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Welcome to the in-season edition of Bucs Briefing! My weekly column will appear each Wednesday morning, typically detailing seven key observations from the team’s most recent game. We’ll look at tape, scheme and major storylines as we get ready to close the door on one game, and open the door on the next. Enjoy!
7. Perriman Signing – What Does It Mean?
In short, not much. Yes, it’s true that Brett Perriman played the best football of his career in Tampa Bay. Back in 2019, Perriman caught 36 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns in Bruce Arians’ offense. Over the final five contests of the season, with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin out for a few games, Perriman posted the following stat lines:
5 catches, 87 yards
3 catches, 70 yards, 1 touchdown
5 catches, 113 yards, 3 touchdowns
7 catches, 102 yards
5 catches, 134 yards, 1 touchdown
It was an incredible five-game run that had many Bucs fans clamoring for Perriman’s return. But the receiver departed in free agency, disappointing with the Jets in 2020. Things got worse for Perriman, as the Lions released him in the final rounds of cuts back in August. One of the worst wide receiver rooms in the NFL had no use for him. Perriman latched on with the Bears a week later, but never played a snap for Chicago.
Bucs WR Breshad Perriman – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
In swooped the Bucs, signing Perriman and placing the veteran on their practice squad. I don’t expect Perriman to have an immediate role. Scotty Miller’s window to return to practice opened last week, and Arians has said he looks “really good.” Tyler Johnson has drawn consistent praise as the team’s No. 3 receiver since Antonio Brown went down, and I wouldn’t expect that to change.
If Brown misses considerable time, Perriman could get an opportunity. Right now, Johnson and Miller will be the top backups once the diminutive receiver returns. In the meantime, Tampa Bay gets a chance to look at Perriman on the practice squad to see what kind of shape he’s in. I see him as more of an insurance policy if something happens to one of the Bucs’ top guys down the road. Arians loves to load up on receivers, and Perriman fits the offense well and knows the system. If the Bucs can get him acclimated to the scheme again and get him in better football shape, he could be ready to serve as an emergency replacement in the playoffs.
The catch, of course, is if someone’s injury situation is worse than anticipated. Is Brown going to miss more than another game or two? I’m not sure how an extended absence makes sense considering it’s an ankle sprain and he hasn’t been placed on injured reserve. Is Miller experiencing discomfort in his return from turf toe? It’s only been a few days, but that could be a possibility.
Jaelon Darden isn’t going to be an X in the Bucs offense like Perriman will be – yet. And Jaydon Mickens isn’t suited for that role, either. Perriman will likely replace Cyril Grayson. That hurts a little, right after Grayson caught a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown 10 days ago. But if Miller does return this week, Perriman’s ceiling on the current roster is probably WR5 if he gets called up from the practice squad. And the team would need to carry six wide receivers on game day to fit him in, because Darden will be active as the return man.
6. The Fighting Heinickes
Is Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke good? Probably not. Is he good enough to give the Bucs’ fan base another heart attack? Probably. Heinicke famously nearly upset the Bucs in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last year, churning out 352 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Washington fell short, 31-23, but it took all the brilliance of Tom Brady to avoid disaster.
Washington QB Taylor Heinicke – Photo by: USA Today
Since Ryan Fitzpatrick’s early season injury, Heinicke has been the guy in Washington. He’s been mostly bad, as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked quarterback (out of 32). Heinicke has thrown way too many turnover-worthy passes, and is an extremely erratic decision-maker.
But the young quarterback can also get on incredible hot streaks, feeding off his own moxie to make jaw-dropping plays. Heinicke isn’t boring like some of the other struggling quarterbacks the Bucs have faced this season. He’ll test tight windows and force cornerbacks to make plays on the ball. With Terry McLaurin at his disposal, and without Carlton Davis III out there for the Bucs, Heinicke could present a challenge.
The Washington quarterback is also tough to get on the ground, and can make plays out of structure too. That’s been a problem for the Bucs defense, especially in recent weeks. Playing on the road has been an issue too, as both of Tampa Bay’s losses have come away from Raymond James. And although the Bucs made changes coming out of the bye week last year, their 26-14 victory over the Vikings was far from impressive.
I think Tampa Bay wins just fine, but Washington has been obnoxiously plucky this season.
5. The Upstart Colts
In my opinion, there is no way the Bucs lose to the Giants, Jets, or Panthers in either meeting. I’d be stunned if Washington upset them, and I don’t think the Saints can hold up in Round 2. The Falcons are playing better, but I’m sorry. I just don’t see them being able to hold a candle to the Bucs’ talent level.
Colts RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: USA Today
That leaves the Colts and Bills to contend with. More on the Bills in a minute. The Colts are the type of team no one wants to play right now. They are starting to believe as a unit, and they are already well-coached with plenty of continuity. After starting the season 0-3, the Colts have gone 4-2, with both losses coming in overtime against two of the AFC’s best in Tennessee and Baltimore. Granted, the Colts haven’t beaten anyone. Victories over the Dolphins, Texans, 49ers and Jets are far from awe-inspiring.
But Indianapolis is solid enough in the offensive and defensive trenches to not get pummeled. They’ve run the ball at an elite level this season, with Jonathan Taylor vying for the rushing title. Carson Wentz isn’t great, but he’s limited the mistakes more this year, at least relative to the past. And Michael Pittman is emerging as a true No. 1 wide receiver.
