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Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds answers your questions from the @PewterReport Twitter account each week in the Bucs Monday Mailbag Submit your question to the Bucs Monday Mailbag each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Here are the questions we chose to answer for this week’s edition.
QUESTION: Why and how do the Saints always out-coach us in the regular season? Is Bruce Arians and Co. rattled by facing the Saints?
ANSWER: I’m not exactly sure why or how the Bucs have struggled so bad against the Saints in the regular season. Bruce Arians and his staff have certainly been out-coached. That was the case again on Sunday Night Football in an embarrassing 9-0 loss at home that delayed the Bucs winning the NFC South, falling to 10-4 on the year.
In the loss at New Orleans on Halloween, it was Todd Bowles who was out-coached by Sean Payton, as Tampa Bay’s offense put up 27 points and rolled up over 400 yards in that, but Bowles’ defense couldn’t force a takeaway and only sacked backup QB Trevor Siemian once. On Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium, Bowles and his defense did an outstanding job containing Taysom Hill and holding New Orleans to just nine points.
Bucs HC Bruce Arians, OC Byron Leftwich, QB Tom Brady and ref – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Granted, Payton was out with COVID and wasn’t calling plays. The Saints offense was rather impotent without many weapons other than running back Alvin Kamara, who totaled just 31 yards. But still, the Bucs defense played well enough to win.
This loss was on offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who had no answers for Dennis Allen’s tough, physical defense. The major flaw in Arians’ offense is that it relies on players winning one-on-one matchups to get open. It isn’t really designed to get players open via play-calling and schemes. Outside of some wide receiver screens, there aren’t a lot of mesh concepts and rubs to aid receivers in breaking free of tight man coverage.
The reason why Arians’ scheme works is because, with elite talent at wide receiver and tight end, players like Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski can usually win one-on-ones with skill. As we learned on Sunday night without Brown playing and injuries to Evans (hamstring) and Godwin (knee), less-skilled backups like Tyler Johnson, Scotty Miller and Jaelon Darden simply can’t separate. The reserves really let Tom Brady down and forced some coverage sacks. And the short-comings of Leftwich as a play-caller – working for the first time since the end of 2019 without elite talent at the skill positions – and Arians’ system were exposed.
It’s also important to point out that the loss of Leonard Fournette as a pass-catcher, combined with Giovani Bernard going on injured reserve last week, also limited Brady’s options in the passing game. Fournette caught all seven of his targets for 33 yards before leaving with a hamstring injury. And Gronkowski picked an awful time to have an awful game – catching just two of 11 targets for 29 yards.
Brady and the Bucs offense looked mortal without its’ big guns, especially in the second half of Sunday night’s loss. And yes, Tampa Bay looked rattled on offense – players and coaches included.
QUESTION: Why does Bruce Arians constantly get out-coached in big games?
ANSWER: I was going to leave this question out, but decided to answer it because it’s simply not true. We’ve got a case of recency bias going on here. Monday morning quarterbacking due to the disappointment of Tampa Bay’s 9-0 loss is in full force.
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and GM Jason Licht – Photo by: USA Today
Was last year’s 38-10 win over Green Bay at Ray-Jay a big game? Did the wild card playoff win at Washington not count as a big game? Was the 30-20 win at New Orleans in Drew Brees’ final game a big victory? How about the rematch win at Green Bay vs. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game? Was soundly beating defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City in Super Bowl LV a big enough game?
Arians’ record in Tampa Bay is 32-18 (64 percent), including the postseason, and his record over the last two seasons is 25-9 (73.5 percent). He’s got the highest winning percentage of any coach in Bucs history and with his four postseason wins, he’s got the most victories after the regular season, too. Tampa Bay has now had back-to-back double-digit wins and a Super Bowl championship over the past two seasons. The Bucs are about to win their first division title since 2007. Arians has won plenty of big games in Tampa Bay.
