The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost two games this season by two-point margins, and in both cases they missed an opportunity to tie the game late with a two-point conversion. There were 14 seconds left in regulation when they tried and failed on a two-pointer in a Week Three 14-12 loss to Green Bay, and there were about four-and-a-half minutes left last Sunday in Pittsburgh when it happened again. The Bucs never got the ball back and fell to the Steelers, 20-18.
So, that's a bummer. Sorry to start this mailbag out on an unhappy note. I hope the rest of your Thursday is better. But since the Buccaneers have already gone for two three times this season, as many times as they did in all of the 2021 campaign, I thought this would be a good time to look back through the ups and downs of the team's history on two-point tries.
The NFL introduced the two-point conversion option in 1994 and the very first time the Buccaneers tried it, in San Francisco on October 23, they succeeded on a Craig Erickson pass to Horace Copeland. It didn't help much in a 41-16 loss and that game was probably more notable for the fact that it was Trent Dilfer's first start…and that Erickson also started that game, split out at wide receiver. Erickson obviously relieved an ineffective Dilfer later in the day. The Bucs' second-ever two-point try, also a success, was about eight minutes later in the same game, as Erickson hit Jackie Harris this time.
The Buccaneers have tried to go for two 95 times since the option was introduced, or exactly five times a year. Three of those attempts were erased by penalty, which gives us 95 instances to study. The team has succeeded on 38 of those attempts and failed on 57 of them, which frankly isn't a great record. The overall league mark is close to 50%. The Bucs are at 40% all time.
The Bucs are not on a good run in this category, either. Since Tom Brady's arrival in 2020, the team has gone for two nine times and made it just twice. One of those was a Brady pass to Russell Gage in the Week Five 21-15 win over Atlanta. I guess that's not too surprising; the Bucs have gone for two 15 times against the Falcons, their most against any opponent.
The Golden Age of Buccaneers going for two? 2019. The Bucs went for the deuce eight times that year, their most in any season since the option was introduced. It was a good strategy, too, as the team converted five of six opportunities that counted. Two others were erased by penalties.
Personally, I'm in favor of more two-point plays. They're exciting. But maybe not with the game on the line in the game's closing minutes. That ball hitting the turf on a broken-up pass is so final.
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.
Thoughts on how teams are using the Scrum to push their players forward thx--
- Tom Manno (via email to email@example.com)
So I believe this question was probably prompted by a couple recent plays in the NFL in which, with the ball near the goal line, the tight end went in motion in front of a quarterback who was in shotgun, then suddenly stopped behind the center, took the snap and tried to run into the end zone, with several other players pushing the pile from behind. In fact, one of those was by the Chiefs against the Bucs in Week Four, which may be why it is on the mind of this Buccaneers fan.
On that play, near the two-minute warning of the first half, tight end Noah Gray goes in motion from a spot next to and behind the right tackle, passes the center and, stops behind left guard Joe Thuney and appears to be motioning back to his original spot. It's a common enough thing to do on a play, often used to diagnose whether the defense is in man coverage or not. However, in this case Gray stops abruptly behind center Creed Humphrey, takes the snap and follows Humphrey and Thuney into the end zone. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who is in shotgun, just watches but running back Jerick McKinnon runs up and…really doesn't do anything. Left tackle Orlando Brown and tight end Travis Kelce do slide over from the left end to get involved in the pileup, though neither one directly pushes Gray in the back. It's more of what Tom said above, a scrum.
Here's the thing. It WOULD have been legal for Brown or Kelce or any other Chief to push Gray from behind in that scrum. While that used to be prohibited in the NFL (and still is at the high school level, probably out of injury concerns), the rule was changed in 2005. Previously, it was against the rules for a teammate to either push or pull a ballcarrier, and the infraction was known as "assisting the runner." That penalty is still on the books and it results in a loss of 10 yards, but it now only applies to when a player pulls his teammates. Since 2005, you've been allowed to push from behind.
My thoughts on it are, why not? Since it's a legal play, you should do it if the opportunity presents itself. It really doesn't happen very often, and it certainly is rarely scripted into a play, but some times the big men up front get into, yeah, a big scrum with pushing from both sides and the ballcarrier does not go down immediately. If you go to add a push from behind, you're really just adding your force to the pile as a whole. I also don't think that play is going to full people for much longer…although Andy Reid will probably find a way to tweak it again so it looks a little different. He's such a creative play designer. I'm just surprised they gave that play to Gray and not Kelce. Maybe they thought it would be too obvious if Kelce tried to do it, as he's been involved in a number of Reid's brainchildren in the past.
Is a 3-3 record really that bad right now?
- @itsmanalo (via Instagram)
No, but it's not that great either. Kind of by definition, a .500 record is neither particularly good or bad.
Of course, we have to consider context, and there are factors here tugging in both directions. On the plus side, the Buccaneers' 3-3 record happens to be good enough for a tie for first place in the NFC South. If the season were to end today, the Bucs would win the division for the second season in a row because they already have a win over the 3-3 Falcons.
Meanwhile, the Saints are 2-4 and the Panthers are 1-5 with an interim head coach after firing Matt Rhule. I'm not going to make any bold predictions because I think it's yet to be determined just how good Atlanta is (certainly better than anticipated, I would say), but I think if you asked a dozen NFL analysts most would still have Tampa Bay as the favorites to win the division. If the Bucs were 3-3 and in the NFC East, they'd be in fourth place and would already be three games out of first. So that's good.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers have lost three of their last four games, which probably makes that 3-3 record feel a little worse than it looks on paper. Two of the Bucs' three losses are by exactly two points, and while you could interpret that to mean the team is just a play or two here and there from being 5-1, you could also say they haven't played well enough to secure what should have been a couple winnable games. Coaches are fond of saying that you are what your record says you are, and in this case I think 3-3 is very much a reflection of a team that has a lot of talent but hasn't really played a complete game yet.
