The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our @PewterReport Twitter account. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.

Below are the questions we chose for this week’s edition of the PR Bucs Monday Mailbag

Question: Assuming that the Bucs beat Atlanta this week to clinch the No. 5 seed and then win against NFC East champs (big assumptions), who would you prefer to see as the No. 1 seed and presumptive second round opponent?

Answer: It is still somewhat unclear to me what happens to Tampa Bay past the first round. And as of right now knowing which teams are in and at what seed leaves the playoff picture up in the air until next weekend, as a number of teams around the league had an opportunity to clinch a spot on Sunday but failed to do so.

The Athletic’s Greg Auman tweeted this earlier on Sunday evening.

My guess is that the road the the Super Bowl in the NFC will travel through Green Bay most likely. New Orleans appear to be the one of the best teams in the NFC – if Drew Brees stays healthy. With that said, the Saints are far from invincible and despite putting up 52 points against the Vikings on Saturday, Brees did throw two interceptions. Of course he also threw for 311 yards, and played much better than he did the previous week in a close loss to the Chiefs.

Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and Bucs CB Carlton Davis III

Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill and Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Seattle, which clinched the NFC West title, looks beatable, and the Rams are awaiting word on the status of Jared Goff, who suffered a broken thumb while losing to the Seahawks on Sunday. That injury might hinder Los Angeles’ playoff hopes.

As mentioned, the team I am most wary of is the Packers, who can lock up the top seed with a win next Sunday and can gain home-field advantage throughout. While the Bucs smashed the Packers earlier this season, 38-10, that was in Tampa in 85-degree weather, not subfreezing temperatures that Green Bay normally has in January. And the Packers have played considerably better since that loss in Week 5 and have only lost twice since then.

To see the Bucs’ current playoff scenarios, read Jon Ledyard’s article that spells things out .

Question: After watching one of the most dominant wins in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history, is this team that good or was the Detroit Lions just that bad?

Answer: A combination of both, really. We know that the Bucs offense can move the ball on anyone and put up points if the offensive line protects Tom Brady. In the five games Tampa Bay lost this season, Brady was uncomfortable at times due to the offensive line not playing its best in pass protection. But a key to the Bucs offense being successful is also based on the defense not putting the team in a deep hole early. We saw what happened in games where the defense struggled – New Orleans, Kansas City, Los Angeles as examples – and how it made Tampa Bay’s offense one-dimensional.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

The question I have – as do you – was Saturday’s defensive performance a sign of the unit getting back on track or a product of Detroit’s offense just being that bad? I would have liked to have seen a shut out with Matthew Stafford playing the full game. That would have made me feel better about the defense heading into the playoffs. It’s hard to judge the defense with backups Chase Daniel and David Blough under center. At the same time, the Bucs, who forced two turnovers and recorded four sacks, looked to be a fired up bunch and playing with a lot of confidence. Maybe that carries over to Sunday’s game and into the playoffs.

If the Bucs end up playing their starters next Sunday we will get to see if they have turned the corner as Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would love nothing more than to beat the team that fired him two years ago. As of now however, the Bucs defense has had its best six quarters in a long time, regardless of the opponent. Hopefully they can keep it up.

Question: What’s your take on Ke’shawn Vaughn getting more snaps or what?

Answer: I was very impressed with Ke’Shawn Vaughn on Saturday against the Lions (15 carries, 62 yards). He looked like he was running extremely confident and there was no dancing behind the line of scrimmage. He was decisive, and hit the hole while also showing some burst and wiggle. I recently spoke to a team source about Vaughn behind the scenes the according to them, the team “loves, absolutely loves the guy.” That tells me they have seen a vast amount of improvement over what we saw in training camp and early season snaps in games.

Bucs RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn and QB Tom Brady

Bucs RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that Vaughn comes into camp next season as RB2 and pushing Ronald Jones II for playing time. I suspect that Leonard Fournette will look for a long-term deal as a free agent next March and I can’t see the Buccaneers committing to him more than possibly offering him another one-year contract.

Question: Did Herb Miller and/or Ross Cockrell do enough to earn larger roles? Cockrell over Sean Murphy-Bunting at nickel, for example?

Answer: Judging anyone on Tampa Bay’s defense against the pathetic Lions’ second- and third-team quarterbacks is difficult, but Ross Cockrell has shown some flashes the last few weeks and Herb Miller’s interception against Detroit likely made the coach staff stand up and take notice.

