After a gloomy 1 – 3 start, Hurricane Matthew wasn’t the only thing creating panic in the state of Florida. This past week, the Carolina Panthers hosted Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. I have to believe the NFL expected these two teams would put on a show as they were forming this year’s schedule. Sadly – I think they were wrong. Both teams entered the game beat-up and 1 – 3. For the Bucs, this win was significant as they went into their bye week. Although the anxiety has already set in on most fans, there are still “silver linings” we can take away from the first quarter of football.
On the defensive side, the Bucs still need time to understand the roles of their position under Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. The secondary remains in fluctuation and injuries to key players have slowed down the pass rush. However, there have been glimpses of what this defense can achieve providing some hope to Bucs fans. Vernon Hargreaves III has made several splash plays, but has not seized on the opportunities to pick off opposing quarterbacks. As he becomes more comfortable in this defense and the speed of the game, he will likely win more of the battles with opposing receivers. Brent Grimes finally recorded his first interception as a Buccaneer. Clinton McDonald did an excellent job filling in for the injured Gerald McCoy last Sunday. Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted at his press conference that it was one of his best games. On Monday night, all but one starter on the line was out, and while the Bucs were unable to create a large pass rush, the undrafted free agents did a decent job filling in. Although not the most ideal situation, I now can take some solace if any of the starters have long-term injuries.
Offensively, Jameis Winston continues to struggle with accuracy and staring down his receivers. No surprise here – Mike Evans remains Winston’s favorite target. Evans holds the team high catches with 32 for a total of 449 yards. With Doug Martin out, Winston has more pass attempt than probably Coach Koetter would like to, but resurgence of Jacquizz Rodgers on Monday Night helped balance out the play calls. Once returns to the lineup, I expect to see an effective run game, despite the similar running styles between Martin and Rodgers. This will also undoubtedly help Winston with his interception problem. Another bright spot on the Bucs offense is Adam Humphries. Humphries and Winston have connected 20 times for 216 yards through the first four games. Of course, Humphries stats are not nearly as impressive as the hard fought yards on these catches. For the most part, the offensive line has done well considering the defenses the Bucs have played. Thankfully, the schedule gets a little easier for them after the bye week.
Special Teams Assessment
This brings us to special teams. The elephant in the room is clearly Roberto Aguayo. On Monday, it was interesting to hear former Buccaneer’s Head Coach Jon Gurden share his experiences during his time in Oakland. I am not going to say this puts my mind at ease, but to hear Gurden discuss Sabastian Janikowski’s troubles during his rookie season does offer some comfort. But don’t mistake that as a comparison between the two kickers, just highlighting Aguayo isn’t the only one to come out as a high draft pick and struggle. The other bright spot on the team has definitely been Punter Bryan Anger. Averaging 47.1 yards per kick, Anger is a breath of fresh air after some of the more recent Bucs punters. As far as the punt and kick returns, well they are not keeping opposing Special Teams coaches awake at night.
As we focus on the second quarter of football, the schedule doesn’t get much easier. The 49ers are in disarray, but that could quickly change as Colin Kaepernick gets the nod to start this week. To date, the 49ers own this series 17 – 5. The good news is the Bucs have an extra week to heal and prepare as they make the trip out to San Francisco. From there, the Bucs will look to win their first home game of the regular season – as they host the Raiders, Falcons and Bears. You can expect Dirk Koetter and company will focus a lot of attention on the three – game home stretch. The previous coaches have struggled to give fans home wins and this will definitely help to “change the culture” here in Tampa. Without being overly optimistic, I can see the Bucs winning two of the three home games. Remember, there is still a lot of football left. I hope to see a loud “12th man” presence here soon!