So THAT's what its supposed to look like. After ten games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally put together the game we expected to see routinely this season. The Bucs defense sacking quarterbacks, forcing turnovers and setting up the offense for points (or scoring some on their own). The offense making big plays and the draft picks making an impact. This is what we wanted to see instead of the god awful football we've been witness to for the first 9 games.
So on this victory Monday, did we learn anything from the Bucs destruction of Washington?
1. Mike Evans is Godzilla. You can fault Jason Licht for his choices in free agency, some of his peculiar decisions with the personnel on the team but he can point to one guy and tell you to shut the hell up. Evans has proven many wrong (yes, I'm pointing two thumbs back at this guy as well) and is playing as you'd expect the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft to perform. He's only the third rookie receiver in the last 30 years to reach 200 yards receiving in a game and frankly, Washington had no answer for him, but its not just Washington. Since the bye week, Evans has 25 receptions, 536 yds and 6 touchdowns in four games. I'll let you do the math but it translates into "Dang, he's good."
Evans is the first Bucs rookie receiver to have over 100 yds in three consecutive games and in a little over half the season, the mantle has been passed from Vincent Jackson to the young Evans. That's not to say Jackson hasn't been important for the young playmaker. You could see his mentorship as well as that of wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker. Evans was slighted because of his speed and his inability to run crisp routes but he had no trouble getting behind the Washington secondary. He's also mastered the art of separation from the defensive back, a skill that Jackson obviously transferred to the rookie.
2. Another aspect of the Buccaneers that has continued to steadily improve since the bye week is the play of the defense. The Buccaneers defense has given up 326.5 yards and 17.2 points per game (6 of Minnesota's points came on the OT defensive score) in the four games since the bye. The Bucs most dramatic improvement has come against the pass, where Tampa Bay has help opposing offenses to 223.5 yards per game, despite being without their top corner Alterraun Verner and trading away former first round pick safety Mark Barron.
The Bucs have gotten better on third down as well, holding opponents to 21 of 54 (39%) . Where they have been struggling is in pass rush and turnovers. Tampa Bay got both against Washington this week, registering a season high six sacks (2 by Jacquies Smith) and they also hit Robert Griffin III 11 times. The Bucs forced 3 turnovers (2 inteceptions and a fumble) one which Johnthan Banks returned for a pick-six.
Yes, we know RG3 was holding the ball way too long and the Washington offense simply looked terrible - but coming into the game, they were a top ten offense in the league. Atlanta's offense is up there too, so it's not like the Bucs feasted on inferior competition.
It may not seem like it, but had the Bucs sustained the past four weeks throughout the season, they would have the 8th ranked defense in the league and the 4th best in scoring defense. That's the kind of defensive play we were expecting this season and maybe, just maybe the Bucs are starting to figure it out on D.
3. The offense still isn't scoring where the Bucs need them to be. 20 points against 25th ranked scoring defense in the NFL isn't going to get the job done. Thankfully, the defense set the Bucs up in prime scoring range (and scored once themselves) to help keep Tampa Bay in the lead all of the way (a first this season).
The Bucs' inability to run the football has hampered the progression of the offense. I continue to point to the Bucs offensive line for their troubles. How many times did we see Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims hit in the backfield on Sunday? It's been like that all season. Running the football is a mindset. Until the Bucs can get tougher at the line of scrimmage and make the blocks that need to be made, this offense will continue to struggle with their ground attack.
The few times the Bucs offensive line managed to sustain a block Charles Sims showed some spark, breaking runs of 10 and 12 yards.
On the bright side, its the first time since week 5 the offense has scored more than 17 points.
4. Yes, we get it. You like Bobby Rainey. So do I. However, I can see why the Bucs like Charles Sims. While he's struggling to put up numbers (who isn't behind this offensive line?), he has shown little flashes of vision, speed and cutting ability that gets you just a teensy bit excited about what he could become. The Bucs made him a third round pick for a reason and I think they need to find out if this kid can carry the load. Besides, it's not like Rainey lit it up in his limited action ( 5 carries, 4 yards).
5. Okay, in the suck vs. suckier debate, Josh McCown won the day with a good performance. The Glennon Mob (coined by JoeBucsFan) can't hold the Giraffe's singular victory over Josh's head any more. McCown wasn't spectacular but it helps when you hit Mike Evans in stride for easy touchdowns. 15 of 23 for 288 yds 2 TDs and no turnovers is good by anyone's definition of quarterback play. If the Bucs fans got that from the QB of next year Mariotta or Famous Crab legs, this place would be annointing that guy as the next Andrew Luck.
