It has been assumed with Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston suspended at the beginning of the upcoming season that the team would turn to 14 year veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to become their starter. However, there’s another “Ryan,” that is younger and the Buccaneers have consistently believed could be a go to QB.
Ryan Griffin, who is entering his fifth NFL season and fourth with the Buccaneers, is that “Ryan.”
The question is: even though he has little regular season experience, can he become a viable option to start games in Tampa Bay? And a big part of that will be determined by how he plays, especially in preseason games in August.
Now, it’s understood that Fitzpatrick, who will be 36 in November, is the guy who most would say should stand in for Winston. After all, he’s started 119 games in 13 seasons, including a 2-1 record a year ago for Tampa Bay.
That’s when he sub-started for Jameis Winston, who was nursing an injured shoulder. And, he played solidly in two victories over the Jets and Dolphins with three TDs and an INT.
Back to Griffin, he’s been in coach Dirk Koetter’s system for the previous three years (including the 2015 year when Koetter was the offensive coordinator). So, he has familiarity with the offense.
And, the Bucs intended to give him a good look last August.
That is until Griffin (shown above) was injured almost immediately during in the preseason opener in Cincinnati with a hit after he released the ball. He suffered a severe enough shoulder separation that he did not return to health until after the first month of the regular season.
Yet, the Bucs management, including GM Jason Licht, believed so strongly in Griffin’s future, etc., that they were willing to keep him on the active 53 roster the entire time. This is opposed to an injury settlement (where they couldn’t have brought him back) or putting him on “designated to return” IR (where he could come back after eight games).
Therefore, Griffin, who hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since 2014, is still around and available, and someone who they are hoping can be a starter in the NFL.
So, with all of the above laid out, the Buccaneers will obviously outwardly project that the veteran Fitzpatrick is their starter and gives them the best chance to win regular season games.
However, they would like nothing better than for Griffin to excel this July and during his playing time in preseason games, and challenge the veteran to be the week one starter. Granted, that’s on the road in a hostile dome in New Orleans, and Fitzpatrick seems better suited to handle it.
Yet, Griffin already would have to be ready to play on a moment’s notice in the event something happens to Fitzpatrick health-wise in camp, or preseason or most importantly, during that opening game.
The Bucs think headed into July that he is going to be ready for duty, if called upon.
But, will Griffin and his play, make him much more than that?
Should Bruce Arians take over Bucs play calling?
As the Bucs get ready to battle another NFC South opponent on the road Sunday, their overall struggles have dropped them to a 3 – 7 record. And while their pass defense is the worst in the NFL, increasing criticism is growing of their offense and specifically, play-calling. And that’s where head coach, Bruce Arians, may come into play.
For the first time in his NFL career, since he became a play-calling offensive coordinator and then a head coach, Arians has given way on the play-calling on game day this season to offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich.
Now on the surface, the Buccaneers have been scoring a bunch of points. In fact they are seventh in the NFL at 27.7 ppg and have scored at least 23 points or more in every game since week two.
However, a deeper examination shows that the Buccaneers are lacking seriously in balance on offense. That includes Sunday against the Saints, where they only ran the ball eight total times and just six times from their running backs.
This included a first-quarter, where the Bucs only possessed the ball twice and ran a total of 5 plays, as they fell behind New Orleans 13 – 0. Then, as the Saints lead grew to 20 – 0, obviously, the Bucs were going to become much more of a passing team to try to get back in the game.
But, even when they did get a touchdown and then eventually a third-quarter field goal to cut the lead to 20-10, Leftwich did not mix in run plays, as the second half unfolded.
Yes, the Buccaneers used screen passes to Ronald Jones and also receiver Scotty Miller to try to offset the Saints pass rush, but the lack of commitment to the run was glaring Sunday. And the other component is: this nullified any play-action threat from the Buccaneers, which they’ve had success earlier in this season.
Since Jones became the starting running back four games ago, he’s only carried the ball more than 11 times in one game, and that was 18 carries in the 40-34 OT loss at Seattle three weeks ago. He carried four times Sunday.
