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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: Odds of Tristan Wirfs coming back next week? Why did the Bucs try putting Wirfs back in the game when he was obviously hurt?

ANSWER: It’s hard to say on Monday. We’ll know more about Tristan Wirfs’ chances of playing in the Bucs’ next playoff game on Wednesday, which will be the first day that Tampa Bay practices. Well, the Wednesday practice will be a walk-through. But after a Victory Monday and the players’ day off on Tuesday, Wirfs will have a better sense of how his injured right ankle is feeling.

The Bucs will have Wirfs in for an MRI on Monday to check for any damage, but the fact that he returned to the game and tried to play is viewed as a good sign by the team. Wirfs and the team trainers went through some tests on the sidelines before returning to action. He passed those tests and wanted to play, so the trainers – not the coaches – let him back in. Unfortunately Wirfs’ ankle couldn’t hold up after a few plays. When he gave up a sack to Ryan Kerrigan on third down, that was it.

Wirfs’ backup, Josh Wells, also gave up a sack and got injured himself. But Wells was able to stay in the game. Even if Wirfs can play, the Bucs will likely have Nick Leverett active for the next round of the playoffs due to injuries to both Wirfs and Wells. Leverett was inactive for the Eagles game.

What could really help Wirfs is that Tampa Bay will play the winner of the Arizona at Los Angeles playoff game on Monday Night Football. The NFL won’t force the winner of that game to travel to Tampa Bay to play on a Saturday. That would make for an incredibly short week. It will be a very short week as it is for either the Rams or the Cardinals. Playing on Sunday rather than Saturday will give Wirfs an extra day to rest and recover and let his ankle heal.

QUESTION: Can we just throw money at Jordan Whitehead already?! He’s definitely a well-kept secret around the NFL.

ANSWER: Safety Jordan Whitehead is playing some great football this season. He was great in Carolina in Week 15, and again in the playoffs against Philadelphia. Whitehead is fourth on the team with 73 tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had six tackles and two tackles-for-loss in Tampa Bay’s 31-15 win over Philadelphia.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: USA Today

Playing in a contract year, Whitehead has been a consistent playmaker in coverage and in run defense. He’s no longer a secret around the league and will likely attract some attention in free agency. While not the biggest safety at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Whitehead may not be a great scheme fit elsewhere. But he’s a fantastic fit in Todd Bowles’ defense.

The key will be how much he commands on the open market and how much are the Bucs willing to pay? Tampa Bay does have Mike Edwards, who makes more plays on the ball, evidenced by a team-high three interceptions during the regular season. But the Bucs are better off with the trio of Whitehead, Edwards, who had an interception against the Eagles on Sunday and Antoine Winfield, Jr. on the roster – and in the game at the same time.

QUESTION: Should the Bucs continue to use Mike Edwards at nickel cornerback/safety or go back to Sean Murphy-Bunting if he’s healthy? The defense looks great with the three safeties on the field.

ANSWER: It’s going to be hard to keep Mike Edwards off the field moving forward. He recorded a team-high nine tackles and had an end zone interception to save a touchdown against the Eagles. He just makes plays – more plays than Sean Murphy-Bunting does.

Edwards has four interceptions on the season, including his playoff pick against the Eagles. He also has seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. Murphy-Bunting has three pass breakups this year and a forced fumble. He’s yet to record an interception after missing half the season due to a dislocated elbow.

Because Edwards and Antoine Winfield, Jr. can both play in the slot as well as deep in centerfield, he’s a more versatile defender than Murphy-Bunting is. Murphy-Bunting can play inside the slot and outside cornerback. But Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III have been better than SMB this year. Todd Bowles would be wise to keep Edwards in the lineup – even at the expense of a healthy Murphy-Bunting if his hamstring heals up by next Sunday.

QUESTION: What was the difference? Both sides of the ball have looked pretty “meh” the last few weeks, leading this Bucs fan to be pretty concerned. How did they just come out and dominate this week?

