The PR Bucs Monday Mailbag is where PewterReport.com’s Mark Cook answers your questions from our Twitter account. Scott Reynolds joined this week’s edition as well, answering there final two questions. You can submit your question each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag.
Question: Mike Evans has been dominate in the red zone, (and acknowledging that wins will always be more important than personal records), is his streak of 1,000-yard seasons to start a career in jeopardy?
Answer: Based on the first three weeks, Mike Evans’ streak very well could be over – if you are strictly an analytics numbers person. However, based on the team’s result, a 28-10 win in Denver that propelled the Bucs to a 2-1 start, the streak of 12 straight seasons with no playoff appearances might also be broken. If you ask Evans which streak he would prefer to be broken, it would the 1,000-yard one if it meant Tampa Bay heads to the playoffs.
But even if the Bucs make the playoffs it doesn’t necessarily mean that Evans couldn’t reach the 1,000-yard mark for a seventh straight season as well. So far in two of the three games, Evans had just one catch in the Saints game and two catches in the game against Denver on Sunday. I think those numbers are more a fluke than what we should expect. Right now Evans is on pace for just 576 yards receiving on 53 catches. There is no way he only has 576 yards on the season if Evans plays 16 games. He’s just too good.
If I were a betting man, I’d put a lot a money on Evans getting to the 1,000-yard mark and the Bucs reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007. With Chris Godwin out for a week or more with a hamstring injury, look for Evans get to targeted far more than the four times he was on Sunday in Denver.
Question: Is it my imagination or does playing not to lose in the second half more often than not blow up in a team’s face? What does Byron Leftwich have against running up the score?
Answer: I don’t believe offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has anything against running up the score at all. In fact on Sunday in the third quarter, his play calling was somewhat aggressive. It was more of the Buccaneers holding themselves back with penalties and dropped passes than Leftwich’s doing. Look at the penalties and missed blocking assignments and you will likely see self-inflicted woulds as opposed to conservative play-calling.
Once the fourth quarter arrived with Tampa Bay up 28-10, the Bucs ran more to keep the clock moving, but I think you would see the same thing from 99 percent of the other offensive coordinators in the NFL. At that point, they knew the Broncos offense was incapable of mounting a comeback, especially due to the play of the Bucs defense.
Until the final drive, when the Bucs were just attempting to run block, Tampa Bay threw on 13 first downs and ran on 9, despite playing with a healthy lead most of the game.
Great job by Leftwich and Arians staying aggressive, keeping Broncos off-balance, staying in good D&D
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) September 28, 2020
This offense is still work in progress and will get better as the season goes on. Tom Brady is still learning what he does best in this system and what his teammates around him do best. Eventually that will all come together along with even better game plans and hopefully better execution. The schedule has worked out well early for the Bucs and is favorable over the next few games against the 1-2 Los Angeles Chargers and the Chicago Bears, who are 3-0 from beating three really bad football teams.
Question: Has Bucs G.M. Jason Licht turned a corner on his drafts and second-round picks in particular after two solid-looking drafts the past two years?
Answer: It’s clear that Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht and the team’s scouts have rebounded from a bad 2016 draft that included misses on first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and second-rounders defensive end Noah Spence and kicker Roberto Aguayo. Licht drafted tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin in 2017, and both of those players are hits. Due to bad luck with injuries, second-round safety Justin Evans and third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith are no longer contributors, but both showed promise before sustaining serious injuries.
Nose tackle Vita Vea, running back Ronald Jones II and cornerback Carlton Davis III were drafted in the first two rounds in 2018, and all three are promising young starters. In 2019, middle linebacker Devin White was the team’s first-round pick, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting was selected in the second, and cornerback Jamel Dean and safety Mike Evans were drafted in the third round. That’s four more productive starters on defense – all with a high upside.
Despite not having any rookie mini-camp, OTAs or preseason games, Licht’s first two selections – right tackle Tristan Wirfs and safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. – have become immediate starters as rookies and been impactful players so far in Tampa Bay. That’s an impressive feat, and shows the quality scouting work that Licht, director of player personnel John Spytek, director of college scouting Mike Biehl and the team’s area scouts put in over the past years – as well as the previous years. There is no doubt that Licht’s improved drafting has made a significant impact on providing Tampa Bay with a playoff-caliber roster.
Question: Has the Bucs’ use of empty sets on offense increased since Tom Brady arrived? It looks like it has.
Answer: Yes and no. Former Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and former offensive play-caller Todd Monken did use some empty sets with Jameis Winston at quarterback, so it’s not like Tampa Bay hasn’t run five-receiver sets before – even if those five targets may include a tight end or a running back flanked out rather than in the backfield.
Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich ran it a few times with Winston last year, and we’ve seen it a few times thus far with Tom Brady at the helm. It’s certainly never going to be a staple formation, and I’m not a fan of running an empty formation on third-and-1 like we saw in Denver on Sunday.
That tips the defense off that a pass is coming without the threat of a run due to not having a running back in the backfield. Brady’s pass was tipped at the line on third-and-1 and the Bucs had to settle for a field goal as a result.