The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 2-0 to start the season for the first time since…2018. Okay, that wasn't that long ago. But if you remember that campaign, the Buccaneers lost their next three games, won a miracle overtime game against Cleveland and then lost four more in a row. It was the final season of Dirk Koetter's tenure as head coach.
The 2018 season marked the eighth time that the Buccaneers opened with a 2-0 start. Each time was very encouraging. Not all of them ended well.
Take those eight 2-0 seasons. In four of them, the Buccaneers also won their third game; in four of them they did not. Guess what? The four seasons in that first group all resulted in playoff berths, while the other four all ended in January golfing sessions. Only one of those latter four, a 10-6 campaign in 2010, had a winning record when it was all said and done.
This is not to say that a loss in the first two or three weeks of the season is in any way a disaster. It's worth noting that both of Tampa Bay's Super Bowl-winning seasons started out with a loss. It just seems like 3-0 is a lot better than 2-0, and that's relevant to the Buccaneers' current situation.
The numbers across the NFL make this point pretty clear.
Since the NFL expanded to six playoff teams per conference in 1990, the average finish of a team that started out 2-0 was 10-6. Nice! Of those teams, 62.7% made the playoffs and nine of them went on to win the Super Bowl. That's all very encouraging.
But it gets better if you can get to 3-0.
In that same span, the teams that started out 3-0 finished with an average record of 11-5 (one more win at the beginning, one more at the end…makes sense), and 74.8% of them made the playoffs. That group produced 15 Super Bowl winners, or almost exactly half of the eventual champions. It's good to be 3-0.
The Buccaneers won't be anywhere close to another title if they beat the Rams and go to 3-0 this coming Sunday. And they won't be anywhere eliminated from their ultimate goal if they lose. It's a long season, and even a bit longer this year with 17 regular season games and seven playoff berths per conference. Still, 3-0 would feel a lot better than 2-1.
And, yes, I'm feeling déjà vu, like I've gone down this same road of analysis before. Probably in 2018 and 2010. Hopefully things work out better this time.
And 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
What will be the biggest key to being successful this weekend against the Rams and finding revenge?
- @redwallrules22 (via Instagram)
Let me start by saying that I answered a question during the offseason about which game I thought would be the biggest challenge on the Buccaneers' 2021 schedule and I picked this one. And I stand by it, especially after the Rams got off to an impressive 2-0 start in which the new Matthew Stafford-led offense has looked very good. The Buccaneers still have Buffalo and two New Orleans games to get through and there's probably some team on the schedule that's going to be better than we expected (Carolina?), but I don't see a more well-rounded and difficult opponent than the Rams at the moment.
So what the Buccaneers need to do above all else this Sunday is make sure they are only trying to beat that strong Rams squad and not two teams at the same time. What I mean is, the Bucs can't beat themselves. They need to avoid the self-inflicted wounds that made those first two wins a little more difficult than they had to be.
Tampa Bay has won its first two games despite averaging 10 penalties per game, having a -2 turnover ratio and converting just 39.1% of its third downs on offense (tied for 17th in the league). That last one may not seem like it falls under the category of 'self-inflicted wounds' but it does when you consider that the Bucs are 7-9 on third down tries of one to three yards and 2-14 on all other third downs. Some of those longer third downs have been the result of penalties.
Also two of the Buccaneers turnovers have occurred on Tampa Bay drives that reached the opponents' red zone. You know how many red zone turnovers the Buccaneers had in 20 games last year? Zero. It's a minor miracle that, given those turnovers and red zone issues, the Bucs lead the league with an average of 39.5 points per game. (Or maybe it's a major miracle named Tom Brady.)
Some of the Bucs' issues aren't even reflected in any statistic but they relate to this idea of the team beating itself. Head Coach Bruce Arians refers to them as "lulls," stretches during the game when an otherwise dominant Bucs team gets "lackadaisical" for a while. Again, that's how potential blowouts become tense games.
Immediately after last week's game, Head Coach Bruce Arians started talking about the Bucs' mistakes and how they would play out against a team like the Rams. "That's not going to work next week," he said. "We are going to have to play 60 minutes against the Rams," he said. "I haven't seen us get close to playing consistently yet. Hopefully we'll get there next week because we are going to have to," he said.
