Preseason Halftime: Now it Really Matters

We’ve officially reached halftime for preseason, and the second half will be extremely critical. It’s always important to make an impression right out of the gate in the third quarter, especially when the first half is played as sloppily as the last two preseason games were. The Buccaneers started things off with highlights that included subway turnstiles standing in as our offensive guards and a less than favorable turnover ratio. There were flashes of brilliance, but they were hard to see thanks to the blinding errors on the field.

The first quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins was hit and miss. There was solid play in a lot of areas, but after a quarter, the Bucs were still without a score and had allowed a field goal. This is a step up from being down by seven going into the second quarter against Jacksonville a week prior, but a very small step. However, the second quarter featured a tiny glimpse of what we want to see this season. For a brief moment in time, which is all we ever get in early preseason games, the Buccaneers gave us a taste of both the offense and the defense we’ve been wanting.

On the first snap of the second quarter, Gerald McCoy tore through the Dolphin’s offensive line with ease and found quarterback Ryan Tannehill much quicker than he’d expected to be found. Tannehill saw pressure, but he barely had time to react before McCoy punched the ball out of his arm and into the ground. Michael Johnson, referred to as “Johnny on the spot” by Ronde Barber on commentary, didn’t hesitate as he scooped up the ball and managed a few extra yards before hitting the ground and holding tight to our precious turnover. This wasn’t the end of the brilliance. At this point, the highly touted Buccaneers offense took the field with Josh McCown at the helm.

I’d imagine the entire offense was internally jumping for joy at the chance to start their drive at the 25-yard line. Doug Martin opened things up by breaking through tackles in perfect “Dougernaut” fashion to bring us to the 20-yard line. A quick pass to Brandon Myers brought us to the 10-yard line. At this point, Josh McCown is leading the charge with no huddle and the defense is effectively off balance. Doug Martin’s next run provided a few yards. What followed was a string of commentary exemplifying the kind of things that should happen all year long.

Josh McCown takes the snap and then “has time… endzone throw… back of the endzone… TOUCHDOWN VINCENT JACKSON.” Music to my ears. McCown took the snap with 13:09 left in the second quarter. The ball left his hand three seconds later. The offensive line held strong and gave him time to get the exact throw he wanted. I sincerely wish the rest of the game had gone this well, but that was just not the case.

In the latest WTB? Podcast, Steve White talked about how important the turnover ratio is to Lovie Smith and especially to a winning team. To get to the coveted “plus three” ratio, moments like Gerald McCoy’s forced fumble need to become an expectation and not a rare flash of brilliance. Also, the offense will have to continue to capitalize like they did in that moment. If the defense manages three turnovers, they can’t become a fumble, a missed field goal, and a punt. As much as turnovers are a defensive skill, the offense has the important task of making each turnover count and not committing turnovers on top of that.

Mike Evans fumble into and subsequently out of the endzone which resulted in a touchback is a perfect example of this. Evans is a rookie, and I’d rather him make these mistakes in the preseason. However, that sort of error just can’t happen. This doesn’t make Evans a bad receiver, but it’s a hard-learned lesson he’ll carry into the season.

Last year, the penalty that Lavonte David’s late hit on Geno Smith drew at the end of the game against the Jets essentially handed them the winning field goal. I’ll be the first to tell you that David is a masterful linebacker, and I proclaim that every time I wear his jersey into a Houston sports bar plastered with Texans logos.

Simple errors like this need to be made in the preseason and subsequently left there. In order to have any chance at a spot in the playoffs, those moments can’t happen. The first two weeks of preseason are the most forgivable. When the Buccaneers travel to Buffalo this weekend, the true dress rehearsal will be taking place. The third preseason game is a coveted moment for teams, and the fact that Lovie Smith has stated he’ll have the starters in for the first half “and then some” reinforces this.

The Bills will be more challenging than I believe some will give them credit for. EJ Manuel is a much better quarterback than the team he got stuck with implies, Sammy Watkins is as good a receiver as the hype implied, and CJ Spiller is an underrated running back. However, their offense is not without flaws. Personally, I’d absolutely love to watch Lavonte David pick off a pass intended for ex-Buc Mike Williams. Their offense has struggled the last few weeks, but it’s better than it’s played.

The thing about Buffalo that has me most worried is their defense. The Bills had three separate defensive players record 10+ sacks last season. All three of them are back, and I’m sure they’re salivating at the opportunity to play against an offensive line that has been inconsistent at best. If the Buccaneers offensive line can’t block properly, the defense will be swatting for interceptions in a desperate attempt to get enough turnovers to make up for it.

I have zero care for what the score ends up being by the time the game against the Bills is over. The points don’t matter, but the performance does. The offensive line will have to give McCown time to make plays, and the defense will have to capitalize on every mistake the Bills make. Those are the two things I most want to see the Buccaneers do in Buffalo. Success in those two areas would bode extremely well for the fast approaching season opener against Carolina.

Don’t forget to comment below and tell me exactly what you think! Feel free to talk smack if you want, as Mark Cook certainly wasn’t afraid to do so during the first joint WTB?/Pewter Report podcast. That’s right Mark, I heard you. I also heard Derek come to my defense. So please, feel free to call me out however you want in the comments below, and you can follow me on Twitter @patcheschance to talk smack face to virtual face.