Just like that, it’s game day again for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs have only had 3 full days to think about their week 1 performance and make adjustments. After Sunday’s disappointing 31-17 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay faces off with the division rival Carolina Panthers tonight at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The Bucs’ offense needs a huge bounce back after a mostly underwhelming effort this past Sunday. There was plenty of blame to go around as the clocked ticked to 0:00. Mike Evans was battling flu symptoms. O.J. Howard had trouble securing the ball and keeping it secure. Demar Dotson committed 2 costly holding penalties on two different Cameron Brate touchdowns. And with the game on the line and the team in need of a touchdown late in the game, Jameis Winston threw his second pick-six of the afternoon, sealing Tampa Bay’s week 1 fate.
If the Buccaneers are going to come out with a win tonight, here are the keys to success:
Expect a heavy dose of Ronald Jones II
There were a few bright spots in week 1. One of them being second year running back Ronald Jones II. Jones had success running on the 49ers defense to the tune of 75 yards on 13 carries. In this new Arians/Leftwich system, Jones already looks like a completely different back than he was in 2018. He demonstrated improvement in patience, finding gaps, and yards after contact. As a result, Tampa Bay will no doubt continue to commit to the ground game this week. Carolina’s defense is coming off of a week 1 performance that allowed the Los Angeles Rams 166 yards rushing. Commitment to a successful running game will take pressure off Jameis Winston and provide for a more complete and balanced offensive attack.
Evans must win battles against Bradberry
Panthers’ cornerback James Bradberry has given Mike Evans fits recently. In 2 games against Carolina last season, Evans was targeted 16 times and only had 5 receptions.This includes a game where he was held to only 1. As Tampa Bay’s most reliable and consistent target, Jameis Winston will be looking his way a lot tonight. Evans will no doubt be hungry for a big performance after a flu bug bothered him in week 1. But he must find ways to get open and conquer the Bradberry hurdle.
Winston MUST take care of the football
This one seems like a broken record, but it bears noting again. Jameis Winston had another game of careless mistakes against San Francisco last week. To be fair, there is not much a quarterback can do when his tight end can’t reel in a pass and the ball pops up into a defenders hands, as happened on his first interception. There is also the comments from head coach Bruce Arians explaining how a bad route run by Peyton Barber resulted in his second interception, a pick-six for Richard Sherman. But with the game on the line and the team in a position to tie or take a lead, Winston simply cannot force throws when under pressure the way he did on his third interception.
The Bucs must be able to rely on Winston in those situations to take a check down, throw the ball away, or take a sack and live to fight another down. These are the quarterback issues Arians is notorious for being able to solve. In what is an audition year for Winston to determine if he will become the first Tampa Bay quarterback to sign a second contract, the time is now for mistakes to be cleaned up. The offense as a whole had their struggles Sunday and the loss was not entirely on Winston. But he must have a solid showing tonight. History shows that he does not often have 2 bad games in a row, but he is also in the midst of a 12 game personal losing streak on the road. An efficient Winston and effective running game could produce a big night for the Bucccaneers offensively.
More of the same from the defense
The obvious shining star of week 1 was the defensive unit as a whole. The defense held San Francisco to 17 points and scored a touchdown on Vernon Hargreaves III’s pick six in the second quarter. Jimmy Garoppolo was held to 166 passing yards and the 49ers as a team rushed for only 98. The Bucs only recorded one sack, however. That came from linebacker Shaq Barrett. With the defense having to focus on containing Christian McCaffrey tonight, I would not expect an increased amount of pressure this week compared to week 1.
But the team did sign Cam Newton’s biggest nightmare this week as safety Andrew Adams makes his return to Tampa Bay. Adams, who was recently released by the Detroit Lions, picked off Newton 3 times in week 15 last season. If Tampa Bay can take a lead and Newton is pressing, Todd Bowles may just bring heat to force some errant throws.
This marks the Bucs and Panthers first match-up since long time defensive tackle Gerald McCoy signed with Carolina in June. McCoy spent his first 9 seasons with the Buccaneers after being selected 3rd overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. Kickoff is set for 8:20 on NFL Network.
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