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 nail-biting, 31-23 victory over the Washington Football Team on Saturday night in the NFC Wild Card round of the playoffs.
It was a great performance by the Bucs offensive line, but losing stud right guard Alex Cappa to a broken ankle really hurts. Not only was Cappa playing outstanding football, but backup Ted Larsen struggled in his place on Saturday night, giving up two sacks in 38 snaps. It remains to be seen if Joe Haeg, Aaron Stinnie or Larsen will start in the divisional round, likely against a ferocious Saints’ front four.
With Ronald Jones II nursing a quadriceps injury, LeSean McCoy out sick, and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumbling away critical possessions, give Leonard Fournette a ton of credit. The big back stepped up beautifully on Saturday night when the Bucs needed him the most, shouldering a massive workload of snaps while running for 93 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (4.9 avg.). Fournette also snagged four passes for 39 yards, including a 22-yard screen in the first half.
At wide receiver, Mike Evans gutted out his normal snap percentage despite clearly not being 100 percent. The lone surprise might have been Tyler Johnson out-snapping Scotty Miller by four reps, although the rookie finished the game without a target. Meanwhile, Cam Brate saw his biggest workload of the season, catching four passes for 80 yards in 35 plays. That’s the third-most receiving yards Brate has ever had in a game in his career, and the most since 2017. With Chris Godwin struggling with five drops and Evans not at full strength, it was a memorable performance by Brate to say the least.
The good news is that the Bucs did get inside linebacker Kevin Minter off the field some, the bad news is that it was for just six snaps, and I think he was replaced by Jack Cichy for two of them. The Bucs continue to avoid a three-safety defensive look like it’s the plague, and our dream of seeing Jordan Whitehead at dime linebacker in pass-obvious situations probably dies with Devin White’s return to the lineup next weekend.
The Bucs continue to trust struggling cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting with the keys to the kingdom, as I predicted they would coming off his best game of the season in Week 17. The second-year DB did have an interception off a tipped pass, but his coverage was otherwise as lacking as it normally is, although fellow corner Jamel Dean wasn’t much better on Saturday night. Carlton Davis III saw a full workload in his return to the lineup, while Ross Cockrell found his way onto the field for just six snaps. A bold strategy, playing the team’s second or third-best cornerback just six snaps in a win-or-go-home football game.
On the defensive line, the Bucs snap counts distributions were about what they have been, with the exception of Steve McLendon’s absence and Washington’s personnel usage, pushing Tampa Bay to more nickel defense. Rookie Khalil Davis stepped into the fourth defensive tackle role with Jeremiah Ledbetter ailing, and Benning Potoa’e dropped to four snaps after 17 a week ago. Washington being in so many obvious passing situations limited the snap counts for Tampa Bay’s D-line depth, and outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett nearly went the distance, with Anthony Nelson playing just 15 snaps despite a critical sack on the evening. With McLendon and White set to return this week, the Bucs should be back at full strength on defense, minus their biggest difference-maker up front in injured nose tackle Vita Vea, obviously.