Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S.S. Mailbag: Are Changes Afoot?

This week, Bucs fans are particularly interested in things that might change at some point – the defensive scheme, the secondary lineup, the backfield starter, and more.


Shaq Barrett was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Thursday, an honor that seemed as inevitable as The Godfather's Oscar win in 1972. When you don't even need to mention the interception, 10 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles because your guy has also tied an NFL record with 9.0 sacks through the first four games of a season, you've got a pretty easy campaign to run.

And, when you have 9.0 sacks through four games, that means you're a pretty good bet to reach double digits in that category by, oh, your fifth, sixth or seventh game, thinking conservatively. If and when Barrett gets his 10th sack, there's a decent chance it will be faster than any Buccaneer has ever reached that mark.

Marcus Jones holds that record with 10.0 sacks through the first seven games of the 2000 season, though he got there a little differently. Jones "only" had six sacks through the first six games, then he jumped all the way to double digits with a four-sack performance in Game Seven. That set a new Buccaneers single-game record at the time, which was later matched by Simeon Rice in 2003 and Barrett himself just a couple weeks ago.

So, one sack in either of the next two games and Barrett will have the new Buc record. Let's look at some other statistical milestones and find out which Buccaneers got their the fastest in any given season. For the purpose of this exercise, we'll be counting the number of team games played into any season, not how many games the individual himself played.

- 1,000 rushing yards. Doug Martin did this in a very neat fashion as a rookie in 2012, finishing his 10th game with exactly 1,000 rushing yards. He wasn't on pace to get there that quickly until he went bananas in Oakland in Game Eight, rushing for a team-record 251 yards. Two games later, his 138 yards at Carolina got him to four digits in Game 10.

- 1,000 receiving yards. Last year, Mike Evans nearly made it to 1,000 yards in 10 games but fell 43 yards short. He did pass the 1,000-yard mark in Game 11 and has the record for the most yards through 11 games, but he wasn't the first to get to four digits in 11 games for the Bucs. That was Joey Galloway, who also hit 1,000 exactly in 11 games in 2005.

- 3,000 passing yards. Jameis Winston holds the Bucs' record for most passing yards through 12 games, with 3,180 in 2016, and he got over the 3,000-yard mark with a 280-yard day in Game Twelve. However, the first Buccaneer quarterback with at least 3,000 passing yards through 12 games was Josh Freeman, who was at 3,003 after a dozen outings in 2012.

- 100 tackles. Take this one with a little grain of salt because tackle totals have been compiled in a variety of ways through the years, only becoming more standardized relatively recently. Still, with what we've got, it appears that this record belongs to Lavonte David, who was credited with 103 tackles through the first nine games of 2014.

- 5 interceptions. There isn't really a common milestone number for interceptions in a single season. Ten is nice and round but it doesn't happen very often. So we'll go with five, and there have been two instances of a Buccaneer getting to that number just six games into a season. Wayne Haddix did so in 1990 but he doesn't get the belt because Harry Hamilton had beaten him to it just the year before.

- 10 touchdowns. Mike Evans had 10 touchdowns through 11 games in 2016, but that tied a record that had been set more than 20 years earlier. Doug Martin also got there in 11 outings in 2012, but the first to do so was running back Errict Rhett in 1995. He'd get one more the following week to finish at 12.

- 100 points scored. Matt Bryant had 99 points after 11 games in 2018, so it was in Game 12 that he got into triple digits, scoring 11 more to shoot past the mark all the way 110. He was the first to get there that quickly, though Connor Barth also 103 points after 12 games in 2012.

Well, that was fun (for me at least). Now let's get 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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 5 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Will Todd Bowles change up his defense for the Saints?

- matthewibarra5, via Instagram

Well, uh, yeah. I think Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles tailors a very specific defensive game plan for every opponent. One of the things that seems apparent early in the Bucs' first year with Bowles at the defensive helm is that they can successfully scheme to stop certain elements of the opposing offense. The Buccaneers held both Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley in check, but that wasn't exactly the same challenge, as those two players stress defenses in different ways.

A more specific example of the Bucs' successful preparation for something the opponent is going to do is the fourth-and-two play Tampa Bay stopped in the third quarter of the Week Four win in Los Angeles. Shaq Barrett – there's that name again – intercepted a quick screen pass by Jared Goff intended for running back Malcolm Brown out towards the right sideline, and it sure seems as if the Rams didn't expect Barrett to go out in coverage. What actually happened is that the entire defense was alert for a screen pass – they yelled that too each other before the snap – and Barrett saw the offensive tackle he was lined up against immediately sprint out to the right so he followed him. Carl Nassib, the other outside linebacker who rushes the passer on most plays, also went out in coverage and was near the play. Meanwhile, inside linebacker Kevin Minter successfully blitzed right up the middle, forcing Goff to throw quickly to what he expected to be an open Brown. He didn't have time to diagnose the defense and go to another read.

Now, I think there are certain defensive principles that will stay the same against almost every opponent. The Buccaneers clearly believe in stopping the run first, especially when facing a team with a prolific running back, hoping to create a one-dimensional offense that won't have much of a play-action option and will be easier to pass-rush. I think you'll see the Buccaneers try to do that again with Alvin Kamara and the Saints.

But, yes, I would expect some specific strategy changes in the secondary, particularly in trying to deal with Michael Thomas. The ball is thrown Thomas' way at a ridiculous volume, and he lines up both inside and outside. Last year, he ran 58.7% of his snaps out of the slot, according to Football Outsiders, and I'm sure the Bucs' game plan for him won't be too simply cover him man to man on every play with M.J. Stewart. Considering the Bucs gave up 517 gross passing yards last week in Los Angeles, I'm sure the coaches and players are working on some corrections.

