Fresh off their bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to get back on track when they visit the Tennessee Titans in week 8.
Coming off their worst collective performance of the season, the Bucs had a week off to put the disastrous game in London vs. the Carolina Panthers behind them. It was another struggle against a backup quarterback as Carolina’s Kyle Allen was able to find open receivers seemingly at will for 60 minutes. On the other side of the football, Jameis Winston’s afternoon was abysmal. An interception on his first pass would set the tone for a career worst 5 interception game for Winston. In the end, the Buccaneers left London with a 37-26 defeat and a 2-4 record. But week 8 presents an opportunity for the freshly rested Bucs to get back on track.
A tale of two defenses
Tampa Bay’s ability to stop the run has been nothing short of astonishing through the first 6 games. The Bucs have faced Christian McCaffrey (twice), Saquan Barkley, Todd Gurley, and Alvin Kamara through the season’s first 6 weeks. During that stretch, only Kamara managed to eclipse even 40 rushing yards on the Tampa Bay defense (62). As a result, opponents have game planned for pass heavy games against the Bucs and have done so with great success so far. While the top ranked run defense is only allowing 68 yards per game, the Tampa Bay secondary has given up 304 passing yards per game. Coming off the bye week, the Bucs have an opportunity to change that narrative.
The Tennessee Titans are looking to establish an identity on offense. 2015’s 2nd overall pick, quarterback Marcus Mariota, was benched in week 6 following a string of poor performances. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has turned to Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback. In his first start for the Titans, Tannehill was a productive 23/29 and threw for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns in a win over the Los Angeles Chargers. In order for the Bucs to get a much needed win in Nashville, the team will need to be ready to disrupt the Titans passing attack.
As the season goes on, opposing coaches are figuring out just how hard it is to run on Tampa Bay. The result is simple: throw the ball. The first 6 games have shown that is what it takes to beat the Buccaneers. It is up to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to make necessary adjustments with schemes and personnel to balance the effectiveness defensively.
Pre-London Jameis must return in week 8
It certainly seems like a broken record at this point. Alas, here we are on the cusp of week 8 wondering which Jameis Winston will take the field on Sunday. After a disappointing performance in week 1, Winston put together a 4 game stretch of 100+ passer ratings and a combined 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. When London came calling in week 6, a first pass interception foreshadowed what would become a disastrous Sunday against the Panthers. In addition to his 5 interceptions, Winston also turned the ball over on a lost fumble. The turnover bug has plagued the 5th year quarterback for his entire career thus far.
Is Jameis Winston solely to blame when things start unraveling for the Buccaneers? No, he is not. To be fair, he has been working with a sub par offensive line and has never had a consistently productive running game. What Winston must fix if the Bucs are going to win on Sunday is the tendency to make those mistakes when plays are breaking down. Take a sack, throw the ball away, and recognize when there is nothing that can be gained on a play. This is the very reason Bruce Arians was hired to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He must get his quarterback to stop trying to play the hero and live to fight another down. A smarter Winston is the main ingredient for a winning recipe.
Establishing the run early is key
If the Bucs are going to come away Victorious in Tennessee, they will need a balanced attack offensively. A commitment to the run early with Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber should open up passing opportunities for Jameis Winston. The 2 backs combined for only 12 carries in week 6 while Winston attempted 54 passes. This type of imbalance will almost never lead to wins. Naturally, in some situations when the score is becoming lopsided you have to turn to big plays through the air.
This was not the case against the Panthers in London and the running game should not have been abandoned so quickly. Tampa Bay needs to commit to getting the ground game going and controlling the clock to keep pressure off of Winston. They must sustain drives and keep their defense from being on their heels and gassed. Simply put: control the clock, win time of possession, win the game.
The road ahead beyond week 8
The Bucs will head to Seattle to face the Seahawks in week 9. This will mark the end of a stretch of 7 weeks away from Raymond James Stadium. The team returns home November 10th for a week 10 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals. It will be the first home game for the Buccaneers since September 22nd.
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