The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost their third preseason game as Jameis Winston looked inconsistent and the team as a whole struggled to keep up with the Cleveland Browns. The Bucs were down 7-0 after punting once thanks to a Travis Benjamin return touchdown, and never really recovered from that blow. In the end, they fell 31-7.
Tampa Bay, coming off a short week having played on Monday night, looked outclassed in the first quarter but recovered a little later in the game as Jameis Winston and company settled down. The defense in particular started to play better after giving up a touchdown on their first drive, and rookie middle linebacker Kwon Alexander once again stood out with some big plays.
Still, this third preseason game will leave the Bucs with plenty of concerns. The offensive line looked inconsistent, as did the pass rush, and Jameis Winston's aggressive playing style was more bad than good in his third game. With the starters playing into the third quarter for both teams, this was the dress rehearsal for the regular season and the initial reviews are not encouraging.
That said, let's go to the main takeaways from the game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jameis Winston came back down to earth
Jameis Winston was pretty bad in his first game of the preseason and terrific in his second game. Fittingly, his third game was a mix of both. Winston alternated a few good throws and decent composure under pressure with a terrible interception and a few other bad decisions that didn't directly lead to turnovers. He struggled in particular to respond to blitzes, which the Browns seemed to be sending every other play.
Winston finished the game with the fairly ugly statline of 6/15 for 90 yards, one interception and a whopping four sacks.
Jameis WINTston pic.twitter.com/ZoYhX7yv2i— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) August 29, 2015
This is the Winston we're going to see this year: inconsistent. Sometimes mesmerizing, sometimes frustrating. That may even be the Winston we see throughout his career, because this man hates giving up on plays and that's a surefire way to throw a bunch of headscratching interceptions. But he also has the composure, arm and accuracy to make a lot of big throws and get the
The only weird thing here: Winston has yet to throw a touchdown this preseason.
Ali Marpet is still adjusting
The starting right guard was impressive against Geno Atkins last week, but struggled against a pretty solid Browns front in his third preseason game. The rookie gave up a sack, and got driven back into Jameis Winston on two of the team's first four passing plays. Winston was a little slow getting rid of the ball, but Marpet wasn't making his life any easier.
That's going to happen whenever you start a rookie out of Division III on the offensive line. The key is going to be how well he adjusts and how quickly he learns. Marpet was better after the first two drives, and that's an encouraging sign. As is the fact that I didn't notice the Bucs' other rookie lineman in Donovan Smith.
As is the rest of the offensive line
The Browns have a very good defensive line, and that showed. The Bucs are starting two rookies on their offensive line, and have a third-string player at right tackle (Gosder Cherilus didn't get the start, somehow). That showed, too. The Bucs also have a rookie quarterback who hasn't seen a lot of the blitzes the Browns threw at him. That, too, showed.
All of that is expected, and it was encouraging that both the line and Winston got better as the game wore on. But there are going to be growing pains and perhaps even some structural issues along the offensive line, and that's going to lose the Bucs at least a couple of games this season. The good news for the Bucs is that most of these issues seem related to picking up the blitz, something they can work on and get better at with some mental work. The bad news is that teams are going to blitz the Bucs to death after seeing these preseason games.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins looks better
The big tight end picked up a big 14-yard catch on the team's second third down of the day, and that was the start of a pretty solid game. In addition to that catch, ASJ looked very good as a blocker, throwing a key block on Doug Martin's 19-yard touchdown run in the second quarter among others. Not that he was really in danger of losing a lot of playing time, but his performance may cause the Bucs to be secure enough to say goodbye to Brandon Myers.
The pass rush is still a concern
The Bucs had an encouraging defensive performance last week, but that went up in smoke on their first drive of the game. Granted, it wasn't entirely horrifying -- Josh McCown had a couple of miracle escapes with his feet -- but we're not talking the Pewter People Eaters, here. This team is going to have to get a pass rush by relying on their interior rush to set up the edge defenders, and that's a tough way to live consistently -- especially when your defense doesn't blitz a ton and has to have a four-man pass rush to function.
