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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: Do the Bucs get Scotty Miller involved more with Cyril Grayson, Jr. out? Does it look more like Sunday’s game as opposed to last year’s Packers game?
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ANSWER: Scotty Miller will definitely have to step up and get more involved in the offense with Cyril Grayson’s hamstring injury. We’ll find out how serious Grayson’s injury is later this week, but it’s safe to wonder if he’s out for the Wild Card playoff game versus the Eagles. Miller had one catch for nine yards in the second half, but wound up leading the Bucs in rushing with two carries for 43 yards. His first carry was a 33-yard touchdown on an end around, followed by a 10-yard run on the next series.
Bucs WR Scotty Miller – Photo by: USA Today
Miller only had four catches for 80 yards in the four postseason games, with his best performance coming at Green Bay with two catches for 38 yards, including a 39-yarder. Miller’s other catch was a minus-1 yard reception. So it wasn’t like he was anything more than a role player last January. In the Super Bowl, Miller had one carry for minus-3 yards.
Sunday’s 3-touch game against the Panthers was actually in line with what we saw from Miller at the end of the 2021 season. The key was the big, 33-yard touchdown run. If he can make one impact play in the playoffs on his limited touches – like he did with his big, 29-yard catch at New Orleans – that might be all Tampa Bay needs from him.
QUESTION: Can we see more up-tempo offense to start next week vs the Eagles? They don’t give up big plays on defense, but they are below average at linebacker. Other than Darius Slay, the cornerback unit is not good.
ANSWER: Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said that going up-tempo was the key to the Bucs’ offense igniting on that two-minute drive right before halftime. Mike Evans’ 37-yard catch-and-run was huge, as was Breshad Perriman’s 24-yard catch near the sideline that set up Tampa Bay’s first half touchdown. Le’Veon Bell’s 1-yard touchdown catch gave the Bucs a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The Bucs came out using some up-tempo in the second half, with Tom Brady throwing a 42-yard strike down the seam to Rob Gronkowski, followed by a 19-yard pass. It is true that the Eagles don’t have a lot of talent in their linebacker corps, nor is Philadelphia that talented in the secondary outside of Darius Slay. Look for the Bucs to mix some up-tempo offense into the game plan, in addition to some play-action passes.
Brady seems to be at his best when he’s controlling the offense and the tempo. That seems to get him into rhythm faster and that was certainly the case in the second quarter when Tampa Bay went up-tempo. The Bucs were 0-of-4 on third down conversions prior to the two-minute drive right before halftime.
QUESTION: Impressed with Ke’Shawn Vaughn in his limited time. Is it safe to say we have a running back? Possibly a replacement for Ronald Jones II least as free agency hits?
ANSWER: Well, as of right now, Ke’Shawn Vaughn is the only Bucs running back under contract. It seems likely that the Bucs and Ronald Jones II mutually part ways in free agency in March. Jones will want to go elsewhere for a better chance to compete for carries in 2022. The Bucs will want to replace him with a running back that has a better skill set in the passing game as a receiver and a protector.
Vaughn rushed for 29 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against Carolina on Sunday. He also had two receptions for 12 yards, catching both of his targets from Tom Brady. Vaughn has made real strides in the passing game, which has helped his cause moving forward.
Has Vaughn done enough to be considered a lead back, as head coach Bruce Arians suggested he could be? No, not yet. Vaughn might be better than a No. 3 running back, though. If he can make strides in the offseason and in training camp and the preseason next year, he could be the primary backup runner behind Tampa Bay’s starter. The guess here is that Leonard Fournette re-signs with the Bucs in free agency.
QUESTION: O.J. Howard’s time has to be done in Tampa Bay. How can he not see the field when there’s a bunch of injuries to skill position players? Can’t line him up like they have been doing with Cam Brate? I don’t get it. Has to be healthy by now, right?
ANSWER: It’s quite remarkable how O.J. Howard has gone from a first round pick, catching a total of 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons while averaging 500 yards per season in 2017-18, to catching 14 passes for 135 yards and one score this season. Howard has been nothing more than a blocker this year, with limited reps behind starter Rob Gronkowski and backup Cameron Brate.
Bucs TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs picked up his fifth-year option for this season, but it’s doubtful he returns in 2022 unless it’s on a cheap, one-year deal because he knows Bruce Arians’ offense. But because of his physical traits and early career production, there is a chance some team could take a flier on him and overpay Howard in free agency.
Howard did have his best game of the year against Philadelphia, catching six passes for 49 yards, including a touchdown. He was targeted seven times and the Bucs could turn to Howard again this week with the Eagles coming to town. It just seems like Howard hasn’t been the same in terms of speed and separation since tearing his Achilles tendon last year.
QUESTION: Are the defensive struggles due to Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul being out, or more serious issues?
ANSWER: The Bucs have to hope that the reason for the defensive struggles is due to the absence of linebacker Lavonte David and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett – and to a lesser degree Jason Pierre-Paul. The loss of David seems magnified because Devin White has played so poorly without David by his side. White had four tackles at Carolina, two stops at New York in what was his worst game as a pro, and then only two versus the Panthers in the rematch.
With Barrett, he has the ability to take over the game as a pass rusher. The Pro Bowler leads the Bucs with 11 sacks this season and made his presence felt in last year’s postseason with three sacks at Green Bay and another one against Kansas City. Barrett also has an interception on the season and is a pretty stout run defender.
Pierre-Paul has just 2.5 sacks on the season and hasn’t been much of a factor due to a torn rotator cuff that occurred in Week 1. But if David and Barrett can return for Sunday’s game against the Eagles it would be a huge lift to the defense. David and Barrett are two of the highest paid players at their positions in the NFL. Their absence has definitely been felt. I would suspect Tampa Bay’s defense will be markedly improved with their return.
Having said that, the Bucs tackling has been spotty this year and that has been a season-long issue. Tampa Bay has missed its fair share of sacks, too. The Bucs missed at least three sacks on Sunday against the Panthers. Perhaps Barrett’s return off the edge and David’s return as a blitzer helps the Bucs in that area.
QUESTION: If the Bucs are one-and-done in the playoffs, as many people suspect they might be, is there any possibility of Todd Bowles getting canned? The defense has been absolutely abysmal all year.
ANSWER: No way. Todd Bowles just interviewed for the head coaching job in Jacksonville for a reason. The Bucs made Bowles the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the league for a reason. Tampa Bay’s defense held Kansas City to only nine points and kept the Chiefs’ potent offense out of the end zone for a reason. The reason? Bowles is a very good defensive coordinator.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Keep in mind that the Bucs defense has been ravaged with injuries all season – especially the secondary – since Week 1. Bowles has had to shuffle in a host of reserve players in the defensive backfield, the linebacker corps and the defensive line as a result. Bowles has also had to change his play-calling due to those injuries.
While the pass defense (240.9 avg.) has struggled this year, Tampa Bay’s run defense (91.4 avg.) has been a Top 5 unit all season. The Bucs also have a Top 10 scoring defense this season, allowing just 21 points per game. That’s far from abysmal. Go back and look at Mike Smith’s defense and Lovie Smith’s defense in Tampa Bay. There’s just no comparison.
If Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett return for the playoffs and can play at a high level, Bowles’ defense will instantly become better. Yet the Bucs have only allowed 56 points over the last four games, averaging just 14 points per game. Again, that’s nowhere close to abysmal despite some missed tackles and sacks, which have been frustrating to watch.
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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