A little offensive line play goes a long way for Bucs
It was clear early on in Sunday’s game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints that the Bucs’ offense was going to keep scoring unless or until the Saints could get defenders in the backfield. New Orleans never did.
In a nutshell, that was where Sunday’s game was won. It wasn’t perfect, with New Orleans at times making quick work of the Tampa Bay defense with Brent Grimes out with an injury. Still, the Bucs never trailed in the second half and looked throughout like all the negative narratives that followed them throughout the offseason were nothing but talk.
Tampa Bay only sent out the punt unit one time, scoring 48 points in all to tie a franchise record for points in a game. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in the victory, as the passing offense looked ready to take on the world. The Buccaneers had touchdown receptions of 58 yards, 50 yards, and 36 yards.
Offensive coordinator and playcaller Todd Monken had the Saints’ defense grasping at straws all day. The Buccaneers were able to spread the ball around in the passing game, largely between Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
On the offensive side of the ball, Buccaneers fans could not possibly have asked for more. Fitzpatrick was great. The receivers were great. O.J. Howard had some moments of greatness. Most importantly, the offensive line looked excellent and held the Saints without a single sack.
The Saints’ defense might be bad. Tampa Bay’s offensive performance in many ways required a willing partner, and the Saints complied. New Orleans’ secondary in particular looked like they simply couldn’t keep up with the Buccaneers in getting torched for three deep, easy touchdown passes.
While the unit was not supposed to be New Orleans’ best foot to put forward anyway, a lot of people have been penciling the Saints into the Super Bowl and calling them the best team in the NFC. Their defense will need to come a long way if they’re going to live up to that billing.
Ryan Fitzpatrick shows his value. In the night game on Sunday, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to leave the game for a while due to an injury. When he was out of the game, the Packers were utterly hopeless, falling well behind the Chicago Bears and needing to claw their way back when Rodgers returned.
A good backup is invaluable at the quarterback position. Fitzpatrick was nearly perfect on Sunday, throwing four touchdowns and only missing badly on one throw when the Buccaneers were already well ahead. Obviously he has had more time to prepare to go into a game than DeShone Kizer in Green Bay, but Kizer’s team is expected to compete for playoff spots while the Bucs are considered long-shots. Fitzpatrick ran for a touchdown and threw four more. Not only could the Bucs not really ask more of their backup, they couldn’t ask more of any quarterback than that.
Coming into the season, people looked at the Buccaneers’ first three games without Jameis Winston and suggested that it could lead to the kind of season that starts poorly and never gets better. In one afternoon, Ryan Fitzpatrick silenced those doubts.
Block and offense will follow. One game in, the offensive line for Tampa Bay looks much improved. Ryan Fitzpatrick had all the time he needed to find open receivers, and he made the Saints pay for that. Peyton Barber had many holes to run through, and hit them with gusto.
Even before Sunday, it was obvious there was a lot of talent in Tampa Bay’s skill positions. Chris Godwin had a promising rookie year and, for what it’s worth, a positive training camp, combining with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard to give the Buccaneers five reliable passing targets on just about every down. However, without the time to drop back and find the open man, that wealth of receiving depth would be lost on the Buccaneers. Likewise, with no holes to run through, a running back’s job goes from hard to nearly impossible.
Tampa Bay needed every point. Not all was nearly perfect on Sunday. The Tampa Bay defense struggled mightily throughout the game, showing some alarming holes. The Bucs surrendered 40 points and 475 total yards.
In particular, New Orleans picked on rookie cornerback Carlton Davis, who got the start in place of Brent Grimes. Davis had a couple of moments, most notably good coverage on a red zone third down early in the game that forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal. However, a rookie cornerback against a talented veteran offense run by one of the smartest quarterbacks and one of the smartest coaches in the league was always going to be a recipe for disaster. Carlton Davis had his hands more than full throughout the day.
Tampa Bay also only produced one sack of Drew Brees, a good play by Vinny Curry. The pass rush was a point of major emphasis throughout the offseason, and even with first round draft pick Vita Vea unable to play the front four looked to be much-improved over last season. If they are, it did not show on Sunday.
For the Buccaneers to build off their week one upset, they will need that defense to get healthier and perform better.
Hargreaves leaves with an injury. Vernon Hargreaves III has struggled in a Buccaneers uniform since being drafted in the first round out of Florida in 2016, but on Sunday he was working on what might be the best game of his professional career.
The defense is up against it with injuries mounting. Little is known at the moment about Hargreaves’ injury, but with Jason Pierre-Paul out after the first quarter on Sunday along with Vea and Grimes, another injury would have the Bucs really shorhanded.
The injuries aren’t all on the defensive side, either. DeSean Jackson left Sunday’s game with a concussion, making his status moving forward unclear just when it seems the Buccaneers have found ways to better feature the veteran receiver.
Coaching with a chip on their collective shoulder. Throughout the week, there were signs that the coaching staff, in particular Dirk Koetter, was getting a little tired of questions asked of them with an angle that the team would likely not be good.
When asked about team captains last week, Koetter bristled, firing back “what difference does it make?” At the time this was considered a bad omen, but now that the week has passed it’s worth wondering if the Buccaneers’ coaching staff is coaching angry.
Todd Monken was given playcalling duties, something Tampa Bay kept close to the vest in the buildup to the game. He ran with the opportunity.
In locker room footage after the game, Koetter can be heard absolutely barking out how the Buccaneers have been treated as a team with no hype and one that few believe in.
Because many of them have a stoic demeanor, we sometimes forget what a competitor one has to be to become a head coach in the NFL. Koetter seems to have an axe to grind right now. When players act this way, it often leads to breakout or comeback seasons. In a coaching staff’s case, that attitude could turn into a rallying point.
This would not be a first with the Buccaneers. Confidence and more than a little spite out of Raheem Morris helped propel the 2010 Buccaneers to an unlikely 10-6 and the edge of the playoffs. That extra bit of passion from a coaching staff can quickly spill over to the rest of a team.
Of course, football is not played in a vacuum. As impressive as the Buccaneers’ offense was on Sunday, it should be noted that the Saints’ defense put the brakes on hype that saw New Orleans as a trendy Super Bowl pick. They looked flat out bad on Sunday, and it’s going to be a while before we know if that was more the Buccaneers looking so sharp in the passing game or the Saints lacking defensively.
The Eagles will be next on the schedule. The defending Super Bowl champions won a thriller on Thursday night over the Falcons, holding off Atlanta at the goalline to end the game. They will certainly bring a better defense than New Orleans, and provide an entirely different test for the Buccaneers.