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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. Devin White

I’ve already written and podcasted a good bit about this one, so I won’t belabor the point. Last year, Devin White was one of the Bucs’ best defensive players in the postseason. Despite a rough regular season, White was outstanding against the Saints and Chiefs in the playoffs.

But two games do not make a career. And right now, White’s larger career sample size suggests he’s a below average football player. Of course, there is the potential to be so much more. However, in Year 3 it gets a little exhausting to keep touting potential when a player simply hasn’t shown much growth.

On a per game basis, White is the most out of control player on the field. It is so hard to play any position in the NFL without being physically under control. The game is just too fast, and even lesser athletes on the field can evade players who play out of control. This is constantly White’s problem, and through three years he’s shown no sign of stopping the trend.

And it’s had a negative impact on teammates too. Just this season, White has blasted Lavonte David in the ribs, knocked Sean Murphy-Bunting five yards out of bounds in his first game back and nearly took out Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ knee on a run play. White concussed Dee Delaney on another hit, and has sent several other teammates tumbling to the ground by his lack of control. I don’t fault him for Shaq Barrett’s MCL sprain, as Barrett ran into him more than anything. But it’s a troubling trend for a player whose highs don’t make up for the lows anymore.

So what can White do to improve? I’d focus on two things:

• Stay under control at all times. Throttle down, change directions and don’t overrun his angle to the ball. This will help White avoid adding to his team-high 21 missed tackles this season.

• DO YOUR JOB. One of White’s biggest issues is how often he abandons his assignment to freelance. Against Carolina on Sunday he did it again, going all out for a sack on a Panthers screen, abandoning his man coverage assignment. White does this kind of stuff with alarming frequency.

Having said all of this, White flashed a few plays against Carolina that were encouraging. Even if consistency is elusive, if he can at least create splash plays, Tampa Bay’s defense will get a huge boost.

6. Sean Murphy-Bunting

It’s been a season to forget for Murphy-Bunting, although not quite as bad as last season. Perhaps Murphy-Bunting has improved some, but it’s been hard to tell. Despite playing the 15th most defensive snaps this season due to injury, Murphy-Bunting has still surrendered more catches and yards in coverage than any other Bucs defensive back. He’s broken up just three passes, while allowing over 13 yards per catch to opposing receivers.

Going into the playoffs last year, there was very little reason to feel optimistic about Murphy-Bunting. But he elevated his game and at least made splash plays with three postseason picks. This season, Murphy-Bunting has yet to record an interception.

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today

Even when Murphy-Bunting has been in good position over the past few weeks, he’s still allowing catches. The big play he permitted against the Saints and the touchdown against the Panthers on Sunday were good coverage reps. But Murphy-Bunting has to find the football and finish, something he has always struggled with. Even with the Bucs playing more man coverage, things haven’t improved much for him.

With Jamel Dean dealing with a hamstring injury and going down almost every week, Murphy-Bunting must step up. The Bucs trust they’ll get quality cornerback play from Carlton Davis III moving forward, and safeties Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Jordan Whitehead have impressed this season. Can Tampa Bay count on Murphy-Bunting? Last year in the playoffs, they could. Will this year be the same?

5. Poor Tackling

The Bucs finished the season with 120 missed tackles – tied for fifth-most in the NFL. That’s more missed tackles than any other playoff team, and a huge concern moving forward. And it’s a problem for almost everyone on the defense. The only three players with good PFF tackling grades on the year are Lavonte David, Dean and Murphy-Bunting. Guys like Shaq Barrett, Mike Edwards and Winfield have been okay, but basically everyone else who plays on defense has struggled as a tackler.

The good news is that the Bucs have improved in this area over the past four weeks. Outside of White, the rest of the team has picked it up and is finishing better than they were earlier in the season. That’s going to be key moving forward. The Bucs cannot be splash play reliant on defense all the time. Tackling better, finishing sacks and getting opponents off the field will be key.

4. Depth WRs

One of the few offensive disappointments of the 2021 season was the lack of depth in the Bucs wide receiver room. Tyler Johnson has played 612 snaps this season, 11th most on the Bucs offense. Yet he’s done incredibly little with his opportunities, catching 36 balls for 360 yards and zero scores. On Sunday, Johnson averaged a paltry 4.4 yards per catch on five grabs.

