Can Bucs’ secondary make a star out of Mullens?

by Gary Shelton on November 22, 2018 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Can Winston avoid turnovers Sunday?/CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 2 a.m.

The name alone is enough to strike terror into the hearts of a Tampa Bay Bucs defense game. The arm is good. The aim is good.

And can the Bucs possibly slow down ... Nick Mullens?

Yeah, him.

Mullens is the latest quarterback to get a crack at the leaky secondary of the Bucs. In 10 games this year, nine opponents have had a rating of more than 100.0, and the tenth (Nick Foles) was at 98.8. If opposing ratings were temperatures, the Bucs' secondary would have burst into flames a long time ago.

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Drew Brees. Eli Manning. Mitch Trubisky. Every one of them have taken turns at playing the star. Ben Roethlisberger. Cam Newton. Matt Ryan. All of them have been efficient.

It is staggering just how bad the Bucs' pass coverage has been this year. In 10 games, Tampa Bay has forced only 85 incompletions. Out of 336 passes thrown against them, they have only one interception. Opponents are completing 74.7 percent of their passes. They have an average quarterback rating of 124.9. If you want a comparison, New England's Tom Brady has a lifetime rating of 97.5, and he's never had a season as good as 124.9.


Now comes Mullens, an undrafted free agent who is making his third start. He has a win and a loss, which for the 49ers, is a pretty good record.

“I like the fact that it doesn’t appear like it’s too big for him right now," said Bucs' defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. "He’s been able to be pretty poised in his play. He knows where he’s going with the football. I think they’ve done a good job of directing him as far as that’s concerned. It doesn’t look like he gets rattled as far as that’s concerned — that’s what I mean by the poise. I like the competitiveness I see by the guy. I like the poise that I see by him.”

Call it the movable force against the resistible object. Can Mullens succeed against a bad secondary? Can the secondary survive against a young quarterback?

Mullens, if you haven't heard, was recruited to Southern Miss by Bucs' offensive coordinator Todd Monken. He threw for more than 7,600 yards his last two seasons there.

Of course, Mullens is only one of the quarterbacks the Bucs will be worried about Sunday. The others  are Jameis Winston (and if the pattern holds, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick).Fitzpatrick is second in the NFL with 12 interceptions (in 246 passes). Winston is third with 11 (in 164 passes). The combination of 23 interceptions is staggering.

"I mean, we’ve talked about it many times," Bucs' head coach Dirk Koetter said. "It was no secret when Jameis came here. Jameis is such a fantastic competitor. He has never met a play (where) he doesn’t think he can make into a good play.

"I’ve yet to see the perfect game plan or the perfect game called, and we have to give the defense credit in the NFL – they’re pretty good too. They’re paid and coached as well. I think in college Jameis was able to overcome that a lot and in the NFL it’s harder to do. If he had the right team around him, that might be different, but when you’re picked number one you’re usually not going to the best team in the league when you come out. I think that’s something Jameis has improved on, but I think to be at the elite level where he can get to, he’s got to improve in that area.”

Winston will start Sunday after a decent job filling in during last week's loss to the Giants.

“I think just always being ready," Winston said. "I wasn’t going to take a day off. I wasn’t going to mope around. I was going to be myself and be prepared.”

The turnovers (minus 23) have been crushing when you consider the offense.

“I think when we are clicking, we execute very well," Winston said. "As coaches, they game plan very well. As players, I believe our talent level and our effort is probably better than a lot of teams in this league. That’s the only reason I can — shoot, I’m a good quarterback. I have great targets. That’s a magic build up for a great offense.”

Ah, but it's hard to call this a great offense when it has so many giveaways, isn't it? Sure, the team leads the NFL in total yards, but they're just eighth in scoring. Between the red zone (17th), turnovers (32nd) and penalties (18th), it takes away from the stat.

"I think Jameis at times has played outstanding football going back to the preseason, at time when he’s been back," Koetter said. "Both of our quarterbacks have played fantastic football at times, but both of our quarterbacks are turning it over at too high of a rate. They’re both capable of playing at a higher level at a more consistent amount of time. In our offense, we have to have great decision making at quarterback. It doesn’t help us when we’re playing from behind a lot. If we’re playing with the lead more often, some of those things might be different, but it isn’t. It is what it is.”

The Bucs play against San Francisco at Raymond James at 1 p.m. on Sunday.




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