Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins: Report Card Grades for Each Bucs Unit

Luke EasterlingCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2014

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Miami Dolphins: Report Card Grades for Each Bucs Unit

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Fans wanted to see improvement from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week, after watching a dismal performance in last week's 16-10 loss to the Jaguars.

    But while there was definitely some progress over last week's effort, the Bucs showed again that they still have a long way to go after losing to the Dolphins 20-14 in their preseason home opener.

    Tampa Bay's starting units got the job done, with the offense capitalizing on a takeaway early in the second quarter to give the Bucs their only lead of the game.  Rush defense was again a strong suit for the Bucs, led by another dominant performance from two-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.

    But the Bucs' lack of depth quickly caught up to them when the starters came off the field, as injuries and ineffectiveness allowed the Dolphins to take control of the game.  This left the Bucs trailing their in-state opponents by 13 points until a late touchdown kept the final score more respectable than the game truly was.

    The Bucs fell despite committing just six penalties on the night, compared to 12 by the Dolphins.  Tampa Bay's struggles on offense were once again reflected in poor execution on third downs, as the team converted just two of their 13 attempts after going 4-for-15 last week.

    There were definitely flashes of brilliance, but even the Bucs' brightest moments were usually accompanied by a cloud of what could have been.  Mike Evans' impressive 42-yard catch-and-run was a prime example, as the rookie appeared to have scored a touchdown but had fumbled the ball as he headed into the end zone for a touchback.

    Tonight's performance was definitely a step in the right direction for the Bucs, but they'll have to make many more over the next two games if they want to be any kind of ready for the Panthers in Week 1.

    *All stats courtesy of NFL.com

Quarterback

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    After an underwhelming performance last week, starter Josh McCown turned in a much more impressive outing against Miami. 

    The free-agent acquisition finished the night 5-for-7 for 46 yards and a touchdown.  Early in the second quarter, McCown threaded a pass in between two defenders to Vincent Jackson, who had streaked across the back of the end zone to give the Bucs their only lead of the night at 7-3.

    In relief of McCown, Mike Glennon and Mike Kafka were unspectacular, at best.  Glennon finished his night 6-for-12 for 77 yards, and while Kafka did throw the Bucs' other touchdown on the night, he ended the game a mere 4-for-11 for 55 yards.

    The play of the backups wasn't encouraging, considering what might happen if McCown were to go down at some point this season.  But the starter bounced back from a disappointing performance last week, which is the most important factor at this point.

    GRADE: C-

Running Back

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There was very little running room for Tampa Bay's runners last week, but they found a bit more daylight in front of their home crowd.

    Doug Martin saw a few more carries this week, rushing for 24 yards on six attempts.  Mike James led the team with an average of six yards per carry, but he left the game with an injury after just three rushing attempts. 

    Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps tied for the team lead in carries on the night, but the former Olympic sprinter was much more effective with this chances.  Demps led the team with 31 yards rushing, while Rainey managed just 15 yards on the ground.

    As a group, the Bucs' backs averaged just 3.2 yards per carry for the game, and it's clear they're still being held back by a struggling offensive line.  The talent is there in the backfield, but the holes have yet to open up on a consistent basis.  Still, a decent performance aside from Rainey's struggles.

    GRADE: C

Wide Receiver and Tight End

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    This unit had its moments, such as Vincent Jackson's seven-yard touchdown on his only reception of the night.  Ten receivers and tight ends caught at least one pass, but none caught more than two.

    Rookie top-10 pick Mike Evans caught two passes for 52 yards and nearly found the end zone on a 42-yard catch-and-run, but Miami's Brent Grimes punched the ball out of Evans' hands and out of the end zone for a touchback.  The rookie mistake of having the ball in the wrong hand cost the Bucs a touchdown and plenty of momentum.

    Lavelle Hawkins was the other Bucs receiver with two receptions, including a late touchdown grab in the final minute to bring the team within a score.

    Solomon Patton was impressive in the return game and had a nice reception late in the game, but he dropped two passes in a row on the same drive, taking some of the shine off his otherwise solid performance.

    There still looked to be quite a few timing issues with this group, so there's still plenty of room for improvement.  There were flashes of potential tonight, but the forward motion needs to continue.

    GRADE: C+

Offensive Line

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Bucs fans sure thought—and hoped—that nothing could be worse than last week's performance from the offensive line.  This effort was an improvement, but there's still tons of work to do before this group is ready to control the line of scrimmage in a regular-season tilt.

    The starting unit looked a bit better this week, with Patrick Omameh getting the start at RG in place of Jamon Meredith.  But the Bucs are still trying to find the right combination, and there's still plenty of work to be done.

    As a group, Tampa Bay still gave up five sacks and managed just 91 yards rushing.  Stats can be misleading, though, as at least two of those sacks were more due to the quarterback hanging on to the ball for too long.

