The Buccaneers are on a roll. They improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 30-14 victory over the Titans on Saturday, which prompts the question, are they peaking too soon?
The answer is hardly.
No, preseason games don’t count, but when you haven’t made the playoffs in a decade, any win helps you to develop a culture of winning, and that is job one for the Bucs right now.
What was encouraging about the Bucs victory Saturday is that it came despite the fact the Bucs struggled in the red zone early on and with penalties (10 for 100 yards) all throughout.
Those are the kinds of problems that have long derailed this team and kept it from winning consistently, but not on this night. With that in mind, here are a few observations to consider going forward:
Not that we needed it but we were reminded in this one of why the loss of quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the regular season is so worrisome. After a strong performance in Week 1 of the preseason last week, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was quite ordinary during his one quarter of play against Tennessee.
Fitzpatrick failed to hit on two deep balls early and failed to connect on two short passes in the red zone during the second of his three series under center. For the night, Fitz completed just five of 13 passes for 46 yards, producing a 48.9 passer rating.
Winston, on the other hand, was spectacular. He played the second quarter again, just as he did last week, and completed 13 of 18 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns for a 151.4 passer rating.
The first of Winston’s two touchdown passes came on a throw he never should have made (he was being tackled and threw a ball up for grabs on third down), but that’s Jameis being Jameis.
In this case, however, Jameis was also quick to make mostly sound decisions and he was accurate both on the deep ball (he hit Mike Evans on a 38-yarder and Dexter Jackson on a 54-yarder) and the shorter throws.
Big game for rookie corner M.J. Stewart. He started at the slot corner spot on Saturday and before leaving the game early in the second half with a sore foot, he forced two fumbles, including one that set up the Bucs second touchdown drive. Stewart was one of the more impressive players on defense in the Week 1 game victory over Miami, too. If he can stay healthy and keep this up he’ll start the season as the Bucs nickel corner.
While the first teamers were in the game, the Bucs defense did a great job against the run. Jason Pierre Paul and Kwon Alexanders both had big stops early on and through the first quarter, the Bucs limited the Titans to just eight yards rushing. That’s what you call, getting the job done.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter walked away from this one bemoaning all the penalties the Bucs committed, particularly in the first half, and rightly so. The Bucs were penalized seven times for 45 yards, and most of those penalties were committed by offensive and defensive linemen.
One of those penalties, a Brad Seton holding penalty, wiped out a touchdown pass on third down from the Tennessee 12 and forced the Bucs to settle for a 39-yard first-quarter field-goal attempt. That also got wiped out by – wait for it – a penalty. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro saved the moment by making the subsequent 44-yarder, but this was a sloppy effort that will have to be cleaned up.
Speaking of Catanzaro, he had a nice bounce back game in this one. Catanzaro missed a PAT and a field goal try in his first game in a Bucs uniform last week, but he was on the mark in this one, hitting on all of his field goals tries and PAT attempts.
The Bucs defense had little or no answer for the Titans short passing game earl on Saturday. A missed tackle by S Chris Conte and a key Titans block at the point of attack on Taywan Taylor’s 47-yard catch and run for a touchdown allowed Tennessee to move the ball 75 yards, including 73 through the air, on its second possession.
Another disappointing outing for rookie running back Ronald Jones. He ran four times for just 2 yards, all of which came on one carry, and failed to secure the only pass thrown his way.
Jones’ role may have to be increased if the injury that knocked Charles Sims out of game on the opening kickoff is serious, but you really have to wonder if Jones is capable of handling a bigger role.
Is it too soon to worry about the Bucs pass rush?
Probably, but the largely revamped first-team D-line has played the equivalent of a full game through two practice games now and has just one sack to show for it.
That unit would have two sacks but a penalty wiped out a takedown that Gerald McCoy started and Vinny Curry finished after Marcus Mariota left the game for the Titans.
Embarrassing Monday night for NFL with roughing passer calls
As the old cliche’ goes, “too much of a good thing can be bad.” And unfortunately, with the NFL having safety in mind first in trying to protect quarterbacks, the emphasis and enforcement of “roughing-the-passer” has gone overboard.
And we mean overboard.
Like horiffic look on Monday Night Football between the Buccaneers and Steelers, overboard.
The Steelers won an important game for both teams 30-27, but there’s way too much conversation about the QB hits coming out of this game.
There were five personal foul calls by referee Pete Morelli and his crew against pass-rushers on a quarterback last night. In fairness, on the occasion that Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was scrambling in the first quarter and Steelers linebacker James Bostic clearly left his feet and hit him in the head (above), as he was attempting to slide down, it was correct.
That was a legitimate call that the NFL is emphasizing and trying to erase.
However, the argument can be made that on three of the other four calls of roughing either Fitzpatrick or Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the officials, and Morelli specifically, overreacted and made a call that should have been let go.
We at F.F.I. understand the point of emphasis that referees are being instructed to stop defenders from wrapping up a quarterback and driving him into the ground. More on a specific call about that in a second.
First, at the beginning of the second quarter and with the Steelers backed up near their own end zone, Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy did exactly what players are being instructed to do. He let up and did not tackle Roethlisberger to the ground, avoiding landing on him after he threw the football.
And yet, Morelli threw his flag anyway.
On the play the Steelers had completed the pass to Juju Smith- Schuster for 43 yards, but still, it was an example of a call that did not meet the criteria and emphasis and should not have been made.
Later in the second quarter, Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was flagged for a hitting Big Ben in the head while Roethlisberger was in the pocket. However, it was clear both live and on the replay that Pierre-Paul made very little contact with his arm and Roethlisberger flopped to the ground.
