Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive Trends | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about shifts and shotgun handoffs, impending franchise records, Scotty Miller, Sean Murphy-Bunting and more

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Mike Evans is on the verge of passing Mike Alstott as the all-time touchdown scorer in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. He heads into Sunday's game at Washington with 70 career TDs, just one fewer than Alstott's record of 71. It's no longer a question of whether or not Evans will add this one to his growing list of franchise records, but when he'll do it. He's already had three multiple-touchdown games this season, so it would certainly be no surprise to see the record fall this Sunday.

I know I have already written and talked about this impending event on several different platforms, including in this S.S. Mailbag series, but one of the questions below is tangentially related to it and it made me want to share a note I recently looked up.

To my surprise, there is only one active NFL player who is currently the all-time touchdown leader for one of the 32 franchises, and he doesn't actually play for that team anymore. That man is actually Evans' teammate, as Rob Gronkowski holds the New England Patriots' career TD record with 80. There were two as recently as last year, but Arizona record-holder Larry Fitzgerald is not in the league this year. To me, that says that breaking your team's all-time touchdowns record is an awfully big deal, and it doesn't happen very often around the league.

Gronkowski is also the most recent player to displace a franchise's previous touchdowns record-holder, having passed Stanley Morgan's total of 68 in 2016. Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas are tied for Buffalo's record with 87, which means there are 33 people who hold a team's touchdown record right now. Only seven of them even played in the 2010s.

The franchise touchdown record that has stood the longest belongs to the Green Bay Packers. Don Hutson holds their mark with 105, scored between 1935 and 1945. Jim Taylor got close, ending his Packer tenure in 1966 with 91 scores, but nobody else has even hit 70 since. Davante Adams, at 65 and sixth on the list, is getting close, however.

The highest franchise touchdown record belongs to the San Francisco 49ers, unsurprisingly. Jerry Rice is the NFL's all-time touchdown king, with 208, and 187 of them came in a 49ers uniform. The lowest franchise touchdown record is in Baltimore, where Jamal Lewis recorded 47 of them between 2000-06.

Evans is the best bet to become the next new name on this list but he does have some competition. In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara is up to 66 touchdowns, which is now just six behind the record of 72 set by Marques Colston from 2006-15. A third player had a very good shot to join this list in 2021, but Derrick Henry's foot injury has put that chase on hold in Tennessee. Eddie George holds the Titans record with 74, and Earl Campbell is right behind at 73 but Henry has rapidly climbed all the way up to 68.

There were also two players who were poised to break their franchise's touchdown record at the end of last season but changed teams this year before they could get it. Julio Jones had 61 touchdowns as a Falcon, which is just two behind Roddy White's record of 63, but Jones was traded to the Titans. And A.J. Green had pulled within five of the record in Cincinnati, 65 to Pete Johnson's 70, but he signed with the Cardinals in 2021.

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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

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

I've been a Patriots fan for many years before TB12, but have transferred allegiances with TB & Gronk joining the Bucs. I have 3 comments/questions for you to consider:

1. In NE it seemed like Brady had a man in motion on almost every play to figure out the D. I remember at the beginning of TB's time with the Bucs they rarely did that, but towards the end of last year and through the SB run the did it more and he was more successful. It seems to me that they are doing it less this year and wonder why.

2. Gronk is fantastic but seems like he rarely makes it through a season without injury. I think the Bucs should hold him out much longer as he is so much more dominant when he's healthy (and save him for the post season).

3. Way before Brady the Pats seemed to have great success running from the shotgun (even at the goal line), but teams don't seem to do that anymore. Any idea if that would help the Bucs.

*Sorry it's an email, but I'm obviously old school. *

Regards,

T. George Walkden (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

No need to apologize for using email, George. It allows you a chance to flesh out your question a bit more, which you clearly did here. And before we get to those discussions, let me first welcome you into the Buccaneer fold. We're glad to have you on our side! And, well, you picked a good time to come aboard.

