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FAB 1. Improved Bucs Sack Attack?
In two years under defensive coordinator Todd Bowles the Bucs have recorded 47 and 48 sacks in the regular season. Those are the second and third-highest sack totals in Tampa Bay history – behind only the 2000 Buccaneers, which recorded 55 sacks. Warren Sapp led the way with 15.5 sacks, followed by Marcus Jones’ 13 that year.
Tampa Bay ranked tied for fourth last year with sacks. Pittsburgh led the way with 56.
In Bowles’ first year with the Bucs the team was tied for sixth. The Steelers had a league-best 54.
The Bucs’ goal this year is 50 sacks – or more.
If Tampa Bay were to break the single-season franchise record of 55 – even better.
“I think it’s what we’re capable [of], but I think we’re actually capable of more,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said at the end of last year. “We’ve let some quarterbacks get away from us when we had hands on them. Again, it is multiple. When you’ve got Will [Gholston], [Ndamukong] Suh, the other three guys and [Jeremiah] Ledbetter getting one – whoever’s getting one-on-one, you better win. The multiplicity of that, I think, is what makes it dangerous.”
Bowles, whom the Bucs made the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the league this offseason, is known for bringing pressure – and from a variety of places. A total of 13 Bucs recorded at least one sack last year. There are a total of 14 different Bucs players on the current roster that have recorded at least one sack in the regular season in Bowles’ first two years in Tampa Bay.
The #Bucs recorded the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (340) from 2008-2018. Seven of those 11 seasons are featured in the top-15 lowest sack totals in franchise history.
In just two years, Todd Bowles has led the defense to the third- and second-most sack totals in team history
While Shaquil Barrett (27.5 sacks) and Jason Pierre-Paul (18 sacks) have been the primary sackers for Bowles since 2019, 14 sacks have come from blitzing inside linebackers over the past two years. A total of seven sacks have come from the secondary on blitzes in the past two seasons.
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: USA Today
Bowles, a former NFL safety, likes to bring pressure from all three levels of the defense. While the Bucs got sacks from 12 different players in 2019 and 13 different defenders last year, there were 14 different players that recorded sacks for Bowles when he was the defensive coordinator in Arizona in 2013. The Cardinals notched 47 sacks that year and Bowles was named the AP Assistant Coach of the Year.
In 2014 after losing top sacker John Abraham (11.5) to retirement, Arizona only produced 35 sacks, but 16 different Cardinals tallied at least one that year.
While Bowles has earned a reputation for being a defensive guru, it’s kind of crazy to think that he’s only been a defensive coordinator at the NFL level for five years – two in Arizona and his entering his third season in that role in Tampa Bay. Bowles was the head coach in New York from 2015-2018, but Kacy Rodgers was the Jets defensive coordinator.
The Bucs offense scored 30 points or more in the final seven games of the 2020 season, including four postseason games. Tampa Bay’s defensive performance in Super Bowl LV was one for the ages as Bowles’ unit kept Patrick Mahomes and the potent Kansas City offense out of the end zone in the Bucs’ 31-9 victory.
Todd Bowles’ SBLV resume vs the Chiefs:
– 1st DC to hold KC to zero offensive TDs in 54 games w/Mahomes.
– 1st DC to hold Mahomes to zero TDs in 8 playoff gms.
– Held Mahomes to zero TDs for the 3rd time in 54 gms.
– KC avgd 34ppg in 7 playoff gms w/Mahomes – Scored 9 vs TB.
Mahomes was only sacked three times in Super Bowl LV, but was pressured an astounding 29 times by Bowles’ defense. That’s a pressure rate of 52 percent. Bowles strayed from his Cover 3 tendencies and played more Cover 2 against the Chiefs. That was the scheme change that was needed to slow down Kansas City’s offense.
The Bucs are hoping to pick up where they left off in 2021.
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“One thing maybe a lot of people don’t know is that Coach Bowles is definitely willing to change and do different things on different levels as he proved throughout the playoffs and the end of the year to find ways to be successful,” Ndamukong Suh said. “I think that’s one of the things that allows us to be very versatile. Everyone on this team as a defense understands you’ve got to be versatile and at the same time you’ve got to be a quick learner and fast learner. It’s exciting to be able to have that group back.”
With all 11 starters returning on defense, there is no reason to think the Bucs can’t produce 50 sacks or more due to the continuity of the players and the play-caller.
Here’s what 50 sacks could look like for Bowles’ Bucs defense in 2021.
