ReFo: Buccaneers @ Jaguars, Preseason Wk 1
Steve Palazzolo shares thoughts on both O-lines, all of the QB play, and other highlight performances from the Bucs-Jags preseason opener.
ReFo: Buccaneers @ Jaguars, Preseason Wk 1
There’s an air of optimism every August around the league and even though the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both coming off disappointing seasons that saw them pick in the Top-10 in the May’s draft, expectations have risen heading into 2014. The Jaguars are looking to make some noise in the AFC South, one of the league’s weakest divisions a year ago. As for Tampa Bay, they seem to be the trendy pick to bounce back given some of their playmakers on both sides of the ball, but questions still abound at quarterback and on the offensive line.
The first week of the preseason has little to do with wins and losses, but it’s always nice to get a first look at the rookie class and new free agents. Beyond them, a host of young players have something to prove, whether it’s for their current team or perhaps a future employer. There are always jobs to be won and eyes to be opened.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key performances from Friday night.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Shaky Start for the Offensive Line
It all started up front for the Bucs last night as their revamped offensive line got whipped early and often. They’re breaking in four new starters this season, with the lone incumbent – right tackle Demar Dotson – the only starter to avoid grading in the red (-0.1) against the Jaguars.
The first quarter wasn’t kind to either of the guards, Oniel Cousins (-3.8) and Jamon Meredith (-2.8). Cousins allowed defensive end Ryan Davis to get around him for a QB hit while compounding things with an illegal hands to the face penalty. He later kicked out to right tackle for 15 snaps where things got even worse (three pressures on only five pass block attempts). Meredith had his struggles with DT Sen’Derrick Marks who beat him for two hurries and a hit. He also saw some time at right tackle, and that’s where he managed his -0.8 grade as a run blocker on his 17 snaps.
As for center Evan Dietrich-Smith, he was fine on his 12 snaps in pass protection, but he struggled to a -2.2 grade in the running game where he was unable to lock onto targets in space and was controlled at the line of scrimmage by Jacksonville’s defensive tackles. It was not a good start for Tampa Bay’s new-look offensive line.
Building the D-Line Depth
Beyond a Pro Bowl performance by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last season, the Bucs were extremely weak up front and they went to great lengths to ensure that wouldn’t be the case heading into 2014. They added DE Michael Johnson and DT Clinton McDonald in free agency. Both players should be upgrades to the sea of red that was trotted out there a year ago, but the key now is to find some production from the other defensive end spot along with some depth.
DE Adrian Clayborn struggled to a -18.1 grade last season, but could be better served by playing in more of a part-time role after logging 955 snaps. Enter second-year DE William Gholston and DE Da’Quan Bowers. Gholston certainly looked the part last night as he logged a +2.8 grade in the running game, though much of it came at the expense of overmatched rookie tight end Marcel Jensen.
As for Bowers, he toiled in a new role that saw him play 12 snaps inside at defensive tackle, often with Gholston playing outside of him at DE. Bowers has only played a handful of snaps at defensive tackle in his three years, but he showed well by reading quarterback Blake Bortles’ eyes and nearly picking off an errant pass while also doing some damage in the running game as he tossed right tackle Austin Pasztor aside to make the stop for no gain on 3rd-and-3 at the 12:52 mark of the second quarter. Bowers finished the day at +2.3 on his 25 snaps, a good sign for the Bucs as they look to build their interior depth and versatility.
All About the Quarterback
Just as the offensive line is a major concern for the Bucs, so too is the quarterback position, that is if you believe that last year’s impressive performance by Josh McCown was more mirage than turning points. While McCown was outstanding for the Chicago Bears, grading at +17.9 on 427 snaps, he doesn’t have an extended track record of success. He was exceptional when pressured a year ago, but he was unable to continue his success against Jacksonville. Though he fumbled twice, it’s tough to put much blame on the quarterback when his arm is hit during the throw, but McCown likely held onto the ball a tick too long on the strip sack at the 14:01 mark of the second quarter. His worst play of the night also came under pressure as he overthrew rookie wide receiver Mike Evans on the deep crossing route, right into waiting arms of free safety Winston Guy who put on a few nifty moves to take it into the end zone. With the potential for issues on the offensive line, the Bucs are hoping for more of last year’s magic rather than last night’s indecisiveness and inaccuracy.