ANSWER: The difference in Sunday’s 31-15 victory over the Eagles was that the Bucs got off to a fast start, unlike last week against Carolina. Tampa Bay had a 14-0 lead because the offense came out firing with Tom Brady taking what the Philadelphia defense was giving him. Having Mike Evans beasting and feasting with nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown also helped.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and SS Jordan Whitehead

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs defense had a great game plan to shut down the Eagles run game with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles bringing pressure from the slot on blitzes from safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. rather than up the middle. That forced Jalen Hurts to stay in the pocket or escape up the middle rather than break free on the perimeter. Getting linebacker Lavonte David and outside rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul back in the lineup didn’t hurt.

The other thing is that the Bucs played at home, where they are now 8-1 this year. Tampa Bay came into Sunday’s game outscoring opponents by an average of 33-17 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs’ 31-15 victory was right in-line with that margin.

QUESTION: Were you wrong about Ke’Shawn Vaughn?

ANSWER: I addressed the Ke’Shawn Vaughn topic a few weeks ago in a Bucs Monday Mailbag after his big game at Carolina where he had a 55-yard touchdown run. Not much has changed. The biggest thing for Vaughn would be consistency.

Vaughn had a great start to Sunday’s game against the Eagles with a 17-yard run. But after that play, he averaged 2.3 yards per carry, rushing for 36 yards on 16 carries. He did catch both of his targets for nine yards. Vaughn is a decent back, but I’m still not sure if he’s anything more than a No. 2 or No. 3 back on an NFL roster. Still waiting for more consistent big runs and his first 100-yard game before I change my mind.

QUESTION: Tell me the Bucs can beat the Rams.

ANSWER: The Bucs can beat the Rams. Does that make you happy to hear that?

But the key is – will the Bucs beat the Rams? Will the Bucs even play the Rams? Or will it be the Cardinals if they score the upset in Los Angeles? We’ll have to wait until Monday night to find out.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

The Cardinals beat the Rams in L.A. earlier this season, but lost the rematch at home in December. The Cardinals are 8-1 on the road this year, and just 3-5 at home. Arizona has quality road wins against Tennessee, San Francisco, Cleveland, Dallas and L.A. The Cardinals only road loss was a head-scratcher at Detroit.

Tampa Bay has played Los Angeles each of the past three seasons. The Bucs won in L.A., 55-40 in 2019. But they lost at Tampa Bay in 2020 in a 24-21 game on Monday Night Football. The Rams made it two in a row, winning 34-24 in L.A. in Week 3 this season.

Where Tampa Bay has struggled in those two defeats has been in the trenches. The Rams sacked Tom Brady once and picked him off twice in 2020, while Jared Goff wasn’t sacked at all. This year, Brady was sacked three times and Matthew Stafford was only sacked once.

Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh haven’t been able to get to the Rams QBs and apply enough pressure to make a difference. If the Bucs face the Rams in the next round of the playoffs, they will have to get to Stafford to be successful.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Horse
Horse
4 months ago

Good thoughts Scott; enjoyed it.

surferdudes
4 months ago

Didn’t Hainsey play RT at Notre Dame for 3 years? Or maybe Cappa who played LT in college can slide over and use Stinnie at RG. Got to get our best 5 out there. Wells looked awful.

fredster
fredster
Reply to  surferdudes
4 months ago

Wells is terrible. We have no tackle depth on this team.

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3
Reply to  fredster
4 months ago

For some odd reason we passed on Mailata in the 7th round 4 years ago. Really didn’t understand why.

fredster
fredster
4 months ago

Hoping and praying Wirfs is ok. We keep getting injuries at positions we have no depth. Like CB and RT. Rather guard went down as Stinnie is solid. Wells and Leverett scare the hell out of me. Dallas is same old Dallas. Every year big stats and beat up bad teams then they fold like cheap table in playoffs. Dak is not an elite QB period imo. I’d love to get Rams I guess and knock them out playoffs. Payback for reg season.

