It’s time for PewterReport.com’s 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game. Tampa Bay snapped a two-game losing streak with a 26-14 win over Minnesota and continued on its quest for the playoffs, improving to 8-5. The Bucs defense recorded six sacks and contained Vikings running back Dalvin Cook enough, while quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes in the win.
Table of Contents
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1. Despite Win, Bucs Defense Remains A Mystery
Christmas came early for the Buccaneers in Sunday’s 26-14 win over the Vikings, and Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey played the role of Santa Claus on Sunday, handing out presents in the form of three missed field goals and a missed extra point. The Vikings could have used all 10 of the points that Bailey cost them, and the Bucs defense gets some credit for holding Minnesota to three field goal situations, thanks to some timely sacks on third down.
On paper this win likes really good for the defense. Dalvin Cook had a good day, but didn’t run wild with 102 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and being held to eight yards receiving on two catches. The Vikings’ terrific tandem of Pro Bowler Justin Thielen and rookie sensation Justin Jefferson were each held to 39 yards receiving on the day, and the Bucs defense held the Vikings to just 14 points. That’s the third-lowest points allowed this season by a defense that allowed 28.75 points per game over the last four games prior to Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s defense played well on third down, holding Minnesota to just 5-of-15 conversions on third down. Of the Bucs’ six sacks, three of them came on third down and another came on fourth down when it mattered the most. Rookie safety Antoine Winfield had a career-high 12 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett had two sacks of his own.
Yet despite these defensive superlatives, Todd Bowles’ unit continues to mystify me and perhaps you, too. As much as I want to like second-year linebacker Devin White he continues to be a liability in coverage and gave up a touchdown catch to tight end Irv Smith. In fact, Smith had 63 yards and a score on four catches, while other tight end Tre Conklin, had five catches for 40 yards.
White didn’t give up all those catches and yards – fellow linebacker Lavonte David allowed some of that production, too. While White and David each had nine tackles, many of them were reactionary down the field and not near the line of scrimmage. Neither inside linebacker had a tackle for loss against Minnesota, and neither made any splash plays over the last month.
The Vikings amassed 162 yards on the ground and could have had more if they decided to stick with their running game without abandoning it after falling behind by 17 points. The Bucs came into the game as the league’s top run defense, allowing just 74.2 yards per game. By the time the Vikings took a 6-0 lead at the start of the second quarter, Minnesota had gained 76 yards on the ground. The Vikings had a nearly 2:1 time of possession advantage on Sunday, controlling the clock 39:03 to 20:57.
Minnesota took a page out of the Giants’ playbook and used an extra tight end – sometimes an extra offensive tackle as a tight end – and overpowered a Bucs front that is suddenly undersized without nose tackle Vita Vea. The Saints did the same thing with a power running game in a 38-3 victory over the Bucs, rushing for 138 yards. Bowles and his defense will continue to see more opponents probe the Bucs’ run defense, which – to be fair – improved as the game went on as the tackling got better.
Bowles and his front seven have to be prepared for that because they won’t have an opposing kicker be so giving every week – even as Christmas draws near.
“It is frustrating when they’re running the ball like that against our defense,” Arians said. “We’re just not used to that. It wasn’t anything scheme-wise – we were just missing tackles against a really good back. I think we cleaned that up and got better and better as we went along.”
The other concerning element is that the Bucs’ pass rush has trouble generating pressure without a lead. With a double-digit lead and opponents forced to throw the ball, it’s a different story. Going forward Tampa Bay’s defense will continue to rely on its offense to play well and get a lead for the defense to be the most effective it can be.
STATEMENT 2. Bucs Offense Needs More Miller Down The Stretch
Scotty Miller is not better than Antonio Brown. That goes without saying. Miller is in is second year in the league, while Brown has been to seven Pro Bowls and led the league in receiving twice.
But there is no question that this year – in Tampa Bay – Miller has been the more productive receiver. In fact, Miller was the team’s leading receiver with 400 yards heading into the Bucs vs. Saints game on Sunday Night Football, which is when Brown made his Tampa Bay debut. Since then, Miller’s playing time has taken a substantial drop due to Brown’s insertion in the offense.
Over the first four games heading into Sunday’s game against Minnesota, Brown had 20 catches for 168 yards and no touchdowns, while Miller had only one catch for 14 yards during that span. The Bucs went 1-3 in that stretch, and the offense averaged 24.2 points per game. The team had averaged 30.9 points per game prior Brown’s arrival.
It’s not that Brown has been the reason why the Bucs have lost, but trying to force-feed him the ball at Miller’s expense has contributed to some of Tampa Bay’s offensive misfires. Miller averaged 15.3 yards per catch prior to Sunday, which was nearly double what Brown averages. The 32-year old Brown hasn’t been bad in his first month in Tampa Bay, but he hasn’t made many impact plays, either. Miller, when on the field, has typically been quite good, and that was evident on Sunday when he ran a deep post pattern and caught a perfectly thrown 48-yard touchdown bomb from Tom Brady to give Tampa Bay a 7-6 lead against Minnesota in the second quarter. It’s that type of explosive play that the Bucs offense has missed with Miller out of the line up – in addition to his touchdowns. Miller now has a career-high three scores on the year.
Brown played well on Sunday, but Miller’s touchdown ignited Tampa Bay’s offense in a second quarter that saw the team score 17 unanswered points.
“That was a huge touchdown,” Arians said. “I think getting a stop [and] then that play changed all of the momentum on our sideline.”
Brown likely had his best game as a Buccaneer, catching all five of his targets for 49 yards and converting a few third downs, so the two receivers can coexist in this offense. The Bucs just need to target Miller more often because of his big-play ability and because he has an uncanny rapport with Brady.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Did The Bucs Beat The Vikings – Or Did Bailey?
Bailey missed two field goals and an extra point in last week’s overtime win over Jacksonville, and continued to stink this week in Tampa Bay. Bailey missed the Vikings’ first extra point, as well as his next three field attempts. It got so bad that head coach Mike Zimmer lost faith in his kicker and decided to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 26 with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, trailing 23-6. A field goal would have cut the Bucs’ lead to 14 points.
Zimmer’s decision to go for it paid off as the Vikings scored a touchdown on the drive, and he went for a two-point conversion instead to make the score 23-14. But Bailey’s struggles continued as he missed a 48-yard field goal wide right in the fourth quarter.
Bailey’s three missed field goals and an extra point cost Minnesota 10 points and should have put the Vikings up 24-23 in the fourth quarter instead of trailing 23-14. Bucs kicker Ryan Succop wasn’t perfect, missing one extra point on Sunday, but he did make both of his field goals and was 2-of-3 on PATs, and that was the difference in the game.
Did the Bucs beat the Vikings on Sunday, or did Bailey’s missed 10 points really do Minnesota in? If Tampa Bay had played a better team – or a team with a better kicker – would the outcome have been the same? I’m not so sure, as this was far from a dominant performance by the Bucs.
QUESTION 2: What Does This Victory Mean For The Bucs?
Tampa Bay’s victory over Minnesota means a lot of things. First, it snapped a three-game home losin