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson

Bucs WR Tyler Johnson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Johnson’s biggest issue is that he can’t separate from anyone. Offensively, he’s the biggest obstacle to the Bucs experiencing peak success again. Tampa Bay needs him to step up, as they’ve simply run out of bodies to play Johnson’s role. With Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown out of the picture, the Bucs looked ready to see if Cyril Grayson, Jr. could be the new No. 3 behind Mike Evans and Breshad Perriman. But Grayson hurt his hamstring in Week 18, and now he’s in question to play on Sunday.

Right now, Johnson isn’t doing anything well. He’s not running good routes, he’s not creating throwing windows and he’s forced one missed tackle since Week 8. Johnson has also dropped two passes in the past four games.

If Grayson is going to miss some time, Breshad Perriman’s role becomes that much bigger. Fair or not, Perriman must become this playoffs’ Scotty Miller. He might not need to be a volume receiver, but making the splash plays will be key. Perriman has stepped up some when he’s been available, making huge plays in each of his past three games. He’ll need to keep showing up for the Bucs to win in the postseason.

As for Miller, is there any hope he could show up for the playoffs? If Grayson is out, potentially. Miller is currently slotted as the team’s No. 4 wide receiver, but he’ll get snaps in rotation on Sunday. It’s never been about volume for Miller, who only needs one play to change a game. With the Bucs offense needing more splash, Miller could be the guy to provide it.

3. Cam Brate & O.J. Howard

Coming off an Achilles injury, the jury was out on how O.J. Howard would play this season. Unfortunately, it’s gone about as poorly as you could expect. Howard has barely played this season, and has hardly been targeted at all. In fact, the big tight end hasn’t caught a pass since November 22. On the season, Howard has just 14 grabs for 135 yards and one touchdown. That came at Philadelphia, and the Eagles come to town on Sunday.

Bucs TE O.J. Howard

Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Howard’s issue is more a lack of playing time than clearly not being good. Sure, he’s still an average-at-best blocker, but as a receiver, we’ve just barely seen him. It’s hard to believe that he couldn’t help a receiving room this down on its’ luck. Howard has spent most of his short career as one of the starting-caliber options in the Bucs passing game. Have injuries really zapped that much ability from him?

As for Cameron Brate, another drop on Sunday summed up his season. Once thought to be the most reliable receiver on the team, Brate has struggled with drops and poor route-running. He’s made some clutch plays in the red zone, but the Bucs offense needs more from him. Right now, this team has no proven No. 3 receiver. Brate has more of a track record than anyone else available.

Can he step up in the playoffs like he did last year? Brate had four catches for 80 yards at Washington in the wild card game, and a big touchdown at Green Bay.

2. First Down Play-Calling

In last week’s Bucs Briefing, I wrote the following on the Bucs’ first down play selection.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: USA Today

On the season, the Bucs’ neutral first down pass rate is 49 percent. That’s 11th in the NFL. With this passing attack and Tom Brady at quarterback, that rate needs to be much higher. For example, Buffalo is first at 68 percent. Kansas City is second at 59 percent, which is a more realistic landing spot for Tampa Bay.

To make it worse, the Bucs are trending in the wrong direction over the past three weeks. Since losing Chris Godwin in Week 15, Tampa Bay seems to have bought in on a run-heavy first down approach. Over the past three games, the Bucs have a neutral first down pass rate of 35 percent!  That’s the 27th ranked first down pass rate. You are not going to win many games against good opponents with a 35 percent first down pass rate. And you’re definitely not going to win them with the Bucs’ average rushing attack.

In Week 18, the Bucs took a big step in the right direction. Against the Panthers, the Bucs passed the ball on over 65 percent of first downs. As a result, Tampa Bay wrecked Carolina on first downs. They averaged an absurd 0.405 EPA on first down on Sunday.

If the Bucs can just look at the data, they’ll see what works and commit to it. When their offense remains pass heavy on first downs, they typically dominate opponents. It makes the run game far less predictable, and it opens up the playbook on second downs. Right now, Tampa Bay needs to use every tool at its disposal given its offensive injuries.

1. Over-Blitzing

According to Pro Football Reference, the Bucs have blitzed 313 times. The next closest team in the NFL blitzed 268 times. On almost 41 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps, the Bucs sent five or more rushers. That’s by FAR the most in the NFL, and by far the most in the playoff field.

When the Bucs get home and finish, their defense can wreck an offensive game plan. But it is simply too hard to survive full games playing the way Tampa Bay does defensively. The Bucs are so overwhelmingly blitz heavy all the time, that opposing offenses are entering games fully prepared to take advantage. As a result, the Bucs get picked apart underneath far too often, exposing their non-Lavonte David linebackers and edge defenders in coverage.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has to know when to dial back the extra pressure and rely on his front four to get home. Constantly leaving a short-handed secondary thin in coverage is a dangerous strategy. You might be able to get away with it against bottom-tier quarterbacks, which the Bucs faced all season. But against the best teams in the NFC, Bowles needs to find some balance to his aggression.

