Bucs hope to show they’re ready for 2018

by Gary Shelton on August 24, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Fitzpatrick needs to be efficient./CARMEN MANDATO

Fitzpatrick needs to be efficient./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday, 3 a.m.

Here is the universal truth about preseason football.

Nothing matters much. But the third game matters a little.

Also, it's hot in August.

The Tampa Bay Bucs, their fans giddy over a 2-0 start, play for the third time tonight when they face the Detroit Lions at home. Expect the starters to play a little longer. Expect more answers on units, such as the defensive line and the offensive line.

For any team, week three is the week when coaches decide if their team is ready for the season, or if it should somehow take a time-out. With the Bucs? We'll see.

Again, don't fixate on the Bucs' unbeaten record. The only time the Bucs have ever been unbeaten in the preseason was 1983. They proceeded to go 2-14 in the regular season. That answers any question you might have about what the preseason means. Remember that Cadillac Williams didn't play in the preseason his first season. He gained more than 1,000 yards that season.

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One more time, bring a checklist to the game (or the television).

A few things to watch.

1. Is Ryan Fitzpatrick efficient? Yes, Jameis Winston has had a good preseason. That doesn't matter. He's going to miss the first three weeks of the season. What matters is Fitzpatrick, who has had one good game and one average game. What you want out of Fitzpatrick is for him to be crisp in the medium passing game. That matters more than the home-run ball. A quarterback fares well against Drew Brees, Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger by efficiency, not fireworks.

2. Can the pass rush put up consistent pressure? Again, it's been hard to tell just how well the starting linemen have played, but the pass rush has yet to be what fans hope it will be. You'd like to see impact from both Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry. Inside, Vita Vea is still hurting, but a nice game by Beau Allen would be good.

3. Can the secondary hold up? Lions' quarterback Matt Stafford isn't quite on par with Brees, Wentz or Roethlisberger, but he's pretty darned good. So far, the rookies of the secondary have been graded on the curve, but we'd all like to see them make some plays downfield. The Bucs can't continue to allow opposing passers to have rankings better than 100.

4. Can Chandler Catanzaro be good again? Let's hope so. This is a headache that never goes away.

5. Can the Bucs prosper with a  a beaten up offensive line? Still, it needs to create a few holes. It also needs to protect the quarterbacks. The only thought that's harder than starting Ryan Fitzpatrick is having Fitzpatrick missing the game.

6. It's time for Ronald Jones to give this offense a different element. Jones hasn't done much in the first two weeks to suggest he's the game-breaker the Bucs think they have in him.

7. Who's the fifth receiver? One of the biggest battles in training camp is at backup receiver. We all know that Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries will be the team's first four, and it's a good group. But Justin Watson, Sergio Bailey, Freddie Martino and Bobo Wilson have had their moments. It's big-boy competition.

8. Can this still be  a linebacker-dominated defense? You'd like to see Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander establish themselves. Keep an eye on draftee Jack Cichy.

9. Can Justin Evans be a big timer? Safety Evans, a draft pick last year, made a bit of an impression in his first year. He's a good athlete. Again, you'd like to see him make a few plays.

10. Is O.J. Howard ready to break out? Howard, the tight end, had a good first season last year. But if he's going to be a star, we should start to see it this year.

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