    This is still a unit with quite a few fresh faces, so it's going to take more than two preseason games to develop a rhythm, especially when shuffling starting guards in and out.  Like the team as a whole, tonight's effort up front was a step in the right direction, but they need to move a bit faster down this road.

    GRADE: D+

Defensive Line

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Any position group that has Gerald McCoy in it can already assume a decent grade after every game, and the Bucs' front four is no exception.

    The two-time Pro Bowler was disruptive all night, notching three tackles and a strip-sack that led to the Bucs' first touchdown drive.  McCoy spearheaded the team's dominant performance against the run in the first half, as the Dolphins headed into the locker room with minus-five yards rushing.

    But McCoy's sack was the only one the Bucs managed on the night, and once the starters were out of the game, Tampa Bay simply couldn't provide adequate pressure for the rest of the game, allowing the secondary to get picked apart. 

    William Gholston suffered a shoulder injury early in the game, and Steven Means missed the game with a groin injury, so depth was clearly an issue as the game progressed.  Scott Solomon saw some work on passing downs early in the game, while high-priced free agent Michael Johnson stayed fairly quiet for the second straight week.

    This unit will drive the success of the defense as a whole, and while the starters look strong for now, injuries and a lack of depth are a huge concern.

    GRADE: B

Linebacker

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Like most of the position groups tonight, the Bucs' starters at linebacker looked strong, but a lack of depth was evident as the game moved along.

    Mason Foster made a couple of solid plays against the run early on, but the reserves got picked apart in the passing game, struggling to seem comfortable in the Tampa 2 responsibilities. 

    Dane Fletcher led the team with five tackles on the night but missed a golden opportunity, dropping a would-be interception in the second half.  Camp standout Danny Lansanah made his presence known, however, and continues to play his way into a spot on the final roster.

    GRADE: C+

Secondary

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    This unit came into the game banged up, and things didn't get any better once the whistle blew.  Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins were already ruled out before the game, and Rashaan Melvin missed most of the game after aggravating an ankle injury.

    Johnthan Banks made a couple of strong plays, but Tampa Bay's backups struggled against Miami's passing attack, especially with the front four not being able to get to the quarterback very often.

    Dashon Goldson saw his first game action after missing last week's loss, while Mark Barron was the most noticeable member of the group.  The former top-10 pick delivered multiple hits to Miami receivers tonight, while also showing an improved ability to wrap up and secure the tackle.

    This unit was decimated by injuries, both before and during the game.  There were bright spots from the starters, but depth will be an issue, especially if some injuries linger on into the season.

    Giving up 290 passing yards to Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore doesn't bode well for stopping Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, but things could have been much worse tonight, considering all the injuries.

    GRADE: C+

Special Teams

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Connor Barth and David Murray weren't needed much, aside from a converted extra point for each of them. Barth attempted an onside kick in the final seconds, but it wasn't successful.

    Michael Koenen, on the other hand, saw plenty of action.   Koenen averaged 41 yards on eight punts, landing two inside the Miami 20-yard line and booting a 57-yarder late in the game.

    Bobby Rainey and Solomon Patton turned in solid outings, in both the kick and punt-return departments.  Each averaged 10 yards per punt return, with Patton managing the longest one at 21 yards.  Patton also led the team with a 30-yard average on his three kick returns.

    The kicking game is looking strong enough, and the battle for return duties looks to have settled into a two-horse race between Rainey and Patton.  It was a fairly solid performance from the entire unit tonight.

    GRADE: B

Coaching

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he would give the starters more action this week, and both sides of the ball seemed to benefit from the chance to build a bit more of a rhythm.

    It looked like offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford showed a little more creativity this week, which likely contributed to some of the first unit's success early in the game.  I would bet there's still nine tenths of the iceberg waiting under water with this offense, but it was good to see a few more wrinkles.

    Defensively, the Bucs played plenty of standard Cover 2, especially in the second half.  However, there were some creative blitzes mixed in with both linebackers and defensive backs, and the unit excelled against the run by consistently rolling a safety into the box for support.

    The biggest plus for the coaching unit this week was the reduction in penalties.  The Bucs racked up 11 penalties in last week's loss, but they cut that number down to just six this week.

    GRADE: B

Final Grades

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    There were definitely a few more bright spots this week, which should help fans to believe the Bucs have things moving in the right direction.

    But this is still just the second mile marker in a long overhaul process that head coach Lovie Smith and his staff are trying to execute, and there are still some obvious growing pains the team will have to overcome.

    The first-team defense continues to impress, while the starting offense raised their game up a notch or two from last week.  But Tampa Bay's depth is concerning, and it showed throughout the latter part of this game.

    The performance from the starting units is encouraging, but injuries are bound to happen, and the Bucs are not a team that looked very prepared for those events.  This game was a baby step, and they need to make quite a few more before they're regular-season ready.

    GRADE: C-