Yeah, the Colts defense has been average at best this season. But they are opportunistic, forcing a league-high 20 turnovers. 10 of those have been forced fumbles, so they aren’t even reliant on bad quarterback play to create splash plays. The Colts aren’t good enough to be a real contender, but they have enough to play the role of spoiler this season. Frank Reich is a good coach and he’s aggressive in situations where he knows he’s the underdog. The Bucs are clearly the better team, but this one feels like a trap. Tampa Bay will need to be ready.
4. The Saints Defense
I actually think Tampa Bay took huge strides toward solving the Saints defense in Week 8, despite the game’s 36-27 result. Tom Brady threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns, and the Bucs/refs left a few big plays on the field, too. The Saints’ pass rush was stymied most of the game, which is huge for Brady’s comfort level against New Orleans’ defense. Also, Tampa Bay’s wide receivers handily won match-ups against the Saints’ formidable secondary for the first time in awhile.
The next time they meet will be Week 15, and the Bucs should have Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski back for that battle. Considering how well they moved the ball against New Orleans without those two, I think the Bucs are set up for success on December 19.
Saints CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson – Photo by: USA Today
But we would be remiss to discuss the Saints defense without talking about their ability to dominate a football game. New Orleans is deeper up front than they were to start the season, which is huge. They don’t blitz a lot, so getting pressure with a deep array of four rushers and a ton of games up front is crucial. Marcus Davenport is playing like the player they drafted him to be, and Cam Jordan is still a stud. David Onyemata is already rounding back into form off his suspension to start the year. And the depth pieces like Payton Turner, Carl Granderson, Shy Tuttle and Tanoh Kpassagnon have stepped up as well.
Whenever a defensive line offers an array of body types like that, it’s hard for an offensive line to match up. The Saints get big, long edge defender on guards as well as any team in the NFL. It’s a tough match-up for the Bucs’ front five, even if the Tampa Bay wide receivers dominate again.
The Saints secondary is good, but not as good as it was a year ago. The rotating combination of Paulson Adebo and Bradley Roby has been just okay. Marshon Lattimore has had a couple down weeks in a row, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson got exposed against Chris Godwin. The Saints’ safety play is in the conversation for the league’s best, which is huge. But the Bucs will be a massive challenge for them if Tampa Bay is at full strength offensively in six weeks.
3. Bills QB Allen
Despite how Josh Allen has played in a few games this season, he is by far the best quarterback the Bucs will face in their final nine games. Shockingly, Allen is leading or tied for the lead in MVP odds with Tom Brady, depending on where you look. This has actually been a season with a few games of regression for Allen. It will be interesting to see how he plays moving forward, as he’s had a few dramatic clunkers this season.
But at his best, Allen is one of the more unstoppable forces in the NFL. His ability to break tackles and get out of the pocket will really test the Bucs. Tampa Bay has been terrible at finishing sacks and containing the pocket this season. That has to be the primary focus against Allen, because of how good he is throwing or running the ball outside of the box. So many explosive plays happen there for the Bills, so expect to see Devin White doing some spying in Week 14.
Bills QB Josh Allen – Photo by: USA Today
The Bills have weapons all over the place, including a loaded wide receiver corps and breakout tight end Dawson Knox coming back from injury soon. Hopefully Bucs top cornerback Carlton Davis III is back by this match-up, because Tampa Bay will need him against Stefon Diggs. Allen will hold onto the ball at times, so the Bucs must get more from their four-man pass rush and blitz packages by December 12.
Because the Bills are one of the highest pass frequency offenses in the NFL, and the Bucs are the least rushed against team in the league, it feels fairly straight forward how this game will be won. If Tampa Bay can get to Allen and force him into negative plays, it’s got a great shot at a victory. But the team will need to be dramatically improved as a pass rush group from what its shown over the first eight games of the season.
2. Bills Pass Defense
The most formidable force that the Bucs will face this season is the Bills’ pass defense. Buffalo is the NFL’s top defense in almost every category, but the numbers get ridiculous in the passing game. As a defense, the Bills are surrendering an absurd 4.5 yards per play. That’s a half-a-yard better than any other defense!
The primary reason for that success is the Buffalo pass defense. Opponents are gaining an average of 5.6 yards per pass attempt against the Bills this season. That’s almost a whole freaking yard better than the second-place defense. They’ve also intercepted 11 passes (third) and allowed just five passing touchdowns (first). The next closest defense has allowed 10.
Now, the Bills defense has not exactly played a murderer’s row of offenses. Pittsburgh, Miami, Washington, Houston, Miami again and Jacksonville are several of the league’s worst units. This year’s Kansas City offense is clearly not the Chiefs of old, and the one good offense Buffalo did face, in Tennessee, put up 34 points and 362 yards on ’em. So there is still plenty for the Bills defense to prove over the second half of the season.
But putting up numbers like Buffalo has through eight games is impressive – regardless of opponent. The Bills play heavy two-high safety looks, much more Cover 4 than the rest of the league and rarely blitz. They rely on their front four to get pressure, which might ultimately be their weakness. Buffalo doesn’t have an elite player up front, but their depth is noteworthy and the scheme is strong. They’ll be a challenge in the trenches and a challenge through the air.
1. Laugh A Little
Do you remember this summer at training camp? When Bucs media noticed an increasing amount of motion during practice, then got Bruce Arians to confirm it the same day? Then when we tried to ask offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich about it, he looked at us like we had three heads and laughed?
“But we’re not doing all this motion stuff,” Leftwich said, laughing. “I don’t know where you guys get all that stuff. We put our quarterback in the best position to have success all the time. And that’s how we always looked at it.”
Well, Byron. Who is laughing now? Per ESPN, the Bucs are fifth in all pre-snap motion this season. That was truly an interview I will never understand. All you can do is laugh.