OLB Shaquil Barrett – 11.5 sacks OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – 10 sacks ILB Devin White – 7 sacks OLB Joe Tryon – 4.5 sacks ILB Lavonte David – 4 sacks DT Ndamukong Suh – 3 sacks NT Vita Vea – 2 sacks S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – 2 sacks DE Will Gholston – 1 sack CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – 1 sack S Jordan Whitehead – 1 sack S Mike Edwards – 1 sack OLB Anthony Nelson – 1 sack DT Khalil Davis – 1 sack
That’s 14 different Buccaneers with at least one sack. Barrett and Pierre-Paul lead the way with 21.5 combined QB captures. The two had 17.5 sacks between them last year.
That scenario could happen. And for the first time in over 20 years, the Bucs could hit the 50-sack mark once again.
“You can’t chip all five guys – you can only chip one of them – so they’re usually chipping JPP or Shaq,” Arians said. “That multiplicity of being able to bring different people makes you kind of unique. When you stop the run, you get the chance to rush the passer. That’s the whole point – stop the run and let’s get after them.”
FAB 2. 5 Bucs To Watch On Offense vs. Tennessee
The Bucs will rest their starters for the team’s second preseason game against Tennessee. That means the team’s reserves will see plenty of action. Here are five players to watch when the Bucs have the ball on Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
G Nick Leverett
After spending the first preseason game logging 56 snaps at left tackle, Leverett moved back to his natural position at guard this week. That is, until Donell Stanley was waived and John Molchon was lost to injury. With rookie Robert Hainsey still not ready to play, Leverett will likely start at center on Saturday. Leverett had been getting a look at left tackle in training camp and has done okay the position, but at 6-foot-4, 315 he lacks the ideal length to play on the edge of the offensive line and is better suited inside where he played at Rice.
Bucs LT Nick Leverett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Leverett played left tackle out of necessity against Cincinnati due to Josh Wells’ absence. Now that Wells has returned from his absence, Leverett is needed inside after a rash of Bucs injuries. Leverett survived at left tackle. Now let’s see if he can thrive at center, a new position for the second-year player. If he can, the ninth offensive line roster spot might be his for the taking.
QB Kyle Trask
Trask didn’t play as bad as the numbers (4-of-15 for 35 yards) in his preseason opener would indicate. Trask didn’t have a clean pocket half the time behind Tampa Bay’s third-string offensive line and his targets dropped five passes, including a beautifully thrown deep ball to Josh Pearson. As the team’s fourth-string quarterback, Trask has had the fewest reps in practice, so his growth and development is going to be a process – not overnight.
Having said that, Trask did show some poise and moxie in his preseason debut and I’d like to see what he could do playing with the second team rather than the third team against the Titans on Saturday night. Let’s see how much improvement Trask can show with a better supporting cast around him. He already outperformed veteran Ryan Griffin (two interceptions) against the Bengals. Perhaps he can do it again.
RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn
The coaches raved about Vaughn’s night against the Bengals. But some of that has to be hyperbole. Vaughn may have showed the best as a gunner, because he certainly didn’t excel as a runner, receiver or returner. Unless Tampa Bay is satisfied with a 2.7-yard rushing average, two catches for 10 yards and a 14-yard kick return average. Sorry, those numbers don’t excite me.
Yes, Vaughn scored a touchdown, but his longest offensive play was a 7-yard run and a 7-yard catch. There just isn’t a lot of explosiveness to his game, at least that we have seen when the lights come on. Vaughn has fared better in practice, but must translate practice speed into game speed on Saturday night against Tennessee where he will get an extended look.
TE Codey McElroy
Bucs TE Codey McElroy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After catching five passes for 50 yards in the season opener, Tanner Hudson sprained his wrist and will be out for Saturday’s game against Tennessee. McElroy didn’t catch a pass against Cincinnati except a two-point conversion toss from Trask, but he was only targeted once and Blaine Gabbert’s pass was too tall. With Hudson out of the lineup, McElroy should get a handful of targets against Tennessee.
The 6-foot-6, 258-pound McElroy is still a relative newcomer to football after playing baseball and basketball in college. But he’s a very good athlete with great length. He’s probably a better blocker than Hudson, and if he has a good showing in the run game and can snare a few passes against the Titans, he could surge past Hudson on the depth chart for the fourth tight end role.
WR Tyler Johnson
Johnson got himself out of Bruce Arians’ doghouse by getting in better shape throughout camp. He’s the current favorite for the sixth wide receiver spot on the depth chart, but could really use a big game if he wants to earn a hat on game day and get some playing time. Johnson had one catch for 11 yards against Cincinnati and a breakout performance versus Tennessee could go a long way.
