While I had every intention of getting this review out yesterday, I obviously didn’t do my job as expected, which is rather fitting since some of the Buccaneers didn’t bother to do their job as expected either. The difference, is that if I’m a day late then I’m simply a day late, but when you’re playing under Coach Arians and you don’t bother to do your job, you find yourself looking for a new team, much as was the case with Evan Smith who was handed his walking papers just a few short hours after returning home from the first preseason game of the new season. During my positional breakdowns heading into the new season, I had already predicted that Evan Smith wouldn’t see any playing time, so this doesn’t come as a shock, but rather a pleasant surprise as the move frees up another $2 million in salary cap that can be used to address one of the many holes we’ve seen exposed not only on the offensive line depth but also on the defense.
The first team offense for the Buccaneers looked exactly like we had hoped they would. Quarterback Jameis Winston was flawless going 5/6 for 40 yards and a touchdown. Before you start screaming he couldn’t be flawless with an incompletion, remind yourself that when I break down a game, I look at the entire picture. The incomplete pass was not the fault of Winston but rather was simply due to Perriman getting caught up by the defender and not being able to get to where he should have been in time. This wasn’t the fault of Perriman either, and anyone that watched the game, saw Perriman do something that DeSean Jackson couldn’t be bothered with, and that was run out the play and actually go for the catch no matter how far off he was. It was simply a good play by the defense of Pittsburgh and we won’t count that against Jameis nor Breshad. Winston also showed improved decision making by tucking the ball and running for the first down rather than forcing a throw simply to get rid of the ball. The protection was also much improved over last year with Winston not really being in any real trouble of getting sacked other than the play, he decided to tuck and run, which proved to be the right decision.
Blaine Gabbert is currently slotted in as the backup for Winston, but based on his performance, that’s not going to be lasting too long. It wasn’t so much that Gabbert performed terribly, as he went 6 for 8 for 50 yards, but it was that Ryan Griffin just looked better. He wound up seeing quite a bit of playing time and used that time to complete 26 of 43 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for him, he was the only quarterback to get sacked, as he was dropped behind the line 4 times for a total of 30 yards. We should again see Griffin with a good deal of playing time next week, so the opportunity for him to not only improve his play but improve his standing in the depth chart is completely up to him at this point.
The play of the offensive line would continue to show a big improvement over last year, but this time it would come in opening up holes for the running game. We were given looks at four different running backs and with that came both some good and some bad. Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones II (RoJo) looked like we expected with Barber showing some bob and weave moves that would have made Ali proud and RoJo showing what we knew already, he’s a man on a mission. The combined for 36 yards on 7 carries before being replaced by Andre Ellington and Dare Ogunbowale, and that’s where the differences started to become very clear. We had heard throughout training camp that Ogunbowale was determined to make the roster, and he definitely played like it. While not averaging as many yards per carry as Barber and Jones, he did manage 34 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. To find another Buccaneers game where a running back had more than one touchdown, you would have to go back more than two full seasons…that’s right, in all of 2017 and 2018, including preseason, there wasn’t a running back that had more than 1 rushing touchdown in a game, that’s how anemic our running game has been. Speaking of anemic, that takes us from Ogunbowale to Ellington. Ellington was brought in as one of Bruce’s Arizona guys and was expected to immediately slide into the number three running back spot. If his performance against the Steelers was any indication, he has a long way to go before he can lock up a roster spot. He managed a meager 9 yards on 4 carries and 1 catch for 6 yards. Sure this is the preseason, but when you’re getting shown up by a collegiate walk-on who went undrafted, it doesn’t speak well for your job security.
