Welcome to The Hook, my weekly column that hooks you into a different Tampa Bay Buccaneers topic each Thursday, as well as some of my thoughts on the Bucs and the NFL at the end in a section called Cannon Blast.
I invite you to offer me some feedback on The Hook below in the article comments section.
Table of Contents
We gave Tom Brady an “A” grade after four games and all he has done since then is play even better. On the season he’s went 204-of-308, with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Brady has the Bucs atop the NFC South with a huge game against the Saints looming on Sunday night.
Brady has been as advertised – and then some. GRADE: A+ (previous grade A) UNIT MVP: Tom Brady
No one will confuse the Bucs running back duo of Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette with Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, Emmitt Smith and Daryl Johnson or even Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier (yes, I’m that old). But that’s okay, they don’t need to be any of those. Both have a role, although as of late Jones’ role has been bench warmer after a dropped pass in Las Vegas and a fumble in New York. The Bruce Arians path to the dog house is a pretty straight line for Jones these days, unfairly or not.
With the return of Fournette two weeks ago, LeSean McCoy and Ke’Shawn Vaughn have disappeared from the field for the most part.
Jones leads the team in rushing with 529 yards on 117 carries and has added four rushing scores. Fournette is second, averaging 4.5 yards on 50 carries and two scores. GRADE: B (previous grade B-) UNIT MVP: Ronald Jones II
The Bucs don’t have a single dominant receiver in their group and Bruce Arians has called it the most unselfish group that he has coached. Mike Evans is getting close to being back at 100 percent and despite having a statistical down year, still leads the team with 30 receptions for 373 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns.
Scotty Miller and unlucky-with-injury Chris Godwin are second in receptions for wide receivers, tied with 25 catches each. Miller is averaging 16 yards per catch, while Godwin, who missed last Monday’s game in New York with a broken finger has averaged 11.2 yards. Both receivers have two touchdowns.
Rookie Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Mickens and Justin Watson all have less than 10 catches on the year and their time on the field could decrease even more with the addition of Antonio Brown. GRADE: B (previous grade B) UNIT MVP: Mike Evans
The tight end position, particularly Rob Gronkowski, have really come on over the last four games and Gronkowski is actually second on the team with 26 receptions for 321 yards and three scores. It seems since the loss of O.J. Howard to an Achilles injury against the Chargers, the Bucs have focused on getting the tight ends more involved. That is likely just due to matchups and figuring out how to utilize the large number of weapons on the team as the season has progressed.
Cam Brate has seen a few more balls as well, and has 10 catches for 93 yards and one touchdown. Even Tanner Hudson has seen a handful of snaps and has two catches for 21 yards on the year. The Buccaneers miss Howard for his talent but also his blocking ability but have managed to still produce good numbers and results. GRADE: B (previous grade C+) UNIT MVP: Rob Gronkowski
The Bucs’ offensive line continues to prove their critics and doubters wrong, myself included. They still have some tough tests ahead including this week against the Saints, but have answered the bell for the most part minus the game agains the Bears where they were manhandled at times.
There has been no sign of a rookie wall for Tristan Wirfs, who has played as well, if not better than any rookie lineman taken in last April’s draft. Donovan Smith has been serviceable on the left side and above-average in some games, and over the last three games has been much more consistent. Ali Marpet deserves Pro Bowl consideration as does center Ryan Jensen. And the best compliment we can give right guard Alex Cappa is, we don’t ever hear his name on Sunday. That means he’s playing solid. GRADE: A- (previous grade B) UNIT MVP: Ali Marpet
Since the quarterly grades came out last month the line absorbed a big blow with there loss of Vita Vea, who will miss the rest of the season. Tampa Bay traded for Steve McLendon, and while he is a solid player, he isn’t Vea. So far the Bucs are still the top-rated run defense in the league, but this week’s matchup with New Orleans will tell us a lot about the patchwork line.
Ndamukong Suh continues to play like the Suh of five years ago and has been a contributor not just as a run stuffer, but a pass rusher as well, notching four sacks so far. William Gholston is another player who has been above-average the year and is thriving in Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme with two quarterback takedowns of his own. GRADE: B+ (previous grade A-) UNIT MVP: Ndamukong Suh
The Bucs’ pass rush has been one of the better ones in the league, but a lot of the sacks are coming from schemed-up blitzes from Bowles and his staff. While Jason Pierre-Paul has 6.5 sacks on the year, Shaq Barrett isn’t having the same impact he did in 2019 when he lead the NFL with 19.5 sacks. Barrett does have 33 tackles to go along with his three sacks, but he had multiple games last year where he had three sacks in just those games.
