When the schedule makers came out with the 2022 schedule, there was much discussion about the first four games of the season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Would Tampa Bay start 0-4 after facing four powerhouses to begin the year?
Well, at least for one week, those concerns are alleviated, as the Bucs smothered the Dallas Cowboys 19-3 in an old-school Dungy-ball slugfest.
What I Liked
There are good defensive performances and then there’s what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did to Dallas on Sunday Night. The Bucs’ defense was fantastic, smothering the Dallas receivers and limiting the Cowboys’ offense to just 3 points and 244 yds of total offense.
What I Didn’t
The Bucs’ red zone offense was not good. Tampa Bay could have blown the doors off of Dallas but couldn’t finish several of their drives in the first half, finishing the night 1-for-3 in the red zone and settling for five field goal attempts by kicker Ryan Succop (he made four).
Pieces of Eight
I can’t say enough about the Bucs’ defensive performance. The Bucs limited Dak Prescott to just 134 yds passing, no touchdowns, and one interception, a 47.2 QB Rating. The Bucs narrowly missed a few other interceptions as well, it was one of the worst performances of the Dallas superstar’s career.
Tampa Bay’s secondary dominated Dallas’ limited receiving core. Cowboys superstar CeeDee Lamb two receptions for 29 yds on 11 targets and the Cowboys failed to penetrate deeper than Tampa Bay’s 32 yd line and were never really a threat to score a touchdown.
Dallas did see some success on the ground with Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard, who combined for 60 yds on 16 carries. Elliot, in particular, was effective, averaging 5.2 yds on his 10 carries.
It was obvious Tampa Bay was focused on making sure Prescott didn’t repeat his 403 yds, three TD, 72% completion percentage performance of 2021 and they succeeded.
The Bucs haven’t had this dominant of a defensive performance since limiting New Orleans to nine points and 212 total yards in week 15 of last season. They haven’t held a team to three points or less since Week seven of 2021 against Chicago.
Running the football was something new Bucs’ head coach Todd Bowles focused on during camp and Tampa Bay definitely showed balance we rarely saw under Bruce Arians’ no-risk-it-no-biscuit attack. Behind their revamped offensive line, Tampa Bay pounded out 152 yds on 33 carries (4.6 yds per carry). Tampa Bay actually ran the ball more than they passed (27 attempts), something we haven’t seen that often in the Tom Brady era.
Leonard Fournette led the way behind Tampa Bay’s rebuilt offensive line, getting 127 yds on 21 carriers, the most yards in a game for him as a Buccaneer. Rashaad White got a taste of the action as well but fared as rookies often do, generating just 14 yards on six totes.
Bowles said it wasn’t really a change in philosophy, more of taking what Dallas’ defense was giving the Bucs. It will be interesting to see if more teams try to play the Bucs offense in the same fashion. Honestly, better execution in the red zone likely would have put a typical Tampa Bay point production on the scoreboard, so it may not be any better than stopping the run and forcing Brady to light up your secondary. Tom doesn’t care about MVP trophies, he cares about Super Bowl trophies and knows the run game is an integral part of the offense, especially in January or February.
As a result of the run focus, the Bucs’ passing game didn’t generate its typical numbers. Brady was accurate, completing 67% of his 27 pass attempts (the least amount he’s thrown in a game for Tampa Bay since 2020 – when he left the game at halftime after amassing a large lead in Detroit). Brady managed just 212 yds and one TD pass. He also threw a terrible interception.
The Bucs’ offensive line surrendered two sacks, but not from the guys you would think. Donovan Smith, who allowed just one sack all of last season, was whipped on a wicked spin move by Dallas defensive phenom Micah Parsons, and Brady was sacked, snuffing out a Bucs’ scoring drive. Smith would be injured on the play and not return.
Tampa Bay’s next trip down the field, Parsons would end another drive as he blew by backup LT Josh Wells and sacked Brady again, forcing the Bucs to settle for three points.
That was a common refrain for Tampa Bay. The Bucs kept driving the field without issue between the 20s but when it came time to put the ball in the endzone, Tampa Bay only succeeded once, and it took a spectacular grab by Mike Evans to make that happen.
As The Athletic’s Greg Auman pointed out, Tampa Bay is 2-25 when they were held under 20 points in their previous five seasons. While the defense was lights out, I think the Bucs expect more out of their offense and will want to see better production in the red zone.
