The Filibuster: Week 2

What a joy it was not to watch the game live. The Bucs were putrid in every facet. The offense led the way with five turnovers, all by Jameis Winston. The defense stopped putting up a fight halfway through the second quarter, and special teams did nothing to stem the tide.

The Bucs started the game in fine fashion, forcing a punt on Arizona’s first drive. Even the beginning of the first offensive drive looked good with some nice completions and Doug Martin runs.

Obviously the wheels started to come off with Winston’s first interception. While he had Evans in a one-on-one matchup with no safety over the top, Winston was throwing at Patrick Peterson, a cornerback who makes passers pay for inaccurate throws.

Winston was already taking a risk with the throw, opting for the big play over a wide open Doug Martin in the flat. Mike Evans did him no favors by opening his hips too early allowing Peterson to take position over top at less than top speed. Winston’s tendency to slightly  overthrow his deep balls left Peterson in perfect position to pick him off.

The defense picked up the slack and forced another punt, but the shine was off the offense. Blocking was lethargic. Doug Martin’s two-yard loss was doomed by Donovan Smith’s slow get-off and Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ complete lack thereof. Vincent Jackson became a shadow of himself.

Injuries certainly didn’t help. Doug Martin’s hamstring injury again proved he is the grease the keeps the gears of the offense turning. Robert Ayers’ loss further depleted the Bucs thinning defensive end ranks. While not a playmaker, Luke Stocker is an instrumental role player particularly to the run game.

The offense’s ineptitude crept over to the defense. Jaron Brown’s 51-yard touchdown exposed every weakness in the Bucs pass defense. The pass rush didn’t sniff Carson Palmer. The zone coverage fell to pieces when Chris Conte came too far down and let Brown run right by him.

If there was one thing the Bucs did consistently, it was bottle up the run game. The Cards gained only 101 yards in 29 attempts on the ground. Even the coverage was tighter than its been in the past. Alterraun Verner even looked like a $6 million cornerback. The defense looked much worse thanks to the offense’s constant mistakes.

Still, it was Winston’s turnovers that clipped the Bucs’ wings, even if they weren’t all his own. His second interception falls more on Vincent Jackson than Winston, but his fumble was downright shameful, reminiscent of his meme-enshrined Rose Bowl fumble. Winston’s third interception was tipped by DT Josh Mauro. Though not entirely his fault, the pass was still too low with a defender in his face. The fourth was a game-ending hail mary.

The Bucs live and die on Winston’s play. Last week he looked like the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. In Arizona, he gave an encore of Week 1… 2015. His greatest weakness remains consistency. He can’t be so hot and cold and expect the Bucs to sustain success.

If Week 1 was a taste of what the Bucs could be, Week 2 was a reminder how low they can go. There’s a Bucs team somewhere in between, a team that needs to trend towards it’s Week 1 incarnation. 1-1 isn’t bad, and one loss isn’t the end of the world, no matter the score.

 

Oh, and Robert Aguayo missed another sub-50 yard kick. Two picks for a kicker…

Super Saturday: Week 1 at Atlanta

At last, the Bucs are back! They open the season with the chance to take an early command of the NFC South following Carolina’s loss to Denver on Thursday. The matchup with Atlanta is also an opportunity for Tampa Bay to break their troubling habit of starting the season with a disastrous effort.

This season provides the Bucs with an ideal opportunity to exit the NFC South cellar. While Jason Licht made numerous moves to upgrade talent and address needs along the defensive line and at cornerback, the Falcons and Saints persist with their underwhelming front offices.

Thomas Dimitroff is Atlanta’s secret bane. After early success drafting Matt Ryan and signing Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, Dimitroff became complacent with talent evaluation. The defense is a joke, lacking a centerpiece like Carolina’s Luke Kuechly or Tampa’s Gerald McCoy.

Really the only playmaker Atlanta has on defense is CB Desmond Trufant. Everyone else is either a role player, an unproven commodity, or is plain inadequate. Head coach Dan Quinn’s first head coaching gig is doomed so long as he has such a talent-starved roster.

The offense is only marginally better. Julio Jones is a top-3 receiver and Devonta Freeman broke out last year despite a merely average offensive line. Matt Ryan, once a promising franchise quarterback, has regressed the last two years despite Jones playing at an All-Pro level.

The Bucs swept Atlanta last year and it looks likely they will again in 2016. Improvements to the Tampa defense, particularly the coaching staff, should only make the results more disparate. Last year, the defense did well to neutralize an otherwise electric Freeman, and exploited Matt Ryan’s desperate pressing and poor judgment.

Of all the Bucs’ additions on defense, Robert Ayers and Noah Spence should have the greatest impact. A stronger starting line with a deeper rotation will only make life more hellish for Matt Ryan, who struggled when facing pressure last year.

The Bucs offense lacks the experience of Atlanta’s but enters Sunday with more upside. Against the Falcons last year, Jameis Winston threw for 404 yards and scored four touchdowns. While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, Winston was solid and could be even better against a middling Atlanta defense this year.

While the game may still be decided within a touchdown, the Bucs should take this game, barring of course an “Tennessee-ready”mindset that led to an opening day blowout last season. With a more talented roster, the Bucs merely need to execute.

Final score prediction: Tampa Bay 24 – Atlanta 17

Into the Depths: The 2016 Bucs Roster

With the Bucs depth chart is mostly set, we can see how deep the rabbit hole really goes. The starting line-up remains mostly unchanged from last season. The big changes lie beneath the surface.

