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Welcome to the new in-season edition of Bucs Briefing! From now on, 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. Can Richard Sherman Help The Bucs?

Probably. If he is signed. We’ll see.

Anyone expecting Richard Sherman to come in and play at a Pro Bowl level has their sights set too high. Could he do it? Maybe, but there is a lot to learn in a short amount of time, and he’s not in football shape. But Sherman doesn’t need to be an All-Pro to be worth signing. He really just has to be better than Ross Cockrell, Dee Delaney and maybe Jamel Dean. That’s a bet I’m willing to make.

I don’t know what Sherman wants to be paid. I also don’t know the extent of his off-field situation. So I can’t speak to those aspects of his potential signing. What I do know is that Sherman has played 10 years in the NFL and never had a below average season. You can probably count the number of bad games he’s had in his career on one hand. Last year, you needed two hands to count ’em up for Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting.

CB Richard Sherman

CB Richard Sherman – Photo by: USA Today

If Sherman is signed, it would be shocking if he isn’t an upgrade over every non-Carlton Davis III cornerback on the roster. He’s also a terrific scheme fit, as the Bucs are predominantly a zone team (Cover 3, Cover 4) that will occasionally flex into press man as a change-up. Sherman is very experienced in those roles, and his declining athleticism won’t be exposed as a result. His physicality, tenacity and tackling would be critical traits for a Bowles’ cornerback as well.

On the field, the fit is great. In the locker room, assuming Sherman is the same person he’s always been in his NFL career, the fit has potential too. Sherman has been heralded as an elite leader and a terrific communicator. The Bucs have a secondary full of guys on rookie contracts, with Cockrell the lone elder statesman. Could it behoove them to learn from a technique/football IQ master like Sherman?

Maybe. Or maybe it throws off the whole vibe, considering the young and chippy “Grave Diggers” just won a Super Bowl. Perhaps they feel like they’ve matured past the point of needing a Sherman-like savior to fix their problems.

But their play hasn’t shown it, and that’s a critical factor here. Will Murphy-Bunting be back by midseason? Will Dean end up on injured reserve? If both corners are playing again by Week 8, what does the starting lineup look like? Is Murphy-Bunting going to be okay sitting out in base defense? Is Dean going to be okay not playing at all unless there’s an injury? Will it stunt his development for the future?

On the field, there is no question that any version of a past Sherman is an upgrade for the Bucs cornerback room. The rest of the fit is a little bit murkier. If Sherman is signed, it may tell us that Murphy-Bunting’s injury could extend for most of the regular season. And it may tell us the team is a bit skeptical that Dean can be “the guy” opposite Davis for most of the year. That’s an understandable perspective, but it may come with some consequences.

6. 2020 Postseason Heroes M.I.A. For Bucs

I’ve talked at length on the last two podcasts about all the schematic and design issues I have with the Bucs defense. I won’t belabor those points here. Despite the weaknesses of Todd Bowles’ coaching style, several Bucs players need to improve their play. And that starts with their defensive captain, Devin White.

Through three games, White doesn’t have a sack, tackle-for-loss, forced fumble, pass breakup or interception.

“Jon, you don’t care about stats like that, do you?”

No, I don’t. Not in a vacuum. But what made White playable last year was his propensity for splash plays. Even in a season where he struggled, White had nine sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss in 2020. Most importantly, in the playoffs White intercepted two passes, recovered a pair of fumbles and had two tackles-for-loss.

White was one of the heroes of the Bucs playoff run, and no one can ever take that away from him. I’ll contend that his performance against the Saints in the divisional round is one of the best games I’ve ever seen by a linebacker. But the larger sample size of his career suggests a player tilting closer to disappointing than dominant. In year two, that wasn’t a huge deal yet. In year three, it’s starting to become a big deal.

White has as much physical and athletic talent as any linebacker in the NFL. The ceiling for him couldn’t be higher. But until he stops playing so out of control, missing tackles, running out of his assigned coverage areas and taking out teammates rather than opponents, White is doing more harm than good on passing downs.

The story is a little bit different for a player like Antoine Winfield, Jr. Winfield’s floor has been much higher than White’s. He’s not blowing coverages or hanging the defense out to dry. But where are the splash plays Winfield and Bowles promised before the year? He’s not taking chances in coverage or making plays on the ball from a deep safety position. Winfield is an assignment sound player, but if he wants to be great, he needs to create turnovers.

Winfield was so great at playing the ball in college, but in the NFL we are still waiting to see it. The Minnesota product had just one interception last season and another in the postseason, off a tipped ball from Mike Edwards. The Bucs need him to be more opportunistic moving forward. Cutting down on his four missed tackles, an aberration for Winfield, would help as well.

