Bucs Still Searching For Their Offensive Rhythm
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers arrived in Miami hoping to see the first-team offense find a rhythm and put points on the board. After shaky performances in limited action against Baltimore and New England in the team's first two exhibition matches, coach Greg Schiano had the starting unit play well into the second half against the Miami Dolphins, but the results continued to be underwhelming. Despite winning the game in the closing minutes on a touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to David Douglas, both teams played poorly for the most part and neither team mustered much on offense. Even in the preseason, a win is a win, but Schiano had to be disappointed in what he saw last night from his offensive starters. Here are noteworthy observations the 17-16 victory over the Dolphins:
1. The Offensive Line Continues To Struggle
Shortly before kickoff, Schiano and his staff announced that OG Davin Joseph would start for the Buccaneers. Joseph made several Pro Bowl appearances before missing all of last season with a torn ACL, and his return was supposed to ignite a dormant rushing attack. However, Joseph's addition did little to bolster the running game as Brian Leonard finished with 10 carries for just 38 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line as a whole also did a poor job protecting QB Josh Freeman. In his three quarters of action, Freeman ended up being sacked five times by the Dolphins and he lost a fumble on one of the hits. Not having OG Carl Nicks in the lineup certainly plays a factor, but with Joseph back, the unit that started Saturday night should be able to do a much better job than that. Meanwhile, even when Freeman did have protection, the quarterback struggled to hit open receivers and he had several passes dropped. When his night came to a close, he finished a dismal 6-for-16 and managed only 59 yards passing for a 48.7 quarterback rating. Despite winning the game, Schiano can't be feeling confident about his starters on offense right now.
2. The Starting Defense Bends, Bends, Bends...But Does Not Break
The Dolphins received the opening kickoff and quickly moved the ball downfield, as QB Ryan Tannehill picked the Bucs apart with short passes and RB Lamar Miller busted a 20-yard run to move Miami into the red zone. A series of penalties ended up giving Miami ten plays inside Tampa Bay's 20 yard line, but somehow, the Buccaneers first-team defense stopped the Dolphins from finding the end zone and held them to a field goal. For the second straight game, Tampa's starting defense struggled to stop the opponent's first-string offense, but a mixture of ineptitude by Miami's starters and a few big pass deflections ended up preventing a touchdown. Unlike the offense, however, the starters found a groove after the first drive and held the Dolphins in check for most of the first half until a late passing touchdown by Tannehill gave Miami a 13-10 lead at halftime. Schiano expects his defense to perform better at the start of games, but he has to be much more satisfied with how that unit is playing than the offense. And with CB Darrelle Revis close to returning, the defense should only get better.
3. Special Teams Miscues Ruled The Day
Tampa Bay held leads of 7-3 and 10-3 during the first half, but all of those points came directly off ugly special teams turnovers by the Dolphins. After Tampa failed to move the ball on its first drive, Nolan Carroll muffed Michael Koenen's punt and the Buccaneers recovered to regain possession. After a pass interference call onCB Brent Grimes, Leonard ended up plunging into the endzone to give the Bucs an early lead. Then, during the early stages of the second quarter, a three-and-out possession by Tampa Bay led to another Koenen punt, and TE Tom Crabtree forced a fumble by Marcus Thigpen on the return. Despite starting at Miami's 41 yard line, the team could only muster a 38-yard field goal by newly-signed kicker Rian Lindell to increase the lead to seven. Without these gifts given by Miami's special teams unit, the Buccaneers might not have put up any points in a sloppy first half effort.
4. The Backup Running Back Race Remains Undecided
When the team decided not to play RB Doug Martin, it opened up a great opportunity for Leonard to solidify himself as the team's second running back. While the offensive line did not open up much running room to support him, Leonard struggled to take advantage of extended playing time last night and finished with a meager 3.8 yards per carry. Rookie Mike James could not build off of a strong performance against New England and failed to accomplish much away from a 14-yard scamper. Of the three backs, Peyton Hillis was the only one to average at least four yards per carry, but most of his work came late in the game against Miami's backups. Schiano most likely will need another preseason game to determine who he keeps on the 53 man roster, but time is quickly running out to make that decision.
With Joseph returning to the lineup and Revis coming back in Week 1, the Buccaneers are getting closer to being back at full strength, but the results are not showing on the field yet. Both quarterbacks had rough nights in Miami and the running game regressed from last week's stellar performance, but it is still early and there remains plenty of time to turn things around. Coach Schiano now has to decide who to keep on the active roster, as all teams must cut rosters down to 70 players by Tuesday and then trim it even further following the preseason finale to 53 players. With several competitions for backup roles left undecided, next week will be the last shot for players to prove they deserve a roster spot.