At the three-fourths mark of the 2020 NFL season the Bucs are 7-5, right around where I thought they would be, but not quite as formidable as many national media outlets had hoped. Great things are still on the horizon for the Bucs, as their remaining schedule features four losing teams and a prime opportunity to get to 11-5, their best record since 2005.

It won’t be as easy as it looks on paper however, as the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons are playing much better over the past handful of games than they were early in the season. We’ve talked extensively about how the Bucs need Tom Brady to be dominant and Bruce Arians to be less stubborn and more open to the modernization of his offense, but the entire burden of victory is not solely on that duo.

If the Bucs are going to reach 11-5 or 10-6 this season, they’ll need the following three players to have a much bigger impact over the month of December than they had in November. If the Bucs are holding the fifth or sixth seed in a month, it’ll mean one or all of these three players stepped up significantly to help Brady carry the team back to the playoffs. That’s how important these guys are to Tampa Bay’s success throughout the rest of the regular season.

1. CB Carlton Davis

Davis is the only player on this list that has had an awesome season, the best of his professional career. Four interceptions and 16 pass breakups not only look great on the stat sheet, but have been reinforced by Davis’ play on reps that don’t show up in the box score. He’s been a top 7-8 cornerback in the league this season, but the last month has been a little more of a struggle.

Clearly playing through some nagging injuries, Davis has surrendered 338 yards over the past two games, getting shredded by Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill. Rewind to Week 10, when Davis was beaten by D.J. Moore for a big 38-yard completion in the first half, and the third-year cornerback just has not played at the level we’ve come to expect from the Bucs top defensive back this season.

Fellow cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting have been disappointing in 2020, putting a massive weight on Davis’ shoulders entering the final month of the season. He’ll likely shadow Julio Jones in two match-ups with the Falcons, and will be a massive part of erasing one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen next week. Even hapless Detroit offers a stud No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay, who will probably be healthy again by Week 16.

If Davis plays in December like he did in November, the Bucs pass defense might get excommunicated from the NFL. Todd Bowles’ scheme hasn’t often put Davis in position to succeed (press man) like it should, and week-to-week he draws some of the toughest assignments of any cornerback in the league, but fair or not, Davis needs to be a difference maker for Tampa Bay in the final four games of the season.

2. EDGE Shaq Barrett

Barrett came alive with arguably the biggest play of the game (for the Bucs, anyway) against the Chiefs, putting together a wonderful pass rush combination to beat left tackle Eric Fisher for a huge strip-sack of Patrick Mahomes in the red zone.

But those plays have been too few-and-far-between for Barrett, who has six sacks and 32 pressures this season. There is no denying that Barrett can string complicated rush moves together with the best of them, but he simply doesn’t do it consistently enough to be the dominant player many hoped he’d be after leading the league in sacks a year ago.

Barrett was actually better in the month of November than he was earlier in the season, which is a good sign that December could be the month he really takes over. Some juicy match-ups await the Bucs top edge rusher, as struggling Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary is up twice on the docket. Barrett notched four sacks and 18 pressures (18!!!) in two games against McGary and the Falcons last season.

The Bucs pass defense simply isn’t good enough to hold up against the quarterbacks on their remaining schedule unless the pass rush is great. Barrett has to be the player the Bucs franchise-tagged him to be if Tampa Bay’s defense is going to inch closer to the group they were earlier in the season.

3. WR Mike Evans

We’ve covered Mike Evans’ relatively unproductive 2020 season from every angle, casting blame on Tom Brady, communication issues, the coaching staff and even the offensive line for not giving Brady the time to find Evans deep, but nobody wants to talk about the fact that Evans himself may need to step up his level of play too. I know that’s blasphemy to say in Tampa Bay, but hear me out.

It’s not that Evans has been bad at all. He absolutely hasn’t been. But he also hasn’t played like a top five wide receiver in football, which many want to say he is. Against the Chiefs, Evans had opportunities for four tough catches, two of which would have been highlight-reel grabs. He let one go right past his hands while tracking over his shoulder, let the defensive back work over his back to contest another, mistimed his jump on a contested catch opportunity down the right sideline, and then couldn’t come up with a tough, contorting adjustment that went off both hands down the left sideline late in the game.

Great receivers make those plays, and Evans is a great receiver. The connection with Brady hasn’t been consistent, despite Evans’ 11 touchdowns, and there is plenty of blame to go around as to why that has been the case. But Evans needs to wear some of it too, especially now that he’s healthy. His seven drops this season are already tied for the most in his NFL career outside of his drop-laden 2015 season, and there are still four games left to go.

