-The Buccaneers got some good news on Friday when the subject of tight end Rob Gronkowski's potential return came up.
"His arrow is pointing up. He looks better and better," said Head Coach Bruce Arians.
Gronkowski was injured in Week Three against the Los Angeles Rams, suffering multiple rib fractures along with a punctured lung. Gronkowski attempted a brief return in New Orleans before the team's bye week but back spasms knocked him back out before he could get any sort of momentum going. But now, going into a Monday Night Football matchup at home against the New York Giants, Gronkowski is ready to try again.
"That's all I want to do," he said. "I just want to be out there. I want to help out the guys. I want to be out there and make some plays like I was at the beginning of the year, have some first downs, have some touchdowns. Just help out the offense throughout the game – that's my goal. We're taking it one step at a time. I just had two good practices under my belt and that's a big step right there. That's the first crucial step is having some practices under my belt and making sure I feel good after them. It's going well and the arrow is pointing up toward playing. Hopefully, it does go right and I'm out there Monday night."
The team could also return wide receiver Scotty Miller to the offense and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to the defense. Both are in the designated to return window from injured reserve and Arians said Friday that Murphy-Bunting, especially, had made good progress throughout the week.
"I saw him in press coverage get his hands on people this week," said Arians of SMB. "He's made a couple interceptions using both arms, so yeah, I can see good progress from Sean."
A return of one of Tampa Bay's original starting corners would be welcomed for a unit that has been in a constant state of flux this season.
-The Bucs have seen an uptick in their run game in 2021 but according to Arians, he'd still like to see a little more balance to the offense.
"Our run efficiency has been pretty good," he said Friday. "I'd like to have seen a few more – now the game dictated a little bit in Washington after getting down. I'd like to see a little more balance, but the same thing goes for short passes. To me they're just runs, they're long handoffs. Especially the screens outside and those types of things. The fourth quarter – to me, you play the game in the first three quarters [and] if you're ahead 10 you're going to run the hell out of it, and you'd better run it [well]. In those scenarios this year, we've done well."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
The Bucs have a 45.3% run success rate, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which is good for the fifth-best mark in the league. The combination of runs and short passes have running back Leonard Fournette, who has had three games this season with over 100 yards from scrimmage, is on pace for a season-high in rushing and all-purpose yards. All that success also has to do with the Bucs' offensive line, who cannot get enough recognition as far as this author is concerned. Not only have they opened things up in the run game, they've also added to quarterback Tom Brady's success through the air in multiple phases, including on those short passes that Arians likes to count as part of the running game. In fact, Brady has the best passer rating on passes of 0-9 air yards of any player in any season of the Next Gen Stats era. It stands at 128.9 thanks to and 18-1 touchdown to interception ratio. That success can be attributed to, in part, the lack of pressure Brady faces. His offensive line has recorded the lowest pressure rate and sack percentage of any unit in the league and is tied for the least amount of sacks given up this season with 12.0.
With that much success on short passes and short passes being extensions of the ground game, the Bucs might be a more balanced team than we traditionally think already. They'll be facing the 25th-ranked defense Monday night, which could certainly allow them to establish that balance even further in front of their home fans.
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