As for Leftwich, he did call the plays for second half of last season in Arizona and has been very familiar with Arians’ offense. This is because he previously played with Arians and Ben Roethlisberger in the same offense in Pittsburgh.
Still, when you’re the guy responsible not only for the gamenplan, but for what to call and when, the pressure turns up.
Again, the Buccaneers have scored a bunch of touchdowns, but some of them have been late in games, while the team has been trailing by two or more scores and that can skew the overall offensive stats and scoring, too.
The reality is Tampa Bay does not have an identity with their run game right, now and with six games to go they need to try to figure out, if they can get one back.
And, it may be that Arians who had tremendous success in Pittsburgh and in Indianapolis prior to becoming the Cardinals coach by calling plays, takes those reins back over at least for a game or two to see if it makes a difference.
Saints bounce back for impressive win over Bucs
The Bucs were hoping to make it back-to-back wins, as the first place Saints came limping to town Sunday. But in the end, the same mistakes that have plagued them throughout the first nine games of the season came to the forefront again, and New Orleans rebounded to beat them decisively 34 – 17.
Drew Brees (above) bounced back from a poor game last week in a 26-9 loss to Atlanta to throw for three touchdowns, and the Saints defense collected four interceptions on Bucs QB Jameis Winston in the victory.
New Orleans jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on a pair of Will Lutz field goals, the second of which was set up when Winston passed to O.J. Howard and it bounced off of his hands deflecting into the air and was picked off by linebacker Demario Davis.
One play later, Brees found Michael Thomas, the league’s leading receiver in receptions and yards per game, but was somehow wide open with a 16 yard score and a 13-0 lead. The Saints, who had their six-game winning streak snapped a week ago, stayed on the gas and when Brees found tight end Jared Cook for a leaping 3 yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone, it was 20 – 0.
The Bucs 32nd ranked pass defense looked the part for a lot of Sunday, as well.
Meanwhile, Winston and the Tampa Bay offense finally got on the board, when RB Peyton Barber concluded a seven play 75 yard drive with a 6 yard touchdown to trim the lead to 20 – 7. Then, the Bucs were moving the ball late in the first half for another possible score, but Winston was intercepted on another deflected pass by DB Vaughn Bell. And, the Saints took a 13-point lead to the locker room.
In second half leading 20 – 10 New Orleans extended the lead with an 10 play 75 yard drive that culminated, when Brees found Ted Ginn wide open at the goal line from 6 yards out to make it a 17 point advantage.
The Bucs continue to fight, got a WR Chris Godwin 30 yard catch and run TD and got the ball back down 10 points.
Driving out to midfield, Tampa Bay looked like they had a 4th down conversion with 11 minutes to go in the game, when Winston completed a slant pass to Mike Evans. However, the referees called offensive pass interference and Coach Bruce Arians challenged the play. The New York replay command center agreed with the officials that it was interference and at the call stood.
So, that erased a Bucs first down and put the offense in a fourth and long. The Bucs decided to punt after the controversial penalty.
The Buccaneers defense held and got the ball back, but after getting a quick first down, Winston was picked off for the third time in the game. This time by Marcus Williams, who raced 55 yards for the pick six touchdown and basically, the clinching score.
Winston did finish with 313 yard passing, but with four more interceptions, he still leads the NFL with 18 picks through 10 games.
As for the Saints, they clearly got their swagger back on the road after scoring only nine points at a home last week. New Orleans completes the season sweep of Tampa Bay with the victory and looks to stay in the hunt for a first weekend bye in the NFL playoffs with a now 8 – 2 record.
The Buccaneers are now 3 – 7 and headed towards what is apparently going to be a fifth losing season in their last 6 years and their 10th in their last 12 seasons overall.
And, the questions will only continue to mount about the franchise keeping Winston beyond this season. He is not signed to a long-term deal and his record is now 7 – 22 in his last 29 games he’s started in last three seasons.
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