Here's another positive note about that 3-3 record: It includes a 3-1 mark against NFC teams and a 2-0 mark in divisional play. It's obviously not good to lose to a couple AFC teams, but in the grand scheme of things if you aregoing to have a couple losses on your record it's better that they come in those interconference games for potential tiebreaker ramifications.
In the NFC East, the Eagles are 6-0, the Giants are 5-1 and the Cowboys are 4-2, and those three teams are going to be duking it out all season. Elsewhere, the Vikings are atop the NFC North at 5-1 but then there are no fewer than six teams in the conference sitting at 3-3. It's clearly not the worst position to be in. Some of those six teams will get their acts together and ascend from this .500 plateau and some of them will fade down the stretch. Personally, I think the Buccaneers are more likely to be one of those ascending teams, because they should be able to get a lot more out of their offensive talent and their third-down woes on defense are not likely to last. Of those six teams at 3-3, the Buccaneers have the second-best overall points differential, standing at +18 and behind only San Francisco's +33.
I will grant you that the first six weeks of this season have been dissatisfying for a team with serious Super Bowl aspirations. I'd be willing to bet Todd Bowles feels the same way, though he has a 24-hour rule that says coaches and players have to move on emotionally after every game, win, lose or draw. But you could certainly look at the current situation and say, "he Buccaneers haven't even come close to playing their best football yet and they're still tied for first place in the division." As an example, the playoff odds on FiveThirtyEight.com give the Buccaneers an 81% chance of making the playoffs, a 73% chance of winning the division and a 6% chance of winning the Super Bowl. Those are, respectively, the fifth, third, and fifth (tied) best odds of all NFL teams in those categories.
Compared to recent years, is Brady getting less time in the pocket?
- @samirzs18 (via Instagram)
The first thing here is that I think we need to change the verb here from "getting" to "taking." It's impossible to know how long Tom Brady, or any quarterback, would get if he waited until the last possible millisecond to throw the ball. All quarterbacks can decide how long they want to wait until the wolves reach their door.
My reason for saying this is there is no possible statistic for "time given" in the pocket per drop back, because it's all based on when the passer actually gets rid of the ball. This could be three seconds after the snap but with no pass-rusher near him, or it could be one second after a perfectly-timed blitz gives him no other option. What we do have statistics for is the amount of time it takes the quarterback to get rid of the ball after the snap. It's called Time to Throw, or TTT, by NFL Next Gen Stats.
Brady's TTT this season is 2.42, which is easily the briefest of any starting quarterback in the league. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is next at 2.50 and after that it's the Cowboys' Cooper Rush at 2.57 and the Bengals' Joe Burrow at 2.59. For whatever reason, Brady is getting rid of the football very quickly, which obviously means that his time in the pocket is down.
How does this compare to Brady's first two seasons as a Buccaneer. Well, it's well established that in 2020, the Super Bowl championship year, Brady had great success throwing the ball downfield in Bruce Arians' no risk it, no biscuit offense. And we also know that the veteran passer had just as much success in 2021 getting rid of the ball very quickly against defenses that didn't want to see a duplication of his big-play success. Brady was one of the NFL's leaders in quick pass success (balls thrown under 2.5 TTT), and he ended up with even bigger stats than in 2021, leading the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes.
So here are the numbers. In 2021, Brady had an average TTT of 2.50, which was the second fastest among regular starters to the Steelers' now-retired field general Ben Roethlisberger, at 2.38. In 2020, Brady's TTT was 2.57, and there were a lot of starters who were higher on the list. So, yes, Brady is getting rid of the ball faster in 2022 than he did in his first two seasons as a Buccaneer. That certainly could indicate that he is getting less time in the pocket to work his magic.
Will we move away from Darden at PR/KR and move towards White or Miller trying out?
- @jaayt_3 (via Instagram)
Well, to clarify, Jaelon Darden is not the Bucs' PR/KR. He's the punt returner, but rookie running back Rachaad White is the kickoff returner. So we're really only talking about one potential change here, and your suggestion seems to be that the Bucs should use White or wide receiver Scotty Miller as the punt returner.
I'd say it's possible but I suspect the Buccaneers will have a relatively long leash here. First of all, Darden's numbers aren't bad. He ranks eighth in the NFL in punt return average at 9.6 yards per attempt. I don't think things went particularly well in Pittsburgh, but just the week before he had a 24-yard punt return in the win over Atlanta. That return set up a touchdown drive in the third quarter. My guess is that the coaching staff still thinks there is big-play potential in Darden and want to stick with him for now.
Are White or Miller potential options? White really didn't have much return experience in his brief time at Arizona State, with four punt runbacks for 47 yards (11.8 average) and two kickoff returns for 47 yards (23.5) average. I know he is returning kickoffs for the Buccaneers, and I think he looks pretty good at it, but that's a different beast than punt returns. The trajectory of the kick and the fact that there are usually no defenders in your face on kickoffs makes it simpler to catch the ball than on punts. The Bucs might be a bit wary of letting an inexperienced rookie field punts, given how difficult it is and how damaging even a single muffed kick could be.
As for Miller, I think the Bucs should be pretty confident in his sure-handedness when fielding punts given that they've seen him do it in practice for the last four years. Miller is almost always involved in the rotation when the Bucs are doing punt return drills in the middle of the week, but he has virtually never been used in that role on game days. I don't know if the Buccaneers are considering alternate options at punt returner, but if they are I would personally like to see Miller get a shot.