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FAB 1. The Midseason State of the Bucs
Tampa Bay is coming off a disappointing 36-27 loss at New Orleans, but the Bucs are off to a promising 6-2 start considering how many injuries the team has dealt with. The Bucs’ 6-2 start matches last year’s 6-2 start, and we know how the 2020 campaign ended. Although Tampa Bay’s record slid to 7-5 before the bye week, the team won eight straight games to become Super Bowl LV champions.
The best the Bucs have ever started a season was with a 7-2 record in 2002. And we know how Tampa Bay finished that year, too – at 12-4 with the franchise’s first Super Bowl trophy.
A win in Washington after the bye week and this year’s Bucs will continue to match the best start in franchise history.
Yet there is some lingering disappointment about the loss to New Orleans because it could have given the Bucs an early stranglehold on the division with a 2-0 start in the NFC South, while dealing the Saints an 0-2 start in the process. There is a big difference between the Bucs being 7-1 and the Saints being 4-3 with a different outcome last Sunday. The reality now is that the Bucs are 6-2 and the Saints are 5-2.
The good news for Tampa Bay, which has dealt with a myriad of injuries this year, is that the schedule appears to be easier over the final nine weeks of the season. The Bucs will only face two teams with a winning record in Buffalo and New Orleans, as both have 5-2 records.
Bucs’ Remaining 2021 Schedule
Week 10: Bucs at Washington (2-6) Week 11: Bucs vs. Giants (2-6) Week 12: Bucs at Colts (4-5) Week 13: Bucs at Falcons (3-4) Week 14: Bucs vs. Bills (5-2) Week 15: Bucs vs. Saints (5-2) Week 16: Bucs at Panthers (4-4) Week 17: Bucs at Jets (2-6) Week 18: Bucs vs. Panthers (4-4)
I originally predicted a 13-4 record for the Bucs during the 2021 season, which drew the ire of Tampa Bay fans even though 13 wins would be the most in any regular season in team history. The franchise record is 12-4 during the 2002 Super Bowl season.
So if the Bucs do go 13-4, that would mean a 7-2 record down the stretch. Where would those two losses come from? The two toughest opponents on paper are the Bills and the Saints. But the fact that the Bucs play so well at home makes me think they win at least one of those games. And I think Tampa Bay gets tripped up at least once more on the road. Maybe at Indianapolis or Carolina.
So with nine games remaining after the bye week, let’s take a look at five things that are working for the Bucs so far, and five things that Tampa Bay needs to work on during the second half of the season.
FAB 2. 5 Things That Are Working For The Bucs
The Bucs are off to a great, 6-2 start to the 2021 season. What has propelled Tampa Bay to the second-best record in the NFC? Let’s look at the five things that are working for the Bucs so far.
The Passing Game
Bucs WR Mike Evans and QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Tampa Bay’s passing game is the envy of the league with Tom Brady leading the NFL with 2,650 yards and 25 touchdowns. The Bucs have three wide receivers with over 400 yards receiving in Chris Godwin (660), Mike Evans (544) and Antonio Brown (418). Tampa Bay also has four players with at least four receiving touchdowns in Evans (eight), Godwin (four), Brown (four) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (four). Tampa Bay is averaging 32.5 points per game and is ranked second in the league behind Buffalo (32.7 avg.) in scoring due to its prolific passing attack.
Stellar O-Line Play
As much credit as Brady and the skill position players deserve, the play of Tampa Bay’s offensive line is also deserving of high praise. The Bucs are averaging 423.1 yards per game, which ranks second in the league behind Dallas (454.9 avg.). The o-line is a big reason why. After struggling to run the ball in the first three games of the season, Tampa Bay has improved in that area, and is now averaging 95.6 yards per game. The Bucs are always going to be a pass-first team, but having the ability to run the ball when they need to is important.
Brady has been sacked 12 times in eight games, which is a little more than the Bucs would like to see. But some of those sacks have been surrendered by backs and tight ends, too. Right tackle Tristan Wirfs is among the best in the league and is having another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Left guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen are also worthy of Pro Bowl honors. Left tackle Donovan Smith is off to a very good start to the 2021 season and is showing more consistency down in and down out, which was needed. Right guard Alex Cappa may have had a better season a year ago, but might be better than most guards in the league.