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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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chefboho
chefboho
4 months ago

Out of all of these, white and the blitzing get me the most. With the DB’s ten yards off and constant blitzing you’re leaving them on an island for easy completions. Drives me crazy. As for Devin he just needs to step up already. Stop worrying about your tv shows and get to the film.

gcolerick
gcolerick
Reply to  chefboho
4 months ago

I agree with your concerns chef but OJ is not far behind for me. This guy should have been a stud in the NFL by now and he is nothing more than an afterthought…so disappointing. We are going to need Breshad Perriman to step up big time in the playoffs. Make your daddy proud son.

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  gcolerick
4 months ago

It’s absolutely baffling why OJ can’t/hasn’t produced! There has to be a reason why Brady doesn’t trust OJ? With all the injuries at WR position there is no reason why OJ can’t produce! Perhaps OJ will pick it up for playoffs? The OJ saga is just stunning, his lack of production. Haven’t even heard OJ give an interview or talk at all. Zero! Very strange indeed!

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

Brady threw to Howard more last year than this so it is obvious he isn’t getting open.

Horse
Horse
4 months ago

Well here’s the good news; we are in the Playoffs and we have Brady. He will still find targets no matter. If Barrett can actually play, that creates a solid three rotational position. I’ll let the coaches do what they do best; it surely isn’t us. Go Bucs! Keep the repeat alive!

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
4 months ago

Boy – to listen to Ledyard the Bucs must surely be the Worst Team in the NFL, with all those glaring deficiencies. Must have a record of 4-13, be ranked last in both scoring and points allowed, and ranked last in offensive yards and defensive yards allowed. What a pile of shit this team is. And obviously, nothing and nobody is making up for any and all of those deficiencies with superlative play elsewhere. It’s a team sport, not everybody contributes equally all the time, no team is ever perfect or even close to perfect, else quarterbacks would be throwing… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

The point being, not that Ledyard is wrong in assessing these areas of needed improvement, but the fact is, those shortcomings still allowed the Bucs to earn the best win-loss record in the league, won an NFC South Division championship for the first time in 14 years, have the no. 2 seed in the playoffs, the 2nd ranked scoring offense and the 5th best scoring defense, and with essentially the same players and coaches as last season, are still the defending world champs. So to put things in perspective, something’s obviously overcoming those deficiencies, and the real pertinent question is,… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Naplesfan
fredster
fredster
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Your such a dumbass. I’m glad I never had the displeasure of being your boss or supervisor when I owned restaurants before retired. You cry like a bitch every time somebody does their job and points out where improvement on this team is needed. Your a “Rest on laurels” jackass that just parrots well we still won the Super bowl so doing something right. Like your feelings get hurt like a toddler when it’s pointed out this team is not as good as last years despite records and stats which you seem to live on. We were lucky as hell… Read more »

RW
RW
Reply to  fredster
4 months ago

Great points. Not sure why some “fans” disagree outright with points that are objective and widely agreed with by knowledgeable football people.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  RW
4 months ago

Terrible points written by an utter ignoramus asshole who continually bitches about the players and the coaches, and who loves it when certain writers at PR – primarily the failed wannabe head coach Ledyard – bitch just the same … no sense of perspective or proportion whatsever, just endless mindless bitching and whining that they would have done way better as coaches and players as the Bucs.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  RW
4 months ago

What is objective by declaring the game schemes horribly wrong, because the writer would do it differently, about a team that is in the middle of its most successful regular season in the history of the franchise, the best record in the league, division champs for the first time in 14 seasons, and the no. 2 seed in the playoffs.
You’re obviously much more of a fan of Ledyard than you are of the Bucs.

Last edited 4 months ago by Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  fredster
4 months ago

You’re an ignorant asshole, a perpetual bitcher and instigator of personal attacks on other commenters and on the players and coaches of the most successful team in the NFL. I’m sure everybody who knows you feels that way about your extreme negativity.

You’d make Debbie Downer look like Pollyanna.

Last edited 4 months ago by Naplesfan
drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Watch your language missy.

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  fredster
4 months ago

Wow, fredster, wow. I don’t think you are totally wrong in your statement but wow. Would you like to reload both barells now.

