The Bucs’ 27-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was more troubling than triumphant. Once again, elements of the starting lineup looked shaky, especially on offense.
The biggest problem of the night was Jameis Winston. From his first pass, the second-year passer struggled with poor mechanics and spotty accuracy. He did little to prove he could carry the offense without his Doug Martin security net.
Winston, and the Bucs generally, were bailed out by the Jaguars lack of discipline. Jacksonville committed 13 penalties for 121 yards. Tampa Bay is unlikely to get that kind of advantage very often during the regular season.
The offensive line wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t do much help matters. Center Evan Smith was blown off his mark on the majority of his snaps. Demar Dotson was less than sharp, drawing an early false start penalty and missing some blocks in motion.
The running backs provided one of the few bright spots on offense. Mike James looks like he could start for the Bucs, or really any team in the NFL, sharing Doug Martin’s stubbornness on initial contact. It would be shocking not to see Peyton Barber and Storm Johnson on someone’s roster during the regular season.
The defense was sharper than the offense though still imperfect. It was clear Gerald McCoy was missed as the defensive line struggled to generate consistent pressure on Blake Bortles. What was curious was Noah Spence’s absence in the first half.
The secondary continued to show progress from last year. Brent Grimes, Chris Conte, Johnthan Banks and Ryan Smith all made impressive plays on the ball. While the defense is still adjusting to the Mike Smith defense, the improvement in the pass game is obvious.
Now to the elephant in the room: Roberto Aguayo. Dirk Koetter can jaw about his kicker all he wants, but Jason Licht won’t let him be cut. The investment is too deep, too damning.
The whole idea of drafting a kicker in the second round is that he was supposed to come with a guarantee not to struggle like this. As I said last week, the Bucs heaped a whole load of unneeded pressure on a player whose position is 90 percent mental. Jason Licht stacked the odds against Aguayo to succeed, and it looks like his gamble is headed for a fiery conclusion.
Next week the Bucs face the Browns in a game where the starters typically get the most work before the regular season. The Bucs need to tighten up across the board and make plays instead of relying on the other team’s implosion.