The preseason 28-30 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers doesn’t matter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or any team in the league, for that matter. What does matter, though, are stats; most importantly, those of the second and third teams. For all exhibition games combined, stats tell a story for those who ultimately end up making the 53-man roster.
As for the first-team skill players, it was short and sweet as expected. Jameis Winston looked composed during his only drive of 81 yards in six minutes. He shredded the Steelers defense going 5-of-6 for 40 yards and a touchdown. His sole incompletion was a bomb, just three yards over the head of Breshad Perriman. The quarterback’s vision was crisp as he patiently scanned the field for open receivers. At a time when the Steelers defense was swarming, Winston spun out and showed his mobility. He kept the ball and rushed for 10 yards and a first down.
Winston showed he could command the offense as he led them downfield. He displayed the talent of a well-rounded quarterback with his eyes, arms, and feet. If he and his soldiers can build upon that one near-perfect drive and continue the style of play consistently, the offense should be a contender this year.
Former 10th-overall draft pick Blaine Gabbert came in on the next Buccaneers drive. The staff was eager to see if Gabbert had what is needed to back up Winston. He wasn’t allowed much time, however, as they only kept the former Jaguar in for one series. On why Gabbert was pulled midway through the second quarter, Arians pointed to the injury to Philadelphia Eagles backup Nate Sudfeld and didn’t want to take any additional risk.
Gabbert had eight completions on six passes for 50 yards. He also committed a delay of game penalty, which had Arians hot on the sideline. But that would be one of many unfortunate penalties. The second-team quarterback made sure to redeem himself on the next play and zipped a 21-yard pass to tight end Tanner Hudson.
The third-team quarterback plays the most in the first preseason outing, so it was no surprise Ryan Griffin did the same. Albeit against the Steelers third and fourth teams, Griffin had a nice outing. Inexperience produced a couple of fumbles, but on nearly 50 pass attempts, he held his own for 330 yards and a touchdown to Hudson.
The 6-foot-5 rookie tight end really put on a show, starting a four-week campaign in an attempt to win a roster spot. Hudson displayed toughness after he got leveled and managed to hold onto the ball. He had 84 yards receiving and a focused catch in tight coverage. His one-handed score off a deflection made it 22-30 late in the fourth quarter.
Thirteen receivers, tight ends, and backs included shared 420 total yards. After the third team receiving corp exited the game, it was the Schnell Show. The undrafted rookie put up 119 yards on the day.
The offense was helped by a short passing game and an extended run game, provided mostly from Andre Ellington and Dare Ogunbowale.
Ogunbowale showed good wiggle, spinning off tackles and digging his way to gains, slamming into defenders for tough first downs. He made a guy miss as he dove into the endzone for a score in the third. Adding a second touchdown in the fourth, he had 34 yards rushing on 10 totes.
Fans looking forward to seeing what rookie Bruce Anderson could do didn’t see much of anything. Even though he saw a window of playing time late in the game, he couldn’t get his hands on the one target and didn’t run the ball at all.
Defense: The Good & the Bad
After nearly 30 years of operating the 4-3 defense, the new Buccaneers will be operating a hybrid 3-4 base defense (three defensive linemen, four linebackers). The difference between the two styles is vast, and fans got their first live-action glimpse of how the defense looks.
Like with most exhibition games, there was some good and some bad. The first of only two sacks on the night came from Carl Nassib while the Steelers were pinned deep in their redzone. Deone Buccannon added the second sack and contributed a tackle-for-loss. There were 34 total tackles, six for loss.
The first Steelers touchdown came on blown coverage by corner M.J. Stewart, who also happened to have the one and only pass defended in 30 total passes.
The Bucs second-team defense was able to contain the run with clean tackling. The defensive front did a decent job at controlling the line of scrimmage, and while the team only had three quarterback hits, they managed to get some pressure on Steelers’ second quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
The second half told a little different story. Tackles by third and fourth team started to get sloppy, and their opponents scored twice with third quarterback Mason Rudolph. After Rudolph sent a 59-yard bomb downfield and there were big yards after the catch, Bond had a touchdown-saving tackle.
Another downfall for the defense was on third downs as the Steelers converted 50%.
Mistakes were made with penalties and failed two-point conversions. We can only hope that Winston is better at converting two points than Griffin was tonight. If the Bucs had gone for and made extra points instead of going for two each time, the Bucs would’ve won the game 31-30. The team may be practicing two-point conversions a little more in camp next week… just to be safe.
Penalties were costly, and there was a whopping 14 committed. Most penalties were on special teams, but a big one was hands-to-the-face by linebacker Noah Spence to negate a beautiful interception by corner Vernon Hargreaves.
The first team didn’t play long enough for Cairo Santos to have a field goal opportunity, but second kicker Matt Gay did. And it was a doozy for 55 yards that was long enough to go for 65. Three-pointers of this kind of yardage isn’t commonly successful at Heinz Field, especially for rookies. So, there could be a real kicker conundrum here.
Ellington took the most kickoffs, while receiver Bobo Wilson had two and Jones one.
Some Positives So Far
It didn’t take long for the starting offense to get what they needed out of the game. The main skill positions, Winston, Godwin, Barber, Jones, had a decent showing in their limited play. That’s all we can ask. And it’s not a bad thing because they’re the ones we’ll be seeing most on the field in less than a month.
But preseason is mostly for the young guys to prove themselves and many did just that. We’ll see who can prove themselves enough to make the roster on August 31.