The Bucs were counting on players like White and Winfield, stars in the postseason, to take another step this year. It hasn’t happened through three weeks. Sean Murphy-Bunting, who had three interceptions in the playoffs, is on injured reserve after a brutal first quarter against Dallas ended in injury. That puts more emphasis on Winfield to become a true playmaker, and on White to become at least more consistent down-to-down. The Bucs defense will look a lot better if Tampa Bay’s young star defenders can make a leap.

5. It’s The Little Things For Bucs Offense

For the vast majority of the game, the Bucs played very well on offense. Despite being forced into a more predictable game plan due to the team’s defensive failures, Tom Brady and Co. were impressive. But a few offensive failures on a day where the defense left them little room for error, were killers.

• On the Bucs’ third drive of the game, they moved the ball swiftly to the Rams 48. On third-and-5, Brady dropped a dime into the hands of Rob Gronkowski despite a crowded pocket. But the ball went off Gronkowski’s hands for an incompletion instead of being a first-and-10 for the Bucs in the red zone. Tampa Bay had to punt, and Los Angeles scored the first points of the game 14 plays later. It was the fourth dropped third down of the season for the Bucs.

• Later in the first half, the Bucs had a chance to cut into the Rams 14-7 lead with a late drive led by Brady. An Aaron Donald strip sack took Tampa Bay out of field goal range at the L.A. 45-yard line. With 16 seconds and one timeout left, the Bucs had time and the whole field to work with in order to get into range for a Ryan Succop field goal. But Scotty Miller made a poor decision in the open field, leaving Succop with a 55-yard kick.

Brady hit Miller over the middle with plenty of time and space for the receiver to turn and get up field for some additional yardage. Miller might not have made it through the middle of the field zone cleanly, but he certainly would have picked up at five yards or so, making the kick more manageable. Instead Miller stops his feet, indecisively shifts his feet and gets dropped at the 37.

One of the things holding Miller back from more playing time is that his athleticism isn’t an asset when he has the ball in his hands. He’s a great deep threat, but you need to be more than that to play over some of the receivers in Tampa Bay.

• It wasn’t an offensive play, but with the Bucs trailing 28-14 midway through the third quarter, a Bradley Pinion shanked punt handed the Rams a field goal. A miserable 15-yard boot set the Rams up with a first down at the Tampa Bay 37. Los Angeles only managed seven yards, but Matt Gay hit the 48-yard field goal for a 17-point lead.

• Finally, in the third quarter, another Gronkowski mistake cost the Bucs a touchdown. On second-and-goal from the 8, Brady laced an out route to Gronkowski. The veteran tight end ran a great route to get open, but thought he was closer to the sideline than he was. Gronkowski jumped early and couldn’t reach the pass. If he takes one more stride, it’s a pretty easy catch and a touchdown.

Those few mistakes were really costly for Tampa Bay. They took points off the board or gave them to the Rams. Los Angeles might be the best team in the NFL right now. On a day where the Rams committed just one penalty, didn’t turn the ball over, took no meaningful sacks and dropped just one pass, Tampa Bay’s flaws were magnified.

4. Ryan Jensen, Difference-Maker

Quietly, Ryan Jensen is having a fantastic season in Tampa Bay. Yes, Aaron Donald dusted almost every member of the Bucs offensive line at some point, but Jensen was a huge part of holding the All-Pro in check. Donald’s lone sack came off the edge, where he played most of his snaps on Sunday. But when the defensive tackle was inside, Jensen’s awareness was a huge part of giving Brady time before Donald could get home. He assisted on multiple Donald rushes, saving a few reps when Alex Cappa or Ali Marpet got into trouble.

The Rams also run one of the more intricate pass rush packages in the entire NFL. They blitz a good amount, but even when they rush four, Los Angeles is a constant array of stunts and games up front. Without Jensen’s communication and activity, the Bucs would have fared much worse.

At all times, Jensen is an extremely bad dude. I cannot overstate how important I believe that is on the offensive line. The whole group has adopted his edge. He plays with too much emotion at times, but I’ll live with a penalty here and there for the tone he sets every game.

Last year, O-line guru Brandon Thorn and I talked at length about how the Bucs didn’t utilize the athleticism of their offensive line in space enough. This year we’ve seen it a lot more, and Jensen is thriving. Getting the big center downhill in space was a nightmare for the Rams on several screens in this game.

The Bucs are going to have a tough decision with Jensen in free agency this offseason. It’s hard to hold onto three high-priced offensive linemen, and Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are already locked up. Losing Jensen would be a big blow however. I don’t envy GM Jason Licht trying to decide how to spend the team’s cap space next offseason.

