The Buccaneers are banking on that happening in 2014, because their first game wasn't wholly satisfying. More so than coming down on the wrong side of a 16-10 final, since wins and losses aren't terribly important in August, Smith's first Buccaneer team will be seeking improvements in several fundamental areas. The goal, as Smith also said on Saturday and Sunday, is to be ready for the Carolina Panthers in Week One of the regular season. They are not ready now, thus making the next three preseason games – and the weeks of practice in between – critical.
Here are five numbers from the Bucs' preseason opener in Jacksonville, and why it is important that they begin to get better next Saturday in Miami.
1. 3.0 sacks and 5 QB hurries allowed.
We'll start with the obvious one. Tampa Bay’s offensive line struggled in the opener, and for that reason it was tough to get a particularly good read on the rest of the team’s rebuilt offense. New starting quarterback
It’s easy – and somewhat accurate – to focus on the two guard positions, since the other three spots are set and the Bucs feel very good about LT
The Buccaneers have already made one change, moving
2. 21.5-yard kickoff return average.
The Buccaneers’ gave kickoff return opportunities to
Of course, the Bucs don’t want their return man – whoever it is that wins the job – to spend the whole season kneeling on the ball. They want a handful of big plays, and they would like to see somebody step up as that sort of playmaker this summer. The player who does will immediately increase his chances of making the 53-man roster by a significant amount.
Kickoff return men can’t always be blamed for poor field position. Sometimes the blocking scheme doesn’t work well or a particularly determined coverage man fights his way through or the kickoff is so high and deep that there’s no time to find a lane. According to Lovie Smith, however, that wasn’t case on Friday night. He indicated that there were several opportunities for the Bucs’ return men to break free and they just didn’t take advantage.
Demps, Patton and James might not be the only ones who get a chance to break one on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium. In practice, the rotation on kickoff returns during special teams periods sometimes features seven or eight different candidates. There’s a good chance a few new players get an opportunity in Week Two; somebody is bound to improve upon Friday’s numbers.
3. Zero takeaways.
Smith said on Saturday that his defenders got their hands on three potential takeaways, but capitalized on none of them. These weren’t necessarily easy opportunities; the short pass that rocketed through Da’Quan Bowers’ hands in the second comes to mind. That would have been a particularly impressive play by Bowers had he reacted quickly enough to hold on to the football – as it is, he got the pass defensed on a third down – but it’s clear that Smith expects his defenders to make such plays. He has high standards in that regard.
Those standards have always paid off. Smith’s defenses in Chicago were known not only for takeaways but for scoring off those picks and fumble recoveries. Every NFL coach emphasizes the importance of turnovers, but Smith is particularly adamant on the issue and he’s produced results. He is simply not going to be satisfied with a defense that can’t make the most of takeaway opportunities.
The Bucs lost that opener in Jacksonville by six points, and seven of the Jaguars’ points came via a pick-six (and a 33-yard extra point, as it were). The Jaguars had the game’s only two turnovers, and if you ask Smith, that was the clear difference in the game. Again, wins and losses aren’t particularly important in August, so the turnover-differential lesson from Friday is pretty easy to swallow. But it needs to improve by September, and Saturday would be a good place to start.
4. 11 penalties.
The Buccaneers had huge penalty problems in 2013, it’s true. They ranked third in both penalties and penalty yards, and they often seemed to come in bunches. They had 23 of them in their first two games alone and averaged over eight flags a game during their season-opening eight-game losing streak.
Of course, the team has a new coaching staff in 2014, which certainly could make a difference. Lovie Smith’s nine teams in Chicago were generally middle of the pack in avoiding turnovers. The 2012 team ranked 16th and that was, in fact, almost exactly the Bears’ average ranking in penalties during Smith’s nine years at the helm.
The new staff didn’t make a difference in the first preseason game, however, as the Bucs were flagged 11 times for 103 yards. The offensive line committed two penalties on the team’s first possession of the season, which obviously kept that drive from going anywhere. In the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 10-10, a 48-yard completion from
In this case, of course, it’s fair to put some of the blame on the fact that this is the preseason. It’s hard to be totally sharp 15 days after the start of training camp, with 80-90 different players shuttling in and out of the game. One would expect a higher rate of penalties in August, and indeed Jacksonville drew eight flags of their own. Still, we’re talking about numbers that need to improve, and the Buccaneers need to get progressively sharper as the preseason moves along. Hopefully that will begin with a lower penalty total on Saturday against Miami.
5. 84 combined yards from 2014 draftees
This isn’t a terrible number, really. If your team’s draft adds close to 100 yards to the offense per game, you’ve probably done well. The Buccaneers, however, almost certainly need more from their 2014 draft class than that.
In this case in particular it’s important to note that this should not be considered criticism. The Buccaneers played so many people on Friday that their offense could have literally come from anywhere on the roster.
That said, we can certainly hope as fans to see more from the team’s 2014 draft class on Saturday. Mike Evans, in particular, did not play a particularly large number of snaps in the opener; one can expect that to change as the preseason develops. Seferian-Jenkins did play quite a bit, and his numbers would have been noticeably better if not for that aforementioned penalty. Sims tied for the team lead with six carries and was just one off the team lead with three targets in the passing game, so Smith and his crew are obviously trying to learn more about him. Most of Herron’s playing time came late.
Evans, Seferian-Jenkins and Sims are almost certain to be prominently featured in the offense this fall. Herron could carve out a decent role, as well. If all four of those rookies are seeing significant minutes, they will have to at least double their yardage total from the preseason opener for the Bucs’ offense to be effective.