Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Some positives as Bucs lose preseason opener in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA -— This is not the way the Bucs wanted to start the game. Not the way they wanted to start the preseason. Not the way they wanted to make a debut under new head coach Dirk Koetter.

Kenny Bell fumbled the opening kickoff, and three plays later, the Eagles were in the end zone.

Quarterback Jameis Winston was stripped by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who beat guard Ali Marpet, and a few ticks later, Eagles quarterback Chase Daniel walked into the end zone.

Less than five minutes into 2016, the Bucs trailed 14-0, and went on to lose 17-9 Thursday.

As a former coach might say, they just weren't Philadelphia ready.

In this city, the last Bell to crack like that was Liberty. And for goodness sakes, hasn't Winston learned to protect the football in the pocket? All told, the Bucs turned it over five times.

Just for good measure, rookie place-kicker Roberto Aguayo clanked one off the upright on his first kick, a 33-yard point after. Aguayo made all 198 extra point attempts at Florida State.

Welcome to the NFL, kid.

"I didn't get quite the same butterfly feeling I get for a regular game," Koetter said. "When we got punched in the mouth like we did to start the game, I got (ticked) off. I wasn't nervous, just (ticked) because we can't play like that and expect to win.

"Five turnovers and nine points. You can't win like that. We weren't very good on third down on offense. Other than no huddle, there wasn't much good."

But take a breath, Bucs fans. R-E-L-A-X.

To be honest, the Bucs showed enough promising signs to make the most jaded fan optimistic.

Winston rebounded to play well and went 7-of-9 passing for 97 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to Russell Shepard. He may have gotten away with a late throw, but it had some smoke on it.

The Eagles had only 21 net yards passing in the first half, most after touted rookie Carson Wentz entered to a loud ovation. The Eagles had less than 100 yards rushing and less than 100 yards passing for the game. And for the first time since the days of Sapp, Rice and McFarland, the Bucs appear to have a pass rush.

If you want the biggest take away from this game for the Bucs, it's that the defense under former Falcons coach Mike Smith is going to be much improved.

Rookie Noah Spence came off the edge as if he were fired from a cannon. He forced Daniel to step up into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy pushed the pocket and Jacquies Smith had a sack. Howard Jones had a sack. Akeeem Spence forced a holding penalty, and on the next play, he had a sack. Robert Ayers was a disruptive beast.

"The defense was amazing," Winston said. "Wow. If I don't fumble and we don't give the Eagles the ball inside the 10, they don't score at all. I'm talking about the first team, second team, third team, fourth team."

Koetter is right. The two fumbles and an under pressure heave by Mike Glennon that was intercepted in the first half, will get you beat by most NFL teams. And to be fair, the Eagles pulled starter Sam Bradford after only one series.

But contrast this defensive performance in Week 1 of the preseason with what the Bucs did in the same game a year ago at Minnesota. In that game, Vikings quarterbacks combined to go 27-for-33 for 293 yards and two touchdowns. For a team to hit 82 percent of their passes the first time out is a warning sign.

"(Ayers) brings a nastiness to the D-line that we've been missing for a long time," McCoy said. "He's just a naturally angry dude. Everybody can't be that, but he is and it helps us out big time."

The other good news is that Eagles quarterbacks had to eat the ball. The first-half coverage was better with Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner, Vernon Hargreaves and Jude Adjei-Barimah than it was at any point last season.

"I think us having tighter coverage, bringing in the guys we brought in and having a new attitude, is going to help the defensive line get pressure and vice versa," Verner said. "I'm sure there's going to be times they're going to bail us out with the games and things Coach Smith is dialing up. Both ways we're going to affect the quarterback. They're not going to have an easy time."

Look, first preseason games always look rough. With limited contact in training camp these days, turnovers are common. So are penalties. The good news is that Smith hasn't really opened up the playbook.

Sure, Thursday's game was more of a child's finger painting than a masterpiece. But if you look at the big picture, it wasn't a bad start.

   
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