The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our @PewterReport Twitter account, but this week Taylor Jenkins will be taking over. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Question: Is Bruce Arians a better coach than Jon Gruden? Did the game yesterday decide anything about who is the superior coach? Are the Bucs better off with Arians than Gruden or would Gruden have the same success with the same players?
Answer: This question is an interesting one, but one that’s tough to answer given so many hypotheticals.
I think it’s well-accepted that Jon Gruden is one of the league’s most brilliant offensive minds and that was key in getting Tampa Bay over the hump to win its first and only Super Bowl in franchise history in 2002 – his first season with the Bucs. After over a decade spent away from coaching, Gruden is back with the Raiders and the early signs would appear that he’s well on his way to rebuilding Las Vegas into a solid team with general manager Mike Mayock, and the game clearly hasn’t passed him by.
As for Bruce Arians, he’s no slouch in his own right when it comes to offensive game-planning. Proclaimed as the “quarterback whisperer” following his work with Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer and now Tom Brady, Arians has helped the 43-year-old quarterback has amassed 1,910 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions through seven games in 2020. Don’t forget that Arians is a two-time NFL Coach of the Year too, and just beat Gruden head-to-head, 45-20 on Sunday.
I think where the biggest distinction lies for the Bucs was Arians’ ability to put together an extremely familiar and experienced coaching staff and subsequently build an exceptionally talented roster alongside general manager Jason Licht, who Arians previously worked with in his time as head coach in Arizona. Arians’ ability to recruit Todd Bowles as Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator is key, too.
So while the question of “Are the Bucs better off with Arians than they would be under Gruden?” remains tough to answer for certain, 5-2 Tampa Bay is in very good hands with Arians at the helm. Arians may be the next head coach to deliver the Bucs a second Super Bowl championship. Currently, the Buccaneers’ playoff odds are listed at -300 and the teams ahead of them include the 5-1 Seahawks, 5-1 Packers and the 4-2 Saints.
Question: The Bucs have a wide receiver and tight end depth chart, but what is Tom Brady’s own depth chart for those positions in terms of targets? Do the Bucs’ depth charts even matter?
Answer: I think the short answer to start is yes, the Bucs’ rankings at these positions matter, but Brady is far from a quarterback that’s going to force-feed a pass-catcher simply because he believes that player is the most talented on the field.
We saw that for years in New England and we saw a perfect example of that on Sunday when Brady targeted Mike Evans just twice, but also targeted Chris Godwin nine times for 88 yards, and Scotty Miller nine times en route to the second-year receiver’s first career 100-yard game. Not to mention, Brady threw all four of his touchdowns to different receivers, including one to rookie Tyler Johnson for a score in back-to-back weeks.
With that said, Brady’s “favorite” targets will likely fluctuate on a week-to-week basis, dictated more by match-ups and what the defense is giving him than his feelings alone. If Evans or Godwin consistently draws double-teams from opposing defenses, Brady isn’t going to fire 10 targets their way if the result is a losing effort, he’ll just find other ways to attack.
Brady is the quarterback, but this is still Bruce Arians’ team, orchestrated through the mind of offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich with plenty of input from Brady. Arians and Leftwich are going to run out the players that they feel give the team the best chance to win, but Arians has been extremely complimentary about the communication between him and his starting quarterback, so in a vacuum their depth charts likely align in a pretty similar fashion.
Question: For the last two games the Bucs have had excellent O-line play. So, why isn’t Donovan Smith getting any love from the fans?
Answer: Donovan Smith hasn’t been perfect this season – far from it – but it is my opinion that he has garnered far more disdain from fans than he probably deserves. The old adage is that the less you hear about an offensive lineman, the better he’s doing.
It’s much easier to point out when Smith gets beat by an edge rusher for a sack or gives up a tackle for loss on a run in his direction than it is to point out when he’s keeping Brady clean or mauling in the run game. So while he isn’t getting much love from fans, he also hasn’t provided them with much ammunition for criticism over the last two weeks.
Yes, Smith needs to build on his consistency these past two games, and yes, his penchant for giving up ill-timed sacks, committing drive-killing penalties and letting his aggressiveness overwhelm his technique at times are things that need to be controlled. But when Smith is playing well, he’s a more-than-serviceable option at left tackle and he’s even more likely a far better option than his alternative would be.
Pro Football Focus’ grades are not the end-all and be-all for players, but Smith has frequently been among the Bucs’ highest-graded offensive players this season. Through the Bucs’ first six games, despite allowing three sacks and committing an abysmal eight penalties, Smith had allowed just seven pressures and 14 hurries while also playing consistently well in the run game. Brady was only hit once in Las Vegas and wasn’t sacked at all.
Question: Who’s been the Bucs’ MVP on defense?
I think the easy answer for this question would be to point at one of the Bucs’ two incredibly talented middle linebackers in Lavonte David or Devin White, both of which have played well and been very productive on the stat sheet as of late, but at this point I would have to say cornerback Carlton Davis III.
In Todd Bowles’ defense the Bucs run a lot of man coverage and consistently rely on Davis to shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, something he’s done well this season. Here are Davis’ match-ups against opponents’ top receivers through Week 6 when he is in coverage, per PFF.
Despite being handed one of the toughest jobs a defensive player can be asked to do, Davis has excelled. Through six weeks in 2020, Davis allowed a completion percentage of just 52.6, a passer rating of 54.3 and two touchdowns while totaling seven pass breakups and a career-high three interceptions, two of which sealed victories over the Panthers and Chargers.