TAMPA, Fla. -- After their weekend off, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) will return to work this week in preparation for the Washington Redskins. Here are five things the Bucs must improve for Week 7 and beyond:
1. Pass defense. Rightly so, coach Lovie Smith was critical of his secondary last week when he said, "We haven't played well enough -- it's as simple as that." The Bucs allow just 202.4 passing yards per game, but surrendering 303 yards and four touchdowns to Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles in Week 5 was worrisome. Tampa Bay needs better play from veterans like cornerback Tim Jennings to improve in this area. Expect cornerback Johnthan Banks, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury, to help when he's ready to return.
2. Placing Jameis Winston in positions to succeed. The Bucs did so in Week 5 -- thanks to another strong game by running back Doug Martin -- and Winston rewarded them with a disciplined, 209-yard, one-touchdown performance. The rookie quarterback showed some maturity when, upon reflecting on that outing, he said, "Make the simple decision. I'm not the only person on this team that's getting paid. We have a lot of great players." It's no accident that Winston had four interceptions and posted a season-low 57.0 passer rating when throwing a season-high 43 passes in a loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 4. Winston, who has seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, will continue to be inconsistent. But if he makes simple decisions from the pocket like he did in Week 5, he'll give the Bucs chances to win.
3. Consistency on special teams. Re-signing kicker Connor Barth paid off for Tampa Bay in Week 5, when the veteran made all three field goal tries and all three extra points. The Bucs have to feel more confident with a proven player like Barth, following the struggles by rookie kicker Kyle Brindza. Smith's pleasure in Barth's play was obvious last week, when the coach said, "It was exciting to watch, to say the least, to put it mildly." Tampa Bay made the right decision to cut Brindza, who went 6-for-12 on field goals and 6-for-8 on extra points. Still, Barth must continue to show he can deliver when needed.
4. Scoring defense. Offenses have made a habit of finding the end zone against Tampa Bay's defense. The Bucs have allowed a whopping 29.6 points per game, and they have surrendered at least 31 points three times in this young season. Smith took over defensive play-calling duties before Week 1, so he should bear more responsibility for what happens on that side of the ball. A defense that features Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David must be better.
5. Developing an expectation of winning. Tampa Bay can reach .500 for the second time this year, but the franchise still hasn't posted a winning record within a season since holding a 6-5 mark before playing the Denver Broncos in Week 13 in 2012. Washington looks vulnerable after falling to 2-4 with a loss to the New York Jets on Sunday. Tampa Bay hasn't won consecutive games under Smith. That must change fast.