Say it once, say it a thousand times: the Bucs live and die with Jameis Winston. For yet another game, he started on the wrong foot. His first pass attempt should have been a completion to a wide-open Mike Evans, but for whatever reason, he was too spooked to pull the trigger and held the ball long enough for Ahmad Brooks and Arik Armstead to get the sack.
The second sack came when Winston leaves the pocket prematurely when DeForest Buckner stunted himself right into the ground with Donovan Smith on top of him. His protection was otherwise solid, but Winston scrambled into a open lane for Aaron Lynch.
The interception was an unholy concoction of a protection breakdown by Demar Dotson and a poor decision by Jameis Winston, who misses a wide open Cecil Shorts along the sideline.
By the second quarter, Winston was firing on all cylinders, but the Bucs can’t afford to wait that long. Winston’s emotional volatility cost the Bucs a possible touchdown and might be part of the reason he can’t settle in until several drives into the game.
The other factor is Dirk Koetter’s coaching. Some of his play-calling this year has been… puzzling. The all run call first drive? Persistent seven-step drops? Even Koetter doesn’t seem to find a groove until well into the game.
The Bucs’ first defensive series hearkened back to a vintage Lovie Smith defense: no pass rush, miscues in the secondary and a very fast score by the Niners. Fortunately, by the end of the quarter, the defensive line settled in and began harassing Kaepernick relentlessly.
There’s definitely progress in the secondary – tighter coverage and fewer blown assignments. It helps that there’s more consistent pass rush. Jay Hayes is working his magic on Will Gholston, Gerald McCoy and apparently Noah Spence.
If you ever want to see a textbook corner turn, watch Noah Spence work Joe Staley on third down in the fourth quarter to force the Niners to kick the field goal. He’s on the verge of being unstoppable.
The one lingering concern is the missed tackles, especially by Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Kwon is ridiculously fast, almost to a fault. He overran sacks on Kaepernick several times, allowing him an open field to run.
Law and Order
Quite simply, the refs were terrible. The first quarter holding call on Donovan Smith was questionable at best. They missed a hold on Akeem Spence on Kaepernick’s touchdown pass and some obvious pass interference on Russell Shepard in the endzone. On the flipside, the refs missed a hold by Brandon Myers on the first play of the third quarter.
The NFL product is suffering in large part due to the uneven regulation of both on-field product. Bad calls are such a common occurrence in the NFL that it wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to consider making referees full-time employees to help improve game-day calls.
One of the secrets to the Bucs’ success in the run game is their jumbo package and sixth offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus. The Bucs utilized the package ten times against the Niners. Excepting holding penalties on Donovan Smith and Kevin Pamphile, the package netted 96 rush yards (12 yard average) including Peyton Barber’s 44-yard touchdown run.
Yes, San Francisco’s defense can’t stop the run, but the jumbo package is a key driver to the success of the Bucs run game. While the base line (with Luke Stocker) is good on its own, this package should remain an integral piece of the offensive gameplan.