Biggest Takeaways from Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Week 3 Loss
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came back down to earth after a huge road win against the division-rival New Orleans Saints in Week 2, falling to the Houston Texans 19-9 on Sunday to drop to 1-2 on the season.
Even in a losing effort, the Bucs saw some encouraging signs in Week 3, particularly the play of their offensive line against one of the league's better defensive line units. But there was plenty of bad and ugly in Sunday's loss as well, from a struggling kicking game and dropped passes to a laundry list of penalties.
As the Bucs adjust their focus toward a key NFC South showdown against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium in Week 4, let's take a look at what we learned about the Pewter Pirates in Houston this past week.
Death by Penalties
For yet another Sunday, the Bucs were plagued by costly penalties at the worst times.
Tampa Bay was flagged 10 times for 84 yards, but the detriment of those infractions went far beyond mere yardage totals. On defense, the Bucs extended multiple drives with penalties, even nullifying a sack, fumble and recovery that could have been a huge momentum swing for the visiting team. On offense, penalties continue to cost Tampa Bay big plays and field position.
If the Bucs want to be competitive in the NFC South this year, they simply have to get out of their own way when it comes to penalties. This falls on a coaching staff that needs to keep its players more disciplined during the week so it shows up on Sundays.
Slowly but Surely, Offensive Line Improving
No position group on the Bucs roster has been more publicly criticized in recent memory than the offensive line, and with good reason. But even in a losing effort on Sunday, the unit proved it's making steady improvements as the season moves along.
Though it had difficulty winning the line of scrimmage consistently in the run game, Tampa Bay held J.J. Watt and company to zero sacks all afternoon, showing encouraging signs in pass protection. Watt came into Sunday's game riding a seven-game streak with at least one sack but went away empty-handed against the Bucs.
With two rookies and two veteran newcomers in the starting lineup on Sunday—Joe Hawley at center for the injured Evan Smith, Gosder Cherilus at right tackle for the injured Demar Dotson—the Bucs got the job done up front in Week 3 against a tough opponent. If they continue to give Jameis Winston time to work with in the pocket, the offense should continue to make strides every week.
Mike Evans Is Still Shaking off the Rust
The box score says Mike Evans had a solid game on Sunday, leading the team with seven receptions and 101 yards through the air. But as usual, the stat line doesn't tell the whole story.
Evans was targeted 17 times on Sunday, but despite his decent numbers at the end of the day, the former top-10 pick had multiple drops and showed plenty of rust. After missing Week 1 with a hamstring injury, Evans was nothing more than a decoy in Week 2, playing a limited amount of snaps and failing to register a catch.
The glass-half-full version is that Evans struggled on Sunday and still topped 100 yards, but his drops were troublesome no matter how you slice it. Evans was targeted seven times on third down and didn't catch any of them, which won't cut it if the Bucs want Jameis Winston to continue to make weekly progress.
Winston Still Up and Down, but Promising Signs Persist
As should be expected with any rookie quarterback, Jameis Winston continues to have both good and bad moments, but the overall outlook is still positive after his performance in Week 3.
Though he struggled at times with consistent accuracy and ball placement, Winston's poise in the pocket and ability to deliver the ball in the face of pressure remains one of his best traits. His poor completion percentage on Sunday also had plenty to do with his receivers dropping way too many catchable balls, including multiple third-down situations that should have moved the chains.
Aside from a poorly thrown interception on an attempt to force a third-down throw to a double-covered Mike Evans, Winston avoided costly mistakes for a second straight week on the road. If his receivers can improve their focus and Winston can sharpen his throws, the Tampa Bay passing game will continue to get better behind a progressing offensive line.
Kicking Situation Far from Settled
After beating out Patrick Murray and Connor Barth with an impressive performance in Tampa Bay's final preseason game, it looked like Kyle Brindza would give the Bucs a weapon in the kicking game.
But though he's flashed his power and distance with long field goals and consistent touchbacks on kickoffs, Brindza's accuracy and consistency is a huge issue that reared its head in a big way on Sunday.
After booming a 58-yard field goal in the first half, Brindza would go on to miss four of his remaining five kicks, including two intermediate field goals and an extra point. The 10 points the Bucs missed out on due to missed kicks were the exact amount they needed to draw even with the Texans.
The tape-measure three-pointers are dazzling, but if Brindza doesn't improve his consistency from shorter distances, the Bucs could be looking for his replacement sooner rather than later.