Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Giants and Giant Goals | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about defending New York RB Saquon Barkley, the remaining possibility for a 1,000-yard receiving trio, and more

mailbaggiants

Mike Evans will start the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New York Giants on Monday night with a fantastic record within his reach. One more trip to the end zone with the football will make Evans the all-time leading touchdown scorer in Buccaneers franchise history, breaking his current tie of 71 each with Mike Alstott.

Tampa Bay would be the first NFL franchise since New England in 2016 to see that record change hands, and Evans would be the only active player in the NFL to be the all-time touchdown leader for the team he is on. What are the odds of that happening this week? Well, Evans has scored in five of the Bucs' nine games this season, including the last three in a row. Also, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Evans has been targeted in the end zone more times than any other player in the NFL since 2016, and it's not particularly close.

There is also this: Evans has played on Monday Night Football on five previous occasions, and he's scored a touchdown in all five of those games.

But it seems like I'm writing about Evans in this space just about every week. So this week, let me instead use yet another impending Evans milestone to segue into something a little different. The Bucs are about to play on Monday Night Football again and, yes, Evans has had some big games under that particular spotlight. Who, though, has come up the biggest on Monday nights in team history? Let's look at the top MNF performances for the Buccaneers in a number of categories.

Rushing:

Warrick Dunn tops the list with his 145-yard game against the St. Louis Rams in that unforgettable game late in the 2000 season. Dunn's third rushing touchdown of the game, on 22 carries, gave the Buccaneers a 38-35 lead in the game's final minute.

LeGarrette Blount (127 yards, 1 TD against Indianapolis in 2011), Michael Pittman (106 yards against Indianapolis in 2003) and Jacquizz Rodgers (101 yards against Carolina) in 2016) are the only other Buccaneers to have a 100-yard rushing game on Monday Night Football.

Receiving:

Antonio Bryant had the biggest game of his out-of-nowhere gigantic season in 2008 on a Monday night in Carolina. The Bucs lost the game, 38-23, but Bryant did all he could with nine catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns. It's still the fourth-most receiving yards in any game by a Buccaneer, regardless of the day of the game.

Evans, Michael Clayton, Jacquez Green and Keenan McCardell each had a 100-yard outing on MNF, and Keyshawn Johnson had two as a Buccaneers. Johnson's 116 yards and two touchdowns against the Rams is the only performance on this list that came in a victory…it was the same game as the one noted above for Dunn's huge performance.

Passing:

Somewhat surprisingly, there have been only three 300-yard passing games for the Buccaneers on Monday nights. They are:

·    Ryan Fitzpatrick, 411 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs in a 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh in 2018

·    Jeff Garcia, 321 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs in the aforementioned 38-23 loss to Carolina in 2008

·    Brad Johnson, 318 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT in a 38-35 loss to Indianapolis in 2003

Sacks:

There have been 11 two-sack games by Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, but none with more than two. Warren Sapp had three of them, including two against the Rams in 2000 and 2001. Jason Pierre-Paul did it most recently in 2018 in the 30-27 loss to the Steelers in 2018.

Interceptions:

There have only been three multiple-interception games in team history on Monday nights. I'll give the top spot to Donnie Abraham, who scored on one of his two picks against Minnesota in 1999. The other two were, amazingly, both in the same game. Both Neal Colzie and Mike Washington picked off two passes against Miami in a 23-17 win in 1982.

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.

What does the defense need to do to prepare for the potential return of Saquon Barkley ?

- @i_love_katie_22 (via Instagram)

It looks quite likely that Giants running back Saquon Barkley is going to be back in action on Monday night after missing four games with an ankle injury. It's pretty obvious that the New York offense is a lot more potent when it includes a healthy Barkley.