As for your first question/comment, I think the numbers support the first half of your premise but not the second. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers did up their usage of shifts and pre-snap motion when they went on their eight-game post-bye tear to the Super Bowl. During their first 12 games, the Bucs used shifts or motion on 46% of their offensive plays. In the eight games after the bye week, including the postseason, shifts or motion were present on 56% of their snaps.

That is very similar to what Brady was used to in New England, at least at the tail end of his two decades there. Next Gen Stats only go back to the 2016 season, but from 2016-19 the Patriots used shifts and motion on 58% of their offensive snaps.

Where the numbers don't back you up, George, is the part where you believe the Buccaneers have gone back to using shifts and motion less frequently in 2021. In fact, NGS says Brady and the Bucs are using that strategy on 55% of their snaps, almost identical to where they were after the bye in 2020. That's also the 10th-highest rate for any team in the NFL, so I don't think much of an argument can be made for the Bucs doing it even more. Also, and this is no small thing, the offense is already doing really, really well with its current approach.

As for your second point, I think we're already seeing that in action. It's certainly not news that Gronkowski has had to deal with a number of injuries in his career thanks to his incredibly physical style of play. He played in all 32 games in his first two seasons in New England but then didn't have another 16-game season until he joined the Buccaneers last year. That came after a one-year retirement that was prompted by a gradual accumulation of wear and tear. Counting the playoffs, Gronkowski played more games – 20 – lats year than he ever had in a single season.

That felt a bit miraculous at the time and now it is not surprising to see that full schedule elude him again. And I do believe Bruce Arians and his staff are going to take the cautious approach with Gronkowski moving forward, particularly after Arians seemed to regret letting Gronk talk him into playing in Week Eight in New Orleans. In fact, here's what Arians said this Wednesday about the possibility of Gronkowski and Antonio Brown missing more games due to their respective back and ankle injuries:

"We've got a long way to go. If they linger three more weeks, we've got five more games with them, or six. It's a long way yet, so I'm not that concerned. I like where we're at with Darren and BP, guys like that coming in and giving us good insurance."

'Darren' is tight end Darren Feller and 'BP' is wide receiver Breshad Perriman, both of whom were signed to the Bucs' practice squad on Wednesday. Both of them also have previous experience in Arians' offensive system. As Arians notes, they are another level of insurance against shortages at either of those positions, and their additions make me believe that Gronkowski and Brown are going to continue to come along slowly.

Finally, as to your point about runs out of the shotgun, your perception may be greatly informed by watching Buccaneers games, specifically. I don't think handoffs out of the shotgun are down – in fact, with RPOs becoming more widespread, I would think they would be up. But not in Tampa. Of the Bucs' 179 runs so far this year, only 39 have come out of the shotgun. Those plays have worked pretty well, gaining an average of 4.6 yards per run, though that's partially thanks to one 24-yard run by Gio Bernard last week. That's the longest run the Bucs have had all year and it came out of the shotgun.

The Buccaneers are averaging 4.2 yards per carry when the quarterback starts under center, and starting out under center makes play-action fakes more effective. And letting the running back get a running start means getting to the line of scrimmage faster, and hopefully while the holes are still open. Bucs ballcarriers have averaged 2.44 seconds from the snap to the line of scrimmage with the quarterback under center this year. That goes up to 3.25 out of the shotgun.

But my main point is you don't see a lot of shotgun runs from the Buccaneers. Only Minnesota, with 37, has run fewer times out of the shotgun this year. It's the teams with mobile quarterbacks who have the most shotgun runs – but those are often not handoffs but just the QB taking off. Arizona (Kyler Murray), Baltimore (Lamar Jackson) and Philadelphia (Jalen Hurd) are 1-2-3 on the list. Arizona leads the way with 244 runs out of shotgun for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Mobile quarterback or not, most of the league has used shotgun runs at least as twice as often as the Bucs have. Eighteen teams have done it 79 times or more. What can I say, George? It's just not our thing.

With Mike Evans being two touchdowns away from the franchise record, who else is close to any other records?