Undefeated At Home
The Bucs are 4-0 at Raymond James Stadium. They have never won every home game before in franchise history. The closest the team has come to going undefeated was a 7-1 mark in 1999. Tampa Bay has two big home games coming up later in the season against Buffalo and New Orleans, who are both 5-2, in addition to NFC South foes Atlanta and Carolina. Finishing undefeated isn’t impossible, but perhaps tying the 7-1 mark from the ’99 season seems more likely.
The biggest reason why Ray-Jay is home sweet home for Tampa Bay? The Bucs are averaging 40.5 points per game at home on offense and the defense is allowing an average of only 18.5 points per game. That’s a winning margin of 22 points per game.
Finding A Way To Win With A Banged Up Secondary
Bucs CBs Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Credit Todd Bowles and his staff for finding a way to win with all of the injuries in the secondary. Starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting has been out with a dislocated elbow since Week 1. Fellow starter Carlton Davis has been out since Week 4. Reserve cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Dee Delaney have also been dinged up. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. missed a couple of games due to a concussion. Safety Jordan Whitehead also missed a game.
Yet Bowles has played more man coverage in recent weeks to simplify the assignments for his young defensive backs. And because it’s preferable for a key player like Jamel Dean’s skill set. The injuries haven’t been ideal, but the replacements have been effective enough for the team to start 2-0.
The Bucs are tied with the Patriots with 10 picks, which is second in the league. The Saints, Rams, Cowboys and Bills lead the NFL with 11 picks. Cornerback Jamel Dean and reserve safety Mike Edwards are tied for the lead with two. Tampa Bay only had 15 during the regular season last year.
The team is on pace for 21 interceptions, which is a marked improvement over the 2020 season. Four of the interceptions have come from reserves with Edwards (two), Delaney and Desir contributing to the INT total.
FAB 3. 5 Things The Bucs Need To Work On
Tampa Bay has played well to start the 2021 campaign, but it hasn’t been perfect. The Bucs do need to work on a few things offensively and defensively if they want to repeat as Super Bowl champions. Let’s examine five things that need improvement over the second half or the season.
The Lack Of Sacks
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
As Pewter Report’s Jon Ledyard wrote this week, Tampa Bay is the top blitzing team in the league, but isn’t getting the desired pressure and sack production. Bowles’ blitz packages where much more effective last year, as the team piled up 48 sacks, which were the second-most in franchise history.
This year, the Bucs have just 17 sacks, which is the middle of the pack in the NFL. Tampa Bay is on pace to finish with only 36, which would be a major step back from a year ago. Bowles may be limited with his blitz packages due to the injuries in the secondary. And Tampa Bay’s front four has also failed to wrap up on several occasions, too.
Beating The Saints In The Regular Season
With their win in New Orleans last week, the Saints have now won six straight games over the Bucs in the regular season. Tampa Bay won’t win the NFC South without beating New Orleans at home on December 19. The Bucs want the division crown, but the Saints are still playing the role of the regular season bully. That has to change next month at Raymond James Stadium.
Scoring Points On The Road
The Bucs are undefeated at home because they are averaging 40.5 points per game at Ray-Jay. On the road, it’s been a different story. Tampa Bay is averaging 24.5 points per game in their four away games, where the team is 2-2 this season. The Bucs have yet to score 30 points in a road game this season after scoring at least 30 over the last two road games in 2020 and all four postseason contests. The Bucs are too talented on offense to have a scoring differential of 16 points per game.
Play Joe Tryon-Shoyinka More
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bowles has done a credible job of dealing with a banged up secondary and making sure to mask the deficiencies in the secondary as best he can. But the fact that Tryon-Shoyinka, the team’s first-round draft pick, has seen an incredible reduction in snaps is literally criminal. He played eight snaps against New Orleans – two snaps fewer than Anthony Nelson.
Bowles needs to play the rookie more – even at the expense of injured 32-year old veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. Tryon-Shoyinka had two sacks against New England in Week 4 while playing virtually the entire game. He’s capable of that and needs to play more to get the experience he needs.
The Bucs are the fourth-worst team in terms of yards after catch with 1,144 yards allowed. That’s due to poor tackling. It’s fine to play soft zone coverage to prevent big plays and keep the ball in front of the defense. But the defenders have to rally and tackle to prevent eight-yard gains from becoming 18-yard gains, which has happened too often.
