The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without Sean Murphy-Bunting for a still-undetermined amount of time, but the third-year cornerback has a chance to return to action during the 2021 season.
That was the good news on Friday regarding the Buccaneers' starting cornerbacks. However, a second issue arose regarding that position when Carlton Davis was added to the injury report with a hamstring ailment and listed as questionable to play in Sunday's game against Atlanta.
"Yeah, right now [we] do not think we need surgery, and it's going to be anybody's guess as far as how long," said Arians regarding Murphy-Bunting and the prognosis for his return. "But there's not going to be any surgery involved – we hope we can get him back some time."
Murphy-Bunting started the season opener against Dallas and played a dual role that had him move into the slot in sub packages. However, he suffered a dislocated elbow late in the first quarter and did not return to the game. Murphy-Bunting also played in all 20 games with 17 starts in 2020 and he set a franchise record in the playoffs by intercepting a pass in three consecutive games.
When Murphy-Bunting left the Dallas game, fellow third-year player Jamel Dean took over as the full-time outside corner opposite Davis, with Ross Cockrell stepping into the slot corner role. That would likely be Plan A against the Falcons, as well, but the Bucs will have to adjust if Davis is also sidelined by his injury. Dee Delaney is the fourth cornerback on the active roster and there are two more, Herb Miller and the recently-signed Pierre Desir, on the practice squad. The team has the option of elevating up to two players from the practice squad to be eligible to play in Sunday's game.
While the cornerback position is possibly in flux, the Bucs are getting back to full strength at safety with starter Jordan Whitehead set to return to action on Sunday. He missed the opening game and much of training camp with a hamstring injury. As Whitehead noted, several of the Buccaneers' defensive backs offer positional flexibility that could be an asset this weekend, including Cockrell and safeties Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Mike Edwards.
"It's a week-to-week thing," he said. "We've been in positions like this before. The next guy steps up. We've got a lot of versatile players and a lot of players who can do a lot of things and that we know are going to make plays. We've got a lot of guys and I really think anybody from Antoine [to] Mike [to] Ross could play nickel. Antoine was there a little bit last year, then Mike goes to safety and a lot of different things. We'll be ready. Everybody knows, like I said before, there is only one Sean, but we've got a lot of great players on this team and they will do anything they're asked to do."
On the other hand, if Davis is sidelined, the Buccaneers will also lose some flexibility in how they choose to handle the Falcons' top pass-catchers.
"Carlton is, I think, one of the top corners in the league and he does give you a lot of flexibility defensively as far as being able to follow a guy from inside to outside and both sides," said Arians. "Some guys only do it from one side or on the outside – he will follow his guy around [and] he gives Todd [Bowles] a tremendous amount of flexibility."
- In his first regular-season NFL game, rookie outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka produced an interesting picture on the NFL Next Gen Stats pre-snap location heat map.
Tryon-Shoyinka actually started the game because the Cowboys in a '21' package (two tight ends, one back, two receivers) and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles countered with a grouping that replaced one safety with a third outside linebacker. He ended up getting 21 defensive snaps even though starters Jason Pierre-Paul (92%) and Shaquil Barrett (85%) still carried their customary heavy workloads.
"I think Todd has done a great job since day one of having packages where he knows exactly what he's supposed to be doing," said Arians of Tryon-Shoyinka's usage. "He's a very bright player, so I think we can just continue to add things to the mix."
The Next Gen Stats heat map shows where Tryon-Shoyinka was stationed right before the ball was snapped on each of his plays. His most common spot was at the line of scrimmage wide of the right offensive tackle, but there were many other dots scattered throughout the tackle box. He lined up wider than the edge on both sides on occasion and occasionally even stood behind the interior defensive linemen. He occasionally set up as many as five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.
The rookie pass rusher finished the game with tackles and a quarterback hit, with the latter play providing pressure on the Dak Prescott pass that was intercepted by Davis in the third quarter. Arians was encouraged with Tryon-Shoyinka's debut.
"Yeah, I was very, very pleased with his first outing going against a really good bunch of tackles," said the coach. "He performed really well. Out in space he did well, rushing the passer, he stayed in his gap in the running game, which has been a problem of his because he likes to go make a play all the time. Yeah, I was very pleased with his progress."
- The Buccaneers ran the ball just 14 times in their Week One win over Dallas, the lowest number of rushing plays for any NFL team in Week One. They were the only team to run fewer than 20 times and still win the game.
That is not the formula that Arians wants to rely on to win games every week. Arians said he plans to have more balance this weekend against the Falcons.
"Definitely, definitely," he said. "We've got to run the ball more and we'll get more out of play-action that way."
The Buccaneers won without establishing the run because they have a briliant quarterback in Tom Brady and an embarrassment of riches in the pass-catching department. It might seem tempting to throw the ball on nearly every down to the likes of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, but Arians doesn't like how that approach could expose his quarterback.
"I think when you get into that type of game, your quarterback is going to get hit a lot. I think it's got to be balanced where we're just not teeing off on the quarterback all the time. That's one of our goals defensively, here, is to stop the run and get after the quarterback. We have to run the ball and stay balanced. Is it 20-40? Is it 40-20? Who knows? Each game dictates it. I think to keep your quarterback clean in this league you have to have a running game."
Obviously, the Buccaneers' offensive line deserves credit for keeping Brady upright despite the lack of a running game in Week One. In fact, the Buccaneers and the Saints were the only two teams that got out of Week One without allowing a sack, and Tampa Bay threw the ball 29 more times than New Orleans did. The Bucs can't count on that happening every week, so they will make an effort to find a better balance on offense moving forward.