3. Play Mike Edwards

The irony of a Bucs defense, in desperate need of playmakers, playing their best playmaker just 23 snaps on Sunday, is not lost on me. Look, I get it. I know Edwards is not a size/speed athletic marvel.

But is Dee Delaney? Is Ross Cockrell?

Because, with Murphy-Bunting and Dean out, those are your other choices. Delaney playing 30 more snaps than Edwards against a Sean McVay offense is just bad personnel deployment.

Bucs S Mike Edwards

Bucs S Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Bucs clearly wanted to run more man coverage against L.A., even after Dean exited in the first quarter. Edwards may not be an ideal man coverage slot, but given the injuries Tampa Bay has, the options are limited. Asking Cockrell and Delaney to play on islands cost the Bucs often on the first few Rams scoring drives. It could have cost them even more if Matthew Stafford hadn’t missed a few throws too.

I’m never going to pretend Edwards is an All-Pro pining for playing time. I recognize he has limitations in his skill set that made him a third-round pick. But when the Bucs lost Dean and it was clear the Rams were doing what they wanted on offense, Edwards should have been in the game the rest of the way. Asking him to spell Jordan Whitehead for 35-40 percent of the game just takes one of your two better defensive backs off the field at all times. The Bucs aren’t deep enough in the secondary to misuse personnel to that degree.

Moving forward, I would expect to see the Bucs back in more zone-heavy defensive packages. That should open the door for Edwards to play more in the slot, especially if Dean is out and Cockrell has to start on the outside. And if the Bucs are worried about Edwards in man coverage, try Winfield in the slot. But playing Delaney over asking more of your three quality safeties isn’t maximizing your defensive talent.

2. Road Gets Easier For Bucs

The Bucs loss to the Rams did not do much to change my mind about Tampa Bay. The Rams are an elite football team firing on all cylinders right now. Tampa Bay can reach another level on offense still, which should be enough to shelter its defense in the regular season. A quick look over the schedule reveals the Bucs play a slate of miserable quarterbacks after facing three of the best in Weeks 1-3.

Of the bottom 10 offenses in the NFL right now, the Bucs face eight of them in the coming weeks. Still, whooping up on bad quarterbacks/offenses does not make a defense all-of-a-sudden good. Bowles’ unit has many challenges ahead of him, as he figures out who he can rely on in the secondary.

The Bucs defensive coordinator must also figure out different ways to impact the quarterback. Tampa Bay has blitzed 12 more times than the next closest team this season, but has only three sacks to show for it. I’m not overreacting to the sack numbers however, because good quarterbacks typically don’t get sacked a lot. Still, the Bucs can definitely win more one-on-ones up front.

Those wins, and subsequently more sacks, will come. The Bucs are not an elite one-on-one pass rushing team, and they weren’t last year either. But Tampa Bay still has an array of talented one-on-one rushers, which combined with their aggressive blitzes and creative games up front, usually results in high pressure rates. Right now, the Bucs have the least sacks in the NFL. By next week’s Bucs Briefing, I highly doubt that will still be the case.

1. Laugh A Little

Please enjoy these clips of Brady shoulder-faking and eye-manipulating these linebackers into another dimension. What a performance by Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback on Sunday.

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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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Naplesfan
23 days ago

Ledyard repeats a canard that’s been posted many times here at PR, that Sherman’s “athleticism has declined”. Bullshit. Just two seasons ago, in 2019, Sherman was graded out by PFF as the best cover guy in the entire league … PFF also graded him out as the best cover guy of the decade. Last season, he got injured early on, came back to play in the middle of the season, then got injured again, most likely due to coming back too soon from the earlier injury. That has zilch, nada, nothing to do with “athleticism”. Can Sherman lead the league… Read more »

Last edited 23 days ago by Naplesfan
fredster
Reply to  Naplesfan
23 days ago

Dude you should apply to be a writer here on PR. You can maybe take Ledyards job since you clearly know more than him or any other writers. lol. Its comical way you argue weekly with so many articles here.

Naplesfan
Reply to  fredster
23 days ago

Dude, you are one of the most prolific commenters here at PR so you are nobody to talk to anybody about commenting on articles. In particular you like to diss on players or coaches who just won a Super Bowl. Given any choice between arguing with obvious success and with a couple of writers at PR, I will always go with proven success. Unlike so many commenters here who believe they know far more about managing rosters and games than do the current world champions. Generally, I am in agreement with most everything that Scott Reynolds writes, but I often… Read more »

lambeau
23 days ago

Naples, relax. Jon repeatedly refers to Sherman as an upgrade. But nobody thinks he hasn’t lost a step. Besides, All-Pro Sherman would cost $15-20 M. I found the discussion very nuanced, since the Gravediggers are a tight and proud group. But even healthy, they’ve shown weaknesses.

