The opening week of the 2022 season is upon us, which means it was time for the NFL's annual "Kickoff Guide" to land in my email box. (Okay, they actually sent it last week but with the new three-game preseason schedule this is almost like one extended week leading up to the games that count.) The Kickoff Guide is a long collection of notes and tidbits about all 32 teams, plus closer looks at such issues as player safety, international games and social responsibility.
And I do mean long. This year's Kickoff Guide covers 243 pages. That's a lot of notes.
Here's a few I found particularly interesting:
• Every season since 1990, when the postseason field expanded to six teams in each conference, at least four teams have made the playoffs that missed out the previous season. Last year that was true for seven of the 14 playoff teams – Cincinnati, Las Vegas, New England, Arizona, Dallas, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
• Kansas City has an active streak of seven straight victories on opening weekend, the longest for any team. The Giants come into 2022 having lost five straight Week One outings, the longest such activestreak.
• The NFL set single-season records in 2021 for most two-point conversion attempts (154) and most successful two-point conversions (75).
But, hey, this is a Buccaneers-centric mailbag, so what we really want from the NFL is notes about our team. Well, the NFL delivered on that, too. Really, with Tom Brady on the roster, you're guaranteed to have at least a few pages devoted to some pretty outlandish numbers regarding your team. (Mike Evans helps, too.) I could fill this whole introduction with just Brady notes, but I chose just a couple so we could have some variety.
So here are some nuggets, courtesy of the bursting-at-the-seams 2022 NFL Kickoff Guide that pertain to the Buccaneers as a team, the accomplishments of some of their players and the potential milestones they could hit in 2022:
• The Buccaneers will travel an estimated 23,764 air miles during the regular season to get to their games away from home. That number is obviously inflated by the Week 10 journey to Munich, where they will battle the Seattle Seahawks in the first NFL game ever staged in Germany. Tampa Bay's projected air miles are the sixth most among NFL teams in 2022. Tops on the list: Seattle, at 29,446.
• The Buccaneers scored 30 or more points 10 times in 2021, the most by any team in the league.
• Tampa Bay's defense has held 34 of its opponents below 100 yards rushing as a team since the start of the 2019 season. That's the most by any team in that span.
• After catching 13 touchdown passes in 2020, Mike Evans hauled in another 14 scoring passes last year. If he can get at least 13 more this season he will join Lance Alworth, Terrell Owens and some obscure former receiver named Jerry Rice as the only players in league history to do that three seasons in a row. Yes, those are all Pro Football Hall of Famers. Evans' 75 touchdown receptions since he entered the league in 2014 are the most by any player in that span, two ahead of Davante Adams.
• Leonard Fournette missed the Buccaneers' opening-round win over Philadelphia last January but then returned for the Divisional Round contests against the Rams and did what he always does in the postseason: scored a touchdown. Dating back to his 2017 season with Jacksonville, Fournette has now scored at least one touchdown in the last seven playoff games he's played. That's the longest active streak for any NFL player and only two shy of Thurman Thomas' all-time record of nine. Only six running backs have ever scored a touchdown in seven consecutive playoff games; the other five (Thomas, Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Terrell Davis and John Riggins) are all in the Hall of Fame.
• Okay, on to Tom Brady. You probably know that he's closing in on 100,000 career passing yards, playoffs included, and that he joined Aaron Rodgers last year as the only quarterbacks with three seasons with 40-plus touchdown passes. Here's something a little more obscure: Brady has the longest active streak of games started among NFL quarterbacks, with 93. Derek Carr is next at 76. A 100-game starts streak would be pretty cool…but Brady has already done that twice before. In fact, he's already the only quarterback in NFL history with two different streaks of 100-plus games started. A third is on the horizon.
• Evolving defensive strategies from Tampa Bay's opponents may have caused Brady and the Buccaneers to rely on many more quick passes than they did in 2020, but that didn't erase the big play from the Bucs' arsenal. In fact, Brady completed 75 passes of 20 more yards in 2021. Not only did that lead the NFL but it was the second-highest total by any NFL quarterback since 2000, trailing only Kurt Warner's 81 in 2001.
Well, that was fun. Thanks NFL Kickoff Guide. 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.
How much does the team practice during the season? What's a typically practice like?