When are we going to see more of Scotty Miller? Even if he does some punt returns

- big.boy.bash, via Instagram

Well, we already are starting to see more of Miller, the rookie wideout, albeit in a very gradual progression. He was inactive for the first two games, so simply by being kept on the 46-man roster the last two weeks he's seen a bump in activity. And, after playing just two snaps on offense against in Game Three he got eight snaps against the Rams in Week Four. That's quadruple the total! Clearly, he'll get 32 snaps on Sunday in New Orleans.

Miller also was targeted on a pass for the first time last Sunday. Compare that to last year's late-round rookie receiver, Justin Watson, who didn't play until Week Four and didn't get a target until Week Eight. You might remember the play; it was the one where Jameis Winston had his arm hit while trying to throw deep and the ball fluttered down near the goal line into a crowd of players. Two Rams ran into each other, which kept the ball from being intercepted, and Mike Evans hurt his hand on the play trying to break it up.

Miller was the player past all that, as he had broken several yards into the clear behind the defense on a deep route. Head Coach Bruce Arians said the next day that he believed the play would have been a touchdown if Winston hadn't been hit. I take that as a good sign. If Miller can show in limited snaps that he is capable of getting open deep, I'm sure he'll be given more opportunities to do so. With Breshad Perriman currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, it seems fairly certain that Miller will once again be active in Week Five.

As for punt returns, I could see that happening too. He continues to alternate reps with Bobo Wilson in practice, which tells me that the coaches want to keep him sharp in that area in case they decided to give him a crack at a return soon. Perhaps that chance would have come in L.A. at some point, but unfortunately the Rams only punted once all day. Yeah, it was that kind of shootout; the Bucs only punted twice.

Is Sean Murphy-Bunting seeing time in the secondary, or has he only been on special teams?

- ryankovatch, via Instagram

Here are Murphy-Bunting's game-by-game snap counts on defense so far: 1, 0, 6, 9.

Here are his game-by-game snap counts on special teams: 21, 25, 26, 28.

Murphy-Bunting, the rookie cornerback drafted by the Bucs in the second round this spring, is clearly a very valuable special teams player. He tied for the highest special teams snap total in Week One and has had the most all by himself in the three games since. His role in the kick-and-coverage game started out huge and is staying that way.

The defensive numbers tell a different story. He essentially was not involved at all in the first two games; that one snap against San Francisco in Week One came when Carlton Davis was very briefly sidelined by an injury. His usage has picked up in the past two weeks, though in Los Angeles most of those snaps came while Vernon Hargreaves was out for a bit with an injury of his own. Still, it does appear as if the coaching staff is finding moments here and there to get the rookie involved. I would not be surprised at all to see his role grow in the weeks to come.

I'll go back to what I said in the last answer above – the Bucs' pass defense is giving up a lot of yards. It ranks second-to-last in that category. Turnovers have helped turn back that tide, but they're not going to be there every week. As I said above, I'm sure the coaching staff is examining every option to try to tighten up the coverage in the secondary a bit. Some of that is simply a matter of execution and proper communication, but it's not out of the question to consider personnel changes, or at least getting other players partially more involved.

As I've said and written on numerous occasions, I believe cornerback depth is critical because a team rarely makes it through a season without needing to use at least four or five of them. I have no doubt that Murphy-Bunting will get his chance to play this season, and until then he'll continue to make a big impact on special teams.

Should we go with the underdog mentality for the remainder of the season?

- jkizal, via Instagram

Let's go with "under the radar" rather than "underdog." I'm not sure that this team really has an "underdog mentality" internally because that would be admitting that they are the lesser foe in any contest. I'm sure Buccaneer players don't mind other people considering them underdogs for the moment, because it's always good if your opponent underestimates you. But Bruce Arians told the team in the postgame locker room in Los Angeles that they should take the field every week expecting to win. That's hardly thinking of yourself as the underdog.

Anyway, it's going to take several more wins before those outside of the AdventHealth Training Center stop thinking of the Buccaneers as underdogs. You've got that right, jkizal. That's a good thing. In fact, let's just stop talking about this right now so we can stay under that radar as long as possible.

Who will be starting Peyton Barber or Ronald Jones?

- middle.child.10, via Instagram

Answer one: Peyton Barber. Answer two: It doesn't really matter.

The Bucs actually had their lowest rushing output of the season as a team in Week Four, with just 88 yards. But both Barber and Jones scored, and Jones also had two runs totaling 78 yards called back by penalties that probably didn't really affect either play. It was definitely a bigger day for Jones, who logged all but one of the team's carries in the second half, but Barber was once again on the field for the first snap. Here's what Arians said on the Monday after the game:

"I like where we're at. Peyton had a big game [in Week Two] and when RoJo gets going, he'll stay in there.

"When you get the hot hand – and he had the hot hand, he was making people miss. Peyton had it in Carolina, so it's a good problem to have to have two guys, and both did a great job of scoring in the red zone."

Has the fact that Barber has gotten the first series or two in every game so far inhibited Jones' output in any way? I would argue that it has not. Every time he's come into the game and started producing right away, the Bucs have stuck with him. The exception was Week Two in Carolina, where Jones did have a nice 12-yard run but aggravated a toe injury on the play and wasn't used much after that. That was fine because Barber had his best outing on that Thursday night.

This last game featured the biggest disparity in carries between Jones and Barber in any of the four weeks so far, with 19 for the former and nine for the latter. If that were to become a trend – if Jones keeps getting a larger and larger share of the offense – than I suppose at some point there would be a formal switch in the starting lineup. That may not happen for a while, or it may not happen at all this season. Until then, I don't think it matters a whole lot who gets the official start each week.

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