The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-2 and tied for first place in the NFC South, which isn't terrible given the difficulty of their first schedule but still feels a little deflating after the season opened with consecutive road wins. Home losses to Green Bay and Kansas City have brought the Buccaneers back to .500 for the moment.
The defense was absolutely stifling…until it wasn't in Week Four against the Chiefs. The passing game was underwhelming (and riddled by injuries)…until it wasn't in Week Four. The Buccaneers' per-game points differential of +3.5 is the eighth best in the league, but their per-game yardage differential of -4.0 is 18th. The Bucs are 1st in interception percentage on offense and seventh on defense. However, they rank 25th in converting third downs on offense and 20th in stopping them on defense.
Quite frankly, Tampa Bay's stats are all over the board and it's safe to say that this team has not yet forged a clear path as to how the rest of the season is going to unfold. Some things could get a lot better, some could get a lot worse.
But if there's one defining factor for the first quarter* of the Bucs' season it's that they are getting a lot of people involved.
(* The fact that a 17-game season no longer splits evenly into four four-game quarters is definitely the most irritating thing about that change to the schedule.)
Fourteen different players have caught at least one pass for the Buccaneers already. On defense, 10 different players have at least part of a sack and 14 have a quarterback hit. Five different Bucs – interestingly, all defensive backs – have at least one interception. A cool dozen Tampa Bay defenders have logged one or more tackles for loss.
Does that seem like a lot in every category, this early in the season? I don't know if you are saying yes or no right now as you read this, but the answer is yes. Allow me to provide some context with a series of charts. Enjoy them, because this is going to serve as the entirety of this week's mailbag intro.
Most Different Players with a Reception, NFL Teams, 2022
1. New Orleans: 15
2. Tampa Bay: 14
3. Denver: 13
4t. Buffalo: 12
4t. Detroit: 12
4t. Houston: 12
4t. L.A. Chargers 12
Most Different Players with a Sack or Partial Sack, NFL Teams, 2022
1. Tampa Bay: 10
2t. Buffalo: 8
2t. New Orleans: 8
2t. San Francisco: 8
5t. Cleveland: 7
5t. Dallas: 7
5t. Denver: 7
5t. Houston: 7
5t. N.Y. Giants: 7
Most Different Players with a QB Hit, NFL Teams, 2022
1t. Tampa Bay: 14
1t. Carolina: 14
1t. Houston: 14
4t. Dallas: 13
4t. Detroit: 13
4t. Kansas City: 13
Most Different Players with a Tackle for Loss, NFL Teams, 2022
1. San Francisco: 13
2t. Tampa Bay: 12
2t. Chicago: 12
2t. Cincinnati: 12
2t. Dallas: 12
2t. Houston 12
Most Different Players with an Interception, NFL Teams, 2022
1t. Tampa Bay: 5
1t. Jacksonville: 5
1t. N.Y. Jets: 5
4t. Atlanta: 4
4t. Baltimore: 4
4t. Buffalo: 4
4t. L.A. Chargers: 4
4t. L.A. Rams: 4
4t. Pittsburgh: 4
The Buccaneers are first or second on every list! There are a lot of teams on those five lists combined, but no other team is first or second (including ties) on more than two of those lists. In some cases due to injury and in some due to a robust depth chart, the Buccaneers are getting tons of players involved and many of them are contributing to the cause. I'm not sure if it means anything for the long run, but it's pretty impressive in the moment.
Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
Is RWhite now the official RB2? Will this see him get more snaps?
- @bucs__ (via Instagram)
Honestly, Rachaad White has been the second man in the Bucs' running back rotation for quite some time now. It's only just starting to matter as the team seems intent on getting him more involved in the offense and taking some of the load off of Leonard Fournette.
Since the Buccaneers picked White in the third round of the 2022 draft, it always seemed like he had a fast track to a time-share with Fournette based on his advanced pass-catching skills. And, sure enough, when the regular season began the Buccaneers adjusted their depth chart to put White second behind Fournette, ahead of third-year player Ke'Shawn Vaughn and veteran Giovani Bernard. Bernard has since landed on injured reserve.
In the first three games, the Bucs leaned heavily on Fournette, who was on the field for 85% of the team's offensive snaps. Fournette delivered a great performance in a season-opening win at Dallas, and even though his stats dropped in Week Two at New Orleans, especially in regards to yards per carry, Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich raved about the veteran back doing everything right in the game. After an unproductive game for the rushing attack in a narrow Week Three loss to Green Bay, in which Fournette played all but six out of 65 snaps, Head Coach Todd Bowles made it clear he wanted to get White more involved moving forward.
And he did. The Buccaneers made a point of dedicating several drives to White and while the rushing game was nearly non-existing, the rookie and Fournette combined for 12 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. White looked as good in the passing game as the scouting report would have suggested.
I firmly believe that, going forward, the Buccaneers are going to mix it up a lot more with Fournette and White. In today's NFL, very few teams ride a true every-down back week after week. The Cleveland Browns have one of the NFL's best pure backs in Nick Chubb but they still only have about a 2-1 handoff ratio between Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Broncos were running nearly a 50-50 time share with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon before Williams' terrible knee injury this past weekend. And so on. Given how good White has looked in his limited action, I think that's the ideal for the Buccaneers moving forward.
How good was it to see our rookie TEs in action?
-@levigclark (via Instagram)
Well, I might go with "necessary" over good, but yes, it was good.
