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FAB 1. History Shows Bucs Offense Will Struggle Without Godwin, AB
Antonio Brown is gone.
The Bucs finally released him on Thursday, five days after he pranced and jogged off the field after a sideline outburst with head coach Bruce Arians.
On an ankle that supposedly needs surgery, by the way.
This eagerly awaited roster move came after Brown chirped on social media and tried to snipe head coach Bruce Arians, the Bucs, and to a degree Tom Brady via his trainer and TB12 business partner Alex Guerrero on Thursday morning.
Are we to believe that Brown’s ankle is so bad that he’s not in a walking boot? I’m no doctor, but I’ve never heard of or seen a professional athlete whose ankle or foot is so bad that he’s not in a walking boot prior to surgery to help prevent any further damage.
Last week, Antonio Brown and his agent requested that the remaining $2 million in incentives in his contract for this season be guaranteed, per Bucs’ GM Jason Licht. The team declined to guarantee those incentives.
Bucs could have set up those appointments in Tampa, but they knew Brown was in NY and they believed they were trying to oblige him. Brown and his agent declined to send the Bucs his medical information from their doctor visit this week, and still have not returned their calls.
One other note to this saga, per Bucs’ sources: At halftime of Sunday’s game against the Jets, Antonio Brown was agitated about not getting the targets he was expecting during the game and had to be calmed down.
Are we to believe Brown at all – given his track record? It was just a month ago that he was caught trying to violate NFL COVID protocols by attempting to use a fake vaccination card. That resulted in a three-game suspension.
Brown just doesn’t have much credibility left given the myriad of off-field entanglements he’s gotten himself into from his final days in Pittsburgh in 2018.
Based on what Bruce Arians said in Thursday’s press conference, this was about Brown’s lack of targets. He was targeted five times in the first half, catching three passes for 26 yards, including a 21-yarder. That was one more target than Mike Evans had in the first half.
Former Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: USA Today
Brown reportedly complained to his Uber driver after the game that tight end Rob Gronkowski was getting too many targets. Gronkowski had six targets in the first half – one more than Brown – and had five catches for 80 yards. Gronkowski and Evans each received two more targets in the third quarter prior to Brown’s outburst and departure.
So what now?
Well, the Bucs offense is down two playmakers in Brown and slot receiver Chris Godwin.
Not just playmakers – dynamic playmakers, as both Brown and Godwin had the agility and the elite ability to separate that Evans and Gronkowski just don’t have.
This is very concerning moving forward because history shows that the Bucs can win with three out of their four big guns – Godwin, Evans, Brown and Gronkowski – playing. Look no further than last year’s playoff games at New Orleans and Green Bay when Brown was out due to a knee injury. Brown exited the divisional game against New Orleans in the second quarter and did not play in the second half.
But the Bucs are just 1-3 in games this year in which only two of those weapons finish the game.
That win came against lowly Chicago. Without Gronkowski and Brown, Godwin had eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown, while Evans had six receptions for 76 yards and three TDs versus the Bears.
But Gronkowski played in just six snaps at New Orleans, and the Bucs were without Brown for that game. Godwin had eight catches for 140 yards and a touchdown, but Evans was held to two catches for 48 yards and a score. Tampa Bay did score 27 points with Brady throwing for 375 yards, but it wasn’t enough to get the win.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: USA Today
After the bye week, Tampa Bay lost in embarrassing fashion at Washington, 29-19. Without Brown or Gronkowski, Evans was held to two catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Godwin had seven catches for 57 yards and a paltry 8.1-yard average.
Gronkowski returned the next week against the Giants and the Bucs rattled off four straight wins with he, Evans and Godwin in the lineup.
Brown was out since the Eagles game on October 14 due to an ankle injury and then his three-game suspension. He missed the Bucs’ 9-0 loss to the Saints, which is also included in one of the team’s three losses without at least three big guns in the game because Godwin and Evans both left the game with first quarter injuries. With only Gronkowski left, Tampa Bay’s offense was shut out.
The Bucs shouldn’t have an issue beating the Panthers this Sunday, but against better teams in the playoffs Tampa Bay’s passing attack could really struggle without Godwin and Brown. If the Bucs don’t get pass-catching running back Leonard Fournette for the playoffs that’s one less capable target for Brady to throw to.
It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich schemes with only Evans and Gronkowski – and lesser offensive playmakers like Breshad Perriman, Cyril Grayson Jr. and Cameron Brate – moving forward. The Bucs’ recent history suggests it will be difficult to score points and wins past the Panthers game.
FAB 2. What Happens If Bowles Or Leftwich Leaves The Bucs?
