What are the six keys things PewterReport.com Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds will be looking for on Tampa Bay’s 2015 season opener against Tennessee? Find out in SR’s Pick 6.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to start the 2015 campaign off with a home victory against Tennessee after going winless at home last year. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s season opener? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Tennessee Titans
Where: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Fla.
When: 4:25 p.m. ET – CBS
Last meeting: 13-10 loss at Tampa Bay in 2011
Series notes: Titans have a 8-2 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. DO THE DOUGIE
The best way to keep the Tennessee defense from blitzing rookie quarterback Jameis Winston is to run the ball effectively with Doug Martin and keep the down and distance to third and short instead of third and long. Martin, who enters a contract year in the best shape of his four-year NFL career, looks like a rookie again, and that’s what the team needs. Martin rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 while making the Pro Bowl, and he averaged a gaudy 5.9 yards per carry during the preseason.
Martin has also improved in the passing game, demonstrating better technique in pass protection and better hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Martin only had one catch for nine yards in the preseason, but could be targeted a handful of times against the Titans as Winston’s check down option and also lined up in the slot as a receiver when offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter goes to a five-receiver look. The Bucs offensive line will have a big role to play in Martin’s success on Sunday, but the Boise State product proved that he could create on his own and squeeze through tiny holes in the line.
2. BUCS MUST BEAT THE BOOTLEG
Regardless of who has been the head coach in Tampa Bay – Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano or Lovie Smith – the Bucs defensive ends have always seemed to struggle while keeping contain against bootlegs. Now the Bucs have to face the most mobile quarterback in college football last year in Marcus Mariota, Tennessee’s first-round selection and the second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Despite being incredibly mobile, Mariota didn’t run much in the preseason and he didn’t have to as Tennessee’s offensive line only gave up three sacks in four games in August.
Expect Mariota to use his legs to get out of trouble on broken plays, which means Tampa Bay’s pass rush has to be incredibly disciplined in their rush lanes to avoid giving Mariota an open alley to run through. On bootlegs, defensive ends George Johnson and Jacquies Smith have to avoid running in at an angle and allow Mariota to escape outside where his speed could give Tampa Bay problems.
3. STIFLE THE TITANS’ POSSIBLE SPREAD OPTION
Offensive-minded Tennessee head coach Ken Wisenhunt didn’t have Mariota run the spread option in the preseason, but you can bet the Titans will break out that formation in the season opener to surprise Tampa Bay. Mariota successfully ran the spread option at Oregon where he won the Heisman Trophy last year and guided the Ducks to the National Championship Game against Ohio State.
The Bucs have the speed on defense to counter the spread option, but because few NFL teams run it due to the risk it poses with quarterbacks getting hit on the play, Tampa Bay has rarely seen it. When the Michael Vick-led Atlanta Falcons ran the spread option against Monte Kiffin and the Bucs defense over a decade ago it caught Tampa Bay by surprise. Having to account for Mariota running the ball or halfbacks Bishop Sankey or Dexter McCluster carrying the ball on the same play could prove problematic from an assignment standpoint for the Bucs. The Bucs’ outside linebackers and defensive ends have to work in unison to prevent big plays in the running game.
3. KOETTER NEEDS TO OUTSCHEME LeBEAU’S 3-4 DEFENSE
There are two formations that give Tampa Bay a decided advantage over the 3-4 scheme and accompanying blitzes that defensive coordinators Ray Horton and Dick LeBeau will deploy. Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter can either go with a double tight end set to give Tampa Bay seven blockers to match up with Tennessee’s front seven, or he can force the Titans into a nickel or dime defense that takes some of those blitzing linebackers off the field.
Using a double-tight end formation should help the Bucs establish the running game, especially if Koetter uses fullback Jorvorskie Lane in front of Martin as that would give Tampa Bay eight blockers at or near the line of scrimmage and take away blitzing opportunities for the Titans because the Bucs wouldn’t be outnumbered while protecting Winston. Using a five-wide receiver set, which could feature three wide receivers, Martin and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to create matchup problems. Splitting five receivers out forces the Titans to man up in coverage and have a safety deep. That only leaves five defenders to rush Winston against the Bucs’ five offensive linemen, and that’s a favorable situation for Tampa Bay.