Again, it should have been let go.
Now, with six minutes remaining in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick threw an incomplete pass and Steelers defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt textbook grabbed him around the waist and drove him into the ground landing on him. This is the example that is exactly what the NFL wants called and Morelli got that one right.
However, by and large the calls were bad on this specific point of emphasis.
It’s obvious after the controversy involving the Packers Clay Matthews hit on the Redskins quarterback Alex Smith Sunday, where he drove him to the ground in the pocket on a sack, that the NFL is in “full spin mode” on making that call and doing it consistently.
Further, players are trying to adjust, not just McCoy last night, but also Dolphins defensive end William Hayes who was trying to keep from wrapping up Derek Carr Sunday and ended up tearing his ACL because of it.
The bottom line is in a stand-alone Monday Night Football national television game, it was not a good look for the NFL to repeatedly see flags on the field for roughing the quarterback that weren’t really roughing.
Take for example, this tweet on Tuesday morning from ESPN’s Booger McFarland who called the game from field level Monday night:
Dear NFL. When the people you made the rule to protect start saying the rule is a joke it may be time to change the rule for roughing the passer. Rodgers and Big Ben both said they don’t like the rule.
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) September 25, 2018
He’s right. The NFL and its ongoing evaluation has to reign in how and when roughing-the-passer is going to be called.
Otherwise, the officiating continues to be one of the main story lines, and no one pays to see the officials.
Steelers hung on as Fitzpatrick rally came up short
That old “FitzMagic” still has the NFL in it spell.
That old FitzMagic that Ryan Fitzpatrick weaves so well.
He was at it again on Monday. Just when it seemed as if that old FitzMagic had run its course, Fitzpatrick nearly pulled a victory out of the jaws of defeat, rallying the Bucs to within a field goal of their third triumph in as many weeks.
It didn’t happen. The Bucs wound up losing Monday, 30-27, in part because Fitzpatrick struggled through most of the first half, throwing three picks during that span, including one that was returned for a touchdown. But, look at the overall body of work.
For the third time in as many weeks, Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards (411 to be exact). And that’s an all time NFL record for three consecutive games.
He fell just short of throwing four touchdown passes for a third straight week, but the three he did throw for were one of the big reasons the Bucs remained alive on this game until the very end.
Once again, and even on a night when he wasn’t at his best, Ryan Fitzpatrick was the Bucs best player. And therein lies the problem with the Bucs. Right now, Tampa Bay is a one-dimensional football team and that dimension is Fitzpatrick.
Sure, he’s getting plenty of help from his receiving corps, which is easily the best in the league. But he’s getting little or no help from anyone else on this team.
The Bucs ran for 63 yards on Monday. Their defense took the ball away just once. While surrendering 416 total yards. Their kicker didn’t miss a field goal or a PAT but that was a first for this year.
That the Bucs will go into Chicago next week tied with two other teams for first place in the NFC South thanks to Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they hope to stay there, they’re going to need contributions from other sources. And fast.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has carried this team this far. There’s nothing to suggest he can’t carry them a but farther. But for the Bucs to go as far as they believe they’re capable of, they’re going to need someone or something else to shoulder some of the load.
Gamenight- Bucs look to continue rolling in battle with Steelers
Who: Buccaneers (2-0) vs. Steelers (0-1-1)
When: Monday Night 8:15 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Spread: Steelers by 1 (Courtesy VegasInsider.com)
It’s a massive early season game for both the Bucs and the Steelers for different reasons. Tampa Bay is trying to be 3-0 for the first time since 2005, while Pittsburgh doesn’t want to drop to 0-2-1 already on the young season.
Here’s what to watch:
Will “Fitzmagic” continue?
Through two weeks, there’s no better story involving a journeyman player than the Buccaneers QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick. He’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week in back to back weeks, which is the first time in Tampa Bay franchise history that anyone has done that. Fitzpatrick has also become the first QB in league history to have 400 or more passing yards and four or more passing TDs in the first two games of the season.
Will it continue tonight against a Steelers defense that was butchered at home a week ago by the Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes? Mahomes threw six touchdown passes in a K.C. rout in the Steel City.
Clearly, the Bucs weapons, WRs Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson plus tight end O.J. Howard are on fire, too. So, the stage is set for the 14 year vet to play another good, if not great game, now will he?
Steelers in disarray
There is no doubt that Pittsburgh has talent, but they currently are a mess. As we documented already, All Pro RB Le’Veon Bell is a holdout, refusing to sign his “Franchise Player” tender offer for the second straight year. You couple that with back to back poor performances on the field in a tie at Cleveland and then, the bad loss last week, and the Steelers are reeling.
And it didn’t help to see coach Mike Tomlin call the entire defense around him on the sideline in the first half last week to scream at them about they way they were playing. Then, you had star WR Antonio Brown visibly upset during discussions on the sideline with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner last Sunday, too.
Can the Steelers rally around Roethlisberger? Or will they continue to flounder?
Finally, will Bucs defense rise in Monday Night Spotlight
So much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s success, but the Buccaneers defense also has come up large, when needed. This would include last week in the home opening win over the Eagles. LB Kwon Alexander had a sack fumble, and the Buccaneers defensive line not only stuffed the run but pressured, harassed and knocked down/sacked Nick Foles repeatedly.
Players like Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy (above), Jason Pierre-Paul, LaVonte David, and Brent Grimes (who’s expected to play despite groin injury) are chomping at the bit to win a game like this with the country watching.
The Bucs haven’t been dominant, but rather opportunistic with stops and turnovers (three so far in two games), and that must continue tonight, if Tampa Bay wants to remain unbeaten.
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