The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: What Should The Bucs Be Thankful For?
Scott Reynolds: Young Bucs’ D Showing Signs Of Star Power
After its best showing of the year with a whopping 16 pass breakups, a season-high six sacks, two turnovers and a defensive touchdown, Tampa Bay’s young defense finally showed some signs of life and star power in last week’s 35-22 win in Atlanta. I say young because Todd Bowles’ unit starts four rookies in inside linebacker Devin White, cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting along with defensive back Mike Edwards; in addition to second-year starters nose tackle Vita Vea, safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Carlton Davis. That’s seven of 11 starters on Tampa Bay’s defense that have little to no experience playing in the NFL.
On Sunday in Atlanta – and at times in wins over Los Angeles and Arizona this year – we’ve seen the vast potential this unit has if it can continue to grow up in a hurry and make more strides in tighter coverage, better tackling, creating more takeaways and getting to the quarterback more often. We saw a combined 10 pass breakups and one interception from Dean and Davis against the Falcons. We saw White come through with eight tackles and two impressive sacks of Matt Ryan. We saw Vea not only swat two passes down at the line of scrimmage and record his first full sack of the year, the massive and agile 347-pounder also lined up at fullback and caught his first touchdown pass. We even saw some of the old veterans like outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh join the youngsters in the splash play department and team up for a sack-fumble and scoop-and-score against the Falcons.
After spending the first several drafts building Tampa Bay’s offense with players like quarterback Jameis Winston, wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, tight end O.J. Howard, and offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, general manager Jason Licht wisely stocked up on the defensive side of the ball over the last two years. And after a frustratingly long wait, it appears as if it’s starting to pay off. The key will be consistency. As Aristotle once said, “Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” It’s time for Tampa Bay’s defense to play like that on a week-to-week basis.
One game against a 3-7 – now 3-8 – Falcons team doesn’t prove anything except show the potential of this very young unit. But that game, plus the effort in the win over the Cardinals two weeks prior, could be the start of something. We’ll see if the Bucs can get back-to-back wins for the first time this season in Jacksonville. For that to happen, Tampa Bay’s defense needs to continue to play well and make big plays. We need to continue to see its star power. It’s taken some time, but it seems like some of these premium defensive draft picks by Licht are starting to pay off, and for that, the Bucs should be very thankful.
Mark Cook: Veteran Pass Rushers Coming Through For Bucs
In Tampa Bay’s 4-7 season, not much has gone according to plan. Young players have been slow to develop, the play of some veterans is stagnant, and questionable personnel decisions abound as the Bucs seem destined for another double-digit losing season.
But imagine if the Bucs didn’t sign outside linebacker Shaq Barrett as a free agent. Imagine if outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul had been cut following his car accident or had been unable to recover from his broken neck suffered this past spring. Imagine if this defense had 15 less sacks this season – more than half of its 28 sack total just gone. Poof!
Tampa Bay and their fans should be very thankful to have both of these players on the roster. And both of these players should be thankful for each other as well, as both help the other get pressure on the quarterback.
While their numbers are impressive, both provide some veteran leadership, particularly Pierre-Paul, who wills his defensive teammates to be better. That attitude rubs off. And why wouldn’t it? Pierre-Paul has a heck of a rèsumé and knows not only what it takes to get to the playoffs, but to also win a Super Bowl ring. And Barrett has a ring as well – won with the Broncos.
In a locker room filled with young players, can you even put a price on that? The Bucs will soon find out, as both will be free agents once the year ends. The organization should make bringing both of them back for 2020 a priority if they have any notion of competing for the playoffs. And getting both of these players under contract for 2020 would give Tampa Bay fans many reasons to give thanks for the future of this team.
Trevor Sikkema: The Sack Attack Shaq Barrett
This Bucs season has not gone according to plan in many ways. Winston is still very much the hot and cold quarterback we have witnessed for the last few years, the young secondary — though they’ve had a bit of resurgence as of late — made it tough for this team to win games early on, and the coaching staff has had more questionable decisions than most thought would be the case with such a veteran staff.
At 4-7, this season was not what many expected, but even then I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said the words “can you imagine where this team would be without Shaq Barrett?”