4. WINSTON NEEDS TO BE LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER
The 1980s gave birth to two of the biggest rock bands of all-time – Bon Jovi and U2. Both bands have withstood the test of time and still sell out arenas over 30 years later. Back in the day, you were either a Bon Jovi fan or a U2. Bon Jovi was the hard-rocking, good-time band while you were falling in love in high school or college, while U2 was the critically acclaimed, socially conscience band that was adored by Rolling Stone magazine and the Grammys, who bestowed 22 awards to Bono and Company. Most guys wanted to be Jon Bon Jovi, while most girls wanted to be with him. Despite having mega-hits like Livin’ On A Prayer and Wanted Dead Or Alive that appealed to the working-class American, Bon Jovi was always slighted and was never embraced by the media.
That’s kind of how Winston has been treated this summer while the media has fawned over Mariota, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated just after the draft instead of Winston. Several NFL analysts believe that Mariota, who beat Winston head-to-head in the Rose Bowl last year as Oregon trounced Florida State in the college football playoffs, will be the better pro quarterback. Both Bon Jovi and U2 have gone on to be mega-successful and sell over 100 million records, and Winston and Mariota should both be successful NFL QBs. But on Sunday, it’s time for Winston to prove the critics wrong, channel Jon Bon Jovi, own the stage like he did at Florida State, and upstage Mariota in Week 1.
5. DON’T LOSE THE GAME ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith believes great special teams play can win a team two games a year. By using that same logic, bad special teams can also cost a team a win or two each year. That was the case in 2014 as the Bucs had a blocked field goal and a punt in the same game – twice. That cost Tampa Bay potential wins at home against St. Louis in a 19-17 loss, and a 22-17 road defeat at Cleveland. The Bucs will be breaking in a new kicker in Kyle Brindza, a new punter in Jacob Schum and several new players on special teams coverage and return units, including rookie Adam Humphries as a possible kick and punt return candidate along with Bobby Rainey.
The Titans got perfect kicking from Ryan Succop, who was 5-of-5 in the preseason on field goals, while punter Brett Kern was fantastic with a 48.2 average although he had one punt blocked. Tennessee’s punt return game struggled, but its kick return unit averaged 25.3 yards due to the combined efforts of Jacoby Ford and Tre McBride. The Bucs will need to be stellar on special teams in order to beat the Titans, and that could be a tall order with all of the new faces littering the kicking game.
6. FEED OFF THE FANS AT RAYMOND JAMEIS STADIUM
Sunday’s 2015 season opener will be sold out by kickoff, and the 60,000-plus Bucs fans in attendance will be in full throat as the eagerly awaited game against the Titans kicks off. Tampa Bay was winless at home last year, and including the last two preseasons, the Bucs are 1-11. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a winning season at home since Jon Gruden’s last year as head coach in 2008 when the Bucs went 6-3 at Raymond James Stadium.
It’s a new day in Tampa Bay. It’s time for Winston and his teammates to turn Raymond James Stadium into Raymond Jameis Stadium and create a home-field advantage. Donned in all white with pewter socks, the Buccaneers will have the energy from the home crowd on their side to help them pull out a close win in the fourth quarter. Against a 2-14 team with a rookie quarterback in Week 1 at home, this is Tampa Bay’s best chance all season to claim a win. It’s time to Siege The Day
SR’s Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Titans 16
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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 protected]
I am SOOOOOOOOOOO ready for some Football
7 top 6 reasons?
It’s Week 1 CB, guess he was just a bit excited.
The way to stop the spread option is the way the Ravens did it against the Eagles.
Knock the snot out of the QB a few times and let him know he’s not untouchable.
Once you put a few licks on him, especially between the knee and the waist, he will get rid of the ball so fast to the back you will think the pigskin had a social disease on it.
Do believe the Bucs have the speed to protect against the bootleg & read option. As long as they “do their job” and are assignment sound, they should be ok. Also believe Lovie might blitz a bit more this year himself, especially this week.
Here’s my Pick 6. Keep the fans in the game. Remember we have practiced on wet fields and rain so use it to our advantage. Hit their WR’s at their line to take the timing away for the QB. Use our TE’s for short passes. Play like you’re down by 10. Don’t settle for field goals,attack them. Go Bucs!
BTW, your observations about the bootleg and Buc defenses are point on.
John Gruden even mentioned it to Warren Sapp when he first got here. Asked him if the Buc defense was so good why was it they got beat on practically every bootleg he saw run against them.
I can hear JW already “I’ve seen a million [Titan] faces, and I ROCKED them all!” GO BUCS,!!!
Looking forward to going to a HOME game with what is sure to be less opposing fans than we typically have to endure. Perhaps my old buddy Bucfan 47 (who lives in Tennessee) will make the trip wearing two shirts just so he can be on the winning side. Winston is going to be pumped for the game. I just hope he settles down quickly. Treat Mariotta like Michael Vick the time #55 hit him in the gut. Vick lost his cocky attitude that day.
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