The Bucs are 3-1 through the first four games of the 2021 season – just as they were a year ago when they won Super Bowl LV. Pewter Report breaks down the unit grades for the offense and defense in the first quarter of the season, in addition to dishing out the first quarter MVPs.
Offensive MVP – QB Tom Brady
Brady is clearly the offense’s best player, as he’s thrown for 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The 44-year old is on pace to pace to throw for 42 touchdowns this year, which would break the franchise record of 40 he set last year. He’s also on pace to throw for over 5,500 yards, which would be a new Tampa Bay single-season record, as well as a new personal best for Brady.
Defensive MVP – NT Vita Vea
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Vea has less than 10 tackles on the season, but was the set-up man for both of Joe Tryon-Shoyinka’s sacks on Sunday at New England. And Vea’s pass break-up against Atlanta was intercepted by Shaq Barrett. Although his stats sheet is far from filled, Vea is making huge plays for others on the team, and is a force against the run for the NFL’s top-ranked unit.
Special Teams MVP – K Ryan Succop
Succop was Tampa Bay’s special teams MVP last year, and he’s picking up right where he left off. The veteran kicker has connected on 6-of-8 field goals this year (75 percent) with one miss inside 40 yards last week at New England and one beyond 50 at Los Angeles. Still, Succop made 4-of-5 field goals (80 percent) against the Patriots, including the game-winner. He’s made 14-of-15 extra points so far.
Quarterbacks = A-
Brady, who became the NFL’s all-time leading passer last week, is completing 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,356 yards with a total of 11 touchdowns (10 passing, one rushing) and just two interceptions. To top it off, neither interception was on a turnover-worthy throw. He’s on a similar pace to a year ago when he completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,122 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in the first four games of 2020.
Brady is the commander of the NFL’s seventh-rated passing attack, averaging 399.8 yards per game. More importantly, he has the Bucs off to another 3-1 start in 2021.
UNIT MVP = Brady
Running Backs = C
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Leonard Fournette leads the way with 184 yards on 44 carries (4.2 avg.). He also has 15 catches for 124 yards (8.3 avg.). He’s played well and the coaches have the most trust in him on passing downs. Giovani Bernard proved his usefulness as a third down and two-minute back at Los Angeles, catching nine passes and a touchdown before injuring his knee.
This has not been the contract year that Ronald Jones II envisioned. He has lost some trust from the coaching staff over a Week 1 fumble and some gaffes in pass protection and catching the ball. Jones has just 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. The running game struggled mightily in Los Angeles, but had its’ best showing in New England.
UNIT MVP = Fournette
Tight Ends = B+
Rob Gronkowski was off to a hot start with 16 catches for 184 yards (11.5 avg.) and four touchdowns before injuring his ribs against the Rams. The unit’s B-plus grade is largely due to Gronkowski’s early season play.
Reserves Cam Brate and O.J. Howard have been steady, but unspectacular in their roles as blockers and receivers. Brate has seven catches for 72 yards. Howard, who is coming off an Achilles injury, has a pair of receptions for 32 yards.
UNIT MVP = Gronkowski
Wide Receivers = B
There have been more drops than the Bucs would like to see from the receivers, but Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are off to a good start. Evans leads the way for the league’s best receiving corps with 23 catches for 280 yards and two touchdowns. Godwin, who is in a contract year, has 22 receptions for a team-high 296 yards and a pair of scores.
Brown has been the big-play threat with a 15.5-yard average on 13 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Second-year receiver Tyler Johnson has been a solid reserve with four catches for 68 yards (17.0 avg.). Scotty Miller is out with turf toe, but has been a non-factor with just three catches for 11 yards. Rookie Jaelon Darden has yet to make an impact.
UNIT MVP = Brown
Offensive Line = A-
Bucs LG Ali Marpet and LT Donovan Smith and Falcons DT Grady Jarrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Brady has been sacked seven times on 187 dropbacks. That is tied for the sixth-fewest sacks surrendered so far in 2021. The offensive line is helping to power the league’s fifth-highest scoring team, as the Bucs are averaging 30.5 points per game.