Johnson also needs to carve out a role on special teams like fellow receiver Justin Watson has over the last few years. He played on just two special teams snaps last Saturday night and made a tackle on a 40-yard kickoff, but that was only after being walled off initially. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown will get the lion’s share of targets this year, but Johnson needs to put himself in position to fight Scotty Miller and newcomer Jaelon Darden for the scraps.
FAB 3. 5 Bucs To Watch On Defense vs. Tennessee
After reporting on who to watch on offense, let’s reveal five players to keep an eye on when the Bucs are on defense against the Titans offense.
CB Antonio Hamilton
Bucs CB Antonio Hamilton – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
While Bucs head coach Bruce Arians raved about Dee Delaney’s performance against Cincinnati, Hamilton was the team’s leading tackler with seven stops. He also made a splash play by forcing a fumble in the first half in Tampa Bay’s red zone. Those are great stats for a cornerback who saw just 23 snaps on defense.
Hamilton is known for his special teams ability, but only saw two plays on special teams. I think that is partly due to the Bucs coaches wanting to get a look at some of the team’s younger players in the preseason opener. If Hamilton makes the team as the fifth cornerback he’ll need to be a staple on special teams. Look for his playing time on special teams – and on defense – to increase against the Titans.
S Javon Hagan
Hagan had a mixed bag of a night versus the Bengals. He had six tackles, three tackles-for-loss and a great, one-handed interception. But he fumbled that interception away just seconds later by not securing the football, and also missed several tackles. What could have been a monster night for the second-year safety was an incomplete effort.
Hagan is known for his tackling ability, but he has to do a better job of wrapping up instead of just throwing his shoulder. If he can do that and make another splash play or two and star on special teams, Hagan could keep his spot on the 53-man roster this year as the fourth safety behind Antoine Winfield, Jr., Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards.
OLB Elijah Ponder
Ponder is an interesting story as he played as an undersized defensive tackle at the University of Cincinnati. The 6-foot-3, 275-pounder has actually flourished as a stand-up outside linebacker, which is vastly different role than he played in college. Ponder only had four sacks from the interior for the Bearcats, but had some nice rushes against the Bengals from the edge.
Ponder finished his first NFL preseason game with two tackles, a quarterback hit and a special teams tackle. Cam Gill was the fourth outside linebacker last year, but Joe Tryon’s arrival will make it even tougher for Gill, Ponder or Quinton Bell to make the 53-man roster. But Ponder, who saw 29 snaps last Saturday, could fight for a spot on the practice squad if he can string two good games together with a solid outing against Tennessee.
LB Joe Jones
Bucs ILB Joe Jones – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Jones is locked in a battle with rookies K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard for the fourth inside linebacker spot on the depth chart. Jones had a really solid game against the run with two tackles and some nice run fits. But he also made the defensive play of the game with a fourth quarter pick-six in 34 plays, which was three more snaps than Britt played.
If he continues to play well on defense that will give him an edge over Britt, who might be the current front-runner, but he’ll have to excel on special teams. The good news for Jones is that is his calling card in the NFL. He’s a special teams ace and notched a tackle on special teams Saturday night. Jones will need another strong showing in kick and punt coverage against the Titans.
DT Khalil Davis
Davis, the team’s sixth-round pick in 2020, didn’t play in the preseason last year due to the pandemic. He only played in two games last year, so he’s really raw and needs as many snaps as he can get to aid his development. Davis logged 32 plays against Cincinnati and came through with two tackles and a few quarterback pressures.
More importantly, Davis played 19 snaps on special teams, which was the most of any Bucs player against the Bengals. Davis should make the team, as he’s the most explosive defensive tackle on the roster. That coupled with the fact that Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon are both in their 30s and will likely retire after the season. But he’ll earn a hat on game days if he continues to play in all areas of special teams.
FAB 4. Good Knees, Great Camp For These Bucs
Three Bucs veterans had offseason knee surgery this past spring. So is it any wonder that Tom Brady, Antonio Brown and Jason Pierre-Paul are all having a fantastic training camp?
I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Improved knees equal improved play. Let’s take a closer look.
QB Tom Brady
Yes, Brady has had a couple of sub-par practices. But that’s usually been a product of a crappy day all around for the offense with not-so-great protection up front and dropped passes down the field. Brady is typically on point due to his ability, experience and perfectionism. And there have been some practices where he has been on another level with pinpoint accuracy.
More importantly, Brady’s knee brace is gone after having MCL surgery on a knee that has troubled him for years. Brady will never be a scrambler, especially at age 44, and isn’t much of an escape artist outside the pocket. But he’s moving better inside the pocket as a result of the surgery and his set up and release is as good as ever.
