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The Pewter Report staff 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: Wow – fun game to watch! My question about the game – was Bucs safety Mike Edwards playing Sean Murphy-Bunting’s role when he got the two picks or was he playing safety? The dude just makes plays.
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ANSWER: With two pick-sixes, Bucs safety Mike Edwards was the defensive hero in Tampa Bay’s 48-25 win over Atlanta on Sunday. But with Sean Murphy-Bunting out, Edwards played more nickel cornerback than he did safety versus the Falcons, especially with the return of starting strong safety Jordan Whitehead. Edwards had seen some action in the slot before, so Sunday’s action inside was nothing new for the third-year veteran.
Bucs DB Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
On Edwards’ first pick-six of the game, he lined up in the slot against Falcons wide receiver Russell Gage, Jr. The Bucs were in zone coverage and Edwards read the play perfectly. He stepped in front of Gage, tipped the pass up to himself, caught the bobbling ball and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. That increased the Bucs lead to 41-25 late in the fourth quarter and put the game out of reach.
On Edwards’ second interception, which came on a tipped pass from cornerback Carlton Davis III, both Edwards and Davis were blitzing off the edge. Davis’ blitz came in Matt Ryan’s face, while Edwards blitzed from the blind side lined up in the slot playing nickel cornerback. Edwards, who was in the backfield with Davis, alertly tracked the ball as it was batted up and snatched it out of the air to return it 15 yards for his second touchdown of the day to make the final score 48-25.
QUESTION: Do you think Bucs GM Jason Licht will trade for Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore? If he does that do you think Bill Belichick will only want draft picks?
ANSWER: I don’t think so. Not yet. First, let’s set the stage. Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stefon Gilmore wanted a multi-year extension and held out of training camp in an attempt to get his way. New England coach Bill Belichick was reluctant to pay the 30-year old veteran and placed him on the reserve/PUP list, which has made him ineligible for the first six games of the season. Gilmore is regarded as one of the best man coverage cornerbacks in the league.
Bucs GM Jason Licht – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Belichick won’t deal Gilmore unless he gets a bounty in return. That would likely involve a premium draft pick or two – likely a first-rounder – and possibly a player. I don’t think Bucs general manager Jason Licht would want to pay a king’s ransom to Belichick to acquire Gilmore, nor does he want to pay the four-time Pro Bowler a king’s ransom, either. Especially with Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis III in a contract year and needing a new deal at season’s end.
Gilmore is under contract through 2021 and has a cap value over $16 million, including a $7 million base salary. He’s currently the 14th-highest paid cornerback with an average salary of $13 million. Gilmore wants to be paid Jalen Ramsey-type money which is around $20 million per season. I think the cost to acquire Gilmore and the actual cost of acquiring Gilmore are more than Licht wants to pay right now. However, if the Bucs lose another starting cornerback in the coming weeks, that may change things.
QUESTION: Why did Todd Bowles call a zero blitz on fourth-and-goal against Atlanta with our secondary playing as shaky as we’ve been playing – and with the defensive line that we have?
ANSWER: You’re talking about the fourth-and-goal play from the Tampa Bay 3-yard line when Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan hit receiver Calvin Ridley with a short touchdown pass in the third quarter. That cut the Bucs’ lead over the Falcons to 28-17 in the third quarter. It was a bit of a curious call by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to call a zero blitz, which is not having a safety in coverage, but I’m guessing his thinking was to try to force Ryan to make a very quick throw by applying maximum pressure.
Bucs CB Ross Cockrell – Photo by: USA Today
Unfortunately, Ryan did make a very quick throw, hitting a diving Ridley for a 3-yard TD strike after he had a step on nickel cornerback Ross Cockrell. Tampa Bay only had one sack in the game, which came from defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, so the front four wasn’t getting home. With just two sacks in two games, Tampa Bay’s pass rush has yet to get home on a regular basis despite having a pair of great edge rushers in Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett in addition to Vita Vea and Suh.
Was it a risky move to bring the house in that situation? Perhaps, but keep in mind that the ball was on the Tampa Bay 3, so there was only 13 yards of depth that the cornerbacks had to cover. In the end, the all-out blitz didn’t pay off, but I can’t fault Bowles for bringing pressure on Ryan, who had done a good job of throwing the ball in the flats quickly throughout the game.
QUESTION: What do you think the Bucs defense lacks? From my point of view, 90 percent of the time we are sub-average through through the first three quarters, then pick it up in the fourth. The other 10 percent we either suck or are arguably the best defense in history.
ANSWER: Tampa Bay’s defense is not getting to the quarterback enough, which is affecting the secondary’s ability to cover. Yet the Bucs have not allowed many deep passes through two games. In fact, the longest pass play against Tampa Bay was a 31-yard strike from Dallas’ Dak Prescott to receiver CeeDee Lamb in Week 1. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s longest completion was a 24-yarder to tight end Kyle Pitts.
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and Falcons QB Matt Ryan – Photo by: USA Today
This is by design as the Bucs have been playing some soft zone coverage, the goal of which is to keep the action in front of the secondary and the linebackers. Due to Tampa Bay’s ability to rush the passer, the first two opponents have gotten rid of the ball quickly to avoid pressure. The result is often shorter passes that do move the chains, but force opponents to sustain drives rather than get big plays in chunks.
I think part of the reasoning for this type of coverage, which promotes quick throws, is that the secondary is without starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who can play outside and in the slot. When Murphy-Bunting returns later in the season the Bucs may play more coverage, which if effective, would prompt QBs to hold on to the ball longer. That could – and should – lead to more sacks.
But Tampa Bay’s front four needs to do a better job of winning one-on-ones up front when the quarterback does hold the ball. And the Bucs linebackers need to get home and wrap up the quarterback when they blitz. The Bucs should have sacked Ryan at least three more times, but missed some opportunities by not getting a clean hit on him or wrapping him up.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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