By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Three weeks into his NFL career, Mac Jones has one bad start, one good start, and one start that doesn’t really register to his name. And though it may defy logic on the surface, the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft is actually in prime position to turn in his first excellent game against the defending Super Bowl champs on Sunday night.READ MORE: Nearly 30 Million People Tuned In To See Thrilling End Of Patriots-Cowboys On CBS
Had you said this in the offseason, when the lasting memory of the Buccaneers’ defense was a complete and total decimation of the best quarterback on earth, you’d have gotten laughed out of the room. But things are slightly different at this moment.
While all the talent in the world remains on Tampa’s defense, the results haven’t been there.
The raw numbers are staggering.
The Bucs rank dead last in passing yards allowed per game (338.3). They’re also tied for having allowed the most passing touchdowns (9), and they’ve allowed the most first downs (52) in the NFL.
They also rank dead last in sacks (3) and dead last in sacks per pass attempt (2.08 percent).
They rank 29th in third-down defense at 53.2 percent.READ MORE: NFL Films Microphones Catch CeeDee Lamb, Cowboys Celebrating Win Over Patriots
They’ve given up the sixth-most points, at 29.3 per game.
Their opponents’ completion percentage is 72.2 percent, fourth-highest in the league.
They do have four interceptions, which helps bring down the opponents’ passer rating (101.8; 15th in NFL).
But the point is simple: Despite the names on the backs of the Tampa jerseys, the Buccaneers’ defense thus far has been … soft.
Of course, they’ve also faced some potent quarterbacks. Dak Prescott appears to be hitting his prime, Matt Ryan’s imperfect but is nevertheless a former league MVP, and Matthew Stafford’s poised to have the most effective season of his career, now that he’s paired up with Sean McVay.
Mac Jones isn’t yet on a level with any of those quarterbacks. So expectations for a 400-yard, four-touchdown performance remain unreasonable.
Yet considering Jones has yet to hit the 300-yard mark, and considering he’s yet to throw more than one touchdown in a game, he does have the opportunity to reach both marks on Sunday night.MORE NEWS: Stephon Gilmore Set To Begin Practicing With Panthers This Week
Of course … that’s largely dependent on the play of his offensive line. Thus far, the walls have been closing in on Jones more often than not when he drops back to pass, creating an environment that few if any rookie quarterbacks could successfully navigate. If the likes of Shaq Barrett, Devin White, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul (if healthy) decide to wake up and start getting after the quarterback, then Mac’s big night could be on hold. But if that Tampa defense continues to struggle both in the pass rush and in the secondary, it could be Jones who steals at least a sliver of the spotlight away from Brady in the veteran’s return to his former home.