6. Michael Johnson got his first non-Pittsburgh sack of the season and jumped around like a mad man in celebration. While it was nice to see Johnson get a coverage sack, his effort on a few of his other rushes cheated the Bucs out of a few more chances to get RG3 on the turf. In one instance, Johnson just gave up on the play and then RG3 scrambled right to him but by the time Johnson started running again, the ball was out.
A couple other instances he gave up on the play and again, it went right to him but someone else had to finish it off. It was almost apropo that Tampa Bay was playing at Fed Ex Field, where the last big defensive line free agent signing, Albert Haynesworth, made a fortune stealing money from Washington.
Not saying Johnson has taken the money and is mailing it in but we certainly need to see him finish plays a lot better than he did on Sunday.
7. On the other side of the spectrum, what a little player Jacquies Smith has turned out to be. 2 sacks and a forced fumble in Sunday's game, Smith has quietly been coming on as the Bucs have added him more and more to the rotation at defensive end. He was one of those back of the roster transactions that few pay attention to, coming to the Bucs as they shuffled Scott Solomon and Steven Means off their roster and re-signed Larry English on Sept 9th. Smith was waived by the Buffalo Bills, who are embarrasingly rich on defensive line talent.
An undrafted free agent who got his first shot with Miami in 2012, Smith has bounced around training camps in Miami and the Jets (signing on the Jets practice squad) before finally making the Bills roster out of camp in 2014. He also had a cup of coffee in the Canadian league with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The Bucs are the first team to really give Smith his first opportunity to play and he's taken advantage of it. 3 sacks in his last three games. Smith has provided some speed off the edge and has helped funnel quarterbacks back to Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, who have combined for 5.5 sacks in the last three games.
8. The Bucs signed a punter to the practice squad this week and it got under Michael Koenen a little bit, who averaged over 41 yards a kick for only the second time in his last 7 games. Still, Koenen uncorked another stinker with the Bucs trying to pin Washington back in their own end but for the most part he had a better performance.
I still think his days as a Buc are numbered.
9. I'll be honest, this season I didn't think the Bucs were 20 points better than anyone. I'm not sure what the deal is in Washington but there were times they looked like the keystone cops out there. I think its really about RG3. I think Gruden is trying to force him into an offense that simply doesn't suit his skillset, I think the kid has lost confidence and the injuries have robbed him a little of that magic he had his rookie season.
RG3 would do well to have a change of scenery I think. It just goes to show you how badly it can set a franchise back if you get your pick at QB wrong. Not only that, Washington traded a ton of draft picks for that right. When he exploded on to the scene and led Washington to the playoffs, pundits couldn't get enough of him. Now he's painted as a pouting me-first egotist with the Owner on speed dial. If Washington gives up on RG3, I honestly wouldn't mind seeing the Bucs try to build him back up as a reclaimation project if Tampa Bay wins their way out of contention for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
10. Speaking of winning, I know the "Not win one iota for Mariota" crowd was a bit disappointed with the victory, but fear not. Tampa Bay is still in striking distance of the Mighty Duck. While the game was obviously meaningless to Washington, I think coach Lovie Smith desperately needed this win to give his team something to look at and see what happens when you do what you're suppose to do. When you play within the defense, turnovers happen. Sacks happen. 3-and-outs happen. Offense, when you don't turn the football over and convert on third down, big plays can happen.
Special teams, when you...well, that's still a work in progress.
BONUS: Here's the real mind job. The 2-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually have a better shot at winning the division title than the 6-4 Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers because of the horrible NFC South. Atlanta...yes those same horrible Falcons that came into Ray Jay with a five game losing streak are in first place.
And look at the remaining schedules.
@ Green Bay
@ New Orleans
I see maybe two wins in that schedule for the Falcons. They may not win again for a month.
@ Tampa Bay
If they win their division games, maybe 7 is their ceiling.
@ New Orleans
vs. Tampa Bay
Eh, maybe Tampa at home? Other than that, I don't see much going on for them.
vs, Green Bay
vs. New Orleans
Yep, 3 "tough games" and 3 games against teams with losing records. But say the Bucs suddenly get it all figured out and get hot...it could all come down to that New Orleans game at the end of the season.
More realistically, the Bucs win one for Lovie in Chicago, maybe sneak one more upset and finish 4-12 for the second straight year.
But the fact that we're even discussing this is mind blowing. What the heck happened to the NFC South? 6-10 could very well win this division and that's downright embarrasing.