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One Buc Mailbag: Close Calls

Posted Nov 21, 2017

Which Buccaneers will see their names called as Hall of Fame finalists Tuesday night? That question plus discussions about big turnover games and Chris Godwin's role in this week's mailbag.

For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.

It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 280 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

This week, we discuss Hall of Fame semifinalists, games with large numbers of takeaways and the potential for an expanded role for rookie WR Chris Godwin. Let's get to it.

1. Closer to Canton?

Yes, this is the first year that Ronde Barber is eligible to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was one of the 108 modern-era nominees for the Class of 2018 that was announced in September. That includes a strong group of first-time candidates including Barber, Randy Moss, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. Ronde's brother, former Giants running back Tiki Barber, is also among those 108, though this is not his first year of eligibility. Tiki retired six years before Ronde.


Technically, there are six players on that preliminary list who were Buccaneers at one point, but only three of them would realistically be associated with Tampa Bay. Those three are Barber, safety John Lynch and defensive end Simeon Rice. The other three all played exactly one season in Tampa: punter Sean Landeta (1997), fullback Lorenzo Neal (1998) and tackle Lomas Brown (2002).

So let's focus on the first three. We can start with Lynch who has been a finalist each of the last four years. As such, it would be a shock if he is not at least a semifinalist this year. Lynch would seem like a very strong bet to make the finalist list again, at which point we'll be hoping for (and, if possible, helping convince committee members to vote for) his final breakthrough into the Class of 2018.

Ronde Barber also seems like a very good bet to at least make the semifinalists list, and probably the finalists list in January. It's telling that the Hall's own press release on this year's nominees makes a point of identifying Barber and the other three players I listed above in the first paragraph. I don't think there's much doubt that Barber deserves very strong consideration for enshrinement.

We'll be making that argument in much greater detail when it gets closer to the time to select the finalists (and assuming that Barber is indeed a semifinalist, as expected), but here are a few quick notes in his favor:

 

  • He started 200 consecutive games, an NFL record for cornerbacks
  • He is the only player in NFL history to record at least 45 interceptions AND at least 25 sacks
  • He was a five-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro (three first-team, two second-team) and a Super Bowl champion
  • He was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s
  • He led the NFL in 2001 with 10 interceptions
  • He scored 14 touchdowns, the third-most by a defensive player in NFL history, behind only Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson
  • He was a key part of a defense that ranked in the NFL's top 10 for nine straight years and 11 times in a 12-year span
  • He had one of the most iconic plays in recent playoff history, his 92-yard game-clinching interception in the 2002 NFC Championship Game

 

There's more. A lot more, really, and not all of it is just numbers and awards like the above. When the Selection Committee debates his Hall merits, they will likely go beyond all of that and try to determine the overall impact he had on the game, how much his longevity matters, how he compared to his peers. All of that is important, of course, and I think the Committee will eventually see that Barber checks all of the boxes.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. You just wanted to know about the announcement of the semifinalist, which will take place in a special show on NFL Network Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. ET. I think you can feel pretty confident you'll be hearing the names Barber and Lynch.

How about Rice? That's a much tougher question, simply because Rice has not previously received his fair share of Canton consideration, in my opinion. He was not even among the initial list of nominees in his first three years of eligibility. He first appeared on that list in 2016 but did not make the subsequent cut to the semifinalists in either of the last two years. That's an injustice we addressed here on Buccaneers.com earlier this year.

This summer, Rice's candidacy got some more attention in the national media, and perhaps that will make a difference this year. If you want a prediction from me, I'd say he has a 50-50 shot. I know that sounds wishy-washy, and if you follow that link above you'll see that I personally believe he is more than worthy. I'm just worried that he doesn't quite have the momentum yet among Hall voters, who admittedly have to make some tough calls every year. Let's keep our fingers crossed tonight.

2. Tops in Takeaways?

I find the Twitter handle on this one funny and appropriate, because a question of this variety is like an early Christmas present for me. I thoroughly enjoy looking up and discussing statistics from the Buccaneers' past and present.

In this case, I happen to know the answer to the question off the top of my head because I was looking into big turnover games on Monday. I wanted to find out how often the Bucs had a turnover ratio of plus-five or better, and what their winning percentage in such games was. I had a feeling it would be 100%...it wasn't, but it was close.

Anyway, while I didn't write about the game in question here specifically, I had it on a list. On December 16, 1990, the Buccaneers intercepted Wade Wilson four times, picked off his replacement, Rich Gannon, once and recovered three fumbles. If you're scoring at home, that's eight total takeaways. Vinny Testaverde threw two picks for Tampa Bay, but that's still a juicy plus-six turnover ratio, so it's unsurprising that the Bucs won, 26-13. In case you're interested, Eric Everett and Mark Robinson had two interceptions each, Rodney Rice had won and the fumble recoveries went to Willie Wyatt, Ricky Reynolds and Broderick Thomas.