When was the last time we saw Mike Evans make a tough, contested catch in traffic? There haven’t been as many opportunities this year, but there have been opportunities. He has to cash in more often when those chances come. I still think a big 150-yard day is in Evans’ wheelhouse for the 2020 season. He’s moving great and getting open with regularity. But he has to be an elite finisher on the football throughout the rest of the season if the Bucs offense is going to hit their peak and make the playoffs.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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fredster
6 months ago

Those 3 players will have to step up for sure. Also going to need some better play calling and mire runs on offense. Won’t hold my breath for that though. They also need just better play calling and tackling from the whole defense. Especially first half of games where they tend to put us in a hole every week it seems lately.

Captain Sly
6 months ago

Three Bucs that need to step? How about Bruce Arians, Bowles & Leftwich. Seems you, SR and most of the PR staffers want to blame the players when every professional analyst outside of Tampa blame the coaches. You blame CD for getting torched with no safety help against Tyreek Hill when everyone else blames the scheme. Blaming Shaq for his lack of sacks playing from the left side when everyone knows that he’s better from the right. Finally blaming Evans for his lack of production in the passing game when there are long stretches in the game where he’s not… Read more »

drdneast
Reply to  Captain Sly
6 months ago

I agree with a good deal with what you say. If the coaches aren’t coaching them right or using the right schemes, it’s hard for a player to perform to his maximum efficiency. Davis was hardly torched. His coverage was actually excellent but as you stated, he had no help over the top and Bowles was late in getting it to him. This staff must react quicker to what is happening on the field, don’t wait till the second half to make adjustments. By then you could be down 24-0.

bucballer
Reply to  drdneast
6 months ago

U know drdneast… when watching the games it’s almost like everyone is waiting on some one to step up and make a play. Each defender needs to ask himself before every play… what can I do on THIS play to effect the game in our favor. Carpe Diem boys!

drdneast
Reply to  bucballer
6 months ago

I think the defense has become to passive in the second half of the season.

Eddie
Reply to  bucballer
6 months ago

Thats right, ask what you can for the team. Good point

The Wall
Reply to  Captain Sly
6 months ago

In 100% agreement Captain Sly.

bucballer
Reply to  Captain Sly
6 months ago

Great post Captain! I agree with all! Been pounding that drum for awhile now. It’s not that they r not good coaches, it’s just they r not very good today! For me, to run the table , it will require pressure from front four! It’s imperative! Pressure up front makes every level behind them a better unit. So, BA must BE the head coach and demand less press man and have Bowles let the dogs out! It’s all or nothing. Because I do know if u give Marty Ice time, he will throw on ur azz. And we face him… Read more »

Crazyhorse54
6 months ago

If we’re talking about an antiquated offense at this junction the season there is no way in hell this team goes anywhere but home after their 16th game. Give me an ever loving break.

Last edited 6 months ago by Crazyhorse54
drdneast
Reply to  Crazyhorse54
6 months ago

I don’t know if it’s antiquated but it certainly seems inflexible at times, no matter how much pressure Brady is under.

bucballer
Reply to  Crazyhorse54
6 months ago

Hey Crazyhorse… the Defense will determine our fate! Fewer points allowed, fewer points needed to win the game.

drdneast
Reply to  bucballer
6 months ago

So true, you can’t spot a team 17 points in the first quarter and expect to come out with a win. It happens, but not very often.

BigSombrero
6 months ago

Barrett will have great games down the stretch. My guess is he gets 8 sacks in his last 4 games.

Last year, Julian Edelman led the league in drops. Now Evans has 7 drops.

My question: What constitutes a drop?

I always thought it was an on-target pass that the receiver didn’t catch. Not a pass behind a guy or at his shoestrings. A pass between the 1 and the 3.

Show me 7 instances where Tom put it on the money and Evans flat ass dropped it.

drdneast
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

Rule of thumb is if it hits your hands and you drop it, then that was a drop. High, low, wide right or left, it’s a drop. It’s also a drop if it goes through your hands, see Cam Brate’s non catch last week in the first quarter. Evans miss on the first series was definitely a drop.

RW
RW
Reply to  drdneast
6 months ago

Actually neither of those would be considered a “drop” according to NFL stats. Should they have caught them ? Yes.

Eddie
Reply to  RW
6 months ago

Really? What then is the definition of a drop in NFL stats? I thought receivers are paid to catch ball within their catch radius

drdneast
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

They don’t pay receivers over $8 million a year to catch passes directly between the numbers. If that was the case Adam Humphries wouldn’t be making the figure I stated.

RW
RW
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

2020 Catch rates: Chris Godwin 82%, JuJu SS 79%, Julio Jones 78%, Emmanuel Sanders 75%, Davante Adams 75%, DeAndre Hopkins 75% Stefon Diggs 73%, Tyreek Hill 68% Amari Cooper 72%. The top 50 Wide receivers are at 65% or over.
Mike Evans 59 % and in his career 55%.

bucballer
Reply to  RW
6 months ago

Evans can, sometimes, drop the easy and make the spectacular though. But he is our WR. And the best one the Bucs have ever had. We just get used to him balling out all the time because that’s what he had done his entire Buccaneer career! He is having a subpar season and there r many reasons for this, many not having to do with him. He deserves a pass… because if the Buccaneers plan to win out and go further than the first round… Mike Evans will have to be one of the leaders of this offense and make… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

Isn’t the rule, if he can touch it he should catch it… I mean these guys r professional WRs… that’s what they do… at least that’s what WE determined was catchable in the sandlot field behind then Oak Grove J. High.

