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Five things we learned from the Buccaneers dominant first game

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Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still enjoying that afterglow after crushing the Chicago Bears in their season opener. They’ll need to get back to work soon and they can’t get complacent, but there’s always some time to enjoy a win—and the lessons to be gained from.

So here are five things we learned watching the Bucs dominate the Bears.

O.J. Howard will be a key player this year

Howard only caught one pass for 17 yards, but he’ll be a core player for the Bucs’ offensive strategy. The rookie first-round pick played in 65% of all offensive snaps, which led all tight ends (Cameron Brate came in at 54%). In fact, only Mike Evans, Jameis Winston and a few offensive line were lining up on offense more than Howard was.

Howard has effectively displaced Luke Stocker as the team’s main blocking tight end, and did an admirable job there—I saw him wall off defensive ends repeatedly, and Pro Football Focus gave him a 77.3 overall grade thanks to some strong run-blocking. He’ll get more targets in the passing game as he grows more comfortable there, too.

DeSean Jackson’s not getting a full-time role

Howard’s presence also re-arranges the snap counts on offense elsewhere. Howard was often on the field alongside Brate and Evans, which leaves little room for other players. In fact, DeSean Jackson played just 51% of the available offensive snaps.

Jackson made a big impact on those snaps, and could have had three long touchdowns had Winston been just a little more accurate on those balls, but it’s interesting that the Bucs are getting him on the field strategically rather than all the time. Adam Humphries benefitted from this trend, getting 58% of the offensive snaps but relatively little production.

The defensive line was almost dominant

The Buccaneers managed just one sack, a first quarter Noah Spence effort (with help from McCoy, who prevented Glennon from stepping up) that forced a fumble and turnover.

But that one sack wasn’t indicative of their total production: Gerald McCoy added seven pressures, and the Bucs affected the quarterback a total of 22 times, per Pro Football Focus. That’s a really impressive number—though I have to say that those pressures weren’t always obvious watching the TV footage live.

The Bucs may have the strongest linebacking corps around

Kwon Alexander picked off Mike Glennon and Lavonte David was all over the field and Pro Football Focus gave him their game ball. The real revelation of this season opener wasn’t the Bucs’ two star linebackers, though, but third-round pick Kendell Beckwith who played 91% of the defensive snaps on the strong side, and later in the middle after Alexander’s hamstring injury.

Beckwith had two tackles for loss and one pass defensed, and looked surprisingly effective in pass coverage against a fast, shifty back like Tarik Cohen. If Beckwith can keep up that level of play, the Bucs will have three outstanding 4-3 linebackers and will likely start to look for more packages where they can get all three of them on the field at the same time.

All hail T.J. Ward

The Bucs’ safeties didn’t get much of a challenge from Mike Glennon, who’s not exactly a risk-taking, aggressive passer, but they held their own well—mostly because we didn’t see them.

That is, we didn’t see them, except for T.J. Ward who showed up with a tackle for loss and a beautiful pass defensed (nearly turned into an interception) despite playing just 44% of the defensive snaps—he was rotating with Keith Tandy at strong safety, while Chris Conte got to play free safety throughout the game.