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.
On the offensive line the Bucs had their first missed snap of the season, as left tackle Donovan Smith came off for a single play after getting banged up late in the first half. Josh Wells surrendered a five-yard loss on his single snap, looking confused and letting his man run free on an admittedly bizarre draw play with the Bucs trying to score before halftime.
It took just two weeks for Leonard Fournette to out-snap Ronald Jones at running back, although a lot of that had to do with the Bucs possessing the lead late in the game. Fournette may be the lesser of three evils at times, as Jones fumbled an exchange with Tom Brady and LeSean McCoy dropped multiple passes, including a touchdown on a perfect pass from Brady in the back of the end zone.
I’d expect McCoy to phase out and the backfield to become a shared opportunity with Fournette and Jones in time, unless the latter continues to make mistakes in big moments. None of the backs have proven to be effective space players during this short season, rarely breaking tackles or making defenders miss. When that’s the case, playing the least damaging running back is usually the smart call.
Justin Watson out-snapping Scotty Miller is a little bit of a surprise in Week 2, but I think the sole reason is that the team liked Watson in the slot, replacing Chris Godwin, more than it did Miller. Much of that had to do with Watson’s blocking. So I wouldn’t read too much into that.
At tight end, Cameron Brate continues to see almost no action, while O.J. Howard saw a slight bump in snap percentage from a week ago. Rob Gronkowski has been totally uninvolved in the Bucs’ passing attack, while Howard has had moments already this season. Gronkowski may remain ahead of Howard in snap percentage due to his superior blocking, although Howard looks improved in that area in 2020.
Sunday saw a notable decrease in snaps for nose tackle Vita Vea, who almost split time with reserve tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches and defensive end Will Gholston. Ndamukong Suh led the way in snap counts for the interior defensive linemen, but even he saw a decrease from his 82 percent share a week ago.
None of that is surprising, as the Panthers trailed the entire game and devolved into a pass-only attack in the fourth quarter. With the opponent moving quickly and throwing on every down, the Bucs wisely cycled in fresh bodies to get after Teddy Bridgewater. This also explains the bump in snaps for Anthony Nelson, who went from three snaps in Week 1 to 11 in Week 2.
After seeing six snaps in Week 1 and combining with Jamel Dean to blow a coverage to Jared Cook late in the game, Andrew Adams did not play on defense in Week 2. Neither did Mike Edwards, as Jordan Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield, Jr. went the distance, and the Bucs played just five defensive backs the entire game.
Before the season I wrote often about how the Bucs defensive depth, especially at edge defender, cornerback and linebacker, was very poor, and Tampa Bay’s deployment of its personnel suggests agreement. You expect the defensive backs and linebackers to more-or-less go the distance, but how Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul hold up without much of a break as the season goes on remains to be seen.