Job security moves us into one of the deepest parts of the roster, the receiving corps, which for this break down will also include the tight ends. Spencer Schnell and Tanner Hudson both caught 7 of 9 passes with Schnell racking up 119 yards and Hudson racking up 84 yards with a touchdown. Bryant Mitchell caught all 5 of the passes thrown his way but only managed 22 yards total on 4 of those combined, as his longest reception was a 10-yard pass. Not great yardage, but he proved he can catch the ball, which is more than we can say for half of those who saw time at receiver. Justin Watson aka Mr. Feel Good Story of the Week, caught 4 of 7 passes for 37 yards with his longest reception being a 21-yard catch. Bobo Wilson and Anthony Johnson, both caught 3 of 5 passes for 36 and 33 yards respectively. Breshad Perriman and Cortrelle Simpson both caught 1 of the 2 passes thrown their way for 11 and 7 yards respectively, and Ellington, Jones, and Barber all three caught the only passes thrown their way for 6, 5, and 4 yards each. Chris Godwin finished out the group of receivers who proved they can catch the ball by catching both passes thrown his way for 20 yards and a touchdown. From there, we would see Antony Auclair, Jordan Leggett, and Bruce Anderson combine for 1 catch on 7 attempts for a grand total of 26 yards. All in all, not a bad showing at all from the receivers, and it’s going to be interesting to see who wins out a roster spot and joins the ranks with Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and the best receiver in the league, Mike Evans.
The defense was an entirely different matter, as we saw a hodgepodge mixture of starters and reserves throughout the entire game. With injuries taking their toll and certain players not being given much playing time, we saw immediately that defensive depth is something this team is seriously lacking. The tackling looked a lot better than what we saw at times last season with Kevin Minter, Patrick O’Connor, Corey Nelson, Ryan Smith, Lukas Denis, Kentrell Brice, and Devante Bond all racking up 3 or more combined tackles with Nelson and O’Connor picking up a tackle for loss along with Deone Bucannon, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jordan Whitehead, and Carl Nassib all recording a tackle for loss as well.
When it came to the rookies, what we saw were some rookies looking very lost as Sean Murphy-Bunting, Devin White, and Mike Edwards didn’t seem to know where they were supposed to be half of the time and appeared to be in the wrong spot the other half of the time. This was to be expected, though, as it was their first game, it was covered nationally, they are still learning the playbook, and it takes more than a couple of weeks to adjust to the professional level. There’s no doubt that the coaching staff will get them to where they need to be, and this outing definitely gave them an idea of what they need to work on.
The biggest thing we needed to work on which was a concern going into the game were the penalties, and wow did they ever rack up fast. The Buccaneers were called for 14 penalties totaling 112 yards, which was almost 40 more penalty yards than the Steelers had. That breaks down on average to 8 yards per penalty, which if you’re facing 3rd and 8, it makes for an easy first down. Again, it’s preseason and between nerves and rookies and a new game-plan, some penalties are to be expected, but 14 is 10 too many, as Arians has made it clear that he wants no more than 4 total team penalties in a game. With the Buccaneers being the 5th most penalized team last season, we knew this was an area that was in need of serious improvement, and from the looks of things, there’s still a long way to go.
One of the key defensive plays in the game came early in the 1st quarter when we saw what appeared to be Vernon Hargreaves getting burnt deep, which resulted in a big gain for the Steelers and a lot of fans saying Hargreaves hasn’t improved any over last season. However, if you really look at that play and break it down, you’ll see that it wasn’t the fault of Hargreaves at all. Jordan Whitehead bit on an underneath route rather than passing off on Hargreaves zone, which in turn forced Hargreaves to try and recover and overcome piss poor communication. Hargreaves then turned around the very next drive and picked off a pass that unfortunately was called off due to one of the many Tampa Bay penalties. Hargreaves is out to prove he’s the leader of the secondary, and that’s a good thing for this team either way it goes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Buccaneers have finally found a kicker, and his name is Matt Gay. He not only kicked the longest field goal in Heinz Field history, but he did it with enough leg left over that he easily could have made it from another 10 yards back. While it’s only one kick, and still only the preseason, one thing we know in Tampa is that kicking has killed us, so seeing a ray of hope in the kicking game is definitely something to get excited about.