If you're asking me what specific things the Buccaneers will have to do on Monday to slow Barkley down, the answer is pretty similar to the one I gave when asked the same thing about the Saints' Alvin Kamara. Both are good pass-catches who can kill you out in space and both are awfully big and strong to be handled by smaller cornerbacks on the perimeters. Therefore, one of the key ingredients to stopping either is having your defenders swarm to the ball. Devin White and Lavonte David will be they keys here, as they have the strength to match up with Barkley, and safeties Jordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield will need to get involved, too. Basically, try to stay out of situations where it's one defender trying to get Barkley on the ground.

Against backs like Barkley you will often see teams use Cover 1 and Cover 3 schemes in order to get one more defender down into the box. This can help on runs between the tackles and on the plays where the back gets the ball on a dump-off into the flat. The obvious tradeoff is that you have fewer players in deep coverage in Cover 1 and more space underneath in Cover 3. The Buccaneers will have to decide if they can afford to do that and still stop Daniel Jones and the Giants' passing game from making big plays.

But I have an additional answer that I think is probably even more relevant. In order to keep Barkley from having a big game, the Buccaneers need to start fast on offense and get ahead early. They tried to do that in Washington by taking the ball after winning the coin toss, but their first drive went three-and-out thanks largely to a false start penalty and their next two drives ended in interceptions. Washington got up 16-3, and even after the Bucs rallied to 16-3 in the third quarter they were able to keep the lead the rest of the way.

Look at how that affected the Football Team's handling of Antonio Gibson, a very good running back but not maybe yet on the level of Barkley or Kamara. Gibson had just 10 carries for 15 yards in the first half. White dropped him for a gain of just one yard on the game's first play and Antoine Winfield crashed into the backfield to get him for a loss of eight later in the quarter. As of the six-minute mark in the third quarter, Gibson had 11 carries for 17 yards.

However, Washington also had the lead and they started feeding their running back over and over again. By the end of the game, Gibson had 64 yards on 24 carries. That's still a pretty bad 2.7 yards per carry, but his runs from that point on were helping Washington consistently move the chains on third down. That's another key for the Buccaneers in stopping Barkley – get off the field more often on third down so that drives can't be extended and Barkley can't get more opportunities.

Since he's such a good pass-catcher who can stay on the field for all three downs, getting a lead on the Giants probably won't get Barkley completely out of the game plan. But if Jones and company have to play catch-up right from the beginning, it will likely limit how often they will want to hand the ball off and give the Buccaneers' defensive front license to come after the quarterback.

With Vita being out this week who do you think will have to step up in the DT spot?

- @aust1n1_ (via Instagram)

Since the Buccaneers have essentially the exact same cast of characters on defense that they had last year, and they had to deal with the loss of Vea too, we have a pretty good blueprint for this answer.

In 2020, Vea was lost to an ankle injury near the very end of a Week Five loss at Chicago. The direct replacement for him in the starting lineup was Rakeem Nunez-Roches, who would go on to open the remaining 15 games, including the playoffs, even after Vea's return for the last two postseason contests. The snap counts for Nunez-Roches spiked to over 50% in each of the next three games before settling back down to about 40-45% most of the rest of the way.

Part of that was because the Buccaneers were able to swing a trade for nose tackle Steve McLendon, who was a good fit for the kind of role the Bucs were trying to replace, plus a respected veteran leader. McLendon is clearly part of the answer for the current situation because he has recently been a healthy scratch on game day due to the Bucs' depth at the position. I would assume that for any game Vea misses McLendon will go back to being active and part of the D-Line rotation.

Will Gholston saw his snap counts rise a bit as last season wore on, too, in part because he was quietly proving to be one of the team's better down lineman at getting pressure on the quarterback. Gholston would finish the regular season with a team-leading 20 quarterback hits. So far, Gholston has just five QB hits this season, but the Bucs may ask a bit more of him while Vea is sidelined.

The defensive line is actually a position at which the Bucs are well-equipped to be without one of their starters for a short period of time. In addition to Nunez-Roches and McLendon, the Buccaneers also have Patrick O'Connor who could provide a handful of snaps, and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul is capable of sliding inside on some passing downs as well.