Maybe it’s the personnel. Carlton Davis is a better tackler than Pierre Desir. Sean Murphy-Bunting is a better tackler than Ross Cockrell. But whoever takes the field for Tampa Bay is essentially a starter and they have to tackle better.
FAB 4. 2021 Bucs Midseason Awards
Tampa Bay’s bye week falls at the midseason mark in Week 9 this year as opposed to Week 12 last season. So it’s the perfect time to dish out some midseason superlatives.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
BUCS 2021 MIDSEASON OFFENSIVE MVP
QB Tom Brady
Not only is Brady the Bucs’ MVP at the midway point, he’s in the mix for NFL MVP honors at age 44, which is remarkable. Through eight games Brady leads the league in passing yards with 2,650 and touchdowns with 25. He’s completing 67.3 percent of his passes and has guided the Bucs to a hot, 6-2 start to the season. Brady is on pace to throw for a career-high 53 touchdowns and 5,631 yards. Both would smash Tampa Bay franchise records. The 5,631 passing yards would set a new NFL single-season record.
The Bucs gave Barrett a rich contract extension in the offseason worth an average of $17 million per season. So far, he’s earned it. Barrett is fourth on the team with 31 tackles and leads Tampa Bay with 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. He also has an interception this season. When Barrett isn’t getting sacks, he’s applying a pretty consistent amount of pressure on the quarterback. He helped set up Ndamukong Suh’s sack last week with outside pressure. Barrett is on pace to hit 11 sacks this season.
BUCS 2021 MIDSEASON SPECIAL TEAMS MVP
K Ryan Succop
Succop hasn’t been as dynamic as he was last year when he set the Bucs’ single season points record with 136 points en route to helping Tampa Bay win a Super Bowl. He connected on over 90 percent of his field goals and extra points in his first season in red and pewter. Succop is 8-of-11 (72 percent) on field goals with one coming from beyond 50 yards, which is outside his typical range. But he has attempted so few kicks because the Bucs are scoring more TDs than field goals this year in the red zone. He’s 32-of-33 (97 percent) on extra points. If Succop makes his next four field goals he’ll be up to 80 percent.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
MOST IMPROVED OFFENSIVE PLAYER
RB Leonard Fournette
Fournette edges out Antonio Brown only because Brown has missed three games due to injury this season. After rushing for 367 yards and six touchdowns through 13 regular season games last year, Fournette has already eclipsed that with 439 yards rushing and four TDs this season. And his average is up from 3.8 yards per carry in 2020 to 4.3 yards per carry this season. All Season Lenny has 30 catches for 239 yards this season after catching 36 passes for 233 yards last year. More importantly, he has a stranglehold on the starting running back job, which has kept Ronald Jones on the bench.
MOST IMPROVED DEFENSIVE PLAYER
CB Jamel Dean
Don’t look now, but Dean has been the most consistent cornerback in Tampa Bay since returning from injury in Week 5 against Miami. He’s earned no less than a 74.9 grade from Pro Football Focus over the last four weeks, intercepting two passes and breaking up six others in the process. With injuries to Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Sherman and Delaney, the Bucs have needed Dean to step up and play well and he’s done just that.
MOST DISAPPOINTING OFFENSIVE PLAYER
RB Ronald Jones
Jones’ lack of ball security and lack of development in the passing game cost him the chance to be the team’s starting running back this year. The coaches’ lack of trust in him on third downs and obvious passing downs have even cost him playing time splitting carries with Fournette. Instead, Jones has been relegated to a backup who only sees a few snaps per game. It’s an incredible turn of events for the fourth-year running back, who was 22 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season a year ago.
Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
MOST DISAPPOINTING DEFENSIVE PLAYER
ILB Devin White
The Bucs used the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to select White, who was a speedy, playmaking linebacker. While White has racked up the tackles this year and leads Tampa Bay with 61, he has yet to produce a splash play. White doesn’t have a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery or an interception this season. He had a career-high nine sacks last year, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. White added two key interceptions and two big fumble recoveries in the postseason. The Bucs need him to be the splashy player he was in his first two seasons in Tampa Bay.
