Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a disappointing performance against the San Francisco 49ers, losing 31-17 in a contest where Jameis Winston gave nothing to give people hope by throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The defense didn’t generate enough pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo throughout the game, finishing with only one sack. That said, there were some promising things in the loss. Ronald Jones showed some flashes and appears to have taken a step in the right direction to be an effective back in the NFL. The defense looked fast and was flying to the ball, and their young secondary did show some turnover potential. It will be a quick turnaround for the Bucs as they have tonight’s Thursday Night Football game against the Carolina Panthers. Here are my 5 things I want to see in this matchup:
1. How long is Winston’s leash?
Entering the season, I assumed that Bruce Arians gave Winston a season-long leash to help properly asses their quarterback. After Sunday’s performance, he showed who he’s been his whole career: a turnover-prone quarterback. It will be on Winston to keep the ball out of Carolina’s defender's hands, but also show he can put together some touchdown drives as well. If Winston comes out and throws some pick-sixes, will BA pull the plug? It may be too soon, but their head coach hates to lose and could turn to Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin to be a game-manager to help Tampa obtain a better chance to steal a victory.
2. Can the defense create more pressure?
Outside their one lonely sack, Tampa had the second-lowest pressure percentage in the NFL coming out of Week 1 (10.7%). Todd Bowles needs to find creative ways to get to Cam Newton and help make the pocket collapse on him, and players like Shaquil Barrett and Carl Nassib need to step up their game to help close the edge on Newton. If they can get after him while making sure he doesn’t turn a broken play into a first down scramble throughout the night, then that should help the Bucs chances.
3. Don’t let Gerald McCoy give the Panthers early hype
It has been well documented that McCoy’s relationship with the Buccaneers ended on a sour note, and most assumed it influenced his decision to sign with Carolina. While his play may have a small impact on the outcome, if McCoy can get his hands on Winston early in the game for a sack or two, it could give the Panthers an extra boost of energy by seeing a teammate showing out against his former team. If McCoy embarrasses the Tampa line in the first half, things could get ugly early.
4. Can Ronald Jones build on his Week 1 performance?
After a disappointing rookie season, Jones helped erase some of those memories by showing what he’s capable of with the ball in his hands. He finished with 13 attempts for 75 yards while adding a catch for 18 yards, already surpassing his numbers from 2018 and is looking to carve out a bigger role in the offense as the season progresses. Arians gave the start to Peyton Barber but added he will go with the hot hand as the game foes. If Jones can find a way to have a career-type night, he could win the starting job as Tampa heads into Week Three.
5. Can the defense contain Christian McCaffrey?
“RunCMC” is coming off an impressive performance against the Los Angeles Rams, finishing with 209 total yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. In both of his games against Tampa last year, he had over 150 yards from scrimmage. The electrifying back will keep the defense on their toes, and it’ll be on the combination of Lavonte David and Devin White to fly all over the field to keep tabs on McCaffrey. If the Bucs can find a way to bottle him up to limit the big play ability he possesses, then the Panthers become one-dimensional, allowing Todd Bowles the opportunity to have his defense focus on getting after Cam. Stopping C-Mac has to be Tampa’s #1 priority.