I've been called an optimist. Told I have Pewter colored glasses on. Yes, I most certainly try to not freak out and keep a positive outlook on things. I know it rankles some of the more pessimistic of our fanbase but I've always been a believer in positive reinforcement.
But there are times, like Saturday night, where that simply isn't possible.When the Bucs play so poorly that they deserve to be on full blast.
Today is one of those days.
Perhaps it was the short work to prepare or the Browns deciding they were going to blitz seemingly every single play but Jameis Winston was his own worst enemy on Saturday night. As I discussed in my first round QB stat comparison article, Winston has had it rough this pre-season. After a very encouraging performance in week two, we saw some of the ugly things we've seen in camp and earlier in the pre-season where he failed to recognize the blitz, failed to identify the checkdown and made poor decisions in throwing the football.
One of the more encouraging things about Jameis is when he has time to throw the ball, he is deadly accurate. Its those plays when the pocket is breaking down that seem to confound. One prime is example: Facing 3rd and 1, Jameis had a wide open Charles Sims in center of the field. No one within two yards of him, easy first down and the drive would have continued. Instead, he tried to force it to Vincent Jackson further down field (who was triple covered, by the way). Those are the decisions that kill drives, cause turnovers and loses momentum in games.
The good thing is every issue Jameis has had this pre-season is correctable. Further, there are answers Dirk Koetter can provide his rookie QB to counter the blitz.
As they prepare for the Tennessee Titans, there's absolutely no doubt new Titans defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau will follow the Browns blueprint and bring the kitchen sink against Winston. He has to read it quickly, be decisive and hit the man in the flat.
Being Captain Checkdown every now and then isn't the end of the world. You want your QB willing to take chances but he also has to know when to fight another down. That's where Jameis is really struggling at this point. He doesn't want to be Mike Glennon - but sometimes you have to be.
Defense is defenseless at the start of the halves
Again, I don't know if it was the fact it was the second game in five days or they just were more concerned about getting out of this game unscathed but the Bucs' improving defense seemed to start both the first and second half unfocused, allowing Josh McCown to look like Steve Young while getting gashed in the run game.
It seemed to take the defense a series to settle in and play more like we saw against Cincinnati but those two lapses resulted in 14 of the 24 points on the Ones' watch. That simply shouldn't happen.
I thought the defensive line did a really crappy job of containment (a big no-no if you're going to be facing a guy with cat like quickness like Mariota, none-the-less a decent athlete like McCown), there were too many gashes right up the middle (I'm looking at you Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald), and too many open receivers (yep, that's you Johnthan Banks and Alteraun Verner).
Now, I did notice this gameplan wasn't as aggressive as the one Lovie called against Cincy, so perhaps they were holding a few things back for Tennessee. We can only hope they take it up a notch against Mariota and company.
Wrath of Kwon
Josh McCown - you got knocked the fug out. That's the thought that rolled through my mind as young MLB Kwon Alexander decleated the former Bucs signal caller during a scramble. McCown was playing a little reckless on Saturday and took some big hits. Kwon, meanwhile, finished with 5 tackles, a sack and 2 TFLs on the night.
Alexander has been a huge find for the Bucs and you can see him and Lavonte David buzzing around like hornets. Added with the playmaking ability of Danny Lansanah, the trio look to be the strongest unit of the defense.
Alexander will make some mistakes in coverage, all rookies do, but he has the blazing wheels to make up for it quickly. That's a good sign for Tampa Bay.
Sander told you it wasn't quite as bad as it seemed Saturday night and while I definitely agree that Cleveland simply brought every blitz in their arsenal to Raymond James stadium, I can't absolve the offensive line from having a subpar outing.
I saw Ali Marpet get beat on a rush, have a fault start penalty and then get tossed aside like a rag doll on successive plays. There were times when the Bucs line was simply out-muscled and driven backward into Winston. That's unacceptable, no matter the scenario. Yes the blitz was coming, but that's no reason for Evan Smith to look like a matador, Ole' or for the rejuvenated Logan Mankins to look like the demotivated one. Six sacks, nine QB hits and eight tackles for loss is pitiful.
Now certainly, it wasn't all on the line. Winston held the ball too long a few times and certainly wasn't seeing the blitz and making the corrections pre-snap.
Hopefully its lesson learned for the young Bucs QB. I'd also imagine a vastly different gameplan from Bucs OC Dirk Koetter to counter the blitz that will surely come in the regular season.
That should help.
Dougernaut is definitely back
One thing that may certainly help Winston and the offensive line is the return of Doug Martin. Martin has had a sensational pre-season and was again excellent even against the Browns' relentless attacking defense. If the Bucs can sustain the running game with Martin, Sims and Rainey, they can take a bit of pressure off Winston and maybe slow up the pass rush just a tick.
Rannell Hall and Jacob Schum Take Advantage of Opportunities
In what may have been one of the few bright spots Saturday night, both WR/KR Rannell Hall and punter Jacob Schum took great advantage of their opportunities. Hall was sensational on kick returns, averaging 31.0 on 3 returns with a long of 34. He also added 2 receptions for 16 yards. Schum, in a three way battle for the punter job with Michael Koenen and Karl Schmitz, destroyed the ball on punts, averaging an eye popping 51.3 yd average on his four punts. His only mistake of the night was a touchback when trying to pin the Browns deep.
Kickers Not so Much
Both Connor Barth and Patrick Murray missed makeable field goals, leaving the Bucs wondering if they have any reliable kickers at all. I know Lovie is comfortable with Murray who had a solid rookie campaign last year but he has struggled in both camp and the pre-season. Barth may have missed one last night but he's always been a reliable kicker in the league.
Can We Get A Little Coaching Up in Here?
Look, we've all seen the excuse. Its the Bucs' second game in five days. It didn't seem to hurt the Bengals, who smashed the Bears 21-10. No, the Bucs simply didn't have it on Saturday and to me, that falls on Lovie. You have to have your team ready to play in every game.
No, the Bucs didn't gameplan a whole lot for Cleveland, but its not like they've never seen a blitz before. This offense should have had contingencies for the blitz so the guy they believe is going to be the franchise quarterback doesn't get sacked 4 times.
You don't let a journeyman like Josh McCown drive up and down the field like he owns the place.
Your special teams doesn't look anything but special for the majority of the game.
Every time you step on the field, your team should be prepared to win. They were woefully unprepared Saturday night. That's you, Lovie. That's you.
Final Pre-season Thoughts
I won't be doing a diatribes for the Dolphins game simply because I'm not going to rant about guys who will be driving UPS trucks in a couple weeks. So here's my final thoughts this pre-season.
As dress rehearsals go, this one would have caused me to cancel the show. While I'm hopeful that the team we saw Monday night is the one we will be seeing most of the season, reality tells us that this might be one of those seasons that has great runs and awful slumps. The Bucs aren't going to be terrible this year but they are going to be terribly inconsistent.
At this point we can only hope Jameis will have more good moments than bad, the offensive line won't get him killed, Doug can run the ball and the defense can manage to play well enough to keep them in games and close the door when opportunity arises.
After three pre-season games I still don't know what to make of this team. Maybe that's good. It's also a little scary.
Let's take it one week at a time and hopefully the Bucs can siege the Titans and not be sieged most of 2015.