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
The Bucs’ edge rusher gets the honor by default. Including receiver-returner Jaelon Darden and special teams linebackers K.J. Britt and Grant Stuard, he’s played the most of Tampa Bay’s rookie class. The problem is that he hasn’t played enough. Given the fact that veteran Jason Pierre-Paul is injured and not playing well, Tryon-Shoyinka should be playing more – at least splitting the snaps 60-40. But that’s not happening and it’s a shame. Tryon-Shoyinka had two sacks in his second NFL start at New England. Play the kid.
BEST FREE AGENT ACQUISITION
RB Giovani Bernard
Because the Bucs spent the offseason re-signing their own free agents, Bernard wins this by default. Yet he’s done a good job in his limited playing time as the team’s part-time third-down back. Bernard has six carries for 51 yards (8.5 avg.), including a season-high 24-yard run. More importantly, he has 20 catches for 109 yards and three touchdowns. Bernard has been a receiving threat inside the red zone and has cashed in with a trio of TDs.
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR (SO FAR)
S Mike Edwards’ Pick-Six vs. Atlanta
Bucs S Mike Edwards – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs have a slew of touchdowns on offense so far this season, but the most dynamic play was his 15-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Falcons in Week 2. Fresh off his first, 31-yard pick-six with 7:53 left in the fourth quarter of a 48-25 win, Edwards got his second defensive score minutes later. Cornerback Carlton Davis came on a strongside blitz and batted Matt Ryan’s pass up in the air.
The ball fluttered backwards in the air where Edwards, blitzing from the weakside, was waiting. Edwards jumped up, caught the ball and raced 15 yards to the end zone for his second fourth quarter score. That earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
BUCS’ RECORD DOWN THE STRETCH
A 7-2 finish for a 13-4 record seems logical for the Bucs. Tampa Bay needs to become more dominant on the road and keep being great at home. The key for the Bucs this season is winning the NFC South and getting at least one home playoff game. Last year the Bucs were fortunate to win three straight road playoff games, but that was under COVID-19 conditions.
Tampa Bay had the luxury of playing in stadiums that weren’t close to capacity due to COVID protocols. This year, stadiums across the NFL are full and the Bucs will need to get as many playoff games at Raymond James Stadium as possible.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• PENALIZED PIRATES: There is an additional aspect of the Bucs game that needs improving over the second half of the season – penalties. Tampa Bay is the second-most penalized team in the league with 59 penalties for 580 yards, which is the most in the NFL. The Bucs had 11 penalties for 99 yards in their loss at New Orleans last week.
“Most penalties are technique or fundamentally [caused],” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians. “Yeah, we do it every week, but this one was more discipline and just playing by the rules.”
Bucs LT Donovan Smith and Dolphins OLB Jaelan Phillips – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
• SMITH NEEDS TO STOP WITH THE FLAGS: Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith has had a great start to the 2021 season in terms of consistency. He’s only surrendered one sack and has not had the lapses in concentration like he’s had in year’s past. But the one area where he’s faltered is with penalties. Smith has six flags in eight games, which is the most on the team. Smith has been penalized for three false starts, two holding calls and an illegal hands to the face.
He only had nine penalties in all of 2020, so it appears as if he’ll surpass that total this year, which is disappointing. The most penalties Smith has had in a season was 13 in 2016. Unfortunately, he’s on pace for nearly 13 this season.
• BRADY’S BRILLIANCE AT 44: It’s amazing to see how well Tom Brady is playing not only at age 44, but also in his second season in Bruce Arians’ offense. Here’s a look at Brady’s statistical superlatives so far this season.
• 2022 FUTURE FORECAST ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Here is the lineup for next week following the bye week: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 4:00 pm EST. The Pewter Pregame, Pewter GameDay and Pewter Postgame return on Sunday, November 14 at Noon EST prior to Tampa Bay at Washington.
Ledyard, Scott Reynolds and the rest of the Pewter Report staff break down the Bucs’ 36-27 loss on Sunday.
Ledyard and Kasey Hudson discuss Tampa Bay’s problems during the 2021 season and whether or not they are fixable.
The entire Pewter Report staff collaborated on the topic of which Tampa Bay free agents return in 2022 in a podcast roundtable.
Ledyard and Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger broke down the Bucs’ 2022 salary cap and did some future forecasting with Tampa Bay’s roster.
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.
Scott Reynolds is in his 27th 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 coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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