IDGABuc
Reply to  bucballer
6 months ago

Wait. Oak Grove in Clw is in the house?? WHOOP-WHOOP!

RW
RW
6 months ago

Mike Evans is not a top 5 receiver. He is good not great. On the plus side he has always been consistent, delivering good stats over the years, and played through injuries. He is a great target in the red zone. On the down side he has always needed a lot of targets to achieve his numbers as his catch percentage is always far below that of the top receivers in the league. He also seems to not read defense and pressure the way an elite receiver should. And good defensive teams can shut him down. I think he will… Read more »

bucballer
Reply to  RW
6 months ago

If Evans is not a top WR, then how many of those WRs that u believe to be better than Evans have had 6 consecutive 1000 yards receiving seasons in a row? I’ll wait… Again, yes, I believe Evans is having a subpar season. Injuries and a developing offensive system with a new QB Brady trying to learn the nuances of BA’s system. How many QBs has Evans had with the Bucs? And regardless of their skills or lack of, this man has managed to have 6 consecutive 1000 yards seasons! This is extremely hard to do. In fact, only… Read more »

RW
RW
Reply to  bucballer
6 months ago

Where did I say he sucks? His stats are impressive and he has been consistent. All I did was point out that he has needed lots of targets to get those stats. Much more than many top receivers. You need to read more and stop being so dramatic.

drdneast
6 months ago

The reason Evans isn’t making catches like a top 5 receiver is because he isn’t a top 5 receiver. I don’t even know if he is a top 10 receiver. Top 5 receivers take over games on a consistent basis, ie., see Tyreek Hill.

The Wall
6 months ago

Evans is a big, tough wide receiver; great at catching the ball in traffic. He doesn’t seem to get much separation and usually doesn’t gain much after the catch (the exception being the power run for the touchdown). He’s tough to cover one on one but I don’t think he’s a top five receiver. When he’s healthy, Godwin is.
All three players you named will step up if put in a better position to excel. Once again, coaching is the issue.

drdneast
6 months ago

I would suggest you add Delvin Cook to this list. As the defensive team captain he need to step up his game and lead by example, especially in pass coverage. He needs to quit biting so hard on every play action, especially if it’s headed his opposite direction and stay home and play his assignment. Would also like to see him blitzing a bit more since his coverage is poor but that’s on the DC.

drdneast
Reply to  drdneast
6 months ago

Whoops. Sorry. Meant to say Devin White not Delvin Cook.

Eddie
6 months ago

Could it be Evans is battling hamstring injury he suffered a few games ago. He was warrior like to play while hurt back then, maybe it hampered his recovery. The fat man coach keep demanding Tom to target him game in and game out did not help in getting him healthy either. Just a guess on my part

JSW
JSW
6 months ago

After re-watching the Chiefs game, I would like to see Ross Cockrell starting in place of Sean Murphy Bunting from here on out. More hustle and a MUCH BETTER tackler. SMB is the second coming of VH3…

drdneast
Reply to  JSW
6 months ago

There’s no reason to be the that insulting to SMB.

GrayBalls
Reply to  drdneast
6 months ago

Lmao

scubog
6 months ago

I guess I’m just not getting this narrative about our team. To read some of the comments, I’d conclude that the Bucs are in the Taylor Lawrence sweepstakes, not vying for a playoff spot. Apparently we had this notion that with the insertion of Brady, Gronk, AB, Fournette and others that this team would vault itself to an undefeated season and anything less results in a “Bucs suck” mindset. I find it comical and baseless that because BA is a “Baby Boomer” that the offense is suddenly “antiquated”. I need someone to draw me up a modern I-pad play and… Read more »

surferdudes
Reply to  scubog
6 months ago

Devin White’s weakness is in the passing game. He’ll never be considered great until he can start picking off some passes. That’s what got guys like Luke Kuecley, and Brooks to the pro bowl. White is a great sideline, to sideline LBer, but what’s missing from his game is the ability to read a Q.B.’s eyes, and pick off some passes playing center field. I don’t believe he has a pick this season. That’s got to change to put him at the next level.

drdneast
Reply to  surferdudes
6 months ago

Agreed. That goes for David as well.

gcolerick
6 months ago

Great players do not miss those opportunities. Missed opportunities like those make him a good player.

GIJoeWasThere
6 months ago

Devin White needs to be on that list.