Still, despite that the defense actually seemed to gel. Of the 17 points the Browns scored in the first half, only seven were given up by the defense. And that happened on a 16-play, 80-yard, dink-and-dunk drive -- the only kind of frive a Tampa 2 defense ever wants to give up, because dink-and-dunk drives are hard to do consistently. And then the defense gave up a scoring drive on the first drive of the second half -- it was an inconsistent and at times worrying performance, with a clearly blown coverage resulting in the Browns' second offensive touchdown.
Special teams are a disaster
Kickoffs are nothing special, the punts are mediocre at best and the Bucs gave up a punt return touchdown on the first opportunity. Even both kickers got in on the malaise, Connor Barth missing a 43-yarder and Patrick Murray missing a 44-yarder. How hard can it be to find quality specialists?
Interestingly enough, Michael Koenen didn't get a single opportunity this game -- no punts and no kickoffs. Karl Schmitz got three for punts for 180 yards, while Jacob Schum managed five for 246, both getting a punt inside the 20-yard line. I'm not sure whether Koenen's inactivity means he's out of the competition, has already won it, or the Bucs simply know what they have in him and want to give the other two a chance.
One bright side: Kaelin Clay is starting to look competent as a punt and kick returner. Not terrific, but competent -- and then he left the game with a rib injury, which doesn't bode well for his future. A good performance in the team's final preseason game could lock him into a roster spot -- but he'll have to beat out some competition. Rannell Hall had a good kick return, while Adam Humphries did fairly well as a punt returner. It's notable that none of the players who got work as returners are likely to make the roster purely as receivers -- the team will have to make some interesting decisions there.
Kwon Alexander is terrific
Penalties are gone
The Bucs seemed to get a penalty on every two plays last week, but they only had five penalty yards in the first half this week. A massive improvement, and hopefully an indicator that penalties are not going to be a structural problem this year.
No depth in the defensive backfield
As soon as the backup defensive backs came onto the field, the Bucs really couldn't stop the Browns anymore -- not even Thad Lewis. Mike Jenkins had a few good plays at cornerback and Chris Conte wasn't a total loss, but Brandon Dixon got picked on repeatedly and none of the third-string cornerbacks really stepped up -- nor did the backup safeties, really.
On the upside, D.J. Swearinger didn't look all that bad at strong safety with Major Wright out due to an unspecified family situation -- but the defenses did have a few communication issues that may have had to do with Swearinger not being where he's supposed to be. It's tough to tell without All-22 film, but that was a common issue for Swearinger with the Houston Texans.
The running game is solid
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't do a lot on offense, but their running game actually worked well. Doug Martin managed to get 40 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, while Charles Sims got a nice, shifty eight-yard run on one of his few carries. Martin will get the bulk of the carries, but Sims is going to get some touches as well.
And once again, Mike James outperformed Bobby Rainey as a running back. James was the third-string back ahead of Rainey, who once again only came in on passing downs. Rainey did look good as a pass-catcher, making some people miss and picking up first downs, but it seems the team just doesn't like him as a runner. The Bucs may carry four backs into the regular season, but don't expect Rainey to get a lot of touches if that happens.
Rannell Hall and Adam Humphries fighting for a spot
UCF's Rannell Hall hasn't done a lot this offseason, but he really showed up in the most important game of the preseason. On special teams he was impressive as a kickoff returner, getting two for 67 yards, while also adding a pair of catches for 16 yards on offense. Similarly, Adam Humphries did okay on punt returns and added a big catch for 26 yards from Glennon and seemed to be the quarterback's favorite target in the fourth quarter
There's room for a small slot receiver on the roster, and that job is wide open -- Hall, Humphries, Donteea Dye, Robert Herron or Kaelin Clay could take it. Hall and Humphries did well for himself in that competition against the Browns.