@its_kamjam (via Instagram)
Overall, the Buccaneers practice at full speed for about 5.5 hours per week, with approximately two-hour sessions on Wednesday and Thursday and a 90-minute workout on Friday. Wednesday and Thursday are considered "install" days, in which the players are given the game plan and work on specific plays the coaches expect to call on Sunday. Friday is considered a "review" day in which the team goes back over what it has installed and makes sure it has it all down.
There are also walk-throughs on each of those days, which help with the installation of plays, as well. Those typically last about 45 minutes. On Saturday morning, the Buccaneers also hold what they call a "mock game," which is just another walk-through to go over the game plan.
One of the things that varies during the season from week to week is how much of those practice hours are spent in full pads. That's because each NFL teams is only allowed to have 15 padded practices per season. A team can spread those out over 17 game weeks however it likes, but it's fairly typical to use more of them earlier in the season and gradually taper off as more players are managing injury situations and just overall fatigue from all those weeks of work.
Sometimes – like this week – the schedule allows for a "bonus" practice. The Bucs had one of those this week because the previous week was essentially a league-wide bye after the final preseason weekend. Since they weren't recovering from a game on Sunday and had in fact given the players three straight days off, the Bucs got in an extra hour of practice on Monday, though it was more generic work than actual game-planning.
A typical two-hour practice starts with stretching and special teams work for about a half-hour. Some veterans who are not involved in special teams can go inside the facility or one of the cool-down trailers during this time if they want. After that, you have individual-position drills, commonly known as "indies," and then the offense and defense start going against each other in a variety of drills. These include seven-on-seven (a passing period without the down linemen), 9-on-7 (a running period that doesn't include receivers and DBs) and full-team periods. Some of these periods are devoted to specific situations, such as blitzing, red zone and two-minute. These situation-specific drills are considered particularly important and are repeated frequently throughout the season.
The order of these drills isn't always the same but that's the basic idea. There are also hydration breaks worked into the two-hour schedule, of course.
A typical Wednesday schedule will include a couple hours of meetings in the morning, either full-team or position-specific, the walk-through, the main practice, lunch and then several more hours of meetings in the afternoon in which video of the practice is used to indicate what was done right and what needs to be cleaned up. Thursday is pretty similar but Friday the players are usually able to get out of the building much earlier in the day without any afternoon meetings.
Obviously, things have to be switched around a little bit when you are playing, say, a Thursday night game. Otherwise, though, it has been my experience that most NFL coaches want to structure a weekly schedule that is as stable and repetitive as possible from week to week.
What AFC team you are most excited to play?
@aewisjericho2022 (via Instagram)
There are five choices here: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh from the AFC North and Kansas City, which is the Bucs' "17th game" matchup. That's a pretty intriguing list!
It's awfully hard not to pick Kansas City, simply for the Patrick Mahomes factor, and the fact that it's going to be very interesting to see how they rearrange the offense with Tyreek Hill gone. But we had a few cracks at Kansas City in 2020 – including, of course, Super Bowl LV – so the novelty of Brady vs. Mahomes isn't quite there. That's still going to be a great game and would be a perfectly fine choice here, but there are two other games that I'm even more excited about.
Those two are Baltimore and Cincinnati, and it's mainly because of the quarterbacks.
The Buccaneers have faced the Ravens' Lamar Jackson once before, but it was during his 2018 rookie season – his fifth career start, to be exact – before he exploded in 2019 with his 36-touchdown MVP campaign. And it's fair to say that Tampa Bay's defense looks a lot different now than it did during a rough 2018 season when it gave up the second-most points in the league. This year's Week Eight game in Baltimore, before a nation-wide prime-time audience no less, feels like the first real showdown between Jackson and what has since developed into one of the NFL's best defenses.
I'm very interested to see what Todd Bowles and company draws up for Jackson. The Bucs' defense handled Jalen Hurts' rushing plays quite well in two games last year, but Jackson is on another level from Hurts when it comes to running the ball. I also believe that Baltimore is going to be a serious Super Bowl contender this year assuming they have even somewhat better luck on the injury front. After all, they were 8-3 and in first place in the AFC overall last year before the weight of all their injuries became too much and they lost their last six. The Ravens' offense no longer has Marquise Brown after a draft-night trade with Arizona, but I feel like second-year receiver Rashod Batemen is ready to break out. If Jackson can replicate what he was in 2019 – a dual threat QB who threw for those 36 touchdowns against just nine interceptions and also ran for 1,206 yards (!) and six more scores – he could be the biggest challenge Tampa Bay's defense faces all season.
