Lovie Smith met with the press on Monday afternoon, approximately 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars, 38-31, at Raymond James Stadium. In the interim, Smith and his team had an opportunity to review the tape from that game and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in Week Five of the 2015 season.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Lovie Smith and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Bucs' second win of the season.
Behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers victory over the Jaguars on October 11th.
- The Buccaneers surpassed 350 yards for the second game in a row, but this time they did it in a manner that they plan to make their offensive identity.**
There probably won't be too many games in which a pair of Buccaneer running backs combine for 294 yards from scrimmage, but that won't be for a lack of trying.
Doug Martin and Charles Sims pulled off a feat that's rare to Buccaneer annals when they each surpassed 130 combined rushing and receiving yards in Sunday's win. They may have set a standard that will be hard to match, but they also established a blueprint that will be easy to remember. The Bucs ran the ball 40 times for 183 yards and they intend to continue to make the rushing attack the core of the team's offensive identity.
"I don't think there's any doubt that it is [the Bucs' identity]," said Smith. "Once you have that run going…and when I say 'run going,' there are some trick-em runs, and then there are [obvious runs]. I mean, we were in two-back [formation] a lot of the time, they had eight men in the box. We're running it, they know it, and then you can still run it. Yes, that just sets up everything else. Of course the running game is a quarterback's best friend. That and the check-down is a quarterback's best friend and we were able to get all that going yesterday."
Martin and Sims took the pressure off rookie QB Jameis Winston in two ways. First, their effective rushing throughout the game kept the offense out of too many long third-down situations. The Buccaneers converted on five of 11 third-down tries, their second straight game at 45% or better. Second, the two-backs provided Winston with an easy – and effective – option when his downfield targets weren't open. Winston completed nearly 70% of his passes, was not intercepted and still averaged 11 yards per attempt thanks to the good work his backs did after the catch.
"Doug Martin looked as good today as he did yesterday, making people miss," said Smith of what he saw on tape. "Charles Sims, [too]. Jameis Winston made great decisions. So exactly what you wanted on offense, we were able to do yesterday: third-down conversions, of course ball security."
The Bucs' offense did all this despite the presence of some red flags heading into the game. The first concern was Jacksonville's stout run defense, which had been allowing just 83 yards per game, fourth-best in the NFL. Adding to that was another injury-induced switch on the Buccaneers' offensive front. With stalwart guard Logan Mankins sidelined by a groin injury, second-year tackle Kevin Pamphile moved inside to the left guard spot and kept the momentum going for Tampa Bay's offensive line. Even with Gosder Cherilus replacing an injured Demar Dotson at right tackle and Joe Hawley stepping in for an injured Evan Smith at center, the Bucs have had two good rushing games in a row and have allowed just four sacks over the last three weeks.
"This is what we expected them to do," said Smith. "This is what their talent says they should do. I know we have young players – a guy like Kevin Pamphile hasn't gotten a lot in there, but he's been around a while. Whether you're blocking from the guard position or the tackle position, there's going to be somebody on your outside edge that you have to take care of and you're expected to step up. Again, they did a great job yesterday."
- It's good to have a trustworthy kicker. **The Buccaneers signed a new kicker on Tuesday and threw him right into the fire on Sunday, trusting him to make shots from 35, 45 and 47 yards. He delivered on all three, plus three extra point attempts for 12 crucial points.
Of course, it helps a coach's confidence when that new kicker also happens to be the franchise's all-time leader in field goal percentage. Connor Barth returned to the job he held from the middle of the 2009 season to the end of 2012 and looked like he had never left. The second-most accurate kicker in the NFL since the beginning of 2011, Barth hit most of his shots equidistant between the left and right uprights.
The Buccaneers had missed six of their first 12 field goals and two of their first eight extra point attempts while employing rookie kicker Kyle Brindza through the first four games, and kicking woes played a big part in losses at Houston and to Carolina. Brindza is a talented young kicker with a very strong leg who will likely get another shot at the NFL, but the Buccaneers definitely enjoyed having a proven commodity on hand Sunday.
To top it off, Barth answered questions about his less-than-ideal kickoff ability by banging all eight of his tries into the end zone, five for touchbacks.
"It was exciting to watch, to say the least, to put it mildly," said Smith. "You know, last week [the media] reminded me forever, 'Lovie, okay, you guys are going to have to cover this week. Connor is going to hit it to about the 20-yard line every [kickoff].' That wasn't the case. He really did a great job kicking off and of course he was perfect [on placekicks]. What a homecoming, a welcome back and all that. There's a lot on the kicker, to perform when his number is called. He stepped up to the plate big-time."
- The pass rush is starting to produce the types of numbers the Buccaneers' defense needs, but it can still improve.**
Tampa Bay's defense dropped Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles six times on Sunday, their high-water sack mark for the season. Four of those six sacks came on third downs, ending three drives and forcing the Jaguars into a low-percentage fourth-and-18 situation on their final drive (which they, unfortunately, converted). The Bucs sacked Bortles three times in the first half and three times in the second half, an indication that there were bursts of good pressure on the Jags quarterback throughout the contest.
READ: BUCS VS. JAGS GAME STORY
Still, Smith thinks there were opportunities for even more disruptive play in the Jaguars' backfield.
"I'm pleased in general [but] we left a little bit out on the field yesterday," said Smith. "That's what Joe [Cullen] and Paul [Spicer] will say, but you have to be pleased when you see young players like 'Jacq' [Jacquies Smith] coming around, Will Gholston moving into a more prominent role, Howard Jones."
Photos from Buccaneers vs. Jaguars at Raymond James Stadium.
Jones, a rookie just promoted from the practice squad, had a pair of third-down drive-killing sacks in his very first NFL game. Though one game doesn't make this a certainty, the Buccaneers hope they've uncovered another hidden gem as they did last year with Jacquies Smith. At the very least, the team needs some of its less proven players to step up and help established sack artists like Smith and Gerald McCoy (1.5 sacks yesterday, 4.5 on the season) keep the pressure up.
"It's good to see a young player like that come up and get his opportunity to get playing time and come through," said Lovie Smith of Jones. "I think your first passing situation, you get a sack. What a great move, too. So that's been fun to watch, some of those players stepping up."
Jones had a chance to show what he could do because the Buccaneers have set their 46-man game-day roster in a manner that emphasizes the D-Line a little more. That was a fairly easy decision in Week Five when third quarterback Ryan Griffin was the only healthy scratch, but even when some of the team's injured players get back into the mix following the bye week, expect the D-Line to still get game-day priority.
"We kind of changed it up a little bit, started dressing eight defensive linemen instead of seven and letting everybody have an opportunity to play," said Smith. "You get that competition on who gets back there [to the quarterback] the quickest. It's just not that. You take away the quarterback run yesterday and we did a fairly good job against the run too. Of course the defensive line and the linebackers – along with the secondary – had a lot to do with that too."