Rookie QB Jameis Winston struggled to make the grade during Sunday's opening loss to Tennessee.
The Buccaneers 2015 season opener was nothing short of a nightmare, as Marcus Mariota and the Titans thrashed the home team 42-14 for its 10th-straight loss in Raymond James Stadium. In light of it all, there were very few positives for the Bucs to take away from this game. Find out how each position group graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
Jameis Winston’s performance was made to look worse after Marcus Mariota, the guy the Bucs didn’t want, looked like a Hall of Famer in his debut. Make no mistake, while he was no less impressive than the players around him, Tampa Bay’s rookie signal caller was bad on Sunday. His first throw couldn’t have gone any worse, and he looked uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the afternoon. While the Titan’s seemed to gear their offense around Mariota’s strengths, the Bucs looked like they had just thrown Winston into a fire. He was throwing off-balanced, making costly decisions and throwing inaccurate passes on multiple attempts. Winston led an impressive drive in the fourth quarter, and showed his ability on a few routes to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson, but by that time it was too late. He also failed to connect with Louis Murphy on three targets, meaning he’s still yet to complete a pass to a former Gator receiver when it counts. The Bucs had no rhythm or separation in the passing game on Sunday. Sure, they had to abandon the run early on so their plan was obvious, but after four months of preparation you have to give a better effort. Winston finished his first game 16 of 33 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Playing against a backup cornerback in Coty Sanssbaugh and a mildly injured one in Perrish Cox (hip), the Bucs wide receivers couldn’t seem to get any separation. Winston connected with Jackson on a few shallow crossing routes – the same one’s Tennessee destroyed the Bucs defense with – but there was no rhythm with Murphy or Humphries after Lovie Smith assured that the two could handle picking up the slack if Mike Evans couldn’t go. They didn’t, and it led to Winston fleeing the pocket often, while throwing for just 82 yards in the first half. The Bucs looked better through the air in the second half, and Jackson should’ve had a touchdown in the fourth quarter (Smith needed to challenge), but, just like Winston’s progression, by that time the competition was long over. It’s the first game and it’s not time to hit the panic button, but if Tennessee was so sharp and prepared through the air, why wasn’t Tampa Bay? Just like the Bucs secondary never adjusted to the Titans up-tempo quick slants, the Bucs offense never seemed to incorporate a short passing attack as the game progressed. Jackson finished with four catches for 51 yards, while Humphries and Russell Shepard combined for three receptions for 20 yards.
Doug Martin was perhaps the only player on offense who came to this game prepared, as the fourth-year pro rushed for 49 yards on 10 carries in the first half before the Bucs had to abandon the run down 35-7. Martin had just one carry in the second half, finishing with 52 yards on 11 attempts. Like Charles Sims, who finished with six carries for 12 yards, Martin’s job was diminished to pass blocking. Both running backs struggled in this area, but it’s hard not to when Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo come full speed ahead, knowing the Bucs are in throwing downs. Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have both harped on establishing the run, but after a 21-0 deficit in the first quarter, adjustments have to be made. Though, abandoning the run did seem like the only adjustment made during the 42-14 shellacking.
On paper, Austin Seferian-Jenkins had one of the best outings of any tight end in Week 1. The second-year pro, who’s been expected all offseason to have a key role in Koetter’s offense, put up 110 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions. Outside of a 21-yard reception in the a second quarter that later set up his first score, however, his three other catches for 84 yards happened during garbage time. Still, the Washington product showed he has the athletic ability to be a great tight end and Winston clearly felt the most comfortable targeting him on Sunday. The Bucs would like Seferian-Jenkins big presence and pass-catching ability to continue, only in the future, when it actually matters.
Starting with the offensive tackles, it was a rough afternoon for Gosder Cherilus and Donovan Smith. The latter is expected to go through growing pains in his rookie year, but what was more disturbing was the play of Cherilus. Filling in for Demar Dotson, the former Colt was off-balanced and overmatched against Titans edge rushers Morgan and Orakpo. During the opening series of the third quarter, Cherilus negated an 8-yard run on first down with a hold, and subsequently got his foot tangled with Winston, which resulted in a sack. Cherilus let up another sack in the third quarter to Morgan and was called for an illegal formation inside the Bucs own 5-yard line. Smith was seen chasing his man from behind multiple times, as Winston fled the pocket often in the first half with pressure in his face. Guards Logan Mankins and Ali Marpet fared well in the running game in the first quarter, but each had some trouble later on – once all momentum was lost – against tackles Al Woods and Sammie Hill. The two could be seen turned around a lot in the second half, and Mankins was also called for a hold on first down in the third quarter.
The entire Buccaneers defense was taken off-guard by the Titans up-tempo, quick slant passing game and it highlighted the front four’s effort in particular. On Tennessee’s first possession, left tackle Taylor Lewan’s dominance over George Johnson and Jacquies Smith (whoever was lined up on the right) was evident. The Bucs were unable to apply any pressure on Mariota early on, as the rookie quarterback was getting the ball out of his hands cleanly from the pocket, within three seconds of dropping back. Towards the end of the game, Johnson could even be seen getting driven off the line by tight end Anthony Fasano in the running game. The defensive end duo was visibly struggling against the run, too. Bishop Sankey and Terrence West took many carries off tackle, where Smith and Johnson were sealed off and backs were able to get to the second level. Smith had one sack at the end of the third quarter and Johnson had a fumble recovery in the fourth, long after the game was competitive. As for the interior tackles, while McCoy, Melton, McDonald and Gholston were able to penetrate the backfield at times (a sack-fumble by McCoy in the second quarter after Melton collapsed the pocket), each had their share of missed tackles and overran runners multiple times. Chance Warmack and Byron Bell were having success against McCoy in the second half, sometimes without having to double team him. Of course, defense works together and it’s extremely difficult to stop the run when a team is carving up the linebackers and secondary in the passing game, but the D Line was overmatched from the opening series and contributed in digging a huge hole.
