Titans vs Bucs: Tampa Bay's Biggest Winners & Losers from Preseason Week 2
No, the defense isn't where it needs to be and quarterback Josh Freeman struggled to get going. Oh, and the tackling was horrendous, which led to a 2011-like porous defense.
But even in the aftermath of such a demoralizing drubbing, there are in fact a few things—and I do stress few—that Bucs fans should take solace in.
That said, let's take a closer look at who shined and who didn't in Friday night's game versus the Titans.
Winner: Linebacker Dekoda Watson
Much has been made about Dekoda Watson and his ability to move sideline-to-sideline with ease, although to this point in his young career, the speedy Watson has struggled to define his role within the defensive framework.
To this point, the Bucs have been working with the former Florida State standout this offseason in an effort to utilize his unique skill set—speed and agility, chief among them—during passing situations.
That work panned out tonight, as Watson recorded the only sack of the game for Tampa Bay, to go along with his team-leading four tackles as well.
The Bucs' struggles with generating a pass rush have been well-documented and scrutinized over the past few years. In fact, the Bucs haven't finished a season inside the top 10 in sacks since the 2004 campaign, when they finished tied for third in the NFL with 45 sacks.
Furthermore, since that 2004 season, the Bucs have finished (in chronological order): 18th, 30th, 16th, 20th, 26th, 31st and 32nd in total sacks for each respective season.
All of which leads back to Watson.
If he can prove himself to be a pass-rush specialist, there's no denying that the Bucs could sorely use his services.
Loser: Bucs Rush Defense/Tackling
Friday night, the defense wasn't just bad, they were awful. Better yet, maybe embarrassing would be a better term.
For all of the talk that we heard throughout the offseason about how much more disciplined and tougher this defense would be...boy tonight, they sure looked a lot like the out-to-lunch bunch that we grew to loathe last season.
Titans running back Chris Johnson carried the ball 10 times for 46 yards and two scores, which was only the beginning of a long night for the Tampa defense. When it was all said and done, the Tennessee offense tallied 216 yards and two scores on the ground.
Oh, and not that I need to remind anyone, but the Bucs have to face the imposing trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton in three weeks.
Better break out the tackling dummies.
Winner: Safety Ahmad Black
Tampa Bay native and second-year safety Ahmad Black set up the Bucs' only touchdown of the game with his early first-quarter interception of Titans quarterback Jake Locker.
On that interception, Black returned the ball 29 yards down to the Tennessee two-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Josh Freeman connected with receiver Mike Williams for a short touchdown strike.
The interception itself is important for many reasons. For one, the Bucs have managed to pick off just 33 passes over the past two seasons. To put that into perspective, the Packers had 31—last year.
But aside from that, the interception was also crucial for Black, who is fighting for a roster spot in an otherwise crowded defensive secondary. So anytime you can come up with a splash play like the one Black managed, it certainly can't hurt one's chances of distancing themselves from the competition.
Loser: Quarterback Josh Freeman
It's no secret, especially around these parts, that quarterback Josh Freeman struggled mightily last season.
His 2011 campaign was mired by inconsistency and questionable play-calling, but nevertheless, his numbers speak for themselves: 16 touchdowns, 22 interceptions.
And while the stats in the win-loss column are all that ultimately matter, it was disheartening in some sense to see him regress given how promising his 2010 season was.
Which brings us back to tonight's performance.
And it wasn't pretty.
Yes, he had a scoring strike to receiver Mike Williams early in the first quarter, but aside from that, he completed just three other passes (out of 10 attempts) for a total of 21 yards.
Look, I get that it's "only preseason" and that maybe the stat sheets get over-scrutinized given the situation, but isn't anyone out there at least a little concerned with Freeman?
Through two (preseason) games, Freeman has thrown for 62 yards and completed eight of his fifteen attempts. Is it throw-up-the-white-flag-of-surrender bad?
No, but given his disastrous 2011, his performance thus far is confounding.
That said, we'll know a lot more a week from now after the starters get the bulk of the first-half snaps.
Winner: Running Back/Returner Michael Smith
The Bucs appear to have found lightning in a bottle. In this case, that bottle happens to wear a No. 34 Bucs jersey and answers to the name Michael Smith.
In his first two preseason games, the rookie out of Utah State has shown himself to be a game-changer, as he has seven returns totaling 238 yards (34 yards per return).
Better yet, one of his seven returns was an electrifying 74-yard scamper against Miami last week.
Further displaying his ability, tonight Smith added 31 yards rushing on seven carries.
Get this man the ball, and get the heck out of his way.
The benefits of having someone like Smith returning kicks is obvious, and is a luxury the Bucs have never truly possessed.
Smith shows a knack for big plays and momentum-changing returns, and Bucs fans know all too well how rare such a commodity is.