Dirk Koetter met with the press on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Cleveland Browns, 30-13, in the third week of the 2016 preseason. In the interim, Koetter had an opportunity to review the tape from that game, meet with his team and gain a more detailed understanding of what unfolded in the Bucs' first home game of 2016.
So, upon further review, here are a few things Dirk Koetter and the rest of us learned from – and/or what new questions were raised by – the Buccaneers' preseason win over the Browns.
1. The first half of Friday night's game was an example of how explosive the Buccaneers' offense can be.
Koetter's original plan for the starting offense was to bring it back out after halftime and give it another series or two in the third quarter. However, after the Buccaneers ran 39 plays in the first two quarters and built a 27-10 lead, Koetter and his staff decided they had seen enough from the first team.
That was particularly true of second-year quarterback Jameis Winston, who needed just two quarters to put up a stat line that would be perfectly acceptable over 60 minutes of play: 16 of 25 passing for 259 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. What put Winston on pace for a 500-yard passing game was a string of successful downfield throws.
"Offensively, [we had a] fast start, first four possessions we scored," said Koetter. "We need to make all four touchdowns, but still, that's a great start. Ten explosive plays – our goal for the game is eight and we had 10 in the first half. We had zero in the second half."
Winston threw five passes in Mike Evans's direction, all five of which were caught for a total of 115 yards. That mans every time Winston targeted Evans, the Buccaneers picked up an average of 23.0 yards. Some of that was due to how well the young passer recognized what the Cleveland defense was trying to do and was able to adjust to a more effective play. For instance, a perfect sideline lob on a go-route by Evans picked up 47 yards in the second quarter to open up an 85-yard touchdown drive, and that was an instance of Winston checking to a better option.
"We had a run play on; they actually came out in 3-4 and we were expecting nickel," Koetter explained. "They came out in 3-4, he went right to the check and got him. And then there was another one later when they showed a blitz [and] we went six-man protection. They showed a blitz that overloads six-man protection, a blitz they got us on in practice the other day, and Jameis got us right to the right thing, hit Mike for a first down. Those are two examples of him doing a great job."
Vincent Jackson complemented Evans' big nigh with 78 yards on four catches of his own, averaging 19.0 yards per grab. Winston helped his two big-play receivers get open downfield by buying time with good movement in the pocket. As many precise routes as Koetter and Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken have in their playbook, sometimes the most effective plays are ones that have time to deviate from the original script.
"Todd Monken tells the offense all the time that … our number-one pass play is 'scramble,'" said Koetter. "He did a study and there were … 70 or 90 of them last year. Just look at that game – Jameis moved around a lot. On the one down our sideline to Vincent Jackson, we were actually working a double-move and we were trying to get Mike on a deep move going back to the other corner, but Vince was one-on-one as well."
2. Several offensive linemen stepped up in a big way on a night when their ranks were thinned significantly, once again proving the value of versatility.
As Koetter noted, the Buccaneers pulled off a rather dominant win on a night in which they actually lost the turnover battle, 1-0. That's not going to happen often, but on Friday it was largely because the home team was so overwhelming in one other area: sack differential. The Buccaneers sacked Cleveland quarterbacks eight times, getting to starter Robert Griffin III five times in the first half, while Tampa Bay's three quarterbacks weren't taken down once.
With Gerald McCoy back after missing the second preseason, the Bucs' pass-rush was intact again, and it showed. On the other hand, Tampa Bay's offensive line was missing a host of players, including starting guards Ali Marpet and Kevin Pamphile, and was giving significant time to a number of players who have only been with the team for a few weeks.
Most notably, first-year player Josh Allen stepped in at left guard for Pamphile while veteran Evan Smith slid over from center to replace Marpet at right guard. With two rounds of roster cuts coming, Allen may have helped his cause tremendously with a solid performance, while Smith once again demonstrated his ability to play multiple positions.
"That was huge what Josh Allen did last night," said Koetter. "Josh steps up, plays 40 plays at left guard. The versatility – we talked about this last night – of Evan Smith, who's in a battle for the starting center job, the team needed him to kick over and play right guard because Ali was out. And then Joe [Hawley] was down for a play, he moves over to center, then he goes back to right guard."
Koetter also noted once again that Winston and the Bucs' reserve quarterbacks, Mike Glennon and Ryan Griffin, moved in and out of the pocket well during the night, which was a big factor in the lack of sacks.
"On the zero sacks, that's a team thing and the quarterbacks did a good job of getting the ball out," said Koetter. "Jameis took a couple hits, Mike took a couple hits. And then second, hats off to George [Warhop] and Butch [Barry], our O-Line coaches, for getting those guys ready."
3. Tampa Bay's cornerbacks got a chance to show what they could do Friday night, and the results were encouraging.
Washington finished the game with 211 gross passing yards (the eight sacks further put a dent in the net totals) and only had two completions that gained more than 17 yards. Both of those were notched by wide receiver Josh Gordon, who scored the Browns' only touchdown of the night on a spectacular43-yard catch late in the first half.
Cornerback Brent Grimes actually had tight coverage on that play throughout Gordon's deep route, but the two got tangled up at the end and Gordon was able to find the ball while Grimes hit the turf. That has been a theme throughout the first three preseason games, with Buccaneer corners frequently contesting passes, and winning more often than not. Tampa Bay's defense is allowing an anemic 132.7 net passing yards per game, a little less than half of the per-game average put up by the Buccaneers' offense (267.3).
"I think we've got good depth at corner and I think a bunch of those corners showed up last night and made plays at different times," said Koetter. "Johnthan Banks made a couple nice plays poking balls out. The thing, we didn't get our hands on balls but we affected the quarterback and affecting the quarterback in this league is pretty important."
Banks's sharp play in the second half helped keep Cleveland's reserves from closing the gap that the Bucs' starters had built before intermission. He broke up a third-and-five pass by Josh McCown to force a punt on a drive that had reached midfield, then did it again moments later after the Buccaneers had coughed up the ball on a fumble in the red zone. Cleveland settled for a field goal.
As training camp progressed over the past three weeks, Koetter gradually tabbed Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, Alterraun Verner and Jude Adjei-Barimah as the top four cornerbacks on the depth chart. He mentioned that Banks and 2016 free agent pick-up Josh Robinson were battling for the fifth spot, but did not specify whether the Bucs intended to keep five or six corners on the 53-man roster. Given the difficulty in building solid cornerback depth in the NFL, those players will have every chance to prove they all belong on that regular-season roster.