Quarterback Josh McCown was able to guide the offense down the field after getting off to a slow start. Completing 13 out of 16 passes for 112 yards, one touchdown and one interception, McCown looks to be the clear-cut starter heading into regular-season action.
The first-team defense, on the other hand, played great from the get-go, shutting out the Bills in the first half and making quarterback EJ Manuel's life a nightmare.
Coming into the preseason there weren't too many question marks about the Buccaneers defense. With Lovie Smith nabbed to replace Greg Schiano as head coach, it was apparent that the Tampa 2 defensive scheme that helped this franchise form an identity would be returning to its roots.
Smith's history with that brand of football is rich—he was the Bucs' linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996 to 2000. When he took over as head coach earlier this offseason, one of his first orders of business was going on a bit of a spending spree to build the defense back up the right way.
The question that had to be answered was always on offense. Knowing this, Smith hired former University of California head coach Jeff Tedford to come in and transform the league's 32nd-ranked offense into a well-oiled machine.
What we saw against the Bills on Saturday was an offense that was predicated on finding its best weapons, targeting them and repeating that process.
"It's a lot of fun," running back Doug Martin told Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune about Tedford's scheme. "It kind of takes me back to my (college) days at Boise State with some of the tricks and things that we're going to be doing."
Martin looks like he'll remain a vital part of the offense. Because of the team's struggles in 2013, you tend to forget just how valuable he can be.
During his rookie season, the former Boise State back rushed for 1,454 yards and added 472 receiving yards to go along with it. He was a multipurpose revelation for the team, showcasing majestic vision, breakaway speed and a knack for finding the end zone—Martin scored 12 total touchdowns in 2012.
In the “dress rehearsal” game against the Bills, Martin looked like he was ready to get back to his 2012 form. He carried the ball 12 times for 38 yards and a touchdown in the first half and tacked on two receptions for 27 yards to that total.
Tedford might still be figuring things out, tinkering with his scheme like a mad scientist holed up in a dingy lab. Despite that, Martin will continue to be a major part of whatever scheme finally emerges on September 7.
Last season, the Buccaneers offense suffered from a lack of innovation and pacing. It felt like each time they took the field, everything moved at a snail’s pace. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times confirmed those feelings:
Some of the most explosive NFL offenses have emphasized increasing the number of plays they can run in a game. The Patriots have been in the top two in the league in average plays per game the past three seasons. In 2013 the Broncos (72.1 plays per game) and Patriots (70.4) topped the list. The Bucs were 28th at 61.3.
Even during limited preseason action—in which teams don’t unveil their complete plan of attack—the Bucs offense already seems to be moving the ball quicker. Against Buffalo, the offense ran 63 plays, and again, that's also with limited play-calling option. Expect that number to inflate heading into September.
In the first half against Buffalo, McCown looked comfortable with the pacing and commanded the line of scrimmage well. Forget the slow start he got off to—when the veteran QB finally got things clicking, wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson reaped the rewards. The pair gobbled up an impressive eight catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
For the second week in a row, Tedford's scheme was open and fluid. Taking snaps out of the shotgun allowed McCown to keep his eyes down the field. The play-calling finally paid off when McCown hit Evans for a 24-yard touchdown strike during the second quarter.
McCown has been here before. Last season with the Chicago Bears, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery’s long frames and strength spoiled the 35-year-old. When he got to Tampa Bay, he was thrilled to have Evans and Jackson lining up on the outside.
“I'd be lying if I didn't say there was a comfort zone in that,” McCown told Cummings of The Tampa Tribune. “It's very similar (to what I had in Chicago), at least on paper.”
The chemistry that has been brewing since training camp looked on-point during Saturday's contest. And if it holds up, that'll be huge for the success of this offense.
Some of the biggest obstacles that lie ahead for Tedford will be getting the Bucs offensive line to mesh and continuing to push forward in a creative manner. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), last season the Bucs only had one offensive lineman on the roster who finished with a positive grade in pass protection—veteran tackle Demar Dotson.
The linemen may have played well in spurts going up against the Bills' pass-rushers, but they never could quite take over and dominate in the trenches.
Just like the other 31 teams in the National Football League, everything is still a work in progress at this stage. Adjustments will be made, schemes will tighten up and players will get better. The good news is the Bucs’ first-team offense looks like it's well on its way to competing in the NFC South this season. And that is a direct credit to the change Jeff Tedford has brought to this club.
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