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For Buccaneers, good pass protections key to big plays

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a good day passing the ball against the Atlanta Falcons. Four touchdowns, and five completions of over 20 yards against a defense that’s based on forcing checkdowns.

That good day was in large part a result of quality pass protection. Jameis Winston was pressured at times, especially on blitzes, but the offensive line by and large held up well — and when they held up really well, Winston was able to find his big targets down the field.

That’s the Bucs’ five-man line holding up for ages against a four-man Falcons rush. Not something we saw regularly in years past. Similarly, on the long touchdown to Mike Evans, Winston had a lot of time in the pocket — in part because of a good adjustment to a bit of pressure.

Donovan Smith kind of gets beat — if we’re very generous, we can claim that he got the defensive end to a point where he knew he’d fall down, but mostly it just looks like the edge rusher trips. But because the rest of the line holds up perfectly, it’s trivial for Winston to adjust, and for Smith to then take the pass-rusher out of play again.

And again, that’s five-man protection, albeit against a three-man rush. The Bucs had to regularly keep in six or seven players to protect Winston last year, and still let pass-rushers go through. Against the Falcons, five-man protection was generally enough. If you can do that, you’ll have a good day on offense.

Of course, part of this was a result of the Falcons’ incompetent pass-rush, not just the Bucs’ competent pass protection. This week will be a much tougher test for Donovan Smith and the rest of the offensive line, as they face the Arizona Cardinals and their significantly more impactful pass rush.

Chandler Jones is a lot more threatening than Vic Beasley and 36-year-old Dwight Freeney, and Calais Campbell is a much better pass-rusher than Adrian Clayborn. It’s one thing to keep Jameis Winston clean against the Falcons, another to do it against a good defense.