The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came home from Jacksonville Sunday night with their first winning streak of the season and only a couple of new injury concerns. Head Coach Bruce Arians indicated that it was too early to know how severe rookie cornerback Jamel Dean's shoulder injury was but that Dean "looked pretty sore." As for Alex Cappa's shoulder injury, Arians said the second-year guard played through it for about a quarter in Sunday's game; in his postgame press briefing, Arians said he declined to let Cappa re-enter the game because he wanted him ready for the Week 14 contest against Indianapolis.
Arians provided those updates during his weekly day-after-game press conference, and also touched on a few other notable topics, such as:
1. Carl Nassib's return has helped the pass rush and that's one reason Shaq Barrett likely won't be cooling down in the weeks to come.
The Buccaneers' defense hit a season high in Atlanta in Week 12 with six sacks of Matt Ryan and then followed up with five more in Week 13 in Jacksonville. In that short span, the Bucs have improved from 27th to 22nd in the NFL in sacks per pass play. It's no coincidence that Carl Nassib has been back for those two games after missing most of three with a groin injury.
"It’s huge," said Arians. "Those guys are fresh all the time, plus Carl can go inside and do damage against guards. Just his versatility and being able to have a great rotation – we’ve got a good rotation of inside guys and now outside guys."
Nassib, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett have each had at least one sack in both of the last two games to lead the charge, and all three have forced at least one fumble in that span. Barrett has three sacks in those two games to retake the NFL lead in that category with 14.5. Barrett seems to be heating up again, with nine quarterback hits in the past two weeks, as the Buccaneers hit their stretch run. Opponents can't afford to lavish too much blocking attention on Barrett, as they did for a short spell around midseason, with so many other threats to worry about.
"Yeah, the addition of Jason Pierre-Paul and the way Vita [Vea] is playing and the way [Ndamukong] Suh is playing in the middle, having Carl inside – just having those guys around him, [Barrett']s not getting all the attention – the tight end and the chip – so I think that’s helped him tremendously," said Arians. "And, the back end is doing a hell of a lot better – coverage is a lot better."
Not only could Barrett become the first Buccaneer ever to lead the NFL in sacks for a season, he's now just two shy of the franchise's single-season record, set by Warren Sapp in 2000. Arians thinks Barrett is going to get it and that he's going to continue to produce in the years following his 2019 breakout.
"I don’t think it’s stopping anytime soon," said the coach. "I think he’s a hungry young fella that even after he gets paid, it’s going to continue. He’s just continued to work on his craft, getting slipperier and slipperier. I’m going to be shocked if he doesn’t break it."
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 13 matchup against Jacksonville.
2. Errors in pass protection can't be tolerated from the running backs.
Second-year running back Ronald Jones has had a very nice rebound season after his rookie campaign was essentially a lost one. He leads the team with 482 rushing yards, has caught 21 passes for 218 yards and has scored five touchdowns. Right at midseason he supplanted Peyton Barber in the starting lineup and has opened the last five games.
Jones, who had scored in four of the Bucs' previous six games before the trip to Jacksonville, has a chance to finish the season on a high note, but he'll have to make sure he doesn't hurt his chances to be on the field over the next four weeks. Specifically, he and all of the Bucs' backs have to make sure they are solid in their pass-protection assignments.
Arians confirmed on Monday that a third-quarter sack taken by Winston was the result of a missed assignment by Jones. Given what he's seen from Jones in the meeting room and on the practice field, he expects the young runner to quickly fix the mistake.
"Yeah, and that was the fumble," said Arians. "We had the game in hand. It was something that had been switched – the way we were going to block something because of their blitzes – and he went to block the guy he used to block, and that wasn’t the plan. He works his ass off and he’s going to get better at it, because we need him running the football. But, you can’t run the football if you can’t protect the quarterback."
3. Bradley Pinion's 63-yard punt was one of the most important unsung plays in Sunday's win.
Though the Buccaneers still had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, they were facing the possibility of the Jaguars trimming it to a one-score game when Gardner Minshew drove his team down to the Bucs' eight yard