Speaking of the kicking game, we can’t talk about kicking without mentioning the returns as well. We saw some decent returns from Andre Ellington, Bobo Wilson, and Ronald Jones, will all three averaging between 19 and 20 yards per return. While none of the three really stood out among the others, it could prove very beneficial to Ellington when it comes to making a spot on the team since his running performance wasn’t helping him to stand out.
Since we’re on the subject of standing out, we can’t go without mentioning the forced fumble by Mazzi Wilkins. Not only did he force a fumble, but that fumble eventually led to one of Ogunbowale’s touchdowns. It’s this kind of play that the Buccaneers have been lacking, and turning turnovers into points will go a long way into not only finding a spot on the roster for Mazzi but in turning that 5-11 record into something a little more playoff friendly.
All in all, it was a very good game on a lot of fronts, and it showed in other areas we have a lot of room to improve and some issues that need addressing, but that’s the good thing about it being the first preseason game, the score doesn’t count, the record doesn’t count, and there’s still time to improve before things start to get real.
The scoring breakdown was as follows:
Buccaneers 1 8:31 C. Godwin 9 yd. pass from J. Winston (C. Santos kick) (12-81, 6:29) 7 0
Steelers 2 6:58 C. Boswell 33 yd. Field Goal (14-68, 7:11) 7 3
Steelers 2 1:56 J. Washington 8 yd. pass from M. Rudolph (M. Wright kick) (7-64, 3:37) 7 10
Steelers 2 1:03 C. Boswell 47 yd. Field Goal (4–2, 0:21) 7 13
Buccaneers 2 0:00 M. Gay 55 yd. Field Goal (7-52, 1:03) 10 13
Steelers 3 9:25 Z. Gentry 3 yd. pass from M. Rudolph (M. Wright kick) (3-65, 1:31) 10 20
Buccaneers 3 3:21 D. Ogunbowale 10 yd. run (pass failed) (8-76, 4:05) 16 20
Steelers 4 14:15 T. Jones 8 yd. pass from D. Hodges (C. Boswell kick) (8-76, 4:06) 16 27
Steelers 4 9:14 M. Wright 42 yd. Field Goal (7-19, 2:23) 16 30
Buccaneers 4 4:47 T. Hudson 4 yd. pass from R. Griffin (pass failed) (13-76, 4:27) 22 30
Buccaneers 4 0:10 D. Ogunbowale 1 yd. run (pass failed) (13-64, 2:11) 28 30
Ten Longest Plays for Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(Yards-Qtr-Play Start-Play Description)
30 4 1-10-TB 48 (1:49)
(No Huddle, Shotgun) R. Griffin pass short right to S. Schnell to PIT 22 for 30 yards (M. Branch)
26 3 1-10-PIT 47 (5:00)
R. Griffin pass deep left to A. Auclair to PIT 21 for 26 yards (P. Locke; R. Spillane)
26 4 3-10-TB 49 (7:20)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass deep left to S. Schnell to PIT 25 for 26 yards (M. Branch).
24 2 1-10-TB 11 (:59)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass deep middle to T. Hudson to TB 35 for 24 yards (T. Matakevich).
22 4 2-28-PIT 40 (1:07)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass deep right to S. Schnell pushed ob at PIT 18 for 22 yards (T. Mathis) [C. Sheehy].
21 1 2-15-PIT 47 (1:10)
(Shotgun) B. Gabbert pass deep middle to T. Hudson to PIT 26 for 21 yards (K. Kelly).
21 3 2-20-PIT 31 (4:09)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass deep middle to J. Watson to PIT 10 for 21 yards (R. Spillane).
21 4 1-10-PIT 25 (6:42)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass deep middle to S. Schnell to PIT 4 for 21 yards (M. Allen).
19 4 1-10-TB 9 (14:09)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass short right to B. Wilson to TB 28 for 19 yards (M. Allen).
4-11-PIT 23 (:52)
(Shotgun) R. Griffin pass short middle to T. Hudson to PIT 10 for 13 yards (M. Branch). PENALTY on PIT-M. Branch, Unnecessary Roughness, 5 yards, enforced at PIT 10.