The problem is that it's difficult to replace Vea specifically. There aren't too many players in the entire NFL who can match what Vea provides, which is an unbelievable amount of power and havoc in the middle of the line. You've seen the highlights at various points this year after Vea just sledding blockers back deep into the pocket, or of him easily shedding a blocker to slide into a running lane just as the back arrives. The Bucs have a lot of good interior linemen but they don't exactly have another Vea.

The good news is, Bruce Arians doesn't think Vea will be out long. The Bucs weathered his absence for 13 games last year; hopefully they can get by through one or two this season.

Scott-

I know we're all waiting with baited breath for the return of Antonio Brown…I've got my fingers crossed that it will be soon. So, before AB got hurt there was a lot of talk about whether the Buccaneers could possibly have three different 1000-yd receivers. Do you think that's still possible – that's never happened before, right?

I know, i know – it's more important that Brown gets back to help us win more games, but I still think it would be a pretty cool statistical accomplishment. Oh, and pass along congratulations to Mike for the touchdown record. I think he gets it this Monday. I may need to get a ticket for a seat in the stands to see if he will give me the ball!

Thanks for your time,

- R. Steele

If I remember correctly, I first looked at this question before the season and my basic conclusion was that it was certainly possible – there would be enough yards to go around – but that I wouldn't bet on it because there are just too many variables. Like injuries. Then the Bucs' passing attack started out like gangbusters and all three of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were getting there shares. After six weeks – which included one missed game by Brown due to COVID-19 – all three were over 400 yards.

At that point, all three were "on pace" to crack 1,000 yards. Taking their per-game averages (remembering that it was only five games for Brown), the full-season pace for the three if they all played in every remaining game was 1,337 for Brown, 1,190 for Evans and 1,159 for Godwin. I mean, they were all going to make it comfortably at those rates, which means there was plenty of room for variance. Brown, for instance, didn't need to keep averaging 83.6 yards per game to get to the mark. Not even close.

But, of course, one of those variables raised its ugly head – the most expected one, in fact. Brown suffered an ankle injury and has had to miss the last three games. While Godwin has surged to 717 yards (79.7 per game) and Evans to 606 (67.3 per game), Brown has been stuck at 418. Godwin and Evans are both still very comfortably on pace to get to that 1,000-yard plateau, but things are a little dicier for Brown. That's especially true because we don't know exactly when Brown will be back in action. I think there is some optimism that he will return soon but we can't assume anything until he's back on the field.

Right now, if we take Brown's average of 83.6 yards in the five games he played and project that over the remaining eight contests, we get 669 more yards. If he were to come back this week and hit that average the rest of the way, he would make it. In fact, he'd be closer to 1,100 yards at the end. He would actually only need to average 72.8 yards per game the rest of the way. But let's say he misses one more week. Well, then Brown needs to average 83.1 yards per game in the final seven contests to get there. And so on.

I think you get the point. Brown's absence has put his chances of getting to 1,000 yards in jeopardy, obviously, and every game he misses raises the bar on the level of difficulty the rest of the way. Also, his per-game average before the injury was on a pretty small sample size, so it's a little presumptuous of me to assume he'll do that the rest of the way when he returns.

I will say this, though: When Brown is in the fold I do expect the Buccaneers offense to go back to emphasizing three-receiver sets with those three on the field. As Bruce Arians said on Wednesday, it's like having three number-one receivers on the field at the same time, which really isn't fair to opposing defenses. If Brown can get back soon I think the passing game will start humming again out of "11" personnel and there will be a very real shot that all three get to 1,000 yards. I haven't even mentioned it yet, but the added 17th game this season brings a lot of huge statistical accomplishments within reach.

Oh, you asked if that had happened before. For the Bucs, no. But it has been done five other times in NFL history, most recently by Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in 2008. Seems like we're due for another one.

Related Content

Advertising