The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
Table of Contents
This week’s topic: What Is Your One Fix For Bucs Offense And Defense?
Scott Reynolds: Less AB, More Miller; Keep Shaq And JPP Where They Are
In his first four games as a Buccaneer, Antonio Brown has been targeted 29 times and caught 20 passes for 168 yards (8.4 avg.) with no touchdowns and just one reception over 20 yards. He also has two carries for minus-2 yards. After a full month in the Bucs offense, Brown’s production fizzled to just two catches for 11 yards against Kansas City, which was his lowest output of the year. Meanwhile, Scotty Miller had 25 catches for 400 yards (15.3 avg.) and two touchdowns in the eight games prior to Brown’s arrival. Since Brown became a Buccaneer, he’s essentially replaced Miller in the line-up, as Miller, who has the highest receiving average on the team, has had just five targets and two catches for 14 yards. I’m not suggesting that Miller is a better receiver than Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler. But there’s no question he’s played better this year and has a better rapport with Tom Brady dating back to training camp. I think the Bucs should play Brown less and Miller more down the stretch.
On defense, the Bucs need to keep playing outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett on the right side and Jason Pierre-Paul on the left side like they lined up against Kansas City. The two edge rushers combined for nine pressures, two sacks, two QB hits and one forced fumble. After notching 19.5 sacks – 13 of which came on the right side – last year, Barrett was moved to the left side where Pierre-Paul recorded 8.5 sacks last season in 10 games. While Pierre-Paul has played well this year with 8.5 sacks through 12 games, Barrett has struggled getting sacks despite a good, steady pressure rate. Barrett has just six sacks when he had 12.5 at this point last year. The undersized Barrett will benefit more rushing from the blind side one-on-one against left tackles than he would against bigger, stronger right tackles where the 270-pound Pierre-Paul can match up better.
Mark Cook: More Protection For Brady, Less Worrying About The Run On Defense
Offensively I think it still comes down to protection for Brady. Yes, he was sacked just twice in the last two losses, but for a quarterback with less than ideal mobility, even having to rush throws a fraction too soon can be the difference between a first down completion or an interception. It really is that much of a fine line when you go back and watch the last four games, with three of them losses. So what if you have one less receiver running routes? Max protecting Brady more than the Buccaneers have done so far this season will lead to less errors, more completions, more touchdowns and ultimately more wins. Keeping Brady upright – and not hearing footsteps – is the key to offensive success for Tampa Bay.
Defensively we can all pat the Bucs on the back that they are the No. 1 team in the league against the run. Yay. Woo hoo. (Insert golf clap here) Sense my sarcasm? Of course it is always great to stop a team from running and make them one dimensional. But when you have the 24th ranked pass defense, does it really matter if you stop the run? Are the Bucs too committed to stopping the run, so much in fact that it hurts their pass defense? And if you are a team that has a halfway decent quarterback with solid receivers, why even attempt to run? Tampa Bay needs to get more aggressive in their coverage and play more man, and if they get beat, they get beat. Hell, I’d much rather just rip the band-aid off quickly than to die a slow death playing soft zone.
Jon Ledyard: More Play-Action Please! And More Coverage Rotations
On offense, the Bucs have three fatal schematic flaws: not enough route creativity (this includes motion at the snap), too many first down runs and not nearly enough play-action. But because Scott is only letting me pick one thing to harp on, I’ll go with requesting more play-action, please! The Bucs have the largest discrepancy between play-action and non play-action yards per attempt in the NFL, gaining an average of 3.4 more yards per attempt on play-action passes than all other passes. This isn’t a Tom Brady thing, this is an entire NFL thing! Every piece of data tells us that the more play-action you can use as an offense, the better. And the Bucs are 36th out of 39 quarterbacks in percentage of play action throws, per Pro Football Focus. It has to change.
On defense, the Bucs have become stale and predictable in their coverage shells, with one reason being the disproportionate amount of the time they play single-high. Tampa Bay plays as little Cover 2-man as any defense in the NFL, while playing well over half their coverages with a single free safety. Their commitment to stopping the run is admirably, but ultimately unnecessary. Teams have abandoned trying to run the ball in order to simply shred Tampa Bay through the air. If they don’t start to alter their coverage schemes and play more Cover 2-man and disguised coverages, this defense will continue to get worked each week.
Matt Matera: Feed RoJo; More Aggressive Defense In First Quarter
Ronald Jones II is fourth in the NFL with 820 yards rushing, fifth in yards per carry among running backs with at least 100 attempts with a 5.1 average, third in the NFL in having five runs of at least 20-plus yards, and yet at times he still feels like an afterthought in Tampa Bay’s offense. In Sunday’s 27-24 loss to Kansas City, Jones had just nine rushing attempts and was not given the ball in the red zone. That just can’t happen. I understand that Jones is a liability in the passing game and sometimes the score dictates his usage, but when Jones gets involved in the offense, the Bucs are at their best. In three of the four highest scoring games for the Bucs this season, Jones has been given 20 carries and surpassed 100 yards. The offense is more complete when they get the run game going. It opens up the play-action and creates better opportunities for the receivers. Bruce Arians said on Monday that Jones needs at least 20 touches per game, so hopefully that happens down the stretch.
Defensively, the Bucs are starting off slow at an alarming pace. As Scott Reynolds pointed out recently in his 2-Point Conversion post-game column, the Bucs have been outscored 52-10 in the first quarter of their last five games, which all happened in the month of November. But it doesn’t stop there. Tampa Bay has failed to record a sack in the first quarter over the past month, and has just one turnover. Ironically, that was a fumble recovery at the 1-yard line in the Saints debacle. The Bucs are sitting back and getting beat rather than setting the tone with aggressive, physical play like they should be doing on defense.
Taylor Jenkins: Be Patient And Stick To What Works
The Bucs’ offense needs to become a more patient one. Tampa Bay’s offense currently averages 5.97 plays per drive, good for 26th in the league. What this tells me is that there are far too many three-and-outs, where Tampa Bay sits 15th in the league, or short drives that fail to result in points for this offense to be at its best. The Bucs have all the talent in the world on offense and one of the smartest, most risk-averse quarterbacks to play the game. Use more spacing concepts, put players in position to make high-probability catches and stop putting such an emphasis on chunk plays when efficiency and scoring should be of the utmost priority.
On defense it’s as simple as sticking to what works. Losing defensive tackle Vita Vea was a massive loss for the defense, especially when it comes to run defense and drawing double teams on the interior that allow outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul to take advantage of one-on-one matchups off of the edge. But despite the loss of Vea, Tampa Bay remains the league’s best at stopping the run while their secondary now sits in the league’s bottom third in passing yards allowed. The Bucs have built a defensive lineup that thrives in press man coverage to create contact with receivers at the line, make plays on the ball and give the front seven a chance to get after the quarterback. That’s the formula that worked over the second half of 2019 and it’s the formula that worked early in 2020. I’m not saying that zone defense for this secondary should be completely thrown out; it has its place in the defensive scheme and players like Jamel Dean have thrived when given the opportunity to read and react, but if this defense wants to be at its best it has to be deployed in a way that’s yielded the best results more frequently.