- @bucs_uk (via Instagram)

There aren't any career records that are particularly imminent, no. Evans has already washed out all the receiving records. Chris Godwin is moving up those charts rapidly but he's still not anywhere close to Evans, who obviously keeps adding to his totals. By the end of the season, barring injuries, Godwin will probably be third in receptions and fourth in receiving yards in team history.

Lavonte David will pass Tony Mayberry for the fourth-most starts in team annals with three more, but he's not even close to the top three of Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and Paul Gruber. Similarly, David has moved up to third on the Bucs' career tackle chart and might be able to catch Barber in second with a couple more productive seasons, but he's still more than 1,000 stops behind Derrick Brooks in the top spot. Man, Derrick Brooks was good!

I would say the more realistic broken records in 2021 would be single-season ones, specifically the passing records. Jameis Winston set the Bucs' passing yardage record in 2019 with 5,109 and Tom Brady broke the touchdown pass mark last year with 40. Through eight games, and with nine to play, Brady is on pace for 5,631 yards and 53 touchdown passes. In other words, he could see his per-game averages come down a little bit in the second half and still comfortably beat both of those records.

Also, Evans is a solid bet to challenge his own record of 13 touchdown catches last year. That is also tied for the most touchdowns of any kind with James Wilder in 1984.

Are Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown still on track to get 1,000 yards receiving this season?

- @chris_doglover2 (via Instagram)

Assuming the foot injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday is not a serious concern, Godwin is a very good bet to crack 1,000 yards again in 2021. He actually leads the team with 660 receiving yards, and since he's played every game that's an average of 82.5 yards per game. If he keeps that pace up the rest of the way and plays every game he will actually crack 1,400 yards. But just to get to 1,000 he only needs to average about 38 yards a game the rest of the way to make it. Even if Godwin were to miss, say, two games, he's still got plenty of time to get to 1,000.

Brown is a lot harder to predict because we just don't know for sure when he'll be back on the field on Sundays. He's played in five of the first eight games and missed the last two, and Bruce Arians didn't sound as if he was expecting him back right away when he spoke about the injured players on Wednesday.

Brown is actually averaging 83.6 yards per game when he plays, but you can't really say if he's "on track" for 1,000 if you don't know how many times he's going to get to duplicate that average. If he were to play in every remaining game, Brown would need to average around 65 yards a game to make it. That goes up to 73 per game if it's nine opportunities, 83 per game if it's seven, and so on. There's plenty of yards to go around if Brown can get back in action soon, but at this point we don't know if that is going to be the case.

Do you expect SMB or Scotty to play vs. Washington?

- @rene_5o (via Instagram)

Well, I'll say this much: I expect Arians and the Bucs' coaching and medical staffs to take a cautious approach when bringing all of the currently injured players. The fact that the Bucs opened their 21-day practice windows on both Sean Murphy-Bunting and Scotty Miller during the bye week makes me believe both are expected back sooner rather than later, but I honestly don't think a decision has been made yet about this week. Both players moved around well in Wednesday's practice but it's going to take a little more than that to be cleared to play.

"Running around is fine," said Arians. "Playing football is a different thing. I've got to go watch the tape on Sean. He wouldn't use his arm Monday, and we'll see how he did today. There's really no rush to get them back out on the field; just make sure they're practicing and ready to go when we put them out there. Scotty ran around good, so it looks good for him, too."

The Buccaneers don't feel as if they need to rush either player because they have found ways to build up their depth at both corner and receiver. And, with both Richard Sherman and Dee Delaney operating at "full speed" (Arians' description) on Wednesday and possibly returning to game action, there would be even less need to rush Murphy-Bunting back before he's fully ready.

On the other hand, the Buccaneers have used both of their practice-squad elevation options on Cyril Grayson and likely won't have Brown back this weekend, so there is a bit more of a need at receiver, in Week 10 at least. The Bucs signed wide receiver Breshad Perriman to the practice squad and could elevate him instead, and Arians said on Wednesday that Perriman could indeed play as soon as this Sunday. However, if Miller is an option that could be the first choice, saving an elevation option on Perriman and giving the just-signed veteran a little more time to get back into the Bucs' flow.

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