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Tom Terrific Shows Tampa There Is Still Work To Do

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Buccaneers RB Peyton Hillis rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries against New England, but Tampa fell 25-21 in Foxboro. Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images.
Buccaneers RB Peyton Hillis rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries against New England, but Tampa fell 25-21 in Foxboro. Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images.

One week after getting dismantled by the Baltimore Ravens at home, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put together a much-improved effort in a 25-21 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The reserves played at a much higher level than last week, but head coach Greg Schiano had to be disappointed with the play of his starters, especially on defense. Preseason games can only hold so much significance, but the starters appeared to take a step back this week. Here are some observations from last night’s loss in New England:

1. Brady Carved Up The First Team Defense

Tom Brady has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks since he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe way back in 2000, and it would be unfair to expect any defense to shut him down completely. But the Buccaneers starting defense looked soft on Friday night, especially in pass coverage. In a preseason game, teams traditionally stick with simple defensive looks and Tampa Bay did not want to show much since these two teams play in Week 3 of the regular season, but the effort still looked lackluster from the first unit. Brady went a perfect 8-for-8 on the opening drive and capped it off with a beautiful throw to WR Danny Amendola for a 26-yard touchdown strike. Brady made a perfect throw, but the secondary looked out of place, and on numerous occasions the Patriots fast-paced offense seemed to catch the defense off guard. On several plays, the defensive line was not even set when Brady snapped the ball. Schiano and his staff have plenty of time left to work on these issues before the regular season opens in a few weeks and adding star CB Darrelle Revis will surely make the pass defense better, but the unit’s performance had to be disheartening.

2. The Bucs Desperately Need Carl Nicks And Davin Joseph In The Lineup

Unlike on defense, Tampa Bay’s first string offense still has several key pieces out with injuries, but the team failed to score any points with starters on the field. QB Josh Freeman only played two drives and completed just two passes for a paltry eight yards, but his one incompletion was a beautifully thrown ball that WR Kevin Ogletree dropped along the sideline and he had very poor protection from an injury-riddled offensive line. In just two quick series, the Patriots sacked Freeman three times and he had to rush his other throws as the pocket quickly disappeared. Guard Carl Nicks had practiced all week and was expected to play last night, but the team decided to take a cautious approach and kept him inactive for the game while OG Davin Joseph stayed in Tampa Bay this week to continue strengthening his surgically-repaired knee. Without these two guys in the middle of the offensive line, the running game will suffer and Freeman will be running for his life, trying to find open receivers. Schiano hopes both players will be back by the start of the regular season, but Nicks' lingering toe injury continues to be concerning.

3. Glennon Looked Great, Except For That Pick Six…

While Freeman played only a couple of series and had to deal with poor pass protection, rookie QB Mike Glennon showed some growth this week playing with the second unit. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an ugly pick six to rookie corner Logan Ryan in the early stages of the third quarter. Aside from that play, Glennon played with great poise and nearly led the Bucs all the way back from a big deficit. After a disastrous first drive, he led a nine-play, 65-yard drive and capped it off with a beautiful touch pass to find Ogletree for a 13-yard touchdown. With just 18 seconds left on the clock at the end of the first half, he showed off his rocket arm with a beautiful 41-yard strike to receiver Tiquan Underwood to put the Bucs into field goal range and closed the gap to 18-10 at the intermission. Overall, Schiano had to be quite pleased with how the rookie played in his second NFL contest.

4. Peyton Hillis And Mike James Closed The Gap For The Backup Running Back Role

The Buccaneers decision to keep Nicks out of the lineup was surprising, but not having RB Brian Leonard suit up also served as a surprise. Leonard remains out in front for the right to back up Doug Martin, but after strong performances from rookie Mike James and former Pro Bowler Peyton Hillis last night, the race appears to be much tighter than it was prior to the game. James showed flashes of being an adequate third down back, while Hillis ran hard and had several nice runs where he dragged would-be tacklers for extra yardage. The team needs a powerful runner to complement Martin’s skill set, and Hillis looked the part last night. James finished the evening with 81 yards on 15 carries while Hillis rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries as the running game found its groove midway through the second quarter and remained effective for the rest of the game. This competition should go down to the wire over the next few weeks and the last few preseason games will play a pivotal role in deciding who will win the job.

Plenty of positives can be taken from last night’s game, but Schiano will expect much better play from his starters against the Dolphins next week. Teams typically give starters the most playing time during the third preseason game, and the Buccaneers strategy should be no different. Freeman and the starting offense need more than two drives to get into a rhythm before the regular season opens in New York, while the defense needs extended work to continue developing chemistry with so many new pieces vying for playing time. Look for both units to play most, if not all, of the first half against Miami next week and expect plenty of roster cuts as the preseason comes to a close.