Its a funny thing, NFL Pre-season. When the Bucs win, we try to tell ourselves to remain calm, everything may not be as great as it looked. When they lose, we tell ourselves (repeatedly), its only pre-season.
Saturday night was one of those "It's only pre-season" type nights. Boy, was it ever. It was almost like ripping off a scab and seeing you still have a nasty sore there when you had hoped it was already healed.
A team that now had it's franchise quarterback, an offensive coordinator who knew what he was doing, drafted help for its abysmal offensive line and was entering year two of the defensive head coach's defense with shiny new and improved parts looked an awful lot like the one we saw at the end of 2014.
OH MY GOD, JAMEIS IS A BUST!
No, of course not. After re-watching the game (I do it, so you don't have to), Jameis certainly had his struggles early. His o-line certainly didn't help (more on that in a bit) but the Bucs' young quarterback struggled mightly with his accuracy and decision making early on. It was the next step in the progression. He'd seen practice speed. After looking abysmal early on, he adjusted to it and got siginifcantly better. Now he's seeing pre-season game speed. Its a bit higher tempo, not as high you'd get in a regular season contest, but things happen a little quicker and you have to make your decisions faster because this time, they're not "thudding" or laying off, they're smacking the hell out of you.
I think the most interesting thing was the Bucs continued to have Jameis push the ball down the field early on. 9 of his 10 incompletions were on mid-to-deep range passes. Some of that may have been by quarterback's decision, but there weren't many short passing plays or screen passes set up for him until late in the first half.
Jameis was 1-for-3 on passes thrown 20 yards or more, 2 for 9 in the 10-19 yard range and 6-for-6 on passes less than 9 yards (not including the spike to stop the clock in the two minute drill at the end of the half).
By comparison, Marcus Mariota didn't attempt a pass over 20 yards and only 3 passes in the 10-19 yard range (he had a long of 24 but most of that was RAC). He was perfect on all three. He was 5-of-6 on passes inside 9 yards (with the interception on the screen).
I'm guessing not only did the Bucs want to see how Jameis handled the deeper balls, but how their offensive line stood up. The Vikings applied pressure 10 times (6 via the blitz) in 24 dropbacks, Jameis was 2 for 5 for 58 yards and sacked twice. His interception came during a blitz but it was actually picked up nicely. He had plenty of time to throw, just made the wrong decision (it didn't help Mike Evans was held on the play).
When Garrett Gilkey wasn't shot putting a snap over his head or not getting him the snap, Jameis did heat up in the second quarter against the Vikings' second and third team defense, leading the Bucs down the field for a touchdown drive he capped off himself with an 8 yard touchdown run that terrified me. Please Jameis, don't do that in the pre-season. Never do that in the pre-season, man.
Jameis also seemed to have a good grasp of the offense, made multiple checks at the line of scrimmage that appeared to be the correct one and didn't let the slow start shake his confidence. All good signs.
Believe it or not, Pro Football Focus actually gave Jameis a positive grade +0.1 for the day. If you're wondering, Jameis' joined-at-the-hip brother, Marcus Mariota, was also given a +0.1.
So no, he wasn't awful. He wasn't great. He was a rookie.
Offensive Line was just that - Offensive
Oh that offensive line. While it did a decent job run blocking, man did Jameis seem to take a lot of hits on Saturday. They only surrendered 2 sacks on the night but they had 13 hurries, 5 by starting offensive linemen and 2 hits. Donnovan Smith was beaten badly to the inside (a cardinal sin for a left tackle) by Vikings Pro Bowler Everson Griffen and got Jameis killed.
Then there's Garrett Gilkey. I tell you folks, if Garrett Gilkey is being counted on as an important part of this offensive line - we're doomed. DOOMED. He was completely inaffective run blocking and then at center...oh my gods at center. You know, Pewter Report had a nice feel good story about the kid and he had been getting rave reviews in camp but that was camp. In actual live game action he was the Gilkey we know and loathe. Its not the kid's fault. He's doing the best job he can. Its George Warhop, Dirk Koetter and Lovie Smith's fault for running this kid out there with the one's and getting their franchise QB killed because of it.
Smith actually settled down and played okay after being embarrassed by Griffen on his first play. Ali Marpet was one of the higher rated offensive linemen (according to Pro Football Focus). He was beaten once when the Bucs were backed up at their own goal line and Jameis had to scramble out of the end zone. He did open some nice holes in the run game. Logan Mankins, for the five plays he was in, looked solid.
