Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills: Report Card Grades for Each Bucs Unit

Luke EasterlingCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2014

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills: Report Card Grades for Each Bucs Unit

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally put one in the win column this preseason, taking down the Buffalo Bills 27-14 at Ralph Wilson Stadium Saturday afternoon.

    The Bucs' defense led the way with five sacks and three takeaways, while the starting offense finally found their groove, helping the Bucs build a 24-0 halftime lead.

    Josh McCown completed 13 of his 16 passes on the night for 112 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown strike to rookie first-round wide receiver Mike Evans.  Doug Martin showed glimpses of his rookie season, gaining 65 total yards and finding the end zone on a one-yard run to open the scoring.

    A Michael Johnson strip-sack was scooped up by Clinton McDonald, who rumbled 17 yards for a Tampa Bay score.  The Bucs scored 14 points off turnovers, holding the Bills to just 82 yards of total offense in the first half.

    Dashon Goldson set the tone early, intercepting EJ Manuel on the first drive of the game. 

    Tampa Bay's depth continues to be a concern, as the Bills put the ball in the end zone twice in the third quarter.  Buffalo did leave its starters in longer than did Tampa Bay, and Manuel clearly fared better against the Bucs reserves.

    Tampa Bay still has a ways to go before its ready to beat the likes of Carolina and St. Louis—their first two regular season opponents—but tonight's victory was a sizable step in the right direction.

     

    *All stats courtesy of NFL.com

Quarterback

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Josh McCown started off a bit shaky, struggling to get comfortable behind his offensive line.  But after throwing an early interception, McCown settled down and found a rhythm.  The veteran starter finished the game 13-for-16 for 112 yards, and a touchdown to go with an interception.

    Backup Mike Glennon took over in the second half, but the offense struggled for the remainder of the game.  Aside from a lengthy drive that was kept alive by key Buffalo penalties and resulted in a field goal, Tampa Bay was held scoreless for the rest of the second half.

    On the whole, Bucs fans should feel a bit more confident in their quarterbacks after this game.  They weren't playing against the league's best defense, but McCown's performance, especially, was enough to give the unit a better-than-average grade.

     

    GRADE: B-

Running Back

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    With multiple injuries at the running back position, the Bucs hope Doug Martin will be able to return to the form of his Pro Bowl rookie season. 

    Martin flashed some of that ability tonight, with a couple of impressive runs and a 22-yard touchdown catch that was overturned upon official review.  Martin finished the night with 65 total yards and a touchdown on 14 touches.

    Bobby Rainey struggled again this week, managing just 14 yards on 13 carries.  Speedster Jeff Demps had a couple of impressive runs, finishing the game with 26 yards on 11 carries.

    This unit will continue to go as the offensive line goes.  The Bucs failed to crack 100 yards rushing as a team tonight, and 21 of those yards came from quarterback Josh McCown.  Rainey's struggles are a concern, but Martin showcasing his rookie-year form and improved receiving skills helps this unit's grade tonight.

     

    GRADE: C+

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay's receivers looked as impressive as they have all preseason, especially the starting unit.  Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans combined for eight receptions for 87 yards in just one half of work, including a 24-yard touchdown catch from Evans that showed off his big-play potential.

    Chris Owusu hauled in two passes for 17 yards, while rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins had an impressive 11-yard catch-and-run that showed his combination of athleticism and physicality.

    Both Jackson and Evans created plenty of separation, especially on hook and comeback routes.  Josh McCown seems to be getting more and more confident in his ability to just throw the ball anywhere near his twin towers, knowing they'll more then likely come down with the ball.

    Louis Murphy and rookie Robert Herron were the only other receivers to register a reception, and they look to be leading a pack receivers fighting for the final spots at the position.

    Like most of the Bucs' individual units, the strength of the starters is encouraging, but the lack of depth is concerning.

     

    GRADE: B-

Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The baby steps continue for this unit, as they seemed to be a little more comfortable in their third preseason game.  Giving up only two sacks is moving in the right direction, but the line simply has to be more effective and consistent in run blocking.

    The Bucs failed to break the century mark in rushing yards yet again and mustered only 44 yards passing after Josh McCown left the game at the halftime.

    Tackle Demar Dotson continues to prove himself as the line's most dependable starter. Free-agent left tackle Anthony Collins is still fairly hit-or-miss, though the biggest concern is still inside at both guard spots.  This group is shaky enough at the top, so the backups are obviously a concern, as well.  The Bucs suffered plenty of injuries on the offensive line last year, and on paper, they can't afford many this season.