I am not sure the Bucs bench a season-long starter like Sean Murphy-Bunting  in Week 17, but at the same time, after next Sunday it’s a series of one-game seasons once the playoffs begin. Tampa Bay must put its best 11 on the field and Todd Bowles knows that. And the staff sees these players all week, every practice, every meeting, and I find it hard to fathom that someone as smart as Bowles would not play Cockrell over Sean Murphy-Bunting if he truly believed that Cockrell was better.

Time will tell, and perhaps it comes down to how Murphy-Bunting plays on Sunday against the Falcons. He played possibly his worst game in two seasons against the Falcons a few weeks ago, as Matt Ryan picked on him the entire game. Has SMB improved enough to keep his job? We’ll find out on Sunday in the rematch against Atlanta.

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About the Author: Mark Cook

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at mark@pewterreport.com
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MWD
MWD
6 months ago

Bucs will win Sunday and wrap up the 5th seed- the winner for the east will be the Redskins—oops, I mean Washington FC or The Washington Football Team. They are much better with Alex Smith at QB and the guy who replaced Haskins yesterday didn’t do too shabby. That being said- Washingtons offense is pretty bad- only thing that would concern me is their front 7, in particular, they have a pretty good defensive line so we will have to protect Brady. If Haskins plays next Sunday, it very well could be the Cowboys but the way that division has… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by MWD
fredster
6 months ago

I’d bench Bunting and see how Cockrell does against Atlanta. We have seen Bunting get beat like a drum all year. If he is no better then fine start Bunting in playoffs. Why am I afraid of going to NFC East and losing? Dallas is hot, giants and Washington both have good D that could cause issues for us, Bucs d is still suspect, we already struggled against Giants….that would really suck losing and one and done to any 7-9 team. Lol. We have been conditioned to hope for best and prepare for worst as a Bucs fans. Lol.

Captain Sly
6 months ago

SMB seems to be the latest whipping boy with our analysis, when before it was Dean & Davis. Three Young inexperienced CB’s learning their way around this league. When nobody wants to talk about the real issue JPP, Shaq, Suh, three experienced veterans being paid to help out this Young secondary not even showing up on a stat sheet. Its like constantly blaming the leaking water pipe on the pressure when you failed to properly bond the fittings. SMH

AlstottSmash
6 months ago

I love it Max!

BigSombrero
6 months ago

Detroit Free Press called the Bucs “bush league” for continuing to pour it on against backups without coaches when the game was all but decided.

My question: Does Atlanta decide to play a dirty/overly physical season ender and give the “bush league” Bucs their just desserts? How quickly does BA pull the plug on the starters?

scubog
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

Oh no, was someone offended? Seems to me there were an awful lot of Bucs back-ups playing in the second half. After starting as an expansion team with nothing but cast-offs and a few rookies, I have no sympathy whatsoever for teams whose roster is made up of lesser players. Next time the Lions should consider forfeiting and save us the trouble.

BigSombrero
Reply to  scubog
6 months ago

Well reasoned point scubog. To be clear, I’m not siding with DFP’s assessment. I was glad to see them continue attacking with Evans while removing Brady from harms way. I just wonder if Atlanta acts like a bunch of dirty birds next week.

Dave
Reply to  BigSombrero
6 months ago

Yeah real bush league. Brady didn’t play the entire 2nd half. The Lions couldn’t stop Blaine Gabbert. If they can’t stop him, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Cry me a river. This is the NFL. So a team, by your account, that has struggled with consistency, and being on the same page on offense, should have to run the ball on every single play In the second half, so to not offend any of the Lions backups? That’s what you’re telling me? Here’s an idea. Make a stop. Make a play. Blaine Gabbert is a career bum. If… Read more »

BigSombrero
Reply to  Dave
6 months ago

No argument from me on this one. I liked that the Bucs continued to play their game while giving Gabby some reps.

Spitfire
6 months ago

Honestly, if we play our best and continue to keep the penalties down, we can beat the Cowboys, Giants, Football Team, Rams, Seahawks, Packers and even the Saints. Our losses to the Bears, Rams, Chiefs and Saints were all a symptom of having to try and gel during the actual season. Even against the Saints, the first game was not even possible to consider as who we were and the second match up with Marpet out our Oline was in shambles. The Bears game was handed to them by the officials but we are capable of way better. The Rams… Read more »

AlligatorRobb
6 months ago

Lets go Bucs!