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.
Even without Antonio Brown on the active roster yet, Scotty Miller is continuing to play just a handful of snaps more than Tyler Johnson, who has earned his opportunities with quality play when he’s on the field. Justin Watson has been unsurprisingly relegated to WR5 duties, but his standout play on special teams continues.
It’s been a rapid decline in snaps for Cameron Brate since replacing O.J. Howard in the lineup, and, all due respect to Brate, that’s probably a good thing for the Bucs offense. Brate has seen his snaps go from 33 in Week 5 to 23 in Week 6, and all the way down to 12 in Week 7. Tanner Hudson has followed suit, with his snaps going from 16 to eight to two over the past three weeks. Offensive tackle Joe Haeg has cut into the duos’ playing time, as he saw the field for 12 snaps in run-obvious situations, after 14 snaps for the veteran a week ago.
That means the Bucs are beginning to abandon 12 personnel and run their offense more out of 11 personnel, which gets their best players on the field more consistently. Tampa Bay should lead the league in three and four receiver sets, especially when Brown joins the lineup. It also helps in the run game, as it consistently provides an offense lighter boxes to run to when you take a tight end out of the formation and spread the field instead.
Speaking of running the football, Leonard Fournette returned to the lineup and – out-snapped Ronald Jones? Apparently three straight 100-yard games was not enough to spare him from Arians’ wrath after Jones dropped a screen pass that would have gone for a big gain. That’s his fourth recorded drop of the season, and I think the statisticians are being kind on a few others.
Neither back ran the ball consistently well, but Fournette busted off a 24-yard carry to finish with 11 attempts for 50 yards. He added six catches for 47 yards, including a critical 3rd-and-13 conversion early in the fourth quarter. Jones struggled for much of the day, finishing with 13 carries for 34 yards and one catch for two yards.
For three straight weeks linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White did not come off the field. Kevin Minter saw a single snap in goal line work, when the Bucs put three linebackers on the field.
On the defensive line, newcomer Steve McLendon basically stepped right into Jeremiah Ledbetter’s snaps from a week ago, and everyone else stayed the same. Right now it is a clear, four-man rotation on the interior, with Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston edging out Rakeem Nunez-Roches and McLendon for playing time. Anthony Nelson also saw his snaps jump from 15 a week ago to 22 on Sunday, as Shaq Barrett played just 77 percent of the defensive snaps, his lowest percentage of the season.
It’s been a slow-and-steady rise for Mike Edwards, who played just 13 snaps, but intercepted a pass that was negated by a penalty and made an outstanding play to tip the ball that was intercepted by Antoine Winfield, Jr. late in the game. Edwards has been so good that the Bucs are going to have to start tinkering with their defensive lineup in order to get him on the field.
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