Barrett is currently tied for the league lead in sacks with 12.5. The now 27 year old pass rusher recorded nine sacks in the first four weeks of the season, tying an NFL record. After five years in Denver with the Broncos, Barrett took a chance on himself in free agency this past offseason, knowing he wouldn’t get starter reps behind the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Denver. The Bucs signed him to a 1-year, $4M deal as sort of a “prove it” situation.
Barrett has more than proved it.
Barrett was the catalyst of what could have been for this Bucs season. His three sacks against Carolina were a big reason why Tampa was able to come out of that game victorious. His four sacks against the Giants should have been enough to win that one. And his interception in Los Angeles was a key moment in the upset out West.
Even more than that, though, Shaq is an awesome dude. He loves this game and this team. He wants to do whatever he can to win. He proved that early on with his stellar start to the season, and he’s once again proving it in the second half of the season, as he has had to adjust his game to stay effective — and he has.
This team’s record is not what many hoped, but I can’t imagine what it would be without Shaq Barrett.
Taylor Jenkins: The Lethal Duo Of Evans And Godwin
I’m sure many of you can relate to that feeling of walking through the store around the holidays as a kid when you see it – that perfect gift. It catches your eye like a flash and it instantly becomes the focal point of your letters to Santa Claus. Anticipation grows until that fateful morning when you wake from your slumber and rush downstairs, eyes still half-shut, but your mind racing at all of the possibilities sitting underneath the tree.
But what is this? Not only did you get the perfect gift, but it came in the form of two solid gold bars. That’s what the Bucs received when they drafted wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Evans arrived at his superstar status in the more traditional fashion, being selected to Tampa Bay with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft before rattling off a record-setting six consecutive seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards to begin his career, a feat only accomplished by Evans and legendary pass-catcher Randy Moss.
For Godwin it was a different path. Godwin was a third-round selection out of Penn State in 2017 and spent his first two years in the NFL as the Bucs’ third receiving option behind Evans and DeSean Jackson. Despite playing a role in all 32 games over those two years, he was given the starting nod just seven combined times, reaching 525 and 842 receiving yards in his first two seasons, respectively.
Now a full-time starter, Godwin has exploded for 70 catches 1,071 receiving yards and nine touchdowns through 11 games in 2019, trailing only Michael Thomas for the league’s best mark and sitting just ahead of Evans’ 1,043 yards this year. Godwin and Evans are two of three receivers to reach 1,000 receiving yards so far this season. In a time of the year dedicated to giving thanks, Tampa Bay doesn’t have to look much further than their two star receivers who sit among the league’s most elite names at the wideout position.
Matt Matera: Jones’ Improvement From Year One To Year Two
Where Ronald Jones II is now compared to a year ago has been a huge jump forward. Jones went from a hesitant, confidence-lacking running back, who was inactive for several game days, and hardly saw the field when active, to becoming the Bucs’ starting running back halfway through this season and improving Tampa Bay’s entire running game. Labeled as a bust after being a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jones has proved that it takes more time for some players to develop in the NFL than others, but the wait has been worth it.
Jones into the 2019 offseason with a new workout plan and a new set of confidence. He got bigger (221) and stronger as a result. That added size and confidence led him to a have an excellent training camp, where we saw the type of player that many had predicted him to be. Jones had been a spark plug coming into replace Peyton Barber early in the season before taking the starting role where he has showcased the combination of breakaway speed and a shiftiness needed to get to the second level. It took literally one game for Jones to surpass the amount of rushing yards that he had from a season ago, and with a modest average of 4.0 yards per carry, Jones has shown he can be the go-to guy at running back. It’s only a matter of time before he starts breaking off long touchdown runs.
As good as Jones has been on the ground with 474 rushing yards and five touchdowns, it’s his receiving game that has shown the most improvement. Jones struggled mightily to catch the ball last year as a rookie, but has thoroughly corrected those mistakes and became better this year. A lot of credit should go to running back’s coach Todd McNair for coaching up Jones as a receiving back and improving his hands. Jones has 218 receiving yards on the season, averaging 10.4 yards per reception. Most notably, Jones has become a reliable option for Jameis Winston in the passing game on swing routes and dump off passes, letting Jones do the rest with the ball in his hands. This was highlighted in a Week 10 game against the Cardinals, when he had a career high 77 receiving yards on eight receptions.
Long story short, Jones has become another weapon for Tampa Bay’s offense as a runner and receiver while vastly improving this season. Jones has made himself the starting running back of the future for the Bucs with much more to come.