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport appeared on The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday and said that he thought Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles would land a head coaching job in the offseason. Bowles just wrapped up a Zoom interview with Jacksonville on Monday.
So what would happen in Tampa Bay if Bowles were to depart after the 2021 season? Who would take over as the defensive coordinator? Would Bowles take a few Bucs coaches with him to serve as coordinators? What about Byron Leftwich, who would replace him as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator? Leftwich has also drawn interest from Jacksonville.
Bucs OLBs coach Larry Foote – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs would like for Todd Bowles to take over as their next head coach, but head coach Bruce Arians has two more years left on his contract. Would Bowles, who is believed to be the front-runner over assistant head coach Harold Goodwin and Leftwich, want to wait? Or would another opportunity – in Jacksonville or elsewhere – intrigue him more?
If Bowles were to depart this offseason the Bucs would likely promote outside linebackers coach Larry Foote to defensive coordinator. Foote joined the Arizona coaching staff in 2015 and his loyalties reside with Arians over Bowles. So there wouldn’t be much of a concern of losing Foote to Bowles, who will need a defensive coordinator.
The two Bucs defensive coaches who coached with Bowles when he was the head coach of the New York Jets from 2015-18 were inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers. Caldwell served as Bowles’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach with the Jets. Rodgers was Bowles’ defensive coordinator in New York.
It’s quite possible that those two coaches might depart with Bowles should he get a head coaching job elsewhere. Caldwell could get a shot at defensive coordinator this time. While Rodgers, who has coached with Bowles for 13 years between Miami, Dallas, New York and Tampa Bay, might be his assistant head coach this time around.
The departure of Caldwell and/or Rodgers would leave the Bucs with holes at inside linebacker and defensive line. If Foote were elevated to defensive coordinator Tampa Bay would need to replace him. So who would fill those spots?
Arians is quite the trailblazer with two female assistant coaches on staff. Could he make assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust the lead defensive line coach? That’s possible. She’s been with the Bucs since 2019 and is as ready as she’ll ever be to run her own room.
The only other defensive line coach that Arians has coached with in the NFL was Brentson Buckner in Arizona from 2013-17. Buckner, who coached defensive line in Tampa Bay in 2018, has been the Cardinals defensive line coach since last year. It’s unknown if he signed a two- or three-year contract in his second stint at Arizona.
Aside from Foote and Caldwell, who coached in Arizona from 2013-14, Arians’ linebackers coaches in Arizona were James Bettcher (2013-16) and Bob Sanders (2016-17). Bettcher is a senior defensive assistant in San Francisco after serving as the New York Giants defensive coordinator from 2018-19. The 68-year old Sanders might be retired as he’s been out of the league since 2017. Sanders was the defensive coordinator for the Orlando Apollos in the now defunct Alliance of American Football.
Another option could be Clemson’s new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Wes Goodwin, who replaced Brent Venables. The 38-year old Goodwin is an up-and-comer after serving as a quality coach coach under Arians in Arizona and a defensive analyst at Clemson. Goodwin made his defensive coordinator debut in the Tigers’ Cheez-It Bowl win over Iowa State.
“I’m sure a lot of people might wonder who he is, but he’s one of the brightest people I’ve been around in coaching,” Arians told ESPN. “He’s ready to go, man. He’s going to be aggressive, and people who don’t already know are going to know soon enough what kind of football coach he is.”
Bucs OC Byron Leftwich, HC Bruce Arians, WRs coach Kevin Garver, OL coach Harold Goodwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
On the offensive side of the ball, if Leftwich departs the Bucs might elevate wide receivers coach Kevin Garver to the role of play-caller. While 65-year old quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen has called plays before in Tampa Bay (2001), Indianapolis (2009-11) and Miami (2016-17), Arians might want to give the 34-year old Garver a shot as the offensive coordinator.
Garver first worked at Arizona as Arians’ quality control coach from 2013-15 before being promoted as assistant position in 2016. He became the assistant wide receivers coach in 2017 and then ran the room in 2018 after Arians retired.
After losing only assistant wide receivers coach Antwaan Randel El from the Super Bowl coaching staff last year, the Bucs could see a few departures this offseason. And after campaigning for both Bowles and Leftwich to get jobs last year while winning Super Bowl LV, Arians already has a short list of coaches he’ll call on to interview should that happen this year.
FAB 3. 4 Match-ups To Watch: Bucs Offense vs. Panthers Defense
Each week you can find 4 Match-ups To Watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here is preview of Tampa Bay’s game vs. Carolina against a terrible Panthers team that has lost six games in a row. The Panthers have been hit hard on defense between injuries in the secondary and COVID. Here is a look at Tampa Bay’s key players on offense vs. Carolina’s best defenders.
Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers WR Rashaan Melvin
Bucs WR Mike Evans and TE O.J. Howard – Photo by: USA Today
Melvin spent the 2013-14 seasons in Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent reserve. The eighth-year journeyman bounced around the league with stops in Baltimore, New England, Indianapolis, Oakland, Detroit, Jacksonville and Carolina. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Melvin is the most physically equipped cornerback to deal with the 6-foot-5 Evans. But at age 32, he no longer has the speed to keep up with Evans down the field.
Evans didn’t play at Carolina in Week 16 due to the hamstring injury he suffered the week before against New Orleans. With the Bucs now missing Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin for the rest of the year, Evans will be counted on to step up in the passing game and will need to be a 100-yard producer from here on out, in addition to being a red zone threat. Evans needs just 54 yards to hit 1,000 yards receiving for an NFL-record eighth straight season.
Tampa Bay LT Donovan Smith vs. Carolina DE Brian Burns
Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Burns is the Panthers’ second-leading sacker behind Haason Reddick’s 11 but he’s in a bit of a slump with just one sack in the last four games. Smith and right tackle Tristan Wirfs shut Burns down in the Week 16 game. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Burns was Carolina’s first-round pick in 2019 and uses speed rushes outside and inside to cause the most problems. But he hasn’t had much luck against either Smith or Wirfs over the last two seasons. In 2019 he recorded his first NFL sack against Jameis Winston in Week 2 and then notched another one against Winston later in the year.
Smith has dominated Burns over the last three meetings. In fact, outside of the game against New Orleans at home, Smith has been dominant all year and has turned in his best season by far in Tampa Bay. He’ll need another good outing on Sunday to help protect Tom Brady and give him enough time to find Evans and Rob Gronkowski down the field, as the Bucs offensive arsenal has been depleted with Godwin’s injury and Brown’s departure. Smith also needs to excel in run blocking, as he did in Week 16, springing Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 55-yard touchdown run. ADVANTAGE: Smith
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski vs Panthers SS Jeremy Chinn
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: USA Today
Chinn got schooled by Gronkowski in 2020, but rebounded big in Carolina in Week 16, holding the future Hall of Fame tight end without a catch while he was covering him. The second-year safety is the Panthers’ leading tackler with 107 stops, in addition to a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Chinn needs to step up for Carolina and create more splash plays in Week 18 and next year. He has the athletic talent and size to do so.
Gronkowski was only targeted twice in the Week 16 game at Carolina, and caught one pass for 23 yards. He dropped a catchable touchdown pass in the end zone, but neither one of those plays were against Chinn. Gronkowski rebounded with a big game at New York, catching seven passes for 110 yards and being targeted 10 times. Without Godwin and Brown, Gronkowski needs to step up down the stretch and having another 100-yard game against Carolina might be in order. ADVANTAGE: Gronkowski
Tampa Bay RT Tristan Wirfs vs. Carolina OLB Haason Reddick
Bucs RT Tristan Wirfs – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Reddick leads the Panthers with 11 sacks and uses speed and quickness to get to the quarterback. Although he’s a linebacker rather than a defensive end, Reddick can blitz off the left side and rush outside Wirfs or hit the B gap and rush inside. Reddick had a bad game against the Bucs in Week 16 with three tackles and no sacks. In fact, he’s had just half a sack over the last four games and needs to pick up his production.
Wirfs was named to his first Pro Bowl, and has had two fantastic seasons so far in the NFL. He bounced back from a game against New Orleans where he gave up a sack to Cameron Jordan and had a great game in Carolina and last week in New York. Wirfs will have to contend with Burns occasionally, as the defensive end plays both sides, and keep an eye out for the blitzing Reddick. While just 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, Reddick is fast and strong and can make a big play in an instant. ADVANTAGE: Wirfs
FAB 4. 4 Match-ups To Watch: Bucs Defense vs. Panthers Offense
Each week you can find 4 Match-Ups To Watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 columns. Tampa Bay’s defense had a seven-sack performance at Carolina in Week 16. The Panthers gave up another seven sacks to New Orleans last week and have surrendered 50 sacks this season. Here are the key match-ups to watch on Sunday when the Panthers are on offense.
Bucs NT Vita Vea vs. Panthers LG Michael Jordan
Bucs S Jordan Whitehead and NT Vita Vea – Photo by: USA Today
Jordan, who is in his first season in Carolina after beginning his career in Cincinnati, is one of the worst guards in the league. While he has good size at 6-foot-6, 312 pounds, he gets pushed around too much and his footwork is poor, especially in pass protection. He’s been penalized five times in 2021 and given up six sacks this year, including two to Tampa Bay in Week 16. That’s the sixth-most sacks surrendered this year. Only right guard John Miller is worse, surrendering seven sacks.