RW
RW
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

The something you refer to is easy: Brady on the offense and Vea, Winfield , Barrett and David on the D. Take Brady away and this team doesn’t win shit.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  RW
4 months ago

I’m sure it involves a lot more than Brady and a couple others. The coaches for one. The offensive line for another. Wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs who can block and catch passes and make run after catch. And on the defense, excellent play by the down linemen, and uneven play by the linebackers and DBs, largely due to injury depleting the ranks.

Brady certainly helps everyone get better, but he can’t block, catch passes, or make great runs. And he can’t tackle or get sacks or INTs either.

Dave
Dave
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Brady does a lot more than make players better. If you think this team(if Brady never came here), is anything more than a 7 or 8 win team, you’re kidding yourself. With the exception of a couple good additions, this is essentially the same team as we had a few years ago. And we were never a playoff team before. Brady single handedly turned this team into a SB contender. Without him, we’re a middle of the pack .500 team at best

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Who do you think is gonna read that book of non-sense nipples?

RW
RW
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Give it a friggin’ rest. JL is talking about what the Bucs need to have success in the playoffs not against the Jets and the Panthers!!! if you can’t see holes on this team you must be blind. On offense the team doesn’t have Godwin and Brown so who’s going to step up? If you think White has been good this year then you are delusional. Sure the D has great players like Winfield , Vea and David but other guys need to step up.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  RW
4 months ago

Give it a rest yourself. I am extremely happy with the Bucs just as they are, even with a few warts. It is assholes like you and Fredster and a few others who endlessly whine and bitch and complain and emit nothing but negativity in these comment threads.

Kramerica Industries
Kramerica Industries
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Jon being an out-of-town guy with no ties to the Bucs is exactly the kind of person who needs to be writing these articles. He’s not a Bucs fan – G-d help him if he’s writing here and the Bucs ever face the Steelers in the Super Bowl… – so he has no reason to BS anything, try to make things sound better than they are, or any of that stuff. Whether you agree with him or not, at least you’re getting a more objective person’s read on the team, performance, and decision making going on. There’s plenty of other… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

Ledyard was correct in pointing out all of those defeciencies.

Pete Wood
Pete Wood
4 months ago

Sometimes I think that Bucs fans really live in a bubble. Yeah, we got issues, but so does every other NFL team. I bet the Packers sites are preaching gloom and doom too as are the Chiefs sites and the Titans, etc. etc. We got a great team, y’all.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  Pete Wood
4 months ago

Who said we don’t have a great team? Ledyard is pointing out deficiencies and yes every team has them. It’s not preaching doom and gloom to point out ways the team could improve. I’m sure we’d all love for Dev to play better or for Brate to catch the ball or for OJ to….do anything. This team has the experience. Let’s hope now they can turn it up a notch.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
4 months ago

The difference between good writing and terrible writing, as practiced by Ledyard, is it provides perspective and insight, and not endless bitches that Ledyard would have done it differently, which is all that Ledyard and a few commenters here at PE do nothing but. Good perspective provides an honest analysis of an area that needs improvement, such as tackling, or the performance of a given player like White, but then acknowledges that others are picking up the slack. And does not attempt to claim the writer’ judgment is better than the guys who are actually producing excellent results on the… Read more »

Eddie
Eddie
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

The title of this article clearly states it is about 7 Biggest Concerns Entering Playoffs and not about perspective of the team entering play off.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Eddie
4 months ago

Eddie: Thank you for chiming in. Finally someone understands the point of the article. Jon merely noted the players and areas of the team that are well………less than perfect. Of course every team has its’ share. Most have way more concerning issues than the mighty Bucs. No need for Naples to start name-calling the author.

RW
RW
Reply to  Pete Wood
4 months ago

I’d agree with you if Godwin and Brown were playing. They aren’t. And if David and Dean can’t go the Eagles are going to score against this D.

Kramerica Industries
Kramerica Industries
Reply to  Pete Wood
4 months ago

And despite all of that, 13 teams are going to finish this postseason disappointed in the end. Fix a few of the things Johnny listed – and maybe some other things that weren’t – and our chances of being the 1 survivor improve, if even marginally.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Pete Wood
4 months ago

Actually, I believe that the vast majority of real Bucs fans, not the large number of pretend fans who post endlessly negative commentary about players and coaches and schemes and playcalling, Debbie Downers all, are actually just like me and you. We love this Bucs team, we acknowledge it isn’t perfect and has weaknesses that could be improved upon … but overall, we are living in the best of times in the four and a half decades this franchise has existed with this team of players and coaches. And not one of us are full of ourselves believing we know… Read more »

surferdudes
4 months ago

Either White just doesn’t have it between the ears, or he’s not studying enough film. Could be both, which is a real problem. All the greats have in common is their dedication to their craft. Is White the first one in, and the last one to leave the building, or does he hurry home to his new horse farm?