Quarterbacks: Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin

This group remains unchanged from last year yet is better all the same. With his rookie year and his first real offseason behind him, Jameis Winston needs to be and should be better.

The Bucs’ 2015 draft class is this year’s X-factor. It is absolutely vital for Winston and his draft classmates to build on their rookie years.

Running backs: Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Peyton Barber

Another mostly unchanged unit. Martin will get most of the carries while Sims gets third downs and change of pace carries. Mike James’ release is truly disappointing as he appeared poised to contribute in a big way. It does give Peyton Barber a big opportunity to prove his worth, but it won’t take much for the Bucs to replace him with Russell Hansbrough or even bring back Mike James.

Wide receivers: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Adam Humphries, Russell Shepard and Cecil Shorts

The receiving corps is largely unchanged, which carries positives and negatives. Mike Evans is obviously one of the league’s top wideouts and Vincent Jackson is the wily veteran with velcro hands. Humphries and new addition Cecil Shorts bring the slot game.

The addition of Shorts was significant as the Bucs sorely lacked legitimate depth. While the Bucs should be fine this season, they’ll definitely need to address the position next offseason.

Tight end: Cameron Brate, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers and Alan Cross

Five tight ends is enough to make a girl blush. It’s a good bet they’ll see a good bit of action. Brate and Stocker, two of the offense’s most reliable players, should see the most action.

This is Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ make-or-break season. He’s yet to play more than 10 games in a single season, averaging a paltry 2.6 catches and 34.9 yards per game in his career so far. If he can’t exploit his tremendous latent talent, he will solidify his status as a bust.

Tackle: Donovan Smith, Demar Dotson, Gosder Cherilus, Caleb Benenoch, Leonard Wester

Guard: Ali Marpet, Kevin Pamphile and Evan Smith

Center: Joe Hawley

The offensive line gets a lot of heat from popular football evaluators, but you’d never guess they were that bad from last year’s results: top five in rushing and top 10 in sacks allowed. Sure, these numbers don’t tell the whole story, but the line is far from a disaster and is in position to improve with four starters returning.

Again, the key is the development of Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Smith needs to clean up his penalties – six holding calls and four false starts is not going to cut it. Marpet was a beast in the run game but must improve as a pass protector.

Depth may be an issue here with JR Sweezy already out. It would not be surprising if, upon Sweezy’s return from the PUP, he failed to outperform Kevin Pamphile. Sweezy was yet another in a long line of ill-advised free agent acquisitions by Jason Licht.

Defensive tackle: Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence and DaVonte Lambert

Little change here, as the group still revolves around Gerald McCoy, who should bounce back after playing though a rotator cuff injury last year. The group should benefit from the addition of Robert Ayers who can slide inside in nickel situations.

Defensive end: Robert Ayers, Will Gholston, Noah Spence, Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones

Of all the position groups, the defensive ends improved the most. Robert Ayers is the first legit every-down end the Bucs have had since Michael Bennett. He also brings a much-needed nastiness to the front.

The edge rush rotation could be downright relentless this season. With Ayers in the fold, Jacquies Smith won’t need to play as many early downs and can focus his energy on getting to the quarterback. Spence is a star in the making and will make third downs a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Linebacker: Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Daryl Smith, Devante Bond and Adarius Glanton

The Bucs linebackers can become of the most fearsome units in the league with two words: finishing tackles. Tampa Bay was one of the worst tackling defenses last year, thanks in large part to Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.

Thing is, David was a pretty solid tackler under Greg Schiano. Was it something Lovie Smith was teaching?

Kwon is another player football analysts love to lambaste. He can easily quiet them with just a little consistency. He came so close to so many big plays but gave up plenty as well. Mike Smith may be just what the doctor ordered to get Alexander on track to be recognized as the playmaker he could be.

Cornerback: Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, Alterraun Verner, Jude Adjei-Barimah, Johnthan Banks and Josh Robinson

When Lovie Smith’s lazy Susan approach to his cornerbacks proved catastrophic last season, it became clear the Bucs still lacked sufficient talent in the unit. Brent Grimes is a patch for a job requiring an overhaul.

Fortunately the Bucs also drafted Vernon Hargreaves, and if the preseason is any indication, they’re off to a good start. He was a veritable shutdown corner in the preseason. Continuing down this track would make him a cornerstone of the Bucs defense for years to come.

Safety: Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald, Ryan Smith and Keith Tandy

The defense’s least talented unit, the safeties are adequate if by no means game-changing. McDougald and Conte produced only 10 pass breakups, four interceptions and two fumbles last season. They didn’t give up many big plays, but they didn’t make any either.

Keith Tandy remains the trusty nickel safety. He’s always good for a third down stop or a saved touchdown. The X-factor here is Ryan Smith, the rookie from North Carolina Central. In addition to competing for return duties, he will play for time in a safety rotation that lacks a clear playmaker.

Kicker: Roberto Aguayo

Sigh.

Just…

Sigh.

Aguayo will be fine. Just like Pat Murray and Connor Barth will be fine in Cleveland and Chicago. The Bucs spent a top 100 pick (and the 106th pick) to be fine.

Punter: Bryan Anger

The most furious punter of all time! Anger is a top 10 punter. The Bucs made a good move to sign the former Jacksonville punter.

Long snapper: Andrew DePaola

We continue to hold out for the league’s first Hall of Fame long snapper. Is Andrew DePaola the answer to our prayers? Time will tell.