Ted in Tampa
Ted in Tampa
4 months ago

Tell the grossly overpaid #76 Donovan Smith he has to play for less $ and give that $ to Whitehead. Look at all of the Bucs who made All Pro first team, then All Pro first team alternates, then All Pro second team, then All Pro second team alternates. Pro Football experts did not put Smith on any of these teams. In six seasons with the Bucs, he has never gotten any All Pro votes and for good reasons. He’s too slow; he only blocks with his arms; he can’t move his feet fast enough to keep up with even… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Ted in Tampa
4 months ago

Uhhh, nope. Forget about pro bowl and all pro which are just popularity contests. PFF rates Donovan Smith with an 83.3 grade, where a 50 grade is average for the league, just barely below Tristan Wirfs at 85 whom many believe is the best right tackle in the NFL, and puts him well above Ryan Jensen at 70.8. So no, all of the actual pro football experts (not popularity contest voters) say exactly the opposite as you – that Smith is a great left tackle, anchoring the left side of what most experts believe is the best offensive line in… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Naplesfan
aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

A 50 grade from PFF is far from average, it’ll probably get you cut. But ya, Smith is obviously good and had a really good year.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Ted in Tampa
4 months ago

Also, Donovan Smith is only the 9th highest paid left tackle in the league, which is actually below his actual value and performance protecting Tom Brady’s blind side for the last two seasons.

warren
warren
Reply to  Naplesfan
4 months ago

I’m with Naplesfan on this one. Smith looks big and slow, but he has been able to stop the game’s best pass rushers consistently. Most times, Brady often uses quick releases about 2 & 2/10 seconds; but watch the protection on the long passes (and Brady is among the league leaders in long passes) and no pass rushers are around him.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
Reply to  Ted in Tampa
4 months ago

Just another dope talking out their azz.
“Look at all the Bucs who made all-pro first team.” – 1 guy – Wirfs
“then all-pro first team alternates” – Doesn’t exist
“Bucs on second all-pro team” – 1 guy – Brady
“then all-pro second team alternates” – Doesn’t exist
“he led the entire NFL in penalties” – more garbage, 33 players had more penalties than Smith including 21 offensive linemen
This guy makes nipples look coherent.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Ted in Tampa
4 months ago

Maybe you should watch the game instead of echoing the false and fading narrative that some have regurgitated about Donovan Smith. Watch other teams too and see how their LT’s fare. Ours is pretty good.

SenileSenior
SenileSenior
4 months ago

Since Jordan Whitehead is a “well-kept secret” his backup, Mike Edwards can be considered a secret weapon for our team. He always performs well when called upon. No, we don’t want to lose Whitehead if it can be helped. If we do then Edwards will not be that bad of a trade-off under the circumstances.

Also, there is that old saw to consider. “Availability is the best ability.” SMB could find his career here in Tampa Bay derailed. Many very talented players have been bitten severely by the injury bug in the past.

Buc76
Buc76
4 months ago

you can’t ask for much better. 2 teams have to coast to coast on a short week. If we get past that it’s either back to Green Bay or garrapolo vs Brady to go to the Super Bowl. Would hope San Fran would go there and leave banged up and on fumes for another road trip here. It’s going to be the defense that wins it for us. Can they hold teams to 21 to 24 points. If they do we can win it all

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
4 months ago

The Bucs aren’t going to let either Whitehead or Edwards walk. The front office gurus are the best in the league at managing salary caps.

aredsoxfan1
aredsoxfan1
4 months ago

Scott should give up on his Vaughn take. Vaughn has proven to be a capable, reliable RB. I’d take him over RoJo any day. He doesn’t have the high end running ability of RoJo but he’s a much better all around back. All we really need from a RB is to get the yards available, catch the ball and pick up the blitz. Vaughn has been doing all three well. I think he’ll be fine next year as either the lead back or sharing the duties with another back.

bucballer
bucballer
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
4 months ago

I think RoJo is still better than Vaughn. More explosive runner. Vaughn has played better than I thought he would. Seems like who ever is at RB, they seem to get better with more carries.

Templeton Davis
Templeton Davis
Reply to  aredsoxfan1
4 months ago

I don’t think very highly of either RoJo or Ke’Shawn.
But you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want. If Ke’Shawn goes down, Brady is going to have to pull that sick little boy out of the stands and start strapping on him all the gear that Brady has given him in the past two years. We’re on fumes.
GET WELL LEONARD! SOON! (please?)