First & Five: Finishing drives key to future success for Tampa Bay Buccaneers


At the end of the first half of last Sunday’s loss to the Giants, the Bucs were on the wrong side of a 17-9 score. As every Bucs fan knows by now, the team went on to lose by a final score of 32-18 to fall to 3-5 on the season.

Although the defense could have played better (after all, they did allow over 30 points for the fifth time in nine games), a lot of blame could be placed on the offense. Wide receiver Mike Evans only caught eight of his game leading 19 targets, including six drops. Running back Doug Martin only had 31 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Rookie right guard Ali Marpet was lost for the game with an ankle injury. So almost everything that could have gone wrong for the offense did go wrong.

However, that 17-9 score could have easily been a 21-17 lead at the half. Yet in the end, that inability to put the ball in the end zone while in the red zone is what doomed the Bucs to their fifth loss of the season. Yes, Jameis Winston should be praised for his continued progression into the franchise quarterback that the Bucs have never had. And yes, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has installed an offense that is worlds better than anything the team has had since Jon Gruden roamed the sidelines at Raymond James Stadium. But in order to win football games, the offense has to put the ball into the end zone. The goal of each drive should be to end with seven points, not three. And on four of their five scoring drives Sunday, that is what head coach Lovie Smith and Koetter settled for.

So here’s a note for Smith and Koetter: Bucs fans like to hear the sound of six cannons fire, not three. Tell your offense to get the ball in the end zone, gentlemen. Your jobs may depend on it.

1. If you have Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans (like me), I would suggest you play them.

Even though Dez Bryant has returned for Dallas, his fantasy production won’t be the same until Tony Romo returns from his broken clavicle. However, Witten has continued his steady production. The veteran tight end leads the team in targets and is on pace for another fine season. You could do a lot worse at your tight end spot.

As for Evans, he continues to prove why he’s worth one of your starting wide receiver spots. He had eight catches for 152 yards last week (with the opportunity to have done a lot more damage), and is poised to do more of the same against a Cowboys secondary that hasn’t been one of the league’s best, ranking 24th in pass defense. With the status of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins still uncertain, look for Evans to get the bulk of the targets from Winston once again.

2. CFB Player to Watch: Jaylon Smith, Outside Linebacker, Notre Dame (vs Wake Forest, Saturday, 3:30 PM)

I’ll let CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler describe the star linebacker: “He is a greased up athlete with natural twitch and flexibility, showing balance, burst and excellent speed in pursuit. He reads plays quickly and keeps his eyes glued on the ball to collect himself in space and burst towards the ballcarrier with excellent closing speed. Shows tremendous secondary quickness to unhook himself from blocks and make up ground in a flash.”

Let’s see: Lovie Smith already has one All Pro at weak side linebacker in Lavonte David. At middle linebacker, we have Kwon Alexander, who is in the middle of a rookie season that could see him win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Could you imagine having Smith manning the strong side next season? There wouldn’t be a better linebacking corps in the NFL. So watch him against Wake Forest on Saturday, and let me know what you think. I can say that I will definitely be keeping an eye on how much havoc he wreaks on their offense Saturday afternoon.

3. Matchup To Watch: Witten vs the Bucs Linebackers.

Like I said above: Witten leads the Cowboys in targets, and is sure to have at least eight or nine balls thrown his way Sunday afternoon. The crafty veteran knows how to exploit the holes in opposing defenses to get open and keep the chains moving. That’s why he’s been a favorite target of Cowboy quarterbacks since his rookie season.

Meanwhile, the Bucs linebacking corps led by David and Alexander is one of the league’s most athletic, and keep steady coverage on Witten all game. It will be interesting to see how both sides play one another come Sunday.

Sep 27, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans running back Alfred Blue (28) runs as Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Bradley McDougald (30) defends during the first half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

4. The secondary needs Bradley McDougald and Alterraun Verner at full strength Sunday.

Even with backup quarterback Matt Cassel under center, the Bucs’ secondary will have their hands full Sunday due to the presence of Witten and Bryant. Cornerback Johnthan Banks and safety Chris Conte can’t do it all by themselves.

Injuries sustained by McDougald and Verner have caused them to miss practice so far this week, which puts their status for Sunday’s game in question. If they can’t go, then it could be another long day for the Bucs secondary, and by extension, their whole defense.

5. Weekly Winston Watch: Efficiency is the name of the game, Jameis.

Once again, we watched Winston take another step in his development during Sunday’s loss. For the fourth straight game, he didn’t commit a turnover. He threw for 247 yards on 19 of 36 passing, and ran for a 12 yard touchdown for the Bucs’ only touchdown in the loss. Although it’s not flashy, it’s a word that you might want to get used hearing the rest of the season: efficient.

In order for a rookie quarterback to succeed, he should not be asked to carry the load. That is exactly what Koetter has done: distribute the load. When the run game succeeds, so does Jameis. However, we saw Sunday that he can play smart, efficient football when everything around him collapses. That is yet another sign that he is continuing his progression into the franchise signal caller that Bucs fans have never seen before. Even though this season’s record might not reflect it, this team is trending upwards. And a big part of that is due to Winston’s efforts.

Tweet of the Week

This week’s tweet comes from sophomore tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. I don’t know if truer words have ever seen. As hard as it’s been for the fans and everyone who is associated with the Bucs to not see the tight end on the field since Week Two, it’s been even harder on ASJ. Hopefully we will see him on the field come Sunday.