-The offense looks in sync and balanced judging from opening drive.
Sure, it was a small sample size – starting quarterback Jameis Winston directed just one drive for the Bucs before he was pulled. But it was all he needed. Winston went five-for-six for 40 yards and a touchdown after the Bucs won the opening coin toss and elected to receive. That alone is a sign that it’s now the Bruce Arians show – he always wants to strike first. Notice that Winston only threw for 40 yards even though the drive started at the Bucs’ own 19-yard line. Almost exactly half of the Bucs’ offensive yards came on the ground on a combination of runs from both Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones. It was Barber who got the nod on the very first offensive play in the game as he took the handoff from Winston for three yards. Then wide receiver Breshad Perriman caught the ball for 11 yards and the first Bucs’ first down of 2019.
From there, it was a medley of rushing attempts and passes (and even a five-yard screen pass to RoJo) as Winston moved the offense fluidly down the field. While Head Coach Bruce Arians liked what he saw, he was careful not to let the hype get too overblown.
“Like the way we started,” Arians said. “Our starters against their backups, they should be good.”
Indeed, Pittsburgh played only a handful of their projected regular season starters on their first drive. And it’s preseason. And it was one drive. However, the resulting nine-yard touchdown pass on a screen to Chris Godwin was an absolutely beautiful play that reinforced a couple of things: Winston is improving in his decision-making by seeing screen options and Godwin is as multi-faceted a receiver as they come. He will be a huge part of this offense – just like Arians said he would.
-The defense looks wildly different from last year already and brought pressure.
The other side of the ball fared well, too. The Bucs came out in their base package of their new hybrid 3-4 system and the very first play went for a loss as a result. Second-year safety Jordan Whitehead, who played at Pitt in college and is from Aliquippa, came downhill and tackled running back Jaylen Samuels in the backfield for a loss of one. Whitehead has looked better against the run so far this preseason and wasted no time showing it back in his home state. Steelers quarterback Joshua Dobbs, however, was able to connect with receiver James Washington for 43 yards on the next play – but that didn’t phase the Bucs’ defense. They answered with a sack, credited to inside linebacker Deone Bucannon, who with a little help from rookie Devin White, was able to bring down Dobbs for a loss of eight. The Steelers stalled on third-and-long and boom, the first series resulted in a punt for Pittsburgh and a stop for Tampa Bay.
What was really encouraging to see was actually later in the game with the reserves playing. The Bucs committed their first turnover of the game on a fumble from quarterback Ryan Griffin after just two plays on offense. What does the defense do? Brings six on the pressure on Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph. It resulted in a two-yard loss. Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles said his is an ‘attack-style’ defense and it’s very clear that he meant it – even playing his reserves. It previewed the system more than the individual talent and it’s certainly shaping up to be something to be excited for as the regular season gets closer.
-Reserves make their presence known.
Obviously, the big story is which players stood out among the reserves. First, we have to talk about rookie kicker Matt Gay, who just before the half, nailed a 55-yard field goal to pull the Bucs within three points. This was Gay’s first NFL kick, and in unfamiliar territory, yet he still delivered - and it was longest kick ever in the preseason or regular season at Heinz Field.
Despite getting in somewhat of a hole in the second half, the Bucs fought back. It was largely on the shoulders of three young offensive players: second-year tight end Tanner Hudson, second-year Buccaneer Dare Ogunbowale and rookie undrafted free agent wide receiver Spencer Schnell. Ogunbowale punched two touchdowns in on the ground, one from 10 yards out that saw him lunge into the end zone. Hudson came on extremely strong in the second half, making a series of grabs including a one-handed touchdown catch just across the goal line that was a thing of beauty. Hudson actually led the team in receiving yards until nine minutes left in the game when Schnell went OFF, amassing 119 yards on seven catches in the last half of the fourth quarter alone. If you had to decide on which three players helped their case for the 53-man roster – you have to think it was those guys.
View photos from Tampa Bay's Week 1 Preseason matchup against Pittsburgh.