The Buccaneers could play a perfect game and still lose, of course. You could say the same thing about the Rams. That said, we've seen what this team is capable of when it's not beating itself, and 60 minutes of that level of play would be hard for any team to withstand. At least if the Bucs play a clean game, win or lose they'll have a good idea of where they stand in the NFC hierarchy. If, on the other hand, they suffer more self-inflicted wounds and lose, it will feel like a lost opportunity to assert dominance in the conference.
As you know, there are a number of statues at One Buc Place of some of the key players from our first Super Bowl victory. Given that the Bucs have won a second Super Bowl by now, have you heard of any plans on erecting a second set of statues? Which players do you think those would feature?
JC (via email to email@example.com)
For anyone who does not know, the AdventHealth Training Center – the Buccaneers headquarters and training facility – has a lobby that doubles as a team museum. The most striking feature is a large, silvery statue called "Moment of Victory." It features life-size figures of nine members of the team's Super Bowl XXXVII-winning team: Jon Gruden, Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber, Shelton Quarles, Brad Johnson, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice.
All nine of those men are depicted in poses taken from photographs of the sideline during the Super Bowl, each caught celebrating at the moment they realized the Super Bowl win was secure. The AdventHealth Training Center – then known as One Buccaneer Place – opened in 2006 but the first time that all nine men depicted in the statue gathered around it at the same time was at Mike Alstott's retirement party in 2008. Here is a picture and a story about that night.
JC, I have not, as of yet, heard of any plans to commission another statue for the Bucs' 2020 Super Bowl team. Frankly, there really isn't a place in the lobby museum for another statue of similar size. I wouldn't be surprised if there eventually is some sort of monument to the 2020 team, but it may be of a different type and/or in a different location. There really is no rush; as I noted, that Moment of Victory statue wasn't unveiled until the summer of 2006, three-and-a-half years after the Super Bowl XXXVII victory.
Also, I think it might be wise to wait a couple years anyway. This team certainly has the potential to win another championship or two and if that happens you might as well pay tribute to the entire run of that squad in a single piece of art. We can't just be plopping giant statues all over the place around here!
All of that said, we can still answer what I think is the main point of JC's question: If there was a Moment of Victory-type statue devoted to the 2020 Bucs team, who would be featured on it? That's actually a fun topic to discuss.
Let's say we get nine choices again. The first two are easy: Head Coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady. I don't think I need to write anything to justify those two selections.
Given that he scored two touchdowns in the game and he's such a huge part of the personality of that team, I think Rob Gronkowski gets a statue. And based on the choices the Bucs have made on things such as the tower walls at Raymond James Stadium, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are probably on there, too. I'd like to throw some love towards the offensive line, which was excellent in the postseason, but I can't take all five and it's pretty hard to single out just one.
So we've already got four offensive players. Before we get out of balance, let's go with four on defense. You've got to start with the linebacker duo of Lavonte David and Devin White. David is the heart and soul of the team and the longest tenured member on the roster. White went supernova in the playoffs, emerging as a full-blown NFL star. Also, those two were team captains, as were Brady and Evans. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to be able to find spots for special teams captains Bradley Pinion and Kevin Minter.
Singling out the next two defensive players is tough. I think I'd have to start with Shaq Barrett because the pass rush dominated in the playoffs and we need to represent that. So one more from the defensive front or somebody in the secondary? Jason Pierre-Paul had a big game in Green Bay and is an emotional leader. Antoine Winfield made some splashy plays but would you give a rookie that honor over someone more established, like Carlton Davis? Sean Murphy-Bunting had three picks in the playoffs. I'd love to see Vita Vea in statue form. However, I think I'm going to go with the elder statesmen of that defense, Ndamukong Suh.
So that's my nine and I am NOT satisfied. If the Bucs ever do build that kind of statue, I'm going to call in sick on the day they hold a meeting to decide who to pick. (In reality, that decision would be made well above my pay grade!) I feel bad about a lot of guys not being in there: Ali Marpet, Leonard Fournette (four postseason touchdowns), Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Vea, Winfield, Pierre-Paul. Maybe the next statue should have 15 guys in it.
Is the pass rush/pressure as effective as last year?
- @bucs_uk (via Instagram)
So far, not yet, but there's no reason to worry. The Bucs have what it takes to bring a terrifying pass rush, like they did so memorably in Super Bowl LV.