B T
B T
4 months ago

Some of these points are very legitimate whether we won last year or this year. Carolina completely controlled the first half with screens and simple crossing patterns becasue we blitzed too much and White was out of position-shows how important David is. the game stayed close becasue of great goal line and red zone defense , but against the Packers or others it is a problem. The WR issue is also huge.

plopes808
plopes808
4 months ago

You make some valid points…lucky for us this team seems to compliment each other well. When one side of the ball isn’t doing well, the other pulls the extra weight. Same with the players, they’ve shown all year they’re able to overcome the shortcomings on the roster. I have a feeling Perriman and/or Scooter will make up the difference at WR in the playoffs.
If the defense locks in the way they did during last years home stretch, we’ll be more than a handful for any team.

drdneast
drdneast
4 months ago

With a 35 percent pass rate on first down you think Lefty is a good OC and viable head coach. I wouldn’t even hire him as my latex salesperson.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  drdneast
4 months ago

Yet the team has the league’s best record and the # 1 offense in spite of the O.C. being an “imbecile” or is it an “idiot”, or maybe a “moron”.

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
4 months ago

I’m sad to have been right this whole time about White, but it is what it is. The only thing worse than drafting him, and than this team propping him up to be something he just isn’t for most of his career thus far, would be doubling down and paying him a king’s ransom as a free agent in a year or two. Fingers crossed Licht sees what he truly is – an insanely gifted athlete who’s just flat out a mediocre or worse football player. As you point out, Jon, most concerning is the total lack of any real… Read more »

toofamiliar17
toofamiliar17
4 months ago

It does feel like between Brate and Howard, one of these guys could step up as a consistent tertiary receiving option with all the injuries we’ve had. Like, even if we just line them up as receivers most of the time, their presence on the field should create space by taking speed off of it for the defense. Losing BOTH Godwin and AB really hurts this team, no doubt. But between a supposedly strong offensive mind in Arians, a now fairly experienced OC in Leftwich, and most of all with GOAT Brady at QB, it does feel to me like… Read more »

bucballer
bucballer
4 months ago

We need White, Brate, and OJ to step up for playoffs! We need JPP too. Any word on his availability? We just need our players that r on the field to step it up a notch. Put a spy on Philly QB! Can’t let his legs beat us. Make him beat us with his arm.

Eddie
Eddie
Reply to  bucballer
4 months ago

White may be a good spy on their QB, he is certainly fast enough

JSW
JSW
4 months ago

I agree with all of your assessments. One surprise to me was that SMB is rated well as a tackler. When I watch him specifically, he often looks like he’s trying to run alongside the play and waiting until someone else makes contact before he actually tries to push someone down or jump on a guy. (I guess you can’t miss any tackles if you don’t try to make any tackles! Or you can look like a pretty good tackler if you just jump on the pile each time…). Honestly, he looks like he’s trying to avoid contact, if at… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
4 months ago

Good analysis.

BigSombrero
BigSombrero
4 months ago

I’ve been ok with the Devin White pick, but I did think Tampa was crazy to pass up DE Josh Allen when he fell to 5th. That move would’ve saved a ton of money on free agents at DE, but that ship has sailed. Hopefully White can turn it on and get right for the playoffs.

Lavonte David is criminally underated…even in the LB room. White hasn’t learned much from LD on shedding and seeking ballcarriers.

Theerealdiehl
Theerealdiehl
4 months ago

Have a feeling the Bucs have been trying to save OJ for the playoffs. Guy’s too talented to sit on the bench and we’ve seen the Bucs save their best schemes for the playoffs. Maybe it’ll happen again

James Taylor
James Taylor
4 months ago

These really do capture the biggest issues with the Bucs right now. They just feel like a team destined to lose in the wild card round or divisional round. Chris Godwin is the most important player on the offense with his first down conversions, tough blocking, and big plays. Tyler Johnson is simply not capable of addressing those areas consistently. Devin White is just not developing as an NFL player despite his obvious talent. The tackling has been bad and they just seem to have bad fundamentals. I expect the Bucs season will end in the next few weeks with… Read more »