Second-year player Anthony Nelson has been just average from the naked eye, totaling just nine tackles on the year. GRADE: C+ (previous grade C+) UNIT MVP: Jason Pierre-Paul
The Bucs’ dynamic duo of Lavonte David and Devin White have been outstanding all season long and an argument could be made that they are the best 1-2 punch in the league at their position. White leads the team with 68 tackles and has five sacks on the year while David is second on the team with 60 tackles and 1.5 sacks. GRADE: A- (previous grade A-) UNIT MVP: Devin White
The Bucs’ young secondary finished 2019 strong, but whether they could continue that stellar level of play heading into 2020 was one of the team’s biggest question marks entering the season. After all, cornerback Carlton Davis is among the most seasoned cornerbacks in the room as a third-year player, with Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting entering their second year and all three are expected to be starting, impact players for Tampa Bay.
Murphy-Bunting has had his struggles in year two but Dean and Davis have played very strong through the first half. Davis’ four interceptions and nine pass breakups are both tied for the league-lead, all while regularly shadowing the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. As for Dean, his five pass breakups rank him 12th in the NFL, while his lone interception was a crucial pick-six against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Behind the young trio of cornerbacks was a safety position that would quickly be taken over by third-year strong safety Jordan Whitehead and rookie free safety Antoine Winfield Jr, who’s play through eight weeks has put him firmly in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Behind Whitehead and Winfield is second-year safety Mike Edward.
Winfield has manned the Bucs’ single-high safety position well all season and hauled in the first interception of his career two weeks ago against the Raiders. Whitehead has been a consistent and reliable safety when playing down in the box, and Edwards has shined in a very limited role with two interceptions in just 42 coverage snaps through the Bucs’ first six games.
All-in-all the Bucs’ secondary has been strong throughout the first half of the season despite their lapses at times. As a unit, the young secondary group has allowed the 14th-fewest passing yards per game at 229.1, the sixth-lowest quarterback rating against at 83.2 and just 11 passing touchdowns. Arguably more important, however, is that the Bucs’ secondary accounts for 10 of Tampa Bay’s league-leading 11 interceptions. GRADE: B (previous grade B) UNIT MVP: Carlton Davis III
• So the Antonio Brown experiment begins this Sunday against the Saints. Yikes. This should be interesting. Brown has had a number of chances and somehow finds a way to mess things up. His self-destructive behavior is puzzling, but Brown this week when speaking to the media promised he is a changed man. Of course he said similar things when joining the Raiders and before a brief stint with the Patriots last season.
The thing I found most intriguing about he entire situation is quarterback Tom Brady taking Brown in – literally. Brown is bunking with the Brady family and Brady opened up his New England home to Brady last year as well.
And I wanted to know why.
Why does Brady care so much about Brown’s well-being? Is it just to try and keep an eye on him to keep him on the field, or does Brady genuinely want to see Brown evolve as a person? I asked Brown that question on Wednesday.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities in our work ethic, being guys who [were] supposed to be underachievers [and] guys who were never supposed to make it,” Brown said. “Sixth-round, late bloomers – guys who develop chips. Just wanting to be the best [and] yearn for being the best, always growing and getting better. Obviously, he’s the greatest quarterback in the world, so I’m just grateful to be here, to be his teammate to be in the huddle with him [and] to be a part of the process here in Tampa Bay. Super grateful – TB12 (Brady) is my boy and I’m grateful for that.”
I am not sure by that answer if Brown even knows. So on Thursday I asked Brady the same question.
“Just watching him for a long time, I’ve seen him as a player and then have gotten to know him as a person,” Brady said. “I really enjoy the sport [and] I enjoy playing football, obviously, but relationships are very important to me. I think if you ask all of my teammates over the years – more so than throwing touchdown passes, or winning games, the relationships, what we build together and how you get to know people is what makes football, to me, so meaningful in my life.
All of the guys I’ve played with over the years, you just have a strong connection with, and you want to see everyone achieve their best. I think when you see people achieve things, and they put their effort into certain things and it pays off and it’s really rewarded, that’s I think what life is about. I’ve had a lot of people that have helped me over the years. I’ve had a lot of people that have inspired me to do better, to want to work harder [and] that have helped me [get into] the right position to be successful. That’s all I try to be to my teammates. I try to do my best every day to make myself available to them – however I can help them mentally [or] however I can help them emotionally.
I just want to see people enjoy what they’re doing, enjoy their job, show up and do a great job. Ultimately, our goal for all of us is to win football games. Again, I wasn’t an individual sport guy. I’ve always been in team sports and always enjoyed being a member of the team. All of the guys that I’ve played with here have really embraced me. All of my teammates – it’s been really fun getting to know [them], especially the core guys who have been here a long time. It started with working with Chris Godwin, Scotty [Miller] and Cam Brate when I first got here. Then Mike [Evans] showed up, then RoJo (Ronald Jones II) showed up and we had a lot of guys. It was just fun being around guys and helping them based on my experience and my knowledge of how I can try to give them some information that can help them in their career. Because they embrace it, it inspires me to want to work harder for them. Seeing them achieve and be successful is a great feeling for me.”
I suppose I still have some questions, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Brady has hitched his wagon – and his reputation to a degree – onto the Brown wagon and it either will work or it won’t.
It’s election season and football season. So why not combine the two?
The election coverage is so much better with NFL Primetime music 😂
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org