In most preseason games, especially the first one after months of no football, fans are eager to see their team’s shiny new weapons in action. In the case of the Buccaneers, fans wanted to see Mike Evans and our humongous new TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins jump over cornerbacks for circus catches. Alas, it was not meant to be. What was hoped for quickly became a faded memory replaced with painful-to-watch offensive line play.
Both teams, the Jaguars and the Buccaneers, are touting brand new retooled offensive lines. 4 out of the 5 starters for the Jaguars are new additions from last year with a total experience level of about 8 games on average per lineman. They are fielding the youngest offensive line in the league with only one player over the age of 26.
The Buccaneers, after releasing core veterans of the line Davin Joseph, Donald Penn, and Jeremy Zuttah, are also starting a brand new group up front. The left tackle, center, and right tackle are all completely new to the Buccaneers. None of them are veteran starters. Anthony Collins, acquired from the Bengals, is the most veteran with 7 years in the NFL and 25 career starts. Our new center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, a 6 year veteran also with 25 starts, is the only current lineman on the roster with a full year of starts. He played for Green Bay in 2013 and started all 16 games. He had 6 starts in 2012, 3 starts in 2011, and did not start any games in the previous 3 years before 2011. In the game against the Jaguars, the starting guards were #79 Jemon Meredith on the right and Oneil Cousins on the left.
The game started off well for the Buccaneers. The Jaguars got the ball first and tried a run to the right end with their second string running back #30 J. Todman who was running in place of their starting running back T. Gerhart (out with a hip flexor injury). No sooner did Todman get the ball than #93 G. McCoy for the Buccaneers tackled him for a five yard loss. This was a spectacular play in that McCoy totally destroyed his blocker, #66 J. McClendon, a third year veteran with only two starts in 9 games played. It was a total mismatch and McCoy made the Jaguars pay for it. McClendon ended up on his back before the ball was even handed off.
The second play of the game did not go as well for the Buccaneers. Todman ran the ball straight at McCoy who got pushed out of the way by #67, A. Pasztor, a guard with 15 games started in two years. Todman ran the ball through the gap created by Pasztor for a gain of 5 yards. It effectively nullified the previous play by McCoy in yardage. The third play of the drive, going against #66 again, McCoy did a classic swim move to get past his blocker and put pressure on the quarterback, #7 C. Henne, causing him to throw a short six yard dump pass to his check down player #30 Todman. They were short of a first down and punted. This would be the theme for the Buccaneers all night on defense. Give and take.
#54 Lavonte David and #29 Leonard Johnson both had excellent passes defensed during the game. David continues to be a force at linebacker and Johnson looks as though he has improved again this year. Both passes were batted down with textbook defense and looked absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, the pass defended by David ended up being tipped in the air by Barron and eventually caught by a Jaguar for positive yardage. That was one of those plays where the defense did everything right but the Jaguars got the lucky bounce.
Our defense was tied for third last year with the Kansas City Chiefs with 21 interceptions on the season. We held the number one spot for a number of weeks last year and I see no reason why this year should be any different. Lovie Smith is known as a coach that preaches takeaways. Having ball hawks in the backfield like Johnson, Banks, Barron, Goldston, and a linebacking core with coverage skills such as David possesses should keep us at the top of the list for interceptions. This game showcased some of those skills but none that translated into interceptions. It was rather a disappointment to not see any takeaways produced by the Buccaneers defense during the whole game. The Jaguars managed to get two.
The offensive line for the Buccaneers appeared, well, offensive. It was a very poor showing. Our shiny new left tackle, #73 A. Collins, allowed a sack and his defenders created a couple of turnovers. #79 Meredith, our starting right guard, allowed a number of defenders past him and he looked very uncomfortable at the position. It was a surprise for me as I thought he looked very well playing left guard last year for the last half of the season. As a result of his performance in this preseason game he was removed from the starting role for the next preseason game with #64 J. Daniels replacing him.