Vea has a career-high four sacks on the season thanks to one sack he notched against Miller in Carolina in Week 16. More importantly, Vea has helped shut down opposing teams’ interior running game. With the Panthers starting a backup center in Pat Elflein in addition to Miller, Vea should be able to split some double teams and work over Miller and Elflein individually when matched up one-on-one. That should be a fun game for Vea.
Tampa Bay OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka vs. Carolina LT Brady Christensen
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Christensen, a rookie out of BYU, actually fared well against Tryon-Shoyinka and Anthony Nelson in the first meeting. The third-round pick out of BYU gave up three pressures in Week 16 against the Bucs, but did not surrender a sack. He’s given up three sacks on the season, but none over the last four games. With Sam Darnold being under siege the last two weeks, Christensen has to be his blindside protector.
Tryon-Shoyinka didn’t record a sack in Week 16, but his pressure helped others get to the quarterback. The Bucs notched seven sacks of Cam Newton and Darnold, and Tryon-Shoyinka applied constant pressure inside on games and stunts, as well as off the edge. JTS has been close to getting his fifth sack of the season and needs to get home in Week 18. A multiple-sack game from Tampa Bay’s first-round pick would be a great way to end the regular season. ADVANTAGE: Tryon-Shoyinka
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III vs. Panthers WR D.J. Moore
Bucs CB Carlton Davis III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Without running back Christian McCaffrey, who is on injured reserve, Moore remains the Panthers’ top weapon. He’s got his third 1,000-yard season in a row and will be entering his fifth-year option season in 2022 on a high note. Yet Moore was held in check by the Bucs in Week 16 with just five catches for 55 yards. Moore hasn’t had a touchdown in the last five games and hasn’t posted 100 yards in the last four games. That needs to change on Sunday for Carolina to have any hope of winning.
Davis only surrendered one catch for 19 yards against Moore in the Week 16 match-up and was outstanding in coverage all day. Davis’ coverage helped allow the Bucs pass rush to get home for a season-high seven sacks. Shutting down Moore will again be Davis’ top assignment when the Panthers’ top target comes over to his side of the field. Davis dropped a pick last week and only has one on the season in 2021. He’ll want to end the regular season with at least one more INT and that could come against Darnold on Sunday. ADVANTAGE: Push
Tampa Bay CB Jamel Dean vs. Carolina WR Robby Anderson
Bucs CB Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Anderson had five catches for 58 yards in Week 16 against the Bucs, but two of those receptions for 32 yards came against reserve defenders K.J. Britt and Rashad Robinson once the starters were out in the fourth quarter. Anderson, who has been disappointing this season after signing a lucrative, two-year extension, only had three catches for 26 yards against the Tampa Bay starters two weeks ago.
Dean had a phenomenal game against Carolina in Week 16. He allowed just one catch for 10 yards to Moore and completely shut down Anderson on the day. Dean was targeted just four times and only surrendered that lone reception. He received a 76.8 pass coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and has played really good football down the stretch for Tampa Bay’s defense. It’s time for a repeat performance from Dean in Week 18. ADVANTAGE: Dean
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BALDY BREAKS DOWN EVANS’ TD – AND THE CAMERAMAN HE TOOK OUT: FOX Sports analyst Brian Baldinger is back with a new Baldy’s Breakdown. This week’s feature was Mike Evans’ touchdown at New York and the cameraman he collided with on the sidelines. Great stuff from Baldy.
• BRADY IS RAZOR SHARP IN THE RED ZONE: As Pro Football Focus points out, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is perfect in the red zone since joining the Bucs in 2020. He’s thrown 64 touchdowns and zero interceptions inside the 20-yard line. Simply amazing stat.
• BUCS-PANTHERS PREVIEW PLUS AB’S DEPARTURE ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. The Pewter Pregame show for the Bucs vs. Panthers game starts at 3:30 ET prior to the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff with Pewter GameDay. The Pewter Postgame podcast follows later Sunday night. Then we’ll have Pewter Report Podcasts on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST previewing the Bucs playoff game next weekend.
It was a Victory Monday with Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds – and plenty of discussion surrounding Antonio Brown.
There was more AB fallout to discuss with Ledyard and Reynolds on Wednesday, plus a Bucs vs. Panthers preview.
The Bucs released AB on Thursday and Ledyard and Matt Matera discussed the move and what’s next for Tampa Bay.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. All Pewter Report Podcasts are archived so you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
• RIP JOHN MADDEN: FOX Sports did a wonderful tribute to Hall of Fame coach, player and broadcaster John Madden, who passed away last week. Watch this great video memorial of some of Madden’s funniest moments.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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