Rookie fourth-rounder Cade Otton was back in action after missing the previous week while attending to his family in the wake of his mother's passing. It surely was not easy for him, but he was back in action in Week Four and he ended up playing 43 of a possible 64 snaps, or 67% of the total. Now, that obviously had something to do with Cameron Brate leaving at halftime due to a concussion, but it's worth noting that Otton was active over veteran Kyle Rudolph immediately upon returning to the team.
What's far more interesting about Otton's Week Four outing is that he ran nine routes while on the field on offense. He had ran just three routes in the season opener at Dallas and then eight in Week Two at New Orleans. That means that, for the majority of his time on the field, he was staying in and blocking, which is one of his strengths. With Brate sidelined, the Buccaneers let Otton roam the field quite a bit more, for 27 routes, and he ended up with three catches for 29 yards. In an offense that (without Rob Gronkowski) generally doesn't pay much attention to the tight end position, that's pretty promising.
Meanwhile, our guy Ko Kieft, sixth-round pick, got to do a little bit more than just blowing up defenders in the blocking game. Not much, but a little. Kieft ran a total of three routes, and if you were watching the game you surely remember one of them. Tom Brady threw it to the rookie down the right sideline and Kieft made a nifty spinning catch for a gain of 19 yards for the biggest gain on what would prove to be a 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter. If you think I'm exaggerating I'll let NFL Next Gen Stats back me up.
According to NGS, the expected catch rate on the pass that was tossed in Kieft's direction was 40.3%. He caught it, and his "expected points added" was 1.3, which as an awful lot for a single play. Thanks, NGS.
So, yeah, I think it was a nice night for the Bucs' two tight end draft picks. More to come, hopefully.
How effective Is our pass rush this season so far?
- @snjwillis (via Instagram)
What is the benefit of blitzing the ball?
- @victorp_spam (via Instagram)
The pass rush? Not terrible, but it needs to get better.
The surface stats look pretty good. The Buccaneers rank sixth in sacks per pass play on the young season, at 9.09%. Overall, the team's 14 sacks are tied for the fourth most in the NFL through four games. As I noted in the intro to this mailbag, 10 different players have at least a half a sack for the Buccaneers already. That seems promising.
Overall, however, the Bucs' pressure rate has not been particularly good so far. According to those same NFL Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers have pressured the opposing quarterback on 22.6% of his dropbacks, which ranks just 28th in the league. It's a weird thing, because the team's sack rate of 8.3% is absurdly high, at 8.3%, seventh best in the league. This suggests that Tampa Bay pass rushers have done a good job of converting their opportunities into sacks.
The Bucs have blitzed on 30.4% of their defensive plays, which is 12th in the league and which might be a little bit conservative for a Todd Bowles-coached team. Those plays have created pressure at a 35.3% rate, which is 13th-best in the NFL. However, Tampa Bay's 17.1% pressure rate when rushing four or fewer players is actually last in the league. Admittedly, I find this surprising because I think Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, in particular, have had some pretty impressive plays. I'm guessing this has something to do with the fact that the Bucs' last two opposing quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, have made a point of getting rid of the ball very, very quickly. Even the best pass rushers can't get home when the quarterback is throwing the ball about 2.4 seconds after the snap.
As for the second question, the answer is right there in the above statistics. The benefit is more pressure on the quarterback and, hopefully, more mistakes, plus fewer time for him to get through his progressions. And it worked to some extent, though obviously not nearly enough, against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Mahomes finished the game with a 109.2 passer rating on plays on which the Bucs only rushed four. When Tampa Bay rushed five, Mahomes had a 65.2 rating. Of course, you can overdo it, and that's the risk-reward part of sending extra pass-rushers at the quarterback. You end up with fewer people in coverage and more grass for Mahomes and his cohorts to exploit. The Bucs rushed six players on two occasions and Mahomes completed one pass for a 95.8 passer rating.
Who would you say was your key player in the game against the Chiefs?
- @hblynette (via Instagram)
I suppose this question is asking me who I think was the Bucs' most valuable player in their 41-31 loss to Kansas City. Given that the defense struggled for pretty much the entire night, the answer has to be on offense, and if that's the case the answer is usually the same thing: the quarterback.
Tom Brady gave the Buccaneers a fighting chance, completing 75% of his passes and throwing for 385 yards and three scores. He distributed the ball to 10 different players and helped the team convert six of 10 third downs, an area that had been a bit of an issue. It was vintage Tom Brady and he was undeniably the team's most important player in that game.
But since you said 'key player,' I feel like I have some leeway here to go in another direction and I'm going to go with Mike Evans as my answer. At this point, I feel like Evans may be one of the most underrated players in the NFL. His return to the offense (along with that of Chris Godwin) totally rejuvenated a passing game that was the league's best in 2021. Evans caught eight passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns and did all of that while generally having defenders all over him. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Evans had only 2.64 yards of separation on average on his targets; the NFL average for the week was 2.91. Think of that fade in the back right corner of the end zone for his second score. I'm not sure too many quarterbacks and receivers could make that play work, but Brady and Evans do it on a consistent basis.
In the process, Evans broke the Buccaneers' record for most career yards from scrimmage and increased his team-record touchdowns total to 79. The only two players who have scored more points than him in team history are a pair of kickers. At this point, Evans is the greatest offensive player in franchise history, and the great thing is, he's not even close to done.