It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion postgame column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.

The Bucs got a much-needed victory over the Giants, 30-10, on Monday Night Football after last winning a game nearly a month ago. Tampa Bay remains perfect at home (5-0) and perfect in prime time (4-0) this year, but needs to find its’ mojo on the road where the team is just 2-3 this year. Up next is a big road game against a 6-5 Colts team that has won five of its last six games, including the last three.

2 BIG STATEMENTS

STATEMENT 1: Bucs Must Become Road Warriors Again

“As Dorothy would say there’s no place like home,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said after his team beat the New York Giants, 30-10. “Totally different, obviously, when you have our crowd and everything. It’s been a long time. Playing like that with that total team effort I thought was outstanding. Obviously, it wasn’t perfect. We left a lot out there and gave them one. I really liked the way we showed up and played. Now, we just have to figure out the short week and how to do this on the road again.”

Arians is right. Raymond James Stadium has been home sweet home for the Buccaneers this season, while the road has been quite sour.

Bucs WR Chris Godwin

Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Tampa Bay improved to 7-3 on the season, including a perfect 5-0 record at home. Unfortunately, trips away from Ray-Jay haven’t gone as planned. The Bucs have a 2-3 record that featured a pair of narrow wins at New England, 19-17, and Philadelphia, 28-22.

Up next is a tough road trip to Indianapolis where the 6-5 Colts are 3-3 this year, including an overtime loss to Tennessee. Fresh off a convincing 41-15 win over Buffalo on Sunday, Indianapolis has won five of its last six games with the only loss being that OT defeat to the Titans.

Somehow, some way the Bucs need to bottle up the energy they play with at home and take it on the road.

“Oh, there’s no doubt,” Arians said. “We never not had it at home. Hopefully, we can take it and feed off the Colts’ crowd next week.”

It’s baffling how the Bucs are Jekyll and Hyde at home and on the road this year. Tampa Bay has scored at least 30 points in every home game and is averaging 38.4 points per game. The Bucs defense is surrendering an average of just 16.8 points per game.

On the road, it’s quite a different story. Tampa Bay has yet to score 30 in any game after accomplishing that feat in half of their away games in 2020. Instead, the Bucs are averaging just 23.4 points per game, while allowing an average of 27.6 points per game.

“It’s hard to win on the road in this league. If you don’t play like this, with the crowd noise this year and everything back to normal, it’s never been easy on the road. It’s not just us. It’s everybody.”

Under Arians, the Bucs actually made it look easy to win on the road prior to this year. In fact, Tampa Bay was 2-6 at home and 5-3 on the road in 2019, while last year’s team went 5-3 at home and 6-2 on the road. And of course the Bucs went 3-0 on the road in the playoffs in 2020 before winning Super Bowl LV in the comfy confines of Raymond James Stadium. That’s a road record of 14-5 under Arians prior to this year.

Bucs OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett and WFT QB Taylor Heinicke

Bucs OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett and WFT QB Taylor Heinicke – Photo by: USA Today

“On the road, it’s different,” Bucs outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul said. “Obviously, we’ve been playing terrible on the road. But this week is a whole other week. So, come Sunday, we will see.”

The Colts are averaging 28.3 points per game at home this year, while allowing 27.8 points per game. Yet in the last six games – both home and away – Indianapolis is averaging 33.5 points per game, while giving up an average of 19.5 points per game.

The Bucs need to get back to scoring 30 points or more on the road. Given the Colts recent success, starting that trend this Sunday seems like a great idea.

“We will be challenged again this week coming up,” said Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who passed for two touchdowns and 307 yards against the Giants. “[The Colts] have a really good front, too. They went on the road and won a tough game in Buffalo. So it only gets harder from here.”

STATEMENT 2: Bucs Aren’t Getting Enough Production Out Of Barrett, JPP

Like most old coaches, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles favors playing grizzled veterans over younger players. Older players have experience. They are battle-tested. They can be trusted.

But sometimes, older players don’t play well and it’s time for some young blood on the field. That’s what is happening now in Tampa Bay with outside linebacker Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, who have each gone sack-less over the past three games. Sacks are not the be-all, end-all mark of an outside linebacker in the Bucs’ scheme or anyone else’s defense. But they are an important measurement.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: USA Today

Sacks get players paid. Sacks get edge rushers in the Pro Bowl and on the All-Pro team. Neither seems to be happening for either Barrett, who has been stuck at 5.5 sacks for three weeks, or Pierre-Paul, who has just 2.5 sacks this year.

