Reasons for smooth sailing:
1. Kwon Alexander continues his ascent. The rookie linebacker, drafted in the fourth round out of LSU, enjoyed the best game of his young NFL career Sunday, posting 10 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception. He has rewarded the coaching staff's confidence in him after he was named the Bucs' starting middle linebacker in training camp. At the time, the move to slide him into the top role in place of Bruce Carter, a five-year veteran signed in March as a free agent, seemed risky. But Alexander's speed and awareness have made him one of the Bucs' greatest defensive assets in a hurry. Those traits were on display at NRG Stadium, especially on his diving interception of quarterback Ryan Mallett. Alexander's ceiling appears high.
2. Jameis Winston never became too familiar with J.J. Watt. The potential was there for the Texans' all-everything defensive end to have a monster day against the Bucs' offensive line, which had allowed seven sacks before Sunday. But Tampa Bay did a decent job against Watt, limiting him to five tackles and no sacks, marking the first time Watt was held without a sack since Week 12 last season against the Bengals. In fact, Winston left Sunday without being sacked at all, a development that would have seemed like a far-fetched prediction if shared before kickoff. Overall, the Bucs' offense could have done more, especially on third down. But Winston's protection was solid most of the day.
3. Mike Evans' return to full health was a welcome sight. Yes, the second-year wide receiver didn't look sharp on Sunday, with multiple drops to his name. Yes, he must do more to stretch defenses. But Tampa Bay's offense has a different feel with him at full health as opposed to the "pitch count" version of Evans that was seen during a no-catch day against the Saints in Week 2. Evans had seven receptions for 101 yards against the Texans, and those numbers could have been larger with better play by him. But it was clear Tampa Bay placed a premium on giving Evans a major role within the game plan. Winston targeted him 17 times. By comparison, Evans was targeted on no more than 11 occasions in each game last year. Expect a similar workload for him in the coming weeks.
Reasons to walk the plank:
1. What's up with Kyle Brindza? The Bucs have a kicking quandary. Brindza, a rookie, missed an extra point and three field-goal attempts, all after he made a 58-yard try in the second quarter. Coach Lovie Smith offered support for Brindza after the game, but don't be surprised if the Bucs look elsewhere to solve this problem. Three of Brindza's misses -- the extra-point kick, the 41-yard try and the 33-yard attempt -- must be made in the NFL. From the Bucs' perspective, each blunder was like a pin popping a balloon. Momentum was lost, and the Texans were allowed to cling to a lead they had no business holding for most of the second half. Brindza had shown promise before Sunday, and his 58-yard field goal served as a glimpse of what he can do. But Tampa Bay can't afford to carry doubts about its kicking situation.
2. The run defense took a step back. No Arian Foster? No problem for Houston. Tampa Bay made Alfred Blue, a second-year player, look like a worthy replacement for the injured Foster, a four-time Pro Bowl player. Blue finished with a whopping 139 yards and one touchdown on 31 carries. Allowing 186 yards on the ground against the Texans was clear regression for the Bucs, after they limited the Saints to 104 rushing yards in Week 2. The Texans' offense entered Sunday with numerous key injuries. But the Bucs failed to exploit what looked like a prime opportunity to limit a questionable offensive attack. Just imagine what Foster would have accomplished had he played.
3. The Bucs had major problems on third down. Watching Tampa Bay's offense on third down on Sunday was like observing a dump truck spin its wheels in a lake of mud. The Bucs finished a miserable 1-of-12 in third-down situations. Granted, the Bucs' offense became one-dimensional most of the day because of a lack of a respectable running game. Tampa Bay was held to 57 yards on 20 rushing attempts, with Doug Martin being bottled up for 46 yards on 14 carries. Still, the lack of success on third down handcuffed the Bucs' offense most of the afternoon. This issue must be corrected fast with the undefeated Panthers set to visit Raymond James Stadium next Sunday.