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Buccaneers are 2-3, but could be better

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TAMPA, Fla. — All things considered, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be in worse shape. They are 2-3 and currently in third place in the NFC South behind 5-0 Carolina and 4-1 Atlanta. The Bucs have a win over the Saints and a loss to the Panthers in the division.

Here’s how you can evaluate the first five games. The Bucs beat the Saints and Jaguars. They gave away games against the Titans and Texans, meaning only Carolina was probably better (even if a better kicker might have changed things).

When coach Lovie Smith reviews the first five games, he’ll find some players meeting or exceeding expectations but many who need to get going.

Of course, the Bucs will improve as quickly as Jameis Winston does. The rookie quarterback will make more mistakes, but he has to do a better job of protecting the football and not wrecking the game early. Footwork still is a problem, leading to some inaccuracy.

Winston is coming off his first turnover-free game and should be encouraged about the Bucs’ ability to run the football this Sunday against the Redskins. Tampa Bay won at Washington a year ago against Robert Griffin, and his replacement, Kirk Cousins, has been a turnover machine with 10 games of at least two interceptions.

The Bucs have finally found an identity on offense, and that’s running the football behind running back Doug Martin, who has been reborn in a contract year. He is tied for third in the NFL in rushing with 405 yards and is getting a lift from running back teammate Charles Sims, who’s done a nice job in the passing game.

Defensively, Lovie Smith may have used the bye week to make changes in the secondary. The Bucs are hoping to get CB Johnthan Banks back from a knee injury. But cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Mike Jenkins have not been good in pass coverage.

Tampa Bay needs its best players to play well, particularly on defense. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David can do more. David has missed a slew of tackles this season and lacks splash plays.

But coming off the bye week at Washington, rested and getting back players like tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, could get the Bucs to .500 with a chance to be relevant in the NFC South.

REPORT CARD AFTER FIVE GAMES

–PASSING OFFENSE: C minus. This could be a D had Jameis Winston not finally had a game with no turnovers. Winston threw a pick six on his first pass attempt in two of the three home games. He had a five-turnover game. The issue hasn’t been protection or injuries, rather poor decision making.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B. The Bucs may have the best tandem of backs in the NFL with RB Doug Martin and RB Charles Sims, who has really come on as a pass receiver. Martin was tied for third in the NFL with 405 yards. Better diet and a contract year may be the reasons for improvement.

–PASS DEFENSE: D. The Bucs are among the worst teams in terms of affecting opposing quarterbacks, who are well over an average of 100 in passer ratings. The Bucs have only two interceptions this season. The pressure has been just OK. DE Jacquies Smith has produced four sacks. But they can’t make a play on the football.

–RUSH DEFENSE: D. The Bucs have been very inconsistent stopping the run. Rookie MLB Kwan Alexander has made some mistakes and LB Lavonte David has missed too many tackles. Too many yards after contact for opposing ball carriers.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. The Bucs wasted two games fooling around with rookie K Kyle Brindza. His misses against Houston and Carolina may have changed that outcome. General manager Jason Licht is on record saying he shouldn’t have released Connor Barth, who is back. The return game has been solid under Bobby Rainey.

–COACHING: C minus. Nobody may be surprised the Bucs are 2-3 with a rookie quarterback, but at the start of games they have looked unprepared, and Lovie Smith took over the play-calling duty on defense, which has regressed.


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