As before, I will focus mainly on the starters and backups that are likely to make the team, so there won’t be anything from the second half in this review. Also, there are a lot of gifs so I don’t recommend watching it on a phone.
The Bucs got the ball first, and opened with some runs. Barber is running really well. The starting OL (L to R) was Michael Liedtke, Adam Gettis, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Demar Dotson. So in my opinion they were down three starters. Not ideal.
I want to point out the value of O.J. Howard, and how his athleticism is a positive matchup for the Bucs:
Here Howard lines up to the boundary on Dotson’s outside shoulder and runs up the seam, right past his man in coverage. Too fast for linebackers, too big for corners and safeties. Even with a linebacker dropping back, Fitzpatrick does a good job to get the ball over him. Howard doesn’t have great length/catch radius but he makes a really good catch here. The Bucs must make better use of Howard this year; last year he blocked 70% of the time, and I’d like to see it be more 50/50.
The Bucs ended their first drive with a touchdown. We actually got to see a great angle of the blocking and I want to highlight it.
Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis is good and shoots the A gap here. Barber takes a step or two toward the LOS, setting up Davis’ angle, and then Barber’s jump cut makes it an arm tackle. Barber isn’t super athletic but he’s strong, and a smart runner. Pay particular attention to Dotson and tight end Antony Auclair because they’re the ones who made this play happen. They combo block linebacker Devon Kennard, and then Auclair peels off and does a great job turning out cornerback Nevin Lawson. Dotson pancakes Kennard, and its six points. Cappa really struggled with both his run and pass assignments in this game, and if he earns the starting job I would be really concerned with the RG spot.
I also want to quickly point out the miscommunication the Bucs’ defense had on the Lions’ first offensive drive.
Safety Chris Conte is often maligned by fans, but on this play I don’t think this is his fault; I think it is rookie Carlton Davis III’s. First, it’s a well designed play, with receiver Kenny Golladay running a wheel route off of a rub. Now, we don’t really know what the play call was - all we can do is guess, even when we have access to coaches film. But if it’s Cover 4/Quarters like the Bucs like to play (meaning the field is divided into four equal vertical zones down the field), someone would be responsible for any vertical route down that sideline. The corner who lined up outside at the LOS at the start of the play was Davis, with Grimes inside.
Here Davis is lined up over Golden Tate, with Grimes lined up over Golladay in the slot. The two receivers switch, with Golladay going around on his wheel route. Davis plays this like it’s man coverage and follows Tate.
Grimes takes the flat, Lavonte David has the hook/curl zone, with Conte playing the middle of the field shaded to the right. Conte does appear to get caught peeking in the backfield, as he often does, but Davis looks like the only person playing man coverage. And with Davis in the same area as David and Conte, and him being a rookie, my best guess is Davis was supposed to switch and follow Golladay. Such are the trials and tribulations of a rookie. Also, this is exactly what this play is designed to do, and why communication among defensive backs is so important. But it may have just been a mental error by Davis.
The Bucs need Davis to win the job, and he probably will, but he’s still a rookie and these plays are going to happen. Truth to be told, in my opinion the Bucs have had miscommunication issues on switch calls for years now. But this is what the preseason is for - making mistakes so you can fix them.
After this, the defense did a good job holding the offense to a field goal.
On the Bucs’ second drive, they lined up rookie running back Ronald Jones out wide to the field side (the bottom of the screen), which is just awesome. The Lions decided to cover him with the talented linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and while Reeves-Maybin is a freak athlete, he’s still not fast enough to cover Jones on this fly route. (I would like to point out that Reeves-Maybin weighs twenty pounds more than Jones and still tackled him.) But this is an excellent example of matchup football and putting players in position to succeed. And of course, Jones caught it!
After this, the offensive line gave up a sack, and Fitzpatrick connected with Evans on a back-shoulder fade route, but Evans was correctly called for offensive pass interference. Punter Bryan Anger did a great job putting the ball inside the five and the special teams unit did a great job downing it. Oh, and I want to point out that running backs can have bad box score games and not actually play bad. That still seems to be the case to me with Ronald Jones.
On the Lions’ next possession, the Bucs couldn’t capitalize on some Lions errors like dropped passes, and couldn’t get off the field on third and long. Not good. Also, that was definitely pass interference on rookie safety Jordan Whitehead; he made contact before the ball arrived. It was unfortunate to see the Bucs basically give up a 90 yard drive, but they did stiffen again in the red zone. And it was nice to see Vernon Hargreaves III get a pass break-up.
Shaun Wilson did a great job returning kicks in this game.
With 10:23 left in the half Jameis Winston came in. The blocking of the OL (Liedtke, Gettis, Jensen, Cappa, and Dotson) got noticeably worse the longer the backups were in. On the sack of Winston, Liedtke, Gettis, and Cappa all got beat, badly. But they got bailed out by a holding call. Shortly after that, this happened:
This is a great play call. Adam Humphries is more of a short-yardage receiver because he’s quicker than he is fast, but he’s also more than a willing blocker, and I’ve seen him de-cleat 260 pound defensive ends when he chip blocks. So it’s a great move to have him be the rub here that gets DeSean Jackson open, and Winston has been dialed in this preseason. The Bucs need more of these plays; they get an easy read and throw to an explosive receiver who is open with running room, and they have the players to make it happen.
Winston has done a better job of taking checkdowns when he’s scrambling. I also love the call of going for it on 4th and inches because it’s the right call, and Winston did a great job running and then stumbling for the first down.
I want to point out one last play. I recently wrote that the math shows that if you’re gonna run the fade, then do it back-shoulder or don’t do it at all. The Bucs tried it first to Evans, and then this to Godwin:
That is unstoppable.
On the Lions’ next drive, McCoy was unstoppable and got the 3rd down sack. I like Jackson running back punts, but not in the preseason.
On the Bucs’ next possession, they went into their two-minute drill. Winston was dialed-in. The offensive pass interference call on O.J. Howard was a really bad call, and it was a great throw by Winston but an even better run by Howard. That, and the depth at offensive tackle stalled this drive. Dotson had been subbed out for Brad Seaton, who gave up pressure way too easily to Kennard, who hit Winston as he threw. There’s an argument to be made that the staff should have pulled Winston here. It’s his fault he’s gone for the first three games, but you don’t want it to be your fault you lost him for the rest of the season. Regardless, on third and fourteen Freddie Martino dropped what would have been the first down.