The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the season. There is going to be pressure on the rest of the offense without him, but the bulk of the pressure will fall on the Tampa Bay defense.
There’s never a good time to have your starting quarterback suspended, but that’s where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will find themselves for the first three games of the 2018 regular season.
Barring a trade or signing, Tampa Bay will begin the year with either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Griffin under center. Fitzpatrick will most likely take control of the starting job, while Griffin backs him up.
The offense should still be fairly formidable without Winston, considering the targets in play. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries are going to get open and make plays. O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate can do the same.
The team is surely hoping that rookie running back Ronald Jones II can make an early splash alongside the reliable Peyton Barber. The offensive line should be better this year, which will be a huge help to the backfield and whoever finds themselves under center.
There are certainly pieces in place for the offense to be successful, even without its young quarterback. Fitzpatrick just needs to play his role well, something he has done throughout his long career.
It’s no secret that Winston’s biggest on-field issue is turning the ball over. If Fitzpatrick can play clean football and make smart decisions, the offense should remain competitive. But where more pressure will fall is on the defense.
Tampa Bay’s defense was the NFL’s worst in 2017, making the overhaul of the roster this offseason extremely necessary. The Bucs put up a league-worst 22 sacks last year. Plenty of changes were made in hopes of fixing that this year. Gone are Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald and Robert Ayers.
The new-look defensive line will include Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and first-rounder Vita Vea in the middle, along with perennial star Gerald McCoy. On the edge, Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul are new additions that join Noah Spence and William Gholston. The linebackers are still among the best in the league, with Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith leading the charge.
The secondary may have the most question marks, but it has potential. Brent Grimes is back, as is a healthier Vernon Hargreaves III. Rookies Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart could see significant time as faces of the future. At safety, the Bucs will probably start the year with Justin Evans and Chris Conte as the top two. Rookie Jordan Whitehead will be around too.
There are a lot of newbies joining talented mainstays, which creates higher expectations. The revamped defense already entered the season with pressure to perform. Now that Winston will be missing three games, the pressure is considerably magnified.
Most games in the NFL are going to be difficult to win, but Tampa Bay’s first three games are on another level of challenging.
The season starts in New Orleans against Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and a very good Saints offense. It continues in week two at home against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz might be back for that one, but Nick Foles is always tough to beat regardless.
With the First Pick
The Buccaneers will have to hang tough defensively and show great strides of improvement early. As much as the Bucs seem to trust Fitzpatrick, they likely won’t be able to count on him to win shootouts in the first three weeks of the season. If the team is going to have any success without Winston, it will likely have to do so with stingy defense and clean offensive performances. A 24-17 win over the Saints seems more plausible than a 38-35 victory. The same can be said for matchups with the Eagles and Steelers.
Forcing turnovers, getting off the field on third down and avoiding penalties will be key for the Tampa Bay defense. The lineup of Brees, Wentz/Foles and Roethlisberger can do a lot of damage in the first three games if the 2017 Bucs defense shows up. If it’s the same old stuff, Tampa Bay will stare 0-3 right in the face to start a crucial season.
The 2018 version of the defense can prove that the past is the past in a big way if it can keep Tampa Bay above water through the first three weeks of the year. Expecting Mike Smith’s group to lead the Bucs to a 3-0 record is pretty unreasonable. But if the Bucs can steal a game or two, good defense will be the reason for it.