Once considered a deep position in Tampa Bay, the Bucs linebackers will have to redeem themselves quickly to prove their still a promising corps. In uncharacteristic fashion, all three starters – Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Danny Lansanah – had missed tackles in the gap or at the second level, and all three misread a few routes in the passing game. Either the linebackers were playing too close in or safeties were dropping back too far, because the Titans were having too much success throwing underneath to running backs and tight ends. A few plays in particular included David late to identify Sankey in the flat during the first quarter, as well as double-teamming Jalson Fowler (with Tim Jennings) and leaving Delanie Walker wide open. Both errors resulted in TDs for Tennessee. The Bucs need better coverage from their linebackers. Even when they had opportunities, they let them slip away. Kwon Alexander left a momentum shifting INT on the field in the first quarter, one that possibly could’ve been returned to make it 14-7. Instead the Titans scored a few plays later and added to their lead at 21-0. Again, it’s the first game and each made a few impressive plays – Alexander’s blitz that led to a Jac Smith sack, David and Lansanah’s run pursuit at times – but overall, the linebackers looked lost in space too often and allowed too many underneath completions.
From the cornerbacks perspective, both outside defenders – Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks – could’ve had much better outings. Same goes for Sterling Moore at the nickel, as he beat on back-to-back plays during the Titans opening drive, once by Delanie Walker and then Kendall Wright, who raced to the end zone for the first score. Sunday’s defensive performance was a perfect example of when neither rush or coverage is working. Banks and Verner were beat multiple times by Harry Douglas and Kendall Wright on shallow crosses, and the latter was also flagged twice for pass interference. One PI call offset a hold by the Titans that would’ve backed them inside the five yard line and the other happened in the end zone that set them up at the one-yard line. The corners needed to adjust to tighter coverage with all the quick slants and failed to conform. A great example was Verner playing back on Douglas near the goal line and allowing an easy cut inside, catch and touchdown to make it 28-7 in the second quarter. In regards to safeties, Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald were often cleaning up after players got past corners in the passing game and the front seven in the running game. Conte had the team high in tackles (5), which is usually not a good sign, especially when only one was for a loss. Conte was also caught too deep in coverage, as wide receivers left the cornerbacks zone and had way too much space. One of the worst moments for a safety and a play that reflected the Bucs inability to capitalize on mistakes was when D.J. Swearinger couldn’t come up with an easy fumble recovery in the third quarter, instead setting up the Titans in the red zone. The Bucs couldn’t catch a break and that’s a sign of a losing team. Each secondary member, all of whom are physical players, made a couple plays in run pursuit. But they looked surprised about the Titan’s game plan from start to finish and gave the front four little to no time in rushing the quarterback.
Nothing too memorable with the third-phase Sunday. New punter Jacob Schum averaged an impressive 47.0 yards on four punts, including a 56-yarder and Bobby Rainey had a few respectable returns. Kicker Kyle Brindza will have to wait at least another game before his first field goal attempt, but the Notre Dame product kicked it deep into the end zone during the Bucs rare kickoffs. One of the best plays of the game happened on the opening kickoff, where Bruce Carter raced down the middle of the field and made the stop inside the 15-yard line. The game pretty much went south from there, but a good special teams moment, nonetheless. Of course, there was one mistake during a return when Banks was called for a block in the back, nullifying a solid return by Rainey. Special teams penalties happen all the time, but they’re magnified when you lose by 28 points.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
No coaching grade, Zach?
e, I am happy to give you one. F!
well e Iagree with you. The first mistake was let Tenn get the ball 1st. Tampa wants to follower a winner. As what I see its not a winner so far. I think Tampa needs a big DE,Safety big and fast and more offensive linemen Go Bucs
Coaching grade: incomplete ( did not show up for game)
It was an F for the coaches not be prepared; worse not being able to make corrections; even unforgivable for the coaching to freeze up during the game at the point where they couldn’t not even throw one rd flag.
We had coaches last night?
The ‘making corrections’ part is what makes me nervous… Hopefully they can at least do it from game to game, cause the N.O. OC has plenty work with- get those LBs ready, Hardy!
F- Horse. Did not even challenge and we could have won that one and stoked the fires. I long fur Ray Perkins and Leeman Benett.
Everyone knew, or at least should have known that Tennessee would be running a fast-paced, Oregon-style offense tailored toward Mariota.
With the talent we have at LB we should’ve been able to cover those quick slant routes. It seemed as though our defense was lost the entire time. Most likely, this was an instance of worrying too much about Mariota running, which I’m sure will happen for other teams as well.
Basically our defense made Mariota look like a superstar while our offense made Winston look like a chump. The coaching staff needs to get it together and get this team back on track quick before the season gets out of hand like our game did last night
ZS, I thought these grades were pretty accurate. I was so looking forward to having a dangerous kick and punt returner this year. We drafted two guys who are capable of doing both jobs in the 5th and 6th round and on opening day we still end up with Rainey back there. Licht is just as much to blame on where we are as Lovie.
And these clowns passed on Collins bc it was “too much of a risk” but wasted 5th, 6th and 7th round picks on players without roster spots. Licht I’m calling you out as well for an F.
Agreed, I believe Bell is the only one left and he’s on IR
Tough job this week Zach. Not sure any unit deserves a grade as low as the LBs…terrible effort. Certainly didn’t see the OL as bad as the LBs. LvD looked like a man that got paid recently…oh right, he did. Kwon looked like a rookie…oh right, he is. Lansannah looked like….did he even play….totally absent.
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