Left tackle Donovan Smith is off to his best start as a pro, and is the team’s best pass protector. Left guard Ali Marpet deserves to be a Pro Bowler and is Tampa Bay’s most dominant run blocker. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs has only surrendered one sack in his first 24 games in the NFL. And none this season so far. The offensive line has only accounted for six of Tampa Bay’s 34 penalties, too.
UNIT MVP = Smith
Defensive Line = A-
Nose tackle Vita Vea and defensive end Will Gholston have played outstanding football up front. The interior defensive linemen have played a massive role in Tampa Bay’s top-ranked rushing defense. Gholston is tied for the team lead with two sacks and three tackles-for-loss. Vea has been a wrecking ball up front against the run and the pass.
Although he has just seven tackles, his presence doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been solid with seven tackles and a sack. So have reserves Rakeem Nunez-Roches (four stops) and Steve McLendon (three tackles).
UNIT MVP = Vea
Outside Linebackers = B+
Shaquil Barrett and rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka are tied for the team lead with two sacks apiece. Barrett has three tackles for loss, two pass breakups and an interception. Barrett has also been robbed of a sack-fumble against Atlanta due to a wrongly called offside penalty, in addition to a forced fumble that was overturned due to blown instant replay call at New England.
Tryon-Shoyinka has been sensational over the last two games with multiple pressures and has filled in admirably for Jason Pierre-Paul, who has only played in the first two games (nine tackles) due to a shoulder injury. Anthony Nelson has been fair as a reserve with four tackles.
UNIT MVP = Barrett
Inside Linebackers = C
Bucs LB Lavonte David and Falcons RB Cordarrelle Patterson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Devin White and Lavonte David have not made many splash plays through the first four games of the 2021 season, which is disappointing. White leads the team with 32 tackles, but doesn’t have a hand in a single turnover yet, nor has he recorded a sack after having nine last year. White has played out of control at times, missing tackles and sack opportunities, and has also faltered in pass coverage after making strides in the postseason.
David has 28 tackles and also doesn’t have any sacks or takeaways. Yet his pass breakup on third down at New England forced Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt in the last minute, which was no good. Is David losing a step at age 31? It bears watching the rest of the season.
UNIT MVP = David
Cornerbacks = C
Tampa Bay’s secondary has been ravaged with injuries. All three starting cornerbacks – Carlton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean – have been injured in the first four games. Murphy-Bunting played pretty bad in Week 1 before he was injured. Still, his presence in the slot has been missed. Dean also had a rough season opener against Dallas before playing well against Atlanta the next week. Davis has played the best and has the lone interception among the cornerbacks, before being placed on injured reserve. Ross Cockrell has been fair as a replacement in the slot.
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has signed three cornerbacks as a result of the injuries in Richard Sherman, Pierre Desir and Rashard Robinson. Tampa Bay’s secondary ranks last in pass defense, but that’s a function of two things – the league’s top-ranked run defense and the Cover 3 and Cover 4 coverages that Todd Bowles is calling, which is designed to allow underneath completions and prevent the deep ball. Davis (four) and Dean (three) are the team leaders in penalties, and Tampa Bay’s pass defense is at the bottom of the league, although two of Davis’ penalties were bogus.
UNIT MVP = Davis
Safeties = B
Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. started the season slow before having a monster game at New England with a big interception and a forced fumble. Reserve safety Mike Edwards was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week with a pair of pick-sixes against Atlanta, before blowing a coverage for a touchdown the next week at Los Angeles.
Strong safety Jordan Whitehead has been solid in coverage and in run defense. Reserve Andrew Adams has been pressed into duty and will play more snaps this Sunday as Winfield is in the concussion protocol and will likely miss the Dolphins game.
UNIT MVP = Winfield