bucs don’t have any sacks from their defensive line and look to only get them from Spence, Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Robert Ayers, Jr. and perhaps Jacquies Smith if he makes a full recovery from his recent knee surgery. The only players that appear to be capable of hitting double digit sacks in Tampa Bay are Spence and McCoy, though.
For more of my insight and analysis on Tampa Bay’s victory in Jacksonville, click here to read my post-game column, Bucs’ Running Game, Run Defense Come Alive In 12-8 Win.