The other guard position fared no better. #75 O. Cousins had a very difficult time and allowed too much pressure on our quarterback. He has retained his starting role for the next preseason game probably due to our lack of depth at that position. Even our new center, #62 E. Deitrich-Smith, missed a blitz pickup which caused pressure on our quarterback resulting in an interception returned for a touchdown. The offensive line was overall a massive failure.
But with that being said, I think that panic is not due yet. Offensive lines need time to gel together and learn each other. They are the most vital position on the field for communication and working together. With this being their first game together these types of growing pains are expected. However, Lovie has shown an immense dearth of ability when it comes to putting together and coaching offensive lines. I think that panicking now would be a bad thing. This is not a matter of bad players but instead is a matter of keeping these players together and working together in a complex zone blocking scheme. If we keep plugging players into the line trying to find one that works we will be hurting ourselves more than helping. Let the line play together and gel. That is the only hope we have of eventually fielding a good front five.
Other notes from the game:
- #5 B. Bortles, rookie quarterback for the Jaguars, looked fantastic. The kid has got great accuracy and poise. I think the Jaguars have found themselves a franchise quarterback.
- I counted 7 offensive penalties on the Buccaneers and 11 total penalties. That is not acceptable. We had that problem last year and it should have been one of the first things that Lovie corrected.
- Our starting defensive line did not look near as impressive as it should have going up against the Jaguars new offensive line. Our new high priced defensive end, #90 M. Johnson, did absolutely nothing. He spent more time on the ground than not it seemed and got zero pressure on the quarterback, which is what he was brought in to do.
- #44 B. Magee, a linebacker who played with the Browns last year and is fighting for a roster spot on the Bucs, stood out as a player who was there to earn a job. He laid some good hits and played with a motor. He did get called for a penalty for a defenseless receiver hit but that makes me like him even more. He will probably not make the team but he is someone to keep an eye on.
- Our depth at the defensive line was not as good as hoped. They never got any pressure on Bortles, besides a lone sack by #96 S. Means, due to a missed block by an offensive lineman. Bortles is the kind of quarterback who, if given time, will pick your team apart. Which he did, going 7-11 for 117 yards.
- The score should have been at least 7 points higher in favor of the Jaguars. They had two missed snaps which pushed them out of field goal range twice. And then they chose to go for a two point conversion instead of an extra point after a touchdown. The Bucs defense did stuff them on the goal line for that two point conversion but the other two missed field goal opportunities were simply the Jaguars shooting themselves in the foot.
- Bright spot for the Bucs: Connor Barth is back. He is worth every penny we pay him. Same with Koenen. Those two are workhorses for our special teams.
- Our TEs both dropped passes. Wright and Jenkins both dropped good passes on third down causing us to punt. That issue needs to be resolved.
In summary, our team did not look as good as expected. With so much turnover at the offensive line during the off season it was a given that there would be some bumps in the road but this turned out to be a sinkhole on the interstate. Our defense looked good in the secondary and linebacker positions but the defensive line did not hold up to its potential. Our defensive line should have abused and punished their offensive line, who is going through the same transition as our offensive line, but they did not get near the pressure or penetration that the Jaguars defensive line did consistently. The Bucs second string defensive line looked almost anemic, which is worrying. As for the offensive side of the ball, it is difficult to give any true assessment due to the poor play of the offensive line. McCown was scrambling much of his time in the pocket and the run game was below average. The lone bright spot there was #25 M. James who made a couple of spectacular run plays later in the game. He plays hard and I hope we retain him.
In 2011, a very large percentage of highlight footage was shown of other teams against the Buccaneers. It was almost a given that when the media showed highlights of a game it was going to be some team lighting it up against the Buccaneers. That is how bad we were in 2011. On the NFL Network’s top 10 plays of the 2014 preseason week 1, two of the highlights are the Jaguars against the Buccaneers with the Buccaneers being on the losing side of the highlights. I do not want to see a repeat of 2011. That was the worst football I have ever seen and I have been watching football for 40 years. Please, Lovie, whatever happens, do not bring back 2011 Bucs football.