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.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
Table of Contents
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.
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
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.
Vikings K Dan Bailey – Photo by: USA Today
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 losing streak, in addition to a two-game losing streak dating back prior to the bye week.
The Bucs’ win also gets the team to eight victories, which was one more than Tampa Bay had last year when it finished 7-9. That shows that this team has improved from a year ago and has a very good chance to finish 2020 with a winning record.
Bucs HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
More importantly, Tampa Bay inched closer to a long-awaited playoff berth, and now has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Minnesota, which falls to 6-7 on the year. Due to the Seahawks’ win over the Jets, the Bucs held on to the No. 6 playoff seed with Sunday’s victory, which currently knocked the Vikings out of the No. 7 seed.
“We got the tiebreaker on these guys,” Arians said. “This is a good football team – they’re going to win some games down the stretch. We’re [taking it] one day at a time – that’s what I just told the guys. It was a great win because it started on Tuesday. We had great practices this Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday [and] Saturday. This week is different [because] we can’t meet Mondays and Tuesdays. We have another different way that we have to handle getting ready to play a ballgame. Whether it’s virtual [or] however we get it done – we’ll get it done and just make sure that we take care of tomorrow’s business tomorrow.”
While certain parts of the Bucs’ win showed promised, such as no sacks or turnovers from Tampa Bay’s offense, and six sacks from the defense, what I liked most about it was the aggressive mentality from Arians right before halftime. Arians wanted to get more points on the board and not just settle for a 14-6 lead, knowing that the Bucs would get the ball to start the second half.
Arians called a timeout during the Vikings’ last possession before halftime and the Bucs got the ball back with one timeout and less than a minute left. After receptions by Cameron Brate and Antonio Brown, Brady heaved the ball deep for tight end Rob Gronkowski with one second left, which drew a pass interference call in the end zone as time expired. With one untimed down due to the defensive penalty, the Bucs got the ball at the 1-yard line and opted to kick a 19-yard field goal. After leading 17-6 at halftime, the Bucs scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half to go up 23-6 and essentially put the game away in the third quarter.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“When they ran the ball, I didn’t think there was enough time [to score on offense]. I thought there was either enough time for a punt block or try to get a [punt] return. We just missed the return. Tom [Brady] did a great job of executing and getting us up there for the Hail Mary. That’s all we were trying to get. We were trying to either get to the 36[-yard line] for a field goal or get a shot to the Hail Mary. We got the [penalty] call and got the three points and came right back with a touchdown [to open the second half]. Any time you get that double score, it’s huge.”
Arians had no second thoughts about going for a touchdown from the Minnesota 1-yard line right before halfime.
“None,” Arians said. “To get a chance at points – we were not going to take any chance of not coming out with any points. It was risk to do what we did and it paid off for three [points] because we had the ball coming out for the second half, got the touchdown and it’s a 10-point swing.”
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: Pierre-Paul and Barrett Both Finish With Double-Digit Sacks
Over the last two games, outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett have combined for five sacks and two forced fumbles. On Sunday against the Vikings, the dynamic duo had half of the Bucs’ six sacks with Barrett recording two sacks and Pierre-Paul with one, plus a forced fumble.
Pierre-Paul now has 9.5 sacks on the year with three games left, and Barrett, who started the season slow, now has eight and is closing fast. Barrett led the Bucs with 19.5 sacks last year, and is just two away from reaching double digits again this year. Pierre-Paul has three seasons with double-digit sacks in his 10 previous seasons in the league and is on his way to a fourth.
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: USA Today
In the last five games of the 2019 season, Barrett and Pierre-Paul combined for 12 sacks and two forced fumbles. They’re on a similar-type production pace this season with three games left, and Barrett and Pierre-Paul heating up in December is good news for Tampa Bay.
“Yeah, we have to – it’s not an option, we have to,” Barrett said. “I mean not ‘we.’ I started slow and I just have to pick it up. I want to do my job as much as possible and be known as one of the best, so in order to do that you have to have the stats, you have to have the numbers to go with it. Having JPP on the other end just helps out a lot. We always talk and are always switching sides now and are trying to figure out what works best for us. It’s working right now, and we’ve just got to stay hot, keep it hot and keep going.”
PREDICTION 2: RoJo Tops 1,000 Yards Rushing
Okay, this one looks like a gimme. The last Tampa Bay running back to top 1,000 yards was Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns in a Pro Bowl season in 2015. Jones finished Sunday’s game against Minnesota with 80 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: CliffWelch/PR
With 900 yards and six touchdowns on 180 carries, Jones needs to get 100 yards rushing over the next three games, which certainly seems doable if he can stay healthy. In fact, I’m going to predict that Jones finishes 2020 with over 1,100 yards rushing, while maintaining his 5.0 yards-per-carry average.
The last 1,000-yard running back in Tampa Bay to average 5.0 yards per carry was LeGarrette Blount in 2010 when he rushed for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns. Jones could very well be the second.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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