    Even so, this unit took another small step forward this week.  But it'll need a giant leap next week if they want to be even remotely ready for the Panthers in Week 1.

     

    GRADE: C

Defensive Line

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay's most impressive unit throughout the entire preseason shined bright again tonight, as the Bucs' defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the night, especially the starters.

    Gerald McCoy has stolen the show up to this point, but some of the other first-teamers got in on the action tonight.  Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn shared a sack, with Johnson stripping Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel of the ball and Clinton McDonald scooping up the fumble, returning it for a 17-yard score.

    The reserves had their own moments, as well.  New addition Larry English notched a pair of sacks, while Scott Solomon added another late in the game.

    The Bills managed just 89 yards rushing, and picked up most of their 264 passing yards when the game was already in hand.  This was another stellar showing for the Bucs' strongest position group.

     

    GRADE: A-

Linebacker

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay's starting linebackers continued their stretch of solid play, turning in an effective performance tonight. 

    Lavonte David tallied four solo tackles and a forced fumble, while Mason Foster had four solo tackles, two assists, and recovered the fumble that David created. Danny Lansanah continues to impress, getting in on five tackles, while Dane Fletcher was in on four stops of his own.

    This unit looks more and more comfortable in the Tampa 2 each week, both against the run and in coverage.  David and Foster should continue to make plenty of plays, and the likes of Fletcher and Lansanah should provide solid depth.

     

    GRADE: B

Secondary

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay's secondary made its presence known early, as Dashon Goldson picked off an errant EJ Manuel pass on the first possession of the game.

    Johnthan Banks tied for the team lead with six total tackles, adding a pass break-up on former Buccaneer Mike Williams.  Anthony Gaitor had six total tackles of his own, as well as one of Tampa Bay's five sacks on the night.

    The starting unit was part of a defensive unit that suffocated Manuel for the entire first half, before the backups allowed him some space with which to work in the second half.  In all, the Bills would tally 264 yards passing, but most of it came when the game was already well in hand and the Bills' starters playing against Tampa Bay's injury-riddled reserves.

    The Bucs' defensive backs showed they can be effective tonight, and they'll only become more so as the likes of Alterruan Verner, Mike Jenkins and Rashaan Melvin return to full health.

     

    GRADE: B

Special Teams

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Solomon Patton didn't give the Bucs anything special in the return game this week, but the kicking game turned in a solid performance.

    Connor Barth nailed a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter, and backup Patrick Murray followed up with a chip-shot 27-yarder halfway through the fourth.  Murray's not likely to stick on the roster, but the Bucs are glad to have Barth back, who is the most accurate kicker in franchise history.

    Punter Michael Koenen had another impressive week, averaging 42.8 yards on six punts (booming a 60-yarder at one point) and dropping three attempts inside the Bills' 20-yard-line.  Many fans have clamored about Koenen being overpaid, but he looks to be doing his best to earn those checks.

     

    GRADE: B+

Coaching

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Bucs wanted to simulate a regular-season week of game-planning heading into this preseason matchup, and it looked to be helpful for the starting units, especially the offense.  Josh McCown overcame a shaky first drive to finish with great first-half numbers, while the defense continued to dominate like it has for most of the preseason.

    Penalties weren't too plentiful again this week, with Tampa Bay only registering five for 50 yards.  The Bills, by contrast, committed 12 fouls for 80 yards, including quite a few that extended drives for the Bucs.

    No negatives stood out regarding time management, but it's easier to avoid that when you jump out to a 24-0 halftime lead.  Still, coaching looks to be one of the stronger components of this new Bucs team.

    It certainly looked that way tonight.

     

    GRADE: B+

Final Grades

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Bucs continue to struggle with depth, especially due to injuries within their backup units.  But the starters continue to improve every week, and the offense looks like it may have found the same type of rhythm and consistency with which the first-team defense has been playing with all preseason.

    Injuries to key starters could become a serious issue down the line, but the Bucs starting units turned in a stellar first half tonight, as was evidenced by the 24-0 score at the break.  The team's lack of depth showed quickly in the second half, though, as the Bills put together two touchdown drives to quickly cut into the lead.

    Takeaways on defense are king for head coach Lovie Smith, and the Bucs forced three, turning them into 14 points.  One of the biggest improvements Tampa Bay's offense made tonight was on third downs, where they converted six of their 14 attempts, after struggling mightily in that area in the first two games.

    The offensive line must continue to improve, and a consistent pass rush from the front four on defense is essential to this team's success.  The backups are a concern, but the starters showed enough tonight to earn a solid grade, even if it was against one of the weaker teams in the league.

     

    GRADE: B-