We’re only three games into the season, but it’s not too soon to wonder if the Buccaneers might have overestimated the talent they planned to build their pass rush around this season.
Through three games the Bucs have recorded just one sack and 14 quarterback hits, and it’s worth noting that the sack and nine of those hits came three weeks ago in the season opener against the Bears.
Since then the Bucs pass rush has been virtually non-existent, and no less of an authority than Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith admitted Tuesday the lack of pressure is indeed a “concern.’’
Along with a lack of takeaways – the Bucs haven’t forced a turnover in either of their last two games – the lack of sacks are indeed the two areas the Bucs are most concerned with right now.
The two tend to go hand in hand, of course. A good pass rush will force a quarterback into mistakes that can result in takeaways and good coverage on the back end can increase the effectiveness of the pass rush.
The Bucs didn’t have either element in their loss to the Vikings two weeks ago and while the coverage was better last week against the Giants, the pass rush was still non-existent.
The speed at which the quarterback gets rid of the ball can neutralize the pass rush, too, and while that has been a factor the last two weeks as well, it’s not like the Vikings and Giants didn’t go deep.
Both teams tried to work the ball downfield for big plays at times, but the Bucs struggled to disrupt the timing and rhythm of those throws, particularly against the Vikings.
It’s clear then that part of the problem is personnel and we all know that outside of signing nose tackle Chris Baker, the Bucs did little this past offseason to address that area.
Their hope, of course, was that after tying for ninth in the league with 38 sacks last year, they’d get better naturally this year with a healthier and more experienced Noah Spence and a healthy Jacquies Smith.
And that could still happen, but Spence has already dislocated the same shoulder that bothered him most of last year and there’s no way of knowing what the Bucs will get out of Smith or for how long they’ll get it.
This is an issue then that could go on all year and you get the feeling from listening not only to Smith but to head coach Dirk Koetter that they realize their pass rush may never be anything more than ordinary.
We’ve heard both say on several occasions of the personnel there that “the guys we’ve got are the guys we’ve got,’’ which seems to be an admission that the guys they’ve got just aren’t all that good.
There’s not much the Bucs can do about that now, but come next offseason and in particular the draft, you have to believe that improving the pass rush will be their top priority.
Bucs win fourth straight whipping hapless Lions Sunday
For the fourth consecutive game, the Tampa Bay Bucs put together four full quarters and this time, beat a struggling Detroit team 38-17 in the Motor City Sunday.
Quarterback Jameis Winston once again through an early interception, but then, also once again, played brilliantly afterwards, throwing for 458 yards and four touchdowns as the Bucs led 21 – 0 in the first half.
Showing no ill effects from a tiny thumb fracture on his throwing hand, Winston hooked up with Breshad Perriman (above) on the first of two first half scores for a 7 – 0 lead. Then, after a franchise record 99-yard drive, found rookie Scottie Miller on an 33 yard touchdown and it was 14 – 0.
Winston’s third score of the first half was also to Perriman wide open from 25 yards and he topped 300 yards in passing in half number one.
Tampa Bay took a 24 – 3 early in the third, but then the Lions behind rookie free agent quarterback David Blough made a bit of a rally. Blough led two scoring drives that were capped by fellow rookie Wes Hills taking them in from a yard out for TDs and it was 24 – 17 early in the fourth quarter
The Lions actually got the ball back and looked like they might have a chance to go tie the game but that’s when, Buccaneers rookie defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting jumped in front of a Blough pass on the Lions sideline and raced 70 yards untouched for what turned out to be the clinching score. Winston added a third touchdown pass to Perriman in the final three minutes to provide the final margin.
In the win Winston made NFL history, as the first quarterback to ever throw for 450 yards or more in back-to-back games. And, he has all but solidified that he will be brought back as the quarterback for 2020 with the way that he has played down the stretch the season.
Despite throwing his lead reading 24th interception in the first quarter, Winston is in the top free in touchdown passes and yardage, and the Bucs are coming on strong late.
It’s the first time they’ve won four times in a row, since the end of the 2016 season, when they won five straight games. And, Tampa Bay has now levelled their record to 7 – 7. It is only the second time in the last 7 seasons the Bucs have won at least seven games. The Lions loss is their seventh straight and 10th in 11 games.
The Buccaneers will come back home for a special Saturday afternoon game with the AFC South leading Houston Texans. Houston was victorious in Nashville Sunday and will be looking for a win trying to secure a playoff spot.
Bucs in Detroit leads our NFL primer
Three weeks to go in the NFL regular season and all three state NFL teams are in action in winnable situations.
First, the Buccaneers try to level their record at 7 – 7 and win their fourth game in a row, as they travel to take on the lowly Detroit Lions. All eyes will be on quarterback Jameis Winston, who suffered a tiny fracture in his throwing thumb late in the first half of last week’s 38-35 win over the Colts.
After initially missing the first series of the second half while having a thumb x-rayed, Winston came back and led the Buccaneers to a 17-point rally, including throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman the final 5 minutes. Coach Bruce Arians declared Winston ready to go after he was able to throw the ball in Friday practice.
Tampa Bay will be without star wide receiver Mike Evans with a pulled hamstring suffered in the win last week and maybe, without starting left tackle Donovan Smith, who suffered a knee injury Sunday and could not practice this week. Smith is listed as doubtful for the game.
Meanwhile, the Lions are struggling mightily having lost six games in a row and are down to 3rd string quarterback David Blough and backup running backs. This is a very winnable game for the Buccaneers inside of Ford Field.
As for the Dolphins, they’re back in the Meadowlands for the second consecutive week in a scheduling quirk. Seven days after losing in heartbreaking fashion 22 – 21 to the Jets on a last-second field goal, they will play MetLife Stadium’s other tenant, the New York Giants.
The Dolphins have played much better football down the stretch of the season and had they taken advantage of the five red-zone opportunities last week with something other than Jason Sanders field goals, we would probably be talking about a fourth win in five games for them.
Miami gave wide receiver DeVante Parker a lucrative contract extension on Friday, but he is questionable to play after suffering a concussion last week and will be a game-time decision. As for the Giants, they have gone back to veteran QB Eli Manning, who was benched earlier in the year in favor of rookie QB Daniel Jones.
Manning lead the Giants out to a 17 – 3 lead in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football only to see the offense stall and the Eagles rally to win in overtime.
This is also one of several teams that Miami is competing with for a better draft position next April, but you get the sense that Brian Flores’ team is not worried about that right now.
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars stumble into Oakland for an historic final game for the Raiders at their home for the last 60 years.
The Jags have lost five straight games and Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged this week that he and everyone in the front office and on the field is on notice that they may be out of a job. The Jaguars benched Nick Foles after the first half of the loss two weeks ago to Tampa Bay, but QB Gardner Minshew got very little going on offense last week in their blowout loss at home to the Chargers.
It would not be surprising if Minshew struggles again this afternoon, that Marrone turns back to Foles try to spark the team.
As for the Raiders that they were looking good in the AFC playoff picture at 6 – 4, but have now lost three straight games including a blowout loss to Tennessee at home last week, which has all but eliminated them
Derek Carr and the Raider offense will look to take advantage of a poor and banged up Jacksonville defense that has been surrendering over 25 points a game each of the last five weeks.
The Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas next year and this is their final scheduled game to be played in the nostalgic Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. So the Jags will be the answer to a trivia question, as well.
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