As Bucs’ quarterback Tom Brady said in his post-game press conference, “A lot of room for improvement, so we get back to work.”
That’s right. Despite the dominant win over a 2021 playoff team on the road, the Bucs still feel like they haven’t scratched the surface of their potential.
I don’t think the Bucs rushed Chris Godwin back into the lineup, but I think Godwin would have probably benefited from a couple more weeks working himself back into game shape. Godwin pulled down his three targets for 35 yds, including a sensational screen where he scampered like the CG of old, for 24 yds. Unfortunately, Godwin would leave the ballgame with a hamstring injury and not return.
Hopefully, it’s a minor thing and he’ll be able to get himself back on schedule.
The Bucs focused on getting the football to Julio Jones and he responded, catching three of his five targets for 69 yds, including an outstanding catch on a 48 yd bomb from Brady. Jones would add another 17 yds on end-around runs that proved to be effective for Tampa Bay.
Julio nearly hauled in another Brady bomb near the goal line but just missed pulling it in. If he can stay healthy, Jones will be a significant player for Tampa Bay.
Meanwhile, Russell Gage was a little slow getting back into action. After missing several weeks with his own hamstring issue, Gage definitely appeared to be struggling to find his place in the Tampa Bay passing attack. He finished the day with just two catches on two targets for 13 yds.
With Kyle Rudolph a surprise scratch, Tampa Bay didn’t get a lot from their tight ends, at least in the receiving department. Ko Kieft and Cade Otton were often held in to block for the run or assist in blocking the Dallas pass rush. Neither had any targets in the game but had their moments blocking and on special teams.
What was really surprising on Sunday night was how aggressive the Bucs’ secondary was. Tampa Bay intercepted Dak Prescott just once but had opportunities for several more picks as they blanketed the Dallas receivers, not giving them an inch. The Bucs had six passes defended as Carlton Davis, Jr., Jamel Dean, Antoine Winfield, Jr., and Mike Edwards all took turns making plays on the football. Winfield, Jr. would snag the team’s only pick of the day.
Meanwhile, Devin White was sensational, sacking Prescott twice and leading Tampa Bay with eight tackles, two TFLs, two QB hits, and a pass defended that could have been an interception.
This was more of the playmaking superstar we expected to see and was missing in 2021.
One pleasant surprise for the Bucs in their dominant win was special teams. While Ryan Succop did scuff a 36 yd FG in the second quarter, he nailed four others (including a 47-yd FG) that allowed Tampa Bay to build its lead.
Punter Jake Camarda drilled the JerryWorld scoreboard on a punt and finished the night with three punts of 50.7 yds, two pinned inside the 20 yard line and a 43.3 net average.
The coverage teams did a phenomenal job on the extremely dangerous Dallas returner DaVonte Turpin, who was held to just 19.3 yds a return on kickoffs and only 3.0 yds on his one punt return.
Even Jaelon Darden had some nice returns, averaging 9.3 yds a punt return. Dallas only had two kickoffs during the game, and both went through the end zone for touchbacks.
It’s an encouraging start for the unit that many feared could be an Achilles’ heel for Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay hits the road for the second straight week in their four-game gauntlet, taking on their nemesis, the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans had to rally from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit in Atlanta to get to 1-0.
For the Bucs, this is a game that they have circled on their calendar. There’s a ton of crowing from Cam Jordan, Jameis and other Saints players about their dominance of the Bucs in the regular season. Tom Brady and the Bucs are sick of hearing it.
Head coach Todd Bowles’ emphasis on the running game, cleaning up penalties, turnovers, and fundamentals will be extremely important in the Big Easy, as Tampa Bay has had a tendency to self destruct in games against the Saints.
The winner of next Sunday’s matchup will have the early upper hand in the NFC South.
Tweet of the Game
Devin White, in post game on #Bucs radio network, “We had to take them one at a time, but now we get the team we really want (the #Saints).” Need to be a lot better in the red zone next week if they want to win in New Orleans. #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/jDTHZQmpt6
— 👽 🏴☠️ Lord JC De La Torre🏴☠️ (@jcdelatorre) September 12, 2022
For more on this and everything Buccaneers check back here hourly at BucsReport.com.