Last week’s 42-14 home loss to the Tennessee Titans was not how any Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan wanted to see the Jameis Winston era start. Yet, as bad as that game was, the team has to put it behind them. This week will bring an even tougher test: a road game against the New Orleans Saints, one of the Bucs’ most hated division rivals. In order for the team to leave the Crescent City with their first win of the 2015 season, here are four things that need to happen.
1. Simply put, the defense has to step up.
Led by stalwarts such as defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, the vaunted Tampa 2 defense under head coach Lovie Smith fell flat on its face last week, as evidenced by the final score. The Titans did not score above 28 points in any game last season, yet already had 35 by the end of the first half last Sunday.
In order for Winston and the offense to stand a chance against the Saints, the defense has to slow down Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans attack. Although the Saints lost 31-19 to the Cardinals last week, their offense still has the ability to easily put up 30+ points on any opponent at any time.
As we saw, whatever Lovie called last week did not work. Hopefully, a much-needed change of pace, especially with focus on the secondary locking down Brees’ intermediate and deep throws, will allow the defense to do enough damage to help out the young offense.
2. Jameis needs to continue to make strides as a potential franchise quarterback.
The amount of complaints I heard last week about Jameis Winston during that ugly season opening loss last week was simply ridiculous. Did he have his best game? Of course not. Did he make mistakes that were idiotic? Go back and look at his two interceptions. They certainly weren’t pretty, that’s for sure.
But for all the dumb choices, the kid didn’t play bad. Behind an offensive line that is still very much a work in progress (more on that in a second), Winston definitely showed some glimpses of why we could very well be the franchise quarterback the team has never had. He showed poise under pressure, accuracy, touch, a good sense of pocket awareness, and a strong yet still growing rapport with his playmakers.
Yet, the thing that stood out most about him last week was his leadership. As much as the offense is offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s by design, almost anyone who watches the unit for a series or two can tell it’s Winston’s to command. And command it he does. Even down 35-7 at the start of the second half, and 42-14 midway through the fourth quarter, he simply never gave up. That “never say die” attitude will help him grow into the franchise leader that this team has never had at the quarterback position.
3. The offensive line needs to play better.
Along with the secondary, the offensive line was easily the worst unit on the team last week. And the most surprising part of that performance: the veterans. Left guard Logan Mankins, center Evan Smith and right tackle Gosder Cherilus did not earn the nice-sized paychecks they get on a weekly basis during last week’s loss.
Mankins looked old. Smith was beaten way too many teams by a lackluster interior pass rush. And Cherilus was abused by Derrick Morgan, in addition to committing three penalties. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, they have to protect Winston in order for this offense to succeed. The Saints don’t exactly have the most feared pass rush in the league.
Rookies Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet showed that they can play in the NFL was solid showings in Week 1. Now it’s up to the veterans to step up and play to their potential. A lot of jobs depend on it.
4. The playmakers need to show up once again today.
The play of running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was the lone bright spot in an otherwise awful loss last week. They showed a great connection with their young quarterback during the season opener. In order for the Bucs to have any shot at winning in the Superdome today, they need to do the same thing.
Furthermore, the return of Mike Evans, the team’s top receiver, should only help matters. Evans, who was held out of last week’s game with a lingering hamstring issue, was cleared to play earlier this morning. It is a dream of Bucs fans everywhere to see just how big the Winston-Evans on-field relationship can grow. Well, we see our first regular season glimpse of it today. Hopefully, it’s as good as Madden 16 has advertised.