Week 1: The good and bad for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

Takeaways from the Week 1 win for the Buccaneers over the Cowboys

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into Dallas on Sunday Night Football and shut down the Cowboys. It was a 16-point win that felt like it should have been even more lopsided. But not all was palm trees and rainbows for the Bucs. There was plenty of good and some touches of bad to go along with it. Here’s a breakdown of both the good and the bad from Week 1.

Good: Leonard Fournette

Playoff Lenny, Lombardi Lenny, now SNF Lenny . Despite all the (frequently discredited) offseason rumors of a massive weight gain and loss of faith from the coaches, Leonard Fournette was the star of the show on Sunday.

Churning out 127 rushing yards on 21 carries, the Buccaneers’ every-down back proved to be the engine of the offense on a night where Brady was far from spectacular. What was most impressive was how much confidence the Buccaneers coaching staff had in him. Play after play, drive after drive, the Buccaneers took to the ground to punish the Cowboys defense in a war of physicality.

This belies a special kind of confidence from the Bucs coaches in Fournette, the kind that bodes very well for Tampa Bay’s ability to continue bleeding clock and moving the chains throughout the season. The Cowboys never found an answer for Leonard Fournette’s combination of speed and power, and the Buccaneers rode that mismatch to a gutsy win.

Bad: Injuries

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a Tampa Bay offensive lineman is facing injury concerns that could force him to miss time. This time the man in question is Donovan Smith, Brady’s blindside tackle who is facing a hyperextended elbow in the wake of the Buccaneers’ victory.

This injury is particularly worrisome, as Donovan Smith is essential to the Buccaneers passing game and the Saints (next up on the schedule) have a notoriously talented and vicious front seven. While the hyperextended elbow does leave room for Smith to return in time for Week 2, it is unlikely that he will be playing at 100%. Without him, look to see a lot of attention paid to bolstering that left side of the line.

Chris Godwin is also looking at another injury designation. This time it is a hamstring injury that is expected to cause him to miss multiple weeks. With the Buccaneers facing an extremely tough early schedule (@Saints, vs Packers, vs Chiefs) the loss of Godwin looms large over the Week 1 celebrations.

This is an especially daunting injury because Bucs fans all saw how valuable a healthy Godwin is to Tampa Bay’s offense. On the very first drive of the game, Godwin took a receiver screen for a chunk play that jumpstarted Tampa Bay’s offense. He contributes a tremendous ability to gain yards after the catch, a very important part of Tampa Bay’s offense if Brady doesn’t have time to throw deep to gain big yardage. More than that, he is one of the league’s best blocking WRs.

Even assuming that players like Leonard Fournette, who took the last few series of the game off after limping to the sidelines, and Julio Jones , who spend a long time on the ground after a beautiful long ball catch and subsequently had his targets reduced, are good to go for the future – these injuries could prove costly to this Bucs team looking for another postseason berth.

Good: The Defense

If Leonard Fournette was the engine of the offense, the defense was the engine for the team as a whole. They harassed and hurried Dak Prescott, shut down productive WR CeeDee Lamb, and limited workhorse RB Zeke Elliott to just 52 yards rushing. They were stellar, with particularly impressive performances coming from Antione Winfield and Devin White.

Winfield’s presence on the game was obvious. He remained his usual run-stuffing self, but added an element of ball-hawking that made him a true force to reckon with for the Dallas offense. This was evident when he baited a bad Prescott throw and then leapt in front of it for an interception, but he was all over the field throughout the game.

Similarly, Devin White took huge steps in pass protection as well. Most notably, he batted away a pass that could very easily have been an interception. But White was consistently in the right place in passing situations, a huge step forward from how he performed last season.

He also added two sacks, which provides encouragement that White is improving rather than just switching his focus to the passing side of things. All in all, holding the NFL’s top offense from last year to just 3 points is a tremendous start to the year for the Buccaneers defense.

Bad: Pass Protection

The big experiment in Tampa Bay this year is the testing of a revamped offensive line, reeling from the loss of three pro-bowl caliber starters in the offseason. Ali Marpet has retired, Alex Cappa was dealt away to the Bengals, and Ryan Jensen will miss the year with an injury.

To replace them, the Bucs have turned to a lineup of career backups and rookies, alongside veteran trade acquisition Shaq Mason. And on Sunday, they looked the part. Against the Dallas pass rush, Tampa Bay’s offensive line looked overwhelmed in pass protection, frequently forcing Brady into quick throws, dump-offs, and an offensive scheme that revolved around running early and often.

This strategy might work against the Cowboys, whose defensive front seven is less than spectacular, but against the Buccaneers’ true threats in the NFC like the Rams, Saints, and 49ers the Bucs will have to be able to pass the ball consistently.

All those teams boast phenomenally talented front sevens, who will be able to stop the rushing attack of Fournette and get to Brady in the pass game if the Tampa Bay line isn’t up to par. If the line doesn’t improve, the Buccaneers’ road through the NFC could hit a dead end much sooner than anticipated.

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