WR Antonio Brown
Bucs WR Antonio Brown – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Mike Evans might be the Bucs’ best and most productive receiver. Chris Godwin might be the team’s franchise player and the star of Bruce Arians’ attack as the slot receiver. But Brown is having the best camp of any receiver since having his knee surgery in May. Arians said he hasn’t seen Brown move around this well in years. And he certainly doesn’t look like a guy who just turned 33. Brown’s feet are as quick as ever. And he seems to have a burst at the end of his second gear downfield that he didn’t have last year.
Brown torched the Titans defensive backs in practice this week – just like he’s smoked the Bucs secondary all August. Brown averaged 10.7 yards per catch last year in Tampa Bay, which was his lowest average since his rookie year in Pittsburgh (10.4 avg.). Look for a healthier, faster Brown to get closer to his 13.3 career average with more big plays this year with the Bucs.
OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul had knee surgery in February right after the Super Bowl after playing through pain all of last year. Keep in mind that Pierre-Paul was the Bucs’ lone Pro Bowler with a team-high 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, and a career-high two interceptions – despite the pain. The 32-year old edge rusher is in a contract year, so he has ever reason to turn it up and have a fantastic season. He’s off to a great start with a hot training camp so far, dominating in 1-on-1 pass rush/pass pro drills and being disruptive in 11-on-11 team sessions.
Pierre-Paul has easily been the Bucs’ best pass rusher in camp with rookie Joe Tryon a close second. The addition of Tryon will kick Pierre-Paul inside in nickel rush situations where he can use his quickness and length to torture slower guards and get some sacks as an interior rusher.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BREAKING DOWN BRADY: Tom Brady Facts has the facts about Tom Brady – naturally. Good stats here.
Tom Brady puts up elite numbers and wins Super Bowls when he throws some of the shortest passes in the league as well as when he throws some of the deepest passes in the league: pic.twitter.com/V7dHZ9klw2
• BRADY MEANS BUSINESS: Tom Brady loves football, but even the G.O.A.T. can get bored in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. So what does he do? Grab injured rookie center Robert Hainsey on the sideline and take snaps, of course. Kyle Burger grabbed some great video.
It's the 4th quarter of a preseason game and Tom Brady doesn't rest.
• TRASK’S NIGHT NORMAL FOR BUCS ROOKIE QBs: Kyle Trask, the team’s second-round pick, had a night to forget in his NFL preseason debut, completing just 4-of-15 passes for 35 yards against the Bengals. Trask was the victim of a few dropped passes, which didn’t help his stat line. Here’s how some other Bucs rookie quarterback draft picks fared in their first preseason action, courtesy of The Athletic’s Greg Auman.
Tonight is Kyle Trask's Bucs debut. Other recent Bucs draft pick QBs in their first preseason games:
Jameis Winston (2015): 9-19, 131, 0 TD, 1 INT Mike Glennon (2013): 11-23, 169, 0 TD, 1 INT Josh Freeman (2009): 6-10, 56, 0 TD, 1 INT Josh Johnson (2008): 1-1, 15, 0 TD, 0 INT
• BUCS PRESEASON ANALYSIS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week during training camp – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 p.m. ET unless – and one hour after the conclusion of the Bucs vs. Titans game on Saturday night.
The Pewter Reporters spent the week analyzing the third week of training camp on this week’s episodes of the Pewter Report Podcast on our YouTube channel. Check out all of this week’s shows below.
Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds analyze Tampa Bay’s 19-14 loss to Cincinnati in the preseason opener.
Reynolds and Ledyard are joined by Matt Matera, Cliff Welch, former Pewter Reporters Trevor Sikkema, Taylor “Grizz” Jenkins, Eric Dellaratta and Zach Shapiro in addition to ESPN’s Jenna Laine to remember legendary Pewter Reporter Mark Cook, who passed away last week at age 50, in this special edition of the Pewter Report Podcast.
Ledyard and Matera discuss Bucs practice and Byron Leftwich’s shocking press conference from Tuesday.
Ledyard and Reynolds recap Wednesday’s Bucs vs. Titans joint practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Ledyard and Matera break down the Bucs’ beat down of the Titans in Thursday’s fight-filled joint practice.
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.
• JORDAN OVER WIRFS IS A THORNY ISSUE: Good friend and NFL offensive line analyst Brandon Thorn makes a fantastic point about the placement of New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan and Bucs right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who schooled Jordan in all three match-ups last year.
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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