Each week I’ll be taking a closer look at the snap count distribution for the Bucs offense and defense, assessing what we can learn from who played the most and who played the least on Sunday.
Here’s a look at which Buccaneers played the most and the least in the team’s 31-27 comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15.
Sunday saw the Bucs utilizing more four-wide receiver sets and a more generous rotation at wide out, as Antonio Brown played the lowest percentage of snaps that he’s played in any game this season, and the second-lowest overall snap count for him in 2020. Scotty Miller saw his snaps nearly triple, going from five against the Vikings in Week 14 to 13 on Sunday against Atlanta. Even rookie Tyler Johnson got in on the action with 11 reps, although he hasn’t caught a pass since Week 9.
Things stood pat in snap counts at the tight end position with Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate leading the way. The Bucs opted to make Tanner Hudson, the better receiving option, active over Antony Auclair, especially with offensive lineman Joe Haeg picking up the run-heavy third tight end reps.
At running back, Leonard Fournette went from being a healthy scratch to being the team’s feature back and picking up nearly 20 touches, which is not a strategy I understand at all. Against Atlanta bad strategies can still be successful, and with the way the other Bucs running backs have looked, especially rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, it’s not like there was a better answer for the Bucs with Ronald Jones inactive.
That’s 10 straight games where Devin White and Lavonte David have not come off the field for the Bucs defense, and in this one that ended up being a huge positive. Both linebackers were outstanding on Sunday, and without them the Bucs defense would have been even more hopelessly lost than they already looked.
The biggest reason for the team’s startling coverage woes is second-year cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who somehow regained his role as an every-down starter despite the return of Jamel Dean to the lineup. Murphy-Bunting was shredded in coverage all game, as he has been throughout the season, yet the Bucs continue to play him as much as possible. The groin injury to Carlton Davis III obviously made it harder to sit Murphy-Bunting, but playing him every snap of the game? That can’t continue if this Bucs defense wants to sniff how they were playing early in the season.
Bucs CB Sean Murphy-Bunting – Photo by: USA Today
When Davis was lost to injury, it appears (just from looking at snap counts) the Bucs may have balanced Ross Cockrell and Mike Edwards in nickel situations, depending on the Falcons personnel. Both played well (again), as did Dean in his return from a concussion and a groin injury.
Up front, Tampa Bay’s pass rush was the biggest disappointment of the game, as Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul barely showed up against an offensive line they dominated in both match-ups a year ago. They played almost the entire game, which cut Anthony Nelson’s snaps back down after he was up over 25 each of the past two games.
The interior defensive line stayed pretty consistent with what we’ve seen all season from the top four, but that fifth defensive tackle spot continues to rotate between three defenders. In Week 12 it was Khalil Davis with 23 snaps, in Week 14 it was Pat O’Connor picking up 22 reps, and on Sunday it was Jeremiah Ledbetter’s turn with 18 snaps. I’d like to ask defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or head coach Bruce Arians this week why they continue to rotate through options for that fifth interior defensive line spot.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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