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Pre-Game Recon (Texans v. Bucs): How Did Marcus Mariota Dominate The Bucs?

Sander Philipse of our sister site, Bucs Nation, takes some time to answer all of our burning questions on this week's rarely seen visitors to Houston - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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1 - I'll just get right to it - I LOVE Jameis Winston. In my opinion, he was the second best quarterback to come out of college in the last four draft classes. How has he looked so far as the new face of the franchise?

Winston has been up-and-down, but his second game was a vast improvement on his first. In Week One, Winston looked uncomfortable, his footwork and mechanics were a mess, he threw far too many ill-advised passes. In short: it seemed the game was moving much too fast for him, and he was not ready to play.

Almost all of those problems disappeared in his second game. He was poised, comfortable and efficient against the New Orleans Saints. Of course, it helps that he was facing a weaker defense and wasn't facing a massive deficit forcing him to drop back on every snap. But that was the Winston we'd expected to see, and the Winston as we knew him from his college days -- with fewer risky throws, to boot.

Now he just needs to progress from thriving in the role of an efficient game manager, to taking over games. That may take a while, but if the last game is an indication of the future, he'll be fine.

2 - The Bucs' offensive line was deservedly ridiculed last season for their ineffectiveness. Has that unit improved since last year? Who is the weakest link on the line?

The Bucs' offensive line is better, but they'd almost have to be given the ridiculously low bar last year's unit had set. This line isn't good, though, and it will certainly be exposed by quality pass rushers. Every single lineman has some issues to his game and no one has really looked outstanding, but improved communication has helped the unit as a whole look better.

The weakest link right now is left tackle Donovan Smith, a second-round pick who's really struggling to adjust to the NFL level. He's displayed a tendency to stop his feet in pass protection, and gets fooled far too easily -- there have been many plays where he stood around looking for someone to block while someone came free at Jameis Winston. Put any capable pass rusher one-on-one against him, and he's likely to give up a lot of pressure. That said, he's not without talent and he may just need some time to develop.

3 - I expected a defense led by Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy to dominate a rookie quarterback like Marcus Mariota in his first career start. What the hell happened there?

Everyone forgot how to play defense.

I'm not kidding.  That's the only explanation I have. The defense looked completely out of sorts as players bit on play-action when they had to drop back in coverage, took horrible angles to the ball and couldn't cover anyone within the first couple of seconds of the snap. Most balls were out so quickly that the defensive line had no prayer of affecting Mariota. Strangely enough, none of those issues showed up in game two -- so I'm not sure what exactly went on there. Hopefully, it's been fixed now.

One issue that won't be fixed is the team's lack of speed at safety, though. That's something quality quarterbacks with speedy wide receivers can exploit with some consistency, and it's probably going to be a problem for them all season long.

4 - Mike Evans sat out Week One with a hamstring injury and then was held without a catch in week two. Is he still being hampered by that injury, or was game flow to blame for his goose egg last weekend?

He played only around 60% of the team's snaps and was kept off the field early in the game, but it was mostly a result of game flow. Two of his three targets were uncatchable, and the third he was unjustly ruled out of bounds -- a play that should have been reviewed, but the booth for some reason thought they should let play continue. Evans looked mostly fine, though, and he should be fully healed this weekend. I'd also expect his targets to increase significantly given the fact that Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be out.

5 - Running back is arguably the deepest position on the Bucs' roster this year. How has the team been splitting up the snaps, and what should we expect out of all four of Tampa's very capable runners?

Doug Martin and Charles Sims have been splitting snaps, with no one else really getting a look. Martin's the team's primary runner on first and second down, while Sims comes in on passing downs -- though Sims has had a few regular carries as well. You can expect plenty of screen passes to both backs -- the Bucs have been pretty successful with those.

Martin has looked like his rookie self, surprisingly. The past two years he's been as nondescript as running backs get, but he's found his explosiveness and lateral agility again -- he's actually making people miss in the open field and finding creases in the offensive line instead of running into his blocking. It's a weird turnaround, but I'm not complaining.

Sims is a bit more enigmatic. He was pretty bad as a rusher last year, going down on first contact far too easily even when he seemed to have some space in the open field -- but he's consistently explosive and elusive as a receiving back. He's improved a little on the ground, but he's best used on stretch plays.

A big thank you to Sander for stopping by. You can check out my answers to his questions about the Texans, along with all of Sander's excellent work covering the Buccaneers over at Bucs Nation.

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