The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-3 and actually have the possibility to do some damage this season. For that to happen, though, they need to start playing better on both sides of the ball -- and they need a number of key players to step up their play. Here are five players who need to do better going forward.
The Bucs' left tackle has been the weirdest form of inconsistent I've ever seen in a left tackle. Which is exactly what he was in college, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Smith has all the athletic ability to be a quality left tackle and at times he flashes the technique and nastiness to do so as well, but on other occasions his footwork is slow, he's off balance and fails to finish plays. The problem at left tackle is that a few mistakes can end up dooming entire offensive performances, especially in pass protection. It doesn't matter if you're the best left tackle in the NFL on ten plays, if you're going to allow defensive ends to just run by you five times every game.
Smith has to pick it up. To be fair, he has been slowly improving every game and there are more and more glimpses of the quality player he could become. But the consistency is still far from apparent. That's not surprising for a rookie but surprising or no, it's one of the biggest issues with the Bucs offense.
Last season, Evans was regularly bailing out Josh McCown and Mike Glennon with spectacular plays and tough downfield catches made to look easy. This season, those plays have been few and far between. Some of that is on Winston's less-than-optimal ball placement, making thigns harder on Evans than strictly necessary, but few passes have been completely uncatchable and Evans simply hasn't made the plays to help out his quarterback. Part of the issue is that Evans hasn't been very secure with his hands, leading to letting the ball into his body instead of cleanly catching it with outstretched arms. He's always had a tendency to do so, but it seems to have worsened this year.
A few big catches here and there and the Bucs could be 3-2 or even 4-1, instead of 2-3. Evans has to pick it up for the Bucs to be successful down the stretch.
I'm not going to touch on Mike Jenkins because he should be replaced by Johnthan Banks before long, but Jennings has been pretty bad so far. He's given up at least three touchdowns, often seems to get lost at the line of scrimmage in pass coverage and isn't the reliable cornerback he used to be. He still has his athleticism and speed, but he's simply playing some horrendous football. It hasn't all been as bad as his last game, but the Bucs cannot win if Jennings keeps giving up easy passes as frequently as he has.
Winston hasn't been bad for a rookie quarterback and has shown plenty of promise, but if the Bucs want to win right now, he needs to show more than just promise: he needs to play well, consistently. That means fewer turnovers, and more big plays. Getting some help from his receivers would help, and I'm looking forward to Austin Seferian-Jenkins' imminent return as well -- but there are things Winston can do to help.
Right now he has at least two plays in every game where you're just shaking your head, he's not always giving his receivers the best deep balls to adjust to, and he still has a tendency to overreact to pressure, dropping his eyes and leaving the pocket too quickly. That's to be expected of a rookie, and there's no real reason to think these are going to be long-term problems -- but they are issues right now, and it's stopping the Bucs from winning more games than they have.
The Bucs' rookie linebacker has been up and down. On the one hand, he's made a lot of splash plays, especially in the passing game. There are instances where he appears to be out of his gap in the running game, but those are decreasing as the season goes on. One odd thing is that fails to just get back to the deep middle in Tampa 2 coverage, something Stephen White keeps harping on. That's led to several easy completions over the middle where better positioning would have prevented a pass or even an interception.
On that note, it would help if he'd learn to catch passes. I'm pretty sure he's had around four balls go through his hands, in addition to the one interception he did come down with. All of this is to be expected with a rookie but again: if the Bucs want to win, they need their rookies to stop playing like rookies, whether that's to be expected or no.