Naplesfan
Reply to  lambeau
23 days ago

C’mon, be specific, tell me who has any data to suggest that Sherman has “lost a step” other than yourself and a few commenters and Ledyard based upon mere assertion. C’mon, where’s your data?

He was injured twice last year, with a bruised calf. That is an injury that will definitely slow you down until you recover from it. And a bruised calf is always a temporary injury, never a career ending or permanently incapacitating injury.

fredster
23 days ago

The lack of splash plays is odd. Although when you have secondary struggling so badly i think maybe everyones play is affected from D line to LB and especially Safety.

plopes808
23 days ago

Although it seems the problem is more a lack of pressure on the QB, the secondary has definitely been suspect. Previously, the QB pressure was able to negate that, but so far this year it hasn’t been the case. With the secondary in it’s current state, there is no question Sherman would be an upgrade. He would perhaps be an upgrade even with our full stock of DBs. Sherman’s experience and leadership alone would help this secondary make the next leap. As for the defensive playmakers, the silence has been deafening so far. I don’t expect that to continue as… Read more »

stlbucsfan
23 days ago

I think Richard Sherman will help the secondary a lot. His play has declined some but he has been a part of an elite secondary and should help elevate the play on the back end. Our secondary always seems to struggle with assignment issues and communication breakdowns. Sherm knows how important the small things are and can hopefully help add that element to a group that has the talent but lacks consistency. Devin White is hit or miss in pass coverage and got hot last year at the right time we assumed he’d take another huge step but hes yet… Read more »

Naplesfan
Reply to  stlbucsfan
23 days ago

Again, where has Sherman’s play specifically declined? He was declared two seasons ago, in January 2020, as the best cover guy in the NFL. Last season he was hit with an injury, a bruised calf, that only temporarily slows a player down. There is zero evidence that Sherman has declined or lost anything. You do realize that a of commenters here at PR as well as much of NFL world declared that Tom Brady’s performance had “declined”, that he could no longer sling the football. That was just before he threw the ball for 4,600 yards and set the all… Read more »

surferdudes
23 days ago

It is puzzling the guy who had two pick sixes the week before isn’t getting more snaps than 2 of our practice squad scrubs. Maybe Bowles isn’t the defensive genius we made him out to be. I think we’re getting a good push up front with Vea, Gholston,Suh, and Nacho. What we’re not getting is penetration, coming through gaps clean at the QB. I’d like to see Pat O’Conner, and Davis get some playing time. I think this D line is missing a true 3 tech at tackle. I think we’re wasting some of Vea’s talent not having that. Suh… Read more »

DMIbucs98
23 days ago

I’m sure R. Sherman went through a physical gauntlet, being timed to see if has some juice left’ to play. Thing is at his and not in game shape could lead to soft tissue injuries or an Achilles tear. Hope not. For as for our younbd Secondary, they should cool with the move. They are hurting and need some more reinforcement. They won’t be rushed bacc and can heal instead risking further injuries. Can get a trusted veteran in meetings that see keys they might miss. This is potentially very advantage. D. White reminds of the Chief’s MLB Derrick Johnson(2nd… Read more »

JSW
JSW
23 days ago

For a defense that was expected to be in the top 10, if not top 5, before the season, they have come out out with a massive Super Bowl hangover – starting with the leader, Devin White. Winfield Jr. seems to be having a sophomore slump. Suh, I’ll cut some slack because he may be struggling to get back to full strength after COVID. Vita Vea is the only player on the whole defense that has been impressive. David and Barrett have been sound and solid, but not exceptional – though I’ve yet to see Barrett with his hands on… Read more »

gg720
23 days ago

He will instantly when in shape be better than Bunting and Dean were! Yes, he won’t be able to cover the likes of a Tyreek Hill or other fast receivers but his experience and knowing how to play the position will bring vast improvement to this defense. Need to find another DB somewhere also and start blitzing more and more. You haven’t and your defense still can’t cover anybody! What have you got to lose?

gg720
23 days ago

Devin White hasn’t been able to cover a tight end or a back since he got here. Like you said, his ability to blitz and make tackles for losses was valuable last year. Someone needs to teach some of our defensive players how to tackle when you see how much extra yardage LA got last week from us not being able to bring down a player when given the opportunity. Bowles, teach them the fundamentals again on how to wrap a players legs instead of trying to bounce off of them in trying to make highlight reel hits.

Kimba
23 days ago

Jon Ledyard! Please stop putting gifs in that cannot be enlarged! The gifs are so small I cannot see who is who and they are worthless–frustrating to the point I do not bother with the rest of your article. I listen to your podcasts and I like you best on there by far so this is not personal. I will in the mean time ask my husband and kids to find/give back the magnifying glass we have somewhere. Ridiculous!