Demar Dotson actually was having a really crappy game before getting injured, surrending 3 pressures on Jameis. The coaching may have said they had him out there to protect their rookie QB but maybe it was more to have him work out of whatever funk he was in. He hasn't had the strongest of camps, either.
Of the backups, I'd say Edawn Coughman did a nice job. I liked what I saw from Omameh. Kevin Pamphile still looks below average to me and Kadeem Edwards looks like just a guy.
Frankly, I think if they're not going to invest in a veteran like Evan Mathis or Jake Long, they should go ahead and start Smith and Marpet. Lock them down in the starting lineup. Move Pamphile to right where perhaps he might be a little more successful. And get Garrett Gilkey his tickets to Canada or the Arena League.
The second year in the Tampa Two is NOT supposed to look like that.
Year Two we were supposed to see the leap. With the new additions in place (coming from teams with a ton of experience in this defense) we were supposed to see the Lovie Smith defense that terrorized the NFL for nearly a decade with Chicago.
A defense with two elite players and a bunch of pretty good ones shouldn't look like that. I'm certain I wasn't alone in seeing flashbacks to 2014 with blown coverages, no pass rush and little resistance from the defense.
This was no flashback - it was a carbon frickin' copy. I simply do not understand Lovie's fascination with Leonard Johnson. I don't. Local kid, good story but he can't cover to save his life. 5 throws toward his receivers, 5 receptions for 73 yards and a YAC of 58 (meaning he was trailing by a good amount). Sterling Moore, the big acquisition from the Dallas Cowboys, wasn't much better, getting beaten badly for a touchdown.
Mike Jenkins was dinged for a touchdown but really the fault was on young safety Chris Hackett who was absolutely lost out there.
The most disturbing thing? The damage wasn't coming against the Bucs' base two (although the first touchdown pass by Shaun Hill was certainly T2), it was in man. The Bucs were horrible man-to-man and every time they went to it, the Vikings feasted with wide open receivers, especially in the flat.
It wouldn't have been so bad if the Bucs could generate any kind of pressure at the line of scrimmage. Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater in his 8 pass attempts faced one play - just one - with pressure. In 60 minutes of football, the Bucs pressured Viking quarterbacks just 7 times and registed a single sack by Henry Melton.
On a goal line play, All-Pro and newly dedicated to getting the Bucs to the playoffs Gerald McCoy was driven six yards into the endzone. Not feet. SIX YARDS INTO THE END ZONE.
No Joy for the Glennon Mobsters
Another site loves to talk about the Mike Glennon Mob, those folks who are behind the Bucs young QB no matter how oridinary he plays. Well, unfortunately for them, Glennon hardly lit it up himself on Saturday night. It's okay for Jameis, playing in his first NFL game, to go 9 fo 19. He's expected to struggle. But Glennon should be better than 9 for 17 for just 98 yards. He also showed us once again (as if we needed reminding) why he is forever more a backup quarterback by checking down for a 2 or 3 yard gain on a 3rd and 10+ twice.
Special Teams was hardly that
And then there's the special teams play. Be it the kick and punt coverage or lack there of; Kaelin Clay, the annointed one, making bonehead decision after bonehead decision in the return game, the punting of the man-who-would-be-king Karl Schmitz and even the reliable Patrick Murray missing field goal, it was an ugly night on special teams.
Coaching? There was coaching?
While I was very excited to see no huddle/up tempo, the multiple formations and even a few decently executed screen plays this early in camp, I have to wonder why Bucs OC Dirk Koetter didn't get his young QB some easy throws early on to get him settled into the ballgame.
Defensively, we've heard from multiple outlets how great of a defensive line coach Joe Cullen is. How Rod Marinelli like he is. Maybe he is a genius but I'm still waiting to see the defensive line perform like it did in Rod's hey day. They have talent on the line, especially at defensive tackle. None of it was to be seen on Saturday night. And neither George Johnson or Jac Smith even got close to the quarterback. In fact, the only one off the edge applying pressure last night was reserve Lawrence Sidbury (2 QB hits and a hurry).
We talked about Lovie's fascination with Leonard Johnson. I'm sorry folks, if Leonard Johnson is your team's nickel back - they will NEVER be a top ten defense.
We can say that the Bucs didn't scheme for the Vikings as they would a regular season game. Fine. The Vikings didn't scheme much for the Bucs either. They were just a signifcantly better football team.
Suddenly, the gulf between first overall pick and playoff contender feels quite a bit wider.