The Buccaneers turned this match-up into a real nail biter down the stretch thanks to untimely turnovers via Jameis Winston and some special teams blunders. The defense showed up to the field battered with injuries to their top defense tackle Gerald McCoy and his defensive line mate in Vinny Curry. Injuries took a toll during the game as well to linebackers Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy. That said, defense dominated the first half for Tampa and saved the offense in overtime under newly promoted defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. Let’s take a look at how the different units performed in this game.
The offense imploded on itself and it all started up front.
The offensive line as a whole played poorly and because of it, Jameis Winston had very little time to set his feet and get comfortable in this game. Donovan Smith struggled to handle Myles Garrett who would eventually cause some real havoc in the 2nd half on a forced fumble of Jameis Winston that turned into a Cleveland Browns offensive touchdown. It was a frequent issue for the Buccaneers offensive tackles to slow down the Browns edge rush in this ballgame. Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett combined for 3.5 sacks with another .5 sack picked up by Ogunjobi.
Jameis Winston is next up and his play at quarterback in this game left a lot to be desired. The offense in it’s totality put up a lot of yardage and produced only three touchdowns, all via the ground. Winston finished with 10 carries of his own for 55 yards and a scramble touchdown. Where Winston struggled was with turnovers through the air, two poorly thrown balls for interceptions, and taking sacks in situations that were ultimately detrimental to the offenses ability to finish drives for points. Winston’s fumble can be put on the offensive line as Donovan Smith was beat off the snap and ultimately allowed for Garrett to get a clean swat of Winston’s hand in the pocket. The interceptions in this one were all on Jameis though. A late game interception nearly cost the team the “W” as he whiffed on seeing the sitting defender over the middle on a short toss that was intercepted. This definitely wasn’t Jameis’ best game, but luckily for him in this match-up he had a defense there to bail him and the offense out late.
The ground game via the running backs was very ineffective which was a bit to be expected as the Browns came in with a very stout defense on the season. Ronald Jones got some more action and turned in a touchdown run along with a 9 yard reception. Jones finished with 7 touches for 22 yards. Peyton Barber led the backs in rushing attempts with 11 that went for 30 yards and he was unable to haul in either of the two targets he received. Rodgers saw most of the late game action as Koetter’s most reliable back when the pressure is on. He saw 4 total touches for 19 yards.
Receiving the ball is always a strong suit for this offense and the combination of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin came through again. The two combined with O.J. Howard for 230+ yards receiving. Godwin caught 5 of his 6 targets in the game while Mike Evans topped the century mark. Winston struggled to get the ball to DeSean Jackson, connecting on 40% of his attempts to the speedster. Jackson did manage to score on a rushing attempt in the ballgame.
The defense had finally arrived, then briefly left only to return late with a huge stop in overtime.
The Tampa Bay defense, now led by Mark Duffner, came out and made a statement in the first half against the Browns. Kwon Alexander had his best half to date and the dynamic duo (on Sunday) of Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib. The fun ended for a brief moment in the 2nd half while Cleveland marched themselves back into the game to eventually tie it up thanks to the Buccaneers offense turning over the football and some special teams blunders but JPP and company clamped down when it mattered most.
The defensive line was without two starters, the incumbent All Pro Gerald McCoy and free agent addition Vinny Curry, but Carl Nassib and Pierre-Paul helped lead this defense to some big stops. Nassib had two sacks in the game and JPP added another sack of his own, a 6th that tied the teams high from a season ago. Vea made little impact in the game and the same can be said for the rest of the defensive line. Late in the ball game the Buccaneers struggled up the middle and Nick Chubb was able to capitalize with a touchdown. Vea didn’t play poorly, but he didn’t play like a top 15 pick in this one either.
The line backing duo of David and Alexander played incredible in the first half and then the unthinkable happened, Kwon Alexander went down with an injury. Alexander is feared to have torn an ACL, ending his season. Lavonte David will have to step up even more in Kwon’s absence as will Adarius Taylor who filled in the rest of the game. Also injured in this game was Jack Cichy who has quite the injury history of his own. The team will need to consider signing a linebacker and really hoping Kendell Beckwith is able to return from his ankle injury sooner than later.
The defensive back’s played an okay game which in and of itself is an improvement of drastic measures over recent weeks. Justin Evans was around the ball often in this game and finished with 8 total tackles. M.J. Stewart, Jordan Whitehead and Carlton Davis all had bounce back games after being gashed the previous week. Overall it was a positive performance from a group that has struggled mightily all season long.
Special Teams kept this game much closer than it ever needed to be.
Chandler Catanzaro at the end of the day is a hero thanks to his NFL record setting overtime field goal of 59 yards, but he left his mark all over this game thanks to his inability to come through and make kicks. Catanzaro missed an extra point earlier in the game and then failed to knock in a potential game winning field goal as regulation expired. The kicking game in Tampa continues to be a train-wreck.
The punt coverage team had a late blunder that squandered an otherwise sound game from the unit. Late in the ball game with the Buccaneers leading by 7, the punt coverage failed to bring down the returner and gave the Browns a 1st down in the red zone from 16 yards out. The Browns would then score on a pass play to Jarvis Landry to lead to a 23-23 tie.
The Tampa Bay return men saw zero action on kickoff’s and Adam Humphries had 4 returns on 9 punts with a top return of 13 yards. 465 yards worth a punts from Colquitt gave Humphries little room to wiggle out any big returns.
Watching the defense step up with two starters absent and shut the door after several turnovers by the offense was really the story of this game. For the better part of 2.5 years under Dirk Koetter, the defense has failed when it needed to succeed most. For a brief Sunday afternoon, that changed as Pierre-Paul and Nassib led the charge up front. If the Buccaneers can get this style of defense and energy on a Sunday where the offense is firing on all cylinders then teams will have to really watch out for what this team can do. The Buccaneers head to Cincinnati next week and will face a veteran quarterback with several good weapons out wide, this should be a very good test for the Duffner led Buccaneer defense.