If we're judging just by sacks, then the Bucs are off to a slower start than last year. Tampa Bay had six sacks through its first two games in 2020, and then got another six in Week Three. Unless Matthew Stafford spends the entire game on his back on Sunday, it's not likely the 2021 team will have 12 sacks through three weeks. It has produced two so far, one in each game. The Buccaneers finished the 2020 regular season with 48 sacks, which is an average of exactly three per game.
Given the way this question is worded, I don't think the questioner intended for me to focus solely on sacks, though, and the overall picture is a little brighter. Arians has generally praised his pass rushers after each of the first two games, believing they are doing a pretty good job of putting pressure on the quarterback. Let's turn to NFL Next Gen stats to see the pressure numbers and how they compare to the beginning of last season.
In 2020, the Buccaneers' defense had 79 opportunities to rush the passer over the first two weeks. They generated 17 pressures on those drop-backs, for a pressure rate of 21.5%. During that time, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles ran 26 blitzes, sending one or more extra rusher 32.9% of the time. (Of course, what we call blitzes aren't always designed blitzes, but that's how many times more than four pass-rushers came at the quarterback for whatever reason).
So far in 2021, Tampa Bay's defense has had 108 pass-rushing opportunities and has generated 28 pressures. That's a pressure rate of 25.9%. That's better than last year! And the Bucs have brought extra rushers 40 times, or 37.0% of the time. That's a bit of a higher blitz rate, so maybe the four-man rush is getting home a little less often. All told, however, I would say the results have been pretty similar. I would also argue that the Cowboys and Dak Prescott, in particular, made a concerted effort to get rid of the ball very quickly, and they threw a lot, so it's hard to maintain much of a pressure rate in those situations.
Not only do the Buccaneers have everyone back from last year's defensive front, but they've added first-rounder Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Tryon-Shoyinka hasn't recorded his first NFL sack yet but he has had a couple pressures, including one that led to an interception. Unless you think Barrett or Pierre-Paul are about to fall of the table, there's no reason to believe this year's edge rush will be any worse than last year, and it will probably be better. The contract the Bucs gave to Barrett in March indicates that they think he has several more big years in him, and Pierre-Paul is much healthier than he was last season after an offseason knee procedure. Personally, I expect to see the sacks start coming in bunches.
is Joe Tryon a serious candidate for defensive rookie of the year?
@_samuel13reece_ (via Instagram)
Well, I'll start this answer the same way I started the last one: Not yet, but there's plenty of time for that to change.
The Buccaneers' coaching staff has definitely been pleased with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka's play through the first two games. As I noted just a bit earlier, he doesn't have that big first NFL sack yet, but he's gotten close and the Bucs have lined him up in an interesting variety of spots on the defense. The problem is, he's going to need some of those stats to have a shot at winning the award and in that sense he's fallen behind some other prominent candidates so far.
Baltimore edge rusher Odafe Oweh took the Sunday Night Football spotlight and ran with it in Week Two, and he already has a sack, five tackles, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Those big plays in prime-time exposure probably make him the front-runner at this point.
Other well-known rookie defenders who have already made plays of note include Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn and Denver cornerback Patrick Surtain, both of whom have interceptions already, and Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons, who was widely considered the favorite for the award before the season. Parsons already has nine tackles, a sack, five QB hits and a pass defensed and he drew a lot of attention by successfully switching to defensive end for Dallas in Week Two when the Cowboys were depleted at the position by injuries.
The main hurdle for Tryon is that all of those players, and probably several more, started the season with larger roles on their respective defenses. Horn, Surtain and Parsons are all starters and while Oweh isn't starting yet he's playing 63% of the Ravens' defensive snaps. So far, Tryon-Shoyinka is only playing on just over a quarter of the Bucs' defensive snaps and that's not likely to go up significantly as long as both Barrett and Pierre-Paul are healthy. I guess that's what happens when you get drafted to a Super Bowl-winning team that brings everybody back for another run a the trophy.
While we're on the topic of Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, however, you may not realize just how prominently the Buccaneers are featuring him on special teams. Through two games he's already played 44 special teams snaps, or 69% of the Bucs' team total. Basically, he's playing on every unit except the placekicking ones. There are probably not many first-round rookies playing that many snaps on special teams.