Since a two-sack, one-forced fumble game against Chicago a month ago, Pierre-Paul has recorded just six hurries five tackles, four pass breakups and zero sacks, QB hits or takeaways. In the last two weeks, Pierre-Paul has notched only one tackle in each of those games. His average Pro Football Focus grade since the New Orleans game is a woeful 48.

It’s a similar story for Barrett, who has just six tackles in the last three games without a sack or forcing a turnover since the Chicago game. His average PFF grade over the last three games is 64.3, which is quite average for a player making an average of $17 million per season. Barrett has fared better with 12 hurries over the last three games in addition to five QB hits, but he has failed to get the quarterback on the ground.

Meanwhile third-year reserve Anthony Nelson has really come on the last two games in spot duty. Seeing just 32 combined snaps in the last two games, Nelson has made an impact with seven tackles and two sacks, two QB hits and three hurries.

Rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has also fared well in limited snaps. In 48 plays over the last two games, Tryon-Shoyinka has recorded two tackles, one sack and eight QB hurries. Tryon-Shoyinka has three sacks this season. Even seldom used outside linebacker Cam Gill came off the bench to record a sack late in the fourth quarter against the Giants.

Bucs outside linebackers coach Larry Foote made some waves last week when he said that the players with the biggest paychecks play first – and ultimately the most. Once again, Pierre-Paul, who is playing with a torn rotator cuff, led the way by playing 76 percent of the snaps (44), while Barrett played 72 percent (42).

Tryon-Shoyinka played 29 snaps (50 percent) with several of those coming inside at the three-technique spot in nickel rush situations. Nelson played 15 snaps (26 percent), while Gill got six plays (10 percent).

Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Giants QB Daniel Jones

Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Giants QB Daniel Jones – Photo by: USA Today

At some point it comes down to production – not paychecks. Nelson, Tryon-Shoyinka and Gill have combined for the four sacks that JPP and Barrett are getting paid millions to make. Playing Tryon-Shoyinka half the snaps is a trend that needs to continue, evidenced by his two tackles and six hurries against the Giants. Nelson and Gill should see an uptick in their playing time, too.

The 28-year old Barrett and 32-year old Pierre-Paul should play around 60-65 percent. Maybe playing less snaps will keep them fresher and more productive in the fourth quarter? Perhaps playing less snaps will keep them fresher for the seven games left on the schedule? Maybe playing less snaps will keep them fresher for the playoffs when the Bucs will need Barrett and Pierre-Paul to be at their best?

2 PROBING QUESTIONS

QUESTION 1: Will Marpet Return To Action At Indy?

“I have no clue,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said when asked about the availability of left guard Ali Marpet. “No clue.”

Bucs G Aaron Stinnie and Giants DT Leonard Hamilton

Bucs G Aaron Stinnie and Giants DT Leonard Hamilton – Photo by: USA Today

Marpet strained his oblique muscle in the first quarter of Monday’s win over the Giants and didn’t return. He was replaced by experienced reserve Aaron Stinnie, and the Bucs didn’t have any drop off in play.

“I mean we’d much rather have Ali always out there,” said Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who wasn’t sacked on Monday night. “Ali is a great player for us. Everyone has a lot of confidence in Stinnie, too. It’s valuable experience for all of us when different guys go in the game.”

Stinnie stepped in for injured right guard Alex Cappa in the Bucs’ wild card playoff win at Washington last year and started the last two playoff games and Super Bowl LV. The Bucs should be fine at left guard until Marpet returns.

QUESTION 2: Will Vea Return For The Colts Game?

There’s a good chance Vita Vea will play at Indianapolis on Sunday. Vea, who injured his left knee at Washington last week, was literally a game-time decision prior to the Giants game. The Bucs training staff and coaching staff wisely held him out against the 3-6 Giants.

Tampa Bay’s defense had no problem stopping Saquon Barkley, who had just 25 yards on six carries. New York only managed 66 yards rushing on 13 carries. Vea will be needed this Sunday at Indianapolis. The Colts’ Jonathan Taylor is coming off a five-touchdown, 185-yard performance on 32 carries (5.8 avg.) in a 41-16 win at Buffalo.

The Bucs liked Taylor coming out in the 2020 draft. He’s the running back Tampa Bay is trying to make Leonard Fournette become. Taylor leads the league with 1,122 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has 32 catches for 322 yards (10.1 avg.) and two more scores.

Having Vea’s presence in the middle will certainly help the NFL’s top-ranked run defense keep Taylor in check. Vea’s not the only Buccaneer who has a chance of returning to action, though.

“If we start to be able to have Carlton [Davis] back, A.B. (Antonio Brown) back and have Vita back…” Arians said. “Hopefully Ali is not hurt too bad.  [If we] continue to get healthy rather than get hurt. Health is going to be the whole key the rest of the way.”

2 BOLD PREDICTIONS

PREDICTION 1: Murphy-Bunting Gets A Pick

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting returned to action for the first time since dislocating his elbow in Week 1. Although he was tested early and often, Murphy-Bunting quickly shook off the rust and finished with seven tackles and a very nice job in coverage. No Giants wide receiver had more than 40 yards against the Bucs secondary.

Look for Murphy-Bunting to take the next step on Sunday and record his first interception of the season at Indianapolis. Carson Wentz has done a good job protecting the ball with 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions, but I get the sense that Murphy-Bunting gets a pick in his second game back from injured reserve.

PREDICTION 2: Bucs’ Road Woes Continue

There is something wrong with the Bucs on the road, and no one knows what it is. It might be a lack of energy and passion as Bruce Arians suggests, but it’s really a lack of focus and playmaking more than anything.

The Bucs will eventually get their act together on the road. But that might happen against lesser teams like the Jets, Falcons and Panthers. It won’t happen against a red hot team like the Colts, who are very much in contention for the AFC South title.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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Lawdy
Lawdy(@lawdy)
7 days ago

if marpet plays, and we get everyone back, i say our chances really good in indy

Buc76
Buc76(@jjjj)
7 days ago

A win would be a huge step, Unfortunately we are about to run into a buzz saw. The Colts have improved a lot in the last month. it seems like these loud domes kind of rattle Brady a little bit. He’s in a lot more domes in this division even though this is the AFC South it just adds to the number of domes we have to play in unlike none in the AFC East. The one coming up is going to be super loud on a short week. We have to get into Carson Wentz’s head and cause turnovers.… Read more »

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1(@aredsoxfan1)
Reply to  Buc76
6 days ago

Yeah, Brady really gets rattled in domes. In 19 career games:
13-6 record with 69% completions 45TD / 14Int and 111.0 QB Rating and 3 rushing TD
That doesn’t look like someone who’s “rattled a little bit”.

Mike Pengelly
Mike Pengelly(@ontariomike)
7 days ago

So here we are at 7-3. Here are our NFC foes’ remaining games vs teams with at least a .500 record:
Bucs-7-3 vs Colts(6-5), Bills (6-4) and Saints (5-5)
Packers-7-3 vs Rams (7-3), Ravens(7-3), Browns(6-5) and Vikings (5-5)
Rams-7-3 vs Packers(8-3), Cards (8-2), Ravens(7-3), Vikings(5-5)and 49ers(5-5)
Cards-8-2 vs Rams(7-3), Colts(6-5) and Cowboys (7-3)

What do you think? I like our chances if we get healthy in a hurry. AB will be a huge factor.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
Reply to  Mike Pengelly
7 days ago

Agreed on all your points.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan(@naplesfan)
7 days ago

I predict a Bucs win on the road in Indy. We will finally be back to near full strength, with Vea and AB back. I don’t worry about the road thing – those things come and go in streaks, and obviously this team, which is virtually the same team as last season, has already proved they win on the road. Indy’s a good team, and they’ve got a very good running back, so they won’t be an easy out .. but the reason their running back gets so many touches and touchdowns is because their quarterback and receivers are only… Read more »

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
Reply to  Naplesfan
6 days ago

Micheal Pitman’s son is pretty good.

Michael76
Michael76(@michael76)
7 days ago

No offence but, based upon the PR’ s evaluation of Taylor, we were given the impression that he was 1 dimensional, cannot catch or block, and his rushing yardage was more indicative of the line in front of him at college. Rather shocking that the bucs had any interest with Ronald Jone already on the roster.

Last edited 7 days ago by Michael76
aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1(@aredsoxfan1)
6 days ago

I think we match up well against the Colts. The strength of our D is against the run and they like to run the ball. Stuff the run and make them one dimensional where we should be able to create turnovers with Wentz at QB. I also like the fact the Colts have been on a roll. They aren’t desperate for a win. Hopefully, the boys can start to get on a roll.

scubog
scubog(@scubog)
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
6 days ago

Plus they’re probably a little full of themselves after last week’s crushing of the Bills.