After McCown, Mike Glennon came on for the majority of the game, and his problems were much different. He was pressured on eight of his 20 drop-backs, but he managed a +0.7 grade on those plays. It was the other 12 snaps, with no pressure, that saw him struggle as he fired the ball all over the place on his way to a -3.0 grade from a clean pocket. Whether it was challenging coverage down the seam at the 10:46 mark of the second quarter, throwing well behind his receiver on the corner route at the 11:35 mark of the third quarter, or under-throwing WR Robert Herron in the end zone and hitting CB Mike Harris in the back of the helmet with 14:15 to go in the fourth, Glennon’s accuracy can best be described as scattershot for the evening.
No matter who takes the reins for the Bucs this season, it wasn’t’ a good start for either McCown or Glennon.
Jacksonville – Three Performances of Note
It’s fairly obvious that a disastrous performance for the Tampa Bay offensive line means the Jaguars defensive line must have shown well, and that certainly was the case. The starters set the tone as Marks got off to a great start this preseason with a +5.0 on only 11 snaps that included a hit, two hurries, a forced fumble, and a stop in the run game. Newly-acquired DE Red Bryant did his usual work moving blockers in the run game on only four snaps (+1.2 run defense) while fellow former Seahawk, DE Chris Clemons, got in on a sack on his six pass rushes.
While the starters were impressive, it was the depth that told the story for the Jaguars. Whether it was rookie DE Chris Smith jumping snaps, too dangerously at times, for a sack and a hurry or fourth-year DT David Carter batting two passes, the Jacksonville front controlled the game from start to finish. Even DT Ziggy Hood got in on the action against the Bucs’ second-stringers with a +1.2 grade for the game. The Jacksonville defensive front looks stronger on paper, and Friday night was a good start for their offseason acquisitions and young players.
The Jaguars coaching staff is sticking to their guns when it comes to their decision to start QB Chad Henne this season, but Friday’s game just added more fuel to the fire for those asking for more of Bortles. It’s no secret that Henne struggled last season, but the Jaguars are hoping that a year of development will be better in the long term for the rookie. If we could microcosm Henne’s 2013 season into seven throws, this would be the game to do it. A number of well-designed easy throws were mixed into an egregious overthrow on a crossing route that should have been intercepted by Major Wright and a batted pass, a category that Henne topped with 20 a year ago.
As for Bortles, he completed seven of his 11 throws on his way to a +2.9 grade, with three of his four incompletions getting dropped. He found the hole in Tampa Bay’s cover-2 scheme twice on deep out routes to slot receiver Mike Brown but both would-be first downs were dropped. Brown redeemed himself by making the catch on Bortles’ best throw of the day, as he caught the post route down the seam for 31 yards. Bortles also showed an ability to handle pressure as he threw a strike to the sideline on a comeback route to WR Kerry Taylor with 8:47 to go in the third quarter, all while cornerback Deveron Carr was right in his face. The only real mishap for Bortles on the night was an ill-advised pass to Bowers that should have been intercepted, as Bortles failed to see him dropping off his rush and threw it right into his hands. Overall, it was an encouraging start for Bortles, while Henne remained status quo.
Weak on the Interior
Just as Tampa Bay has some questions up front, so to the Jaguars have some unknowns at center and right guard. Long-time center Brad Meester retired, leaving third-year Mike Brewster (-2.0) as the incumbent. Brewster has spent nearly every snap of his pro career at guard after playing center in college. He’s struggled to a -23.9 grade at guard over his two years and the hope is that he’ll be more comfortable after moving back to the pivot. Things didn’t go as planned as Brewster sailed two snaps over Henne’s head and lost a couple blocks in the running game against McDonald.
At right guard, Jacques McClendon (-2.2) got the first crack at the starting spot, but he was introduced quickly to last year’s top-graded defensive tackle in Gerald McCoy. McClendon got beat him inside for a tackle for loss on the first play of the game and then allowed McCoy to get inside again for a hit on the quarterback in only 1.7 seconds just two plays later. Rookie guard Brandon Linder showed some fine work in the run game against the Bucs’ backups on his way to a +2.0 grade and he’ll likely challenge McClendon for the starting spot throughout the preseason. The development of the interior offensive line will be a storyline to watch heading into the season.
– Bortles was 4-for-6 for 90 yards on passes thrown at least 10 yards in the air.
– Jaguars undrafted rookie tight end Marcel Jensen had a rough time of it in the running game as he graded at -5.5.
– Bucs rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (+0.1) had an uneven game that included two holding penalties, a mauling down block on fellow rookie DE Deandre Coleman, and a 48-yard reception negated by penalty.
PFF Game Ball
Sen’Derrick Marks made the most of his 11 snaps, making an impact as a pass rusher and in the run game on his way to a +5.0 grade.
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