Forced into significant playing time due to injuries, Mike Edwards made it count. Again. The third-year safety’s pair of pick-sixes ended the Falcons’ comeback hopes on Sunday, giving the Bucs a 48-25 victory in Week 2.
Edwards jumped the first interception on an underneath route, and caught the second off a deflection by Carlton Davis III. After the game, Edwards broke down the plays.
“First one, I was playing nickel,” Edwards said. “We had good pressure, he got rid of the ball quick and I just jumped the route. It kind of got tipped out of my hands a little bit, but I concentrated and took it back for a big play. The second one, ‘C.D.’ (Carlton Davis III), we were both blitzing off the edge and he got the tip. I didn’t see him tip the ball, but I saw it up in the air and came down with it.”
Mike Edwards took it to the 🏠 for the Tampa touchdown!
Amazingly, two pick-sixes in the same quarter has happened 10 times before, per The Athletic’s Greg Auman. Edwards is the first Buccaneer to ever do it, and the third to record two pick-sixes in the same game. Bucs legend Ronde Barber did it once, and Dwight Smith did it twice in Tampa Bay’s 2002 Super Bowl victory.
“I mean he has great ball skills,” Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans said. “You know, ‘ball-hawk safeties,’ the ball always finds them. You know he does a good job. He’s one of the better catching guys in the secondary that I’ve seen in my career. He made some huge plays for us today.”
Bucs Ss Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Edwards has already played 108 snaps this season, after playing just 188 during the 2020 regular season. With Sean Murphy-Bunting out of the lineup, Edwards should continue to see significant playing time in the slot. Jordan Whitehead’s return makes it possible for the Bucs to play all three of their top safeties together in the coming weeks.
But the Bucs coaching staff needs to trigger that change. Bucs head coach Bruce Arians was asked after the game if Edwards has earned a bigger role moving forward.
“I don’t know how much more he can play,” Arians said. “He played just about every play [laughter].”
A quick examination of the snap counts from Sunday reveal this simply isn’t true. Edwards played 54 percent of the Bucs defensive snaps, seeing the field for 39 of 72 plays.
With no Murphy-Bunting and Whitehead still working his way back to full strength, that simply isn’t enough. The lack of playing time for Edwards is befuddling at this point, especially when his versatility is a much-needed asset for the Bucs defense.
I’m simply not sure what more the Bucs need to see from Edwards to make him a full-time player – or close to it. In 188 snaps last year, Edwards broke up five passes, picked off two and had a third interception called back due to a penalty. Then, in the playoffs, Edwards intercepted Drew Brees to end the NFC Divisional Playoff Game.
The next week, he broke up an Aaron Rodgers pass in the end zone to preserve the Bucs victory. In the Super Bowl, Edwards’ third quarter deflection landed in Antoine Winfield, Jr.’s hands for a huge interception.
Bucs DB Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It isn’t just big moments for Edwards, either. He’s far more than just a splash play defender. Per Pro Football Focus, Edwards surrendered only seven catches on 18 targets for 56 yards in 20 games last year. He allowed only one touchdown, consistently keeping a lid on big plays down the field. And Edwards has dramatically improved his tackling, missing just four stops last year in 320 plays (including playoffs).
In short, we haven’t seen Edwards consistently struggle with anything over his past 22 games as a Buccaneer. Yes, the sample size is relatively small at 428 snaps, but Edwards has five interceptions, another called back due to an offsides penalty, 11 pass breakups and two touchdowns. He’s intercepting a pass every 71 snaps, if you count his negated pick from last year. That’s about once every game if you extrapolate it out over a full-time role!
Some coaching decisions are hard. And some coaching decisions are easy.
This one is extremely easy.
Edwards has done everything humanly possible to earn more playing time for the Bucs. If he gets it and fails, okay. The process behind the decision to play him more is still a good one, regardless of results.
Tack on the fact that the Bucs have no clear option at slot cornerback with Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp up next on the schedule in Week 3, and this will be the easiest call Arians makes all season. Make Mike Edwards at least a 75 percent snap count player, or suffer the consequences of leaving your best defensive back on the bench for half of the game.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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