Then there's Joe Burrow in Cincinnati. I'm actually not usually a fan of the cockiest guy on the field but there's something about Burrow's oversized confidence that is infectious, not off-putting. If I was a Bengals fan, I'm not sure I'd be willing to trade Burrow for anybody, even Mahomes or Josh Allen. And while Jackson's receiving corps might be a bit limited, Burrow gets to work with Ja'Marr Chase AND Tee Higgins AND Tyler Boyd. It's positively Buc-like. Add in Joe Mixon and an offensive line that is almost certainly going to be better than it was last year…when they made the Super Bowl…and that offense should be a lot of fun to watch.
If I have to pick one of the two, though, I'd go with the Ravens and Lamar.
The big concern going into this year are the young lineman being pressed into starting roles with Ali Marpet retiring and the Ryan Jensen injury. What can the Bucs do schematically to help the line out? Can they keep the halfback in to pick up an inside rush or have a tight end flank Brady on his left side? They have the receivers to give defenses trouble and they still have two excellent offensive tackles and a great veteran offensive guard on the right side. Can they slide protection to double team an inside rusher?
James P. Taylor (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Actually, I think the most significant thing the Bucs can and will do, scheme-wise, to help an unproven interior line is to make frequent use of the quick passing game. Tom Brady demonstrated that he could be extremely effective while throwing a high number of passes that left his hand in less than 2.5 seconds after the snap, which makes sense. One of the (many) things that has made Brady an all-time great (or perhaps the all-time great) is his field vision and elite decision-making. And by this point he's seen it all, so he can recognize very quickly, sometimes even before the snap, where the ball needs to go.
But yes, of course, they can keep the running back in to try to pick up any blitzers or stray interior rushers who get through. From what I saw in preseason games, it also looks like they are comfortable lining up rookie tight end Ko Kieft all over the place, including in the backfield. So putting him in-line next to a tackle to make it easier for the front line to double-team whichever rusher seems to be the biggest problem is an option, as is using him behind the line in an H-back type of role.
I think every team utilizes these tactics to some degree or other. However, if play-caller Byron Leftwich has adopted the same sort of offensive philosophy that Bruce Arians had, I don't think the Bucs will rely too frequently on such extra-blocker tactics. Arians always preferred having as many eligible targets going out on routes as possible over keeping them in for additional QB protection. I think Leftwich and company will at least head into the season with the belief that the Bucs' new-look interior line is going to hold up as well as it has the last couple years. If that proves to be untrue to a damaging degree, then you may a shift in philosophy.
How is Carl Nassib fitting in on the team?
@ian_luna1199 (via Instagram)
Well, I won't pretend that I spend hours in the locker room observing how Buc teammates interact with each other, so I can't credibly report how Nassib, or any new player on this year's roster, is "fitting in" on a personal level. But Nassib isn't completely new, having played for Tampa Bay in 2018 and 2019, and he seemed to fit in with the team as well as anyone, so I doubt there's any issue there.
As for how he fits into the roster and the OLB rotation, that seems to be a perfect match. It was, in fact, pretty fortunate for the Buccaneers that Nassib was available when they lost Cam Gill, the fourth-man in that rotation, to a season-ending foot injury. Todd Bowles and most of the current defensive coaches were on the staff in 2019 and were very appreciative of Nassib's production and his high-motor style of play. When Nassib was signed in August, Bowles noted that the former Buc knew the system well and fit into it well. In fact, he reminds many of Anthony Nelson, who is the third man in that OLB rotation behind Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka.
I think the fact that the Buccaneers are starting the season with only four edge rushers on the roster is an indication of how comfortable the coaches are with Nassib being that fourth guy. If he wasn't as good of a fit, I'd imagine they would be looking for some additional depth there.
When will the uniform schedule come out?
Jorge Padilla (via email to email@example.com)
This season, the Buccaneers will be revealing that on a weekly basis. In a typical week it will be tweeted by the Buccaneers team account as part of "Wallpaper Wednesday." Here's what it looked like this week: