The Tampa Bay Buccaneers played their third and most important preseason game against the Cleveland Browns last night, losing 13-9 on a last-minute touchdown. That score was less important than how individual players performed, though, as is always the case in preseason. So let’s look at a few winners and losers.
With DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans out, rookie receiver Chris Godwin got a lot of playing time with the first team—and repaid it. With four catches for 56 yards on five targets, he had a really solid game and was a reliable option for Jameis Winston. That may get him some playing time even with the ridiculous amount of viable receiving options the Bucs already have.
The Bucs relied almost entirely on Rodgers to power the running game, and he did reasonably well with 34 rushing yards on ten carries. Not dominant, by any means, but about what you could expect with an injured offensive line and a really good Browns defensive front.
Rodgers will carry most of the load for the first three games of the season, when Doug Martin’s injured. Most indicators are that Martin will take over again when he’s back, but Rodgers may be earning himself an equal share of the load if he keeps up this play.
While Winston had one ugly interception (an inaccurate pass that may have been exacerbated by Cameron Brate being held), he had a really solid game. No touchdowns, but he looked very impressive in the first quarter, with eight out of ten passes completed for 80 yards. Those numbers got a little uglier later on, though that was in part because the offensive line just broke down.
Overall, Winston has looked much more accurate this preseason than he did last year. He also looked particularly improved in the quick passing game and finding checkdowns, not his strongest suits previously. If this keeps up, Winston should be a top ten quarterback this season.
The second-year cornerback was asked to start with Brent Grimes out, and constantly got picked on—by a second-round, rookie quarterback. That’s not a good look, and Smith was clearly overmatched. He gave receivers a lot of cushions and mostly settled for tackling them after big gains, rather than stopping them from catching the ball.
It’s not all bad, though. Smith showed some potential and had one really good play. But overall, the Bucs can’t be comfortable with Smith as the primary backup right now.
Very good reaction and break by Bucs CB Ryan Smith pic.twitter.com/J8Im4Ueivu— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) August 27, 2017
The slot receiver had to leave the game with a hip injury. Not good.
The pass rush
The Bucs got next to no pass rush against the Cleveland Browns, which is obviously not good. Sure, Gerald McCoy and William Gholston were out—but Gholston was never a stand-out pass-rusher anyway, and the Bucs should be able to survive losing one good pass-rusher. Apparently not: DeShone Kizer barely felt a breeze during the game.