QUESTION: I’d say it’s time to admit these coaches aren’t all that’s cracked up to be. Byron Leftwich coached like he left his brain in the locker room and Bruce Arians just got out-coached by an an acting head coach in Dennis Allen. This team against quality competition loses their biscuits, it’s troubling!
ANSWER: See the answers in the two questions above for more detail. Bruce Arians does not call the plays, but manages the game flow on the sidelines. He should have intervened on the ill-fated third-and-1 run by Ke’Shawn Vaughn that went nowhere. He could have insisted on having Ronald Jones II run the ball – or call a different play. Vaughn has shown no signs that he can be trusted as a reliable runner or pass catcher at this stage of his career.
And Arians should have insisted Byron Leftwich dial up some better calls on third-and-2 and fourth-and-1 situations in the third quarter. Both involved high-risk, low-probability shots downfield to Jaelon Darden, who is an unproven receiver, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who struggled to break free from safety Malcolm Jenkins all night and had trouble catching the ball when he did.
The Bucs coaches have certainly fared better in other big games facing other opponents. Yet the Saints have the Bucs’ number in the regular season – there’s no doubt. The proof is in New Orleans 6-0 mark against Arians and Tampa Bay over the last three years during the regular season.
QUESTION: Can we pay the Saints to take us off the schedule?
ANSWER: You mean like in college football, where schools can buy their way out of contracted games? Great idea – I’d love to see it. But alas, Tampa Bay will have to face New Orleans twice next year – hopefully with a different outcome. No buyouts allowed in the NFL.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Saints DT David Onyemata – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs just have no answer for the Saints in the regular season and really haven’t come close to beating them since Bruce Arians took over as head coach in 2019. New Orleans has now swept the series in each of the last three seasons.
The closest the Bucs have come to beating the Saints was a 31-24 loss at New Orleans in 2019. Sunday night’s 9-0 loss was the second-closest score differential between Tampa Bay and New Orleans. The Saints’ average margin of victory over the Bucs is 15. Granted, that’s a bit skewed by their 38-3 victory at Ray-Jay last year on Sunday Night Football. But the Saints have at least proved to be better than the Bucs by double digits in the regular season, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Are the Bucs overrated?
ANSWER: No, this is a 10-win football team that has looked and played dominant at times this season, but has really been hit hard by injuries. For most of the season it was on the defensive side of the ball. In Sunday night’s loss to the Saints, the Bucs offense suffered some serious injuries to receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans and running back Leonard Fournette. That was the difference in the game.
I have to think without those injuries – or at least not all three offensive weapons getting injured – the Bucs could have mustered up 10 points to beat the Saints. The Bucs aren’t overrated. They’re just wounded right now – physically more than mentally.
QUESTION: With Ronald Jones II averaging about 8.0 yards per carry, why would the Bucs have Ke’Shawn Vaughn in at the end of the game and/or limit his touches in the fourth quarter?
ANSWER: It’s a bit baffling for sure. I know the Bucs coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of trust in Ronald Jones on passing downs. But I would trust RoJo over second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who hasn’t shown he’s any better. Jones was targeted twice in the passing game and hauled in both catches for eight yards. Vaughn had a perfect pass from Tom Brady bounce off his hands, and fell down on another target.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jones only had eight carries, but did average 7.9 yards. He picked up 63 yards on the ground, including a game-high 30-yard run. It was puzzling that Leftwich didn’t turn to the ground game a bit more, given the injuries at wideout. Especially when the Bucs were only trailing 6-0 into the fourth quarter.
Jones’ last touch was a 3-yard catch on second-and-4. That grab set up a third-and-1 with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter. He gained 63 yards rushing and eight yards receiving, but didn’t get another target or carry over the next four possessions. Instead, Vaughn was given two carries and a target down the stretch, which was criminal. Jones is not the most complete running back on the team due to his deficiencies in the passing game. But he’s a more proven runner and receiver than Vaughn.