By Evan Winter
Special to Sports Talk Florida
The Bucs were absolutely dominated by the Titans for a full for quarters on Saturday night, losing 34-3. The team simply did not look good in most facets of the game.
But that doesn’t mean there was nothing left to glean from the experience. In fact, there’s plenty to chew on. So let’s get down to business.
5. Pat O’Connor locked up his roster spot
We know O’Connor can play special teams. The Denver Broncos saw it firsthand last year in Mile High Stadium.
O’Connor showed Saturday night that he’s more than capable of playing along the defensive line, as well. The guy was constantly in the Titans’ backfield all night long. He was one of the Bucs’ fiercest defenders, finishing with three total tackles, 1.0 sack, and two tackles for loss.
The fourth-year player has never played more than 6% of defensive snaps in a given season, so opportunities to show his skills have been limited. He easily made a case for more playing time on Saturday night and it will be interesting to see what he can do against the Texans in the final game of the preseason.
Unless something happens, O’Connor’s roster spot is safe. Bruce Arians even confirmed as much after the Titans game.
“I know Pat [O’Connor] made it in this game because he just did it.”
4. Third down woes
The Bucs converted six of their first seven third down attempts against the Bengals during the first week of the preseason, but it’s been all downhill from there.
Tampa Bay finished the Bengals game with a 1-of-8 mark for a final line of 7-of-15 in that game. But they never even got off to a good start against the Titans, finishing 2-for-14 on the night. Overall, the Bucs are 3-of-19 over their last 22 third down attempts.
Granted, it’s been tough sledding on the money down. On average, the Bucs have faced a 3rd and 8 over their last 22 third downs. The trio of Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Griffin, and Kyle Trask have combined to complete 6-of-20 passes for 72 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions. The Bucs have allowed two sacks during the same span.
Things have been especially rough for Trask who, on average, faces a 3rd and 11 over his 11 third down situations.
But there’s a catch: The Bucs were 0-for-4 against the Titans when facing a 3rd and 4-or less. Whatever the issue is, the Bucs starters need to get it fixed against the Texans.
3. What will O.J. Howard’s impact be in 2021?
Outside of the actual return itself, Howards’ return has not been anything worth mentioning so far during the preseason.
The Bucs’ former first-round pick had two really bad drops and allowed the sack-strip on Griffin Saturday night against the Titans. It was not a good night for Howard.
He did finish the game with three receptions for 24 yards, but he simply doesn’t look like the athletic mismatch the Bucs envisioned when they took him with the 19th overall pick in 2018.
Right now, you’ve gotta wonder how effective he can be and what his role will be in 2021. Because there is obvious rust and it’s affecting Howard’s game. Granted, the man is coming back from an Achilles injury, so this is all part of the process. You just have to wonder how long it will take for everything to start clicking.
But there’s good news: Arians isn’t worried. He gave Howard a huge vote of confidence after the game.
“Not concerning because he [Howard] came back and caught the ball on some grimier ones, but those were easy ones. He’s made those in practice and there’s a time when you have to switch gloves when they get too wet. I think the one just squirted through him hands but after that he caught everything. It’s not concerning.”
He later added, “O.J’s shaking off a hell of a lot rust.”
2. Drop it like it’s hot
This was an issue last year. It’s been an issue throughout camp. And guess what? It’s an issue through the first two games of the preseason.
“Again, too many dropped passes to start ball games – that kills drives,” Arians said in his opening statement after the Bucs lost to the Titans.
Drops are easy to explain. They’re the byproduct of a lack of focus, concentration, and sometimes even effort. At the end of the day, it’s solely on the individual to correct the problem.
“That’s individual. That’s individual,” Arians said when asked about eliminating drops.”O.J [Howard] stays on the JUGS machine so that’s not helping him. The JUGS is just more confidence building for when you’re standing still and catching a ball. It’s not what you’re doing when you are playing, it’s running and catching a ball. You just have to make the plays. Like I said, if it was Mike [Evans], Chris [Godwin], [Antonio Brown] then I would worry about it.”
The good news is the main receivers aren’t having too much trouble with butterfingers, but it’s safe to say the rest of the roster is. One drop even turned into an interception, as Tanner Hudson‘s inability to control the ball caused it to pop up into the air and into the arms of Titans safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
1. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is going to have a very solid year
The Bucs’ first-round draft pick looked even better in the game against the Titans, which is exactly what you want to see during the preseason.
Tryon-Shoyinka recorded the first sack of his NFL career and almost had another one, but O’Connor got there first. He was consistently beating blocks and playing the run well, especially when lined up against tight ends.
There were mild expectations surrounding Tryon-Shoyinka coming into 2021 and it has nothing to do with him. The Bucs defense is simply loaded. But he’s going to force himself onto the field in 2021 and he’s going to make plays as a result.
And it’s going to be a lot of plays.
“I don’t have to say any more about Joe. He does what he does,” Arians confidently said Saturday night.
Soon, the rest of the league will know just what he “does”, as well.