I can't overstate how random that list of names is. Everett, Rice and Wyatt only played for the Buccaneers in 1990 and that was Wyatt's only career fumble recovery. Everett and Rice each had just one other pick for the Buccaneers that season. Oh, and that four-pick game against Wilson was an incredibly anomaly because Wilson had insanely good career numbers against the Buccaneers. Like, 104.0 career passer rating in nine games against the Buccaneers kind of good. Like a 13-2 TD-INT ratio in the other eight games he played against Tampa.

Last weekend's game in Miami marked the 32nd time the Bucs have recorded five or more takeaways in a regular-season game. The most famous of those may be a seven-takeaway performance in New Orleans on December 11, 1977, which led to the first victory in franchise history. The Buccaneers returned three of those takeaways for touchdowns, a franchise record that still stands (although if you count the postseason, it was matched in Super Bowl XXXVII.) As I noted in the story linked above, the Buccaneers actually lost a game in Pittsburgh in 1983 when they won the turnover battle, seven to zero. That's pretty remarkable.

Since that was so easy, I'll give you a bonus answer. The NFL record for takeaways in a single game is 12. Twelve!! It's been done twice, both times by Philadelphia. The first time was on September 24, 1950, when some poor soul quarterbacking the Chicago Cardinals named Jim Hardy was picked off eight times in 39 passes. It's frankly pretty incredible that he wasn't yanked after – oh, I don't know – his sixth interception. Philly's next victim was Pittsburgh on December 12, 1965. That one included nine interceptions, seven thrown by Tom Wade. Both of those games, you'll be shocked to learn, were blowout wins for the Eagles.

Green Bay had an 11-takeaway game at San Diego in 1978, which explains how you can win a game, 24-3, despite generating just 127 yards of offense, including nine net passing yards. If you want something just a little more recent, the last team to hit double digits in takeaways in a game was Denver, which had 10 while beating Detroit, 28-7, on October 7, 1984. No team has even had a nine-takeaway game since 1990, and the last team to get eight was Kansas City in a 24-3 win over the New York Jets last September 25.

3. Godwin Rising? He already is!

This is something that Head Coach Dirk Koetter points out from time to time: There are only so many footballs to go around in any given game, and receivers can't really control how many times they get one in their hands. A passing play is always going to have a first target option, but that doesn't mean it's the one the quarterback will end up choosing.

My point being, if you want to look at the trend in Chris Godwin's playing time, you actually have to look at playing time – specifically, number of snaps on offense – as opposed to his receptions total. And that seems to be on the rise. In the first five games of the season, Godwin played 18 or more snaps just once; in the last five games, he's played 18 or more snaps four times.

Now, I admit there's a 69-play anomaly in there from the Jets game two weeks ago, when Godwin started in place of the suspended Mike Evans and never came off the field. (Well, he came off the field when the defense went on, but he played virtually every offensive snap.) Last week in Miami, Godwin played 22 snaps, exactly one third of the team's offensive total. That's what we really need to look at: percentage of snaps. Godwin has had four of his five highest snap percentages in the last five weeks.

One other thing that might be telling: Godwin's snaps in relation to those of Adam Humphries, the team's primary slot receiver. Other than the Jets game when Godwin started, Humphries has played more snaps than his rookie teammate each week. However, here are the respective differences in their two snap totals from week to week, starting with the first game and skipping the Jets game: 12, 28, 34, 35, 34, 30, 25, 16, 11. That first game, a win over Chicago, was an early-season outlier, probably because the Buccaneers were running the ball a whole lot on that day, with a big lead, and Godwin is a good blocker. After that, it was pretty steady, with Humphries usually playing 25-35 more snaps than Godwin. The last two weeks have been different.

I am in NO WAY suggesting that Godwin is taking away Humphries' job as the slot receiver. More likely, the Buccaneers are using some more packages that feature Godwin, and some of those are eating into plays that might have otherwise featured one of the other three primary receivers, including Humphries. The two most common lineup combinations that the Buccaneers have used involved Godwin have also involved Humphries.

But to the spirit of your question, Mr. Smith, I would say yes, Godwin's production will merit him more playing time. I think it's no accident that he was on the field during the most critical drive of last week's win in Miami, and that he was targeted on perhaps its two most important plays. The Bucs trusted their rookie receiver in that big moment, and he came through. That's got to make them feel even better about putting him on the field.

If there is a climb in Godwin's playing time, however, I expect it to be gradual and not too steep, barring an injury to one of the Bucs' other receivers. It's not as if the offense is going to stop featuring Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, and Adam Humphries is also still very good at what he does. As Koetter has noted multiple times, the only real impediment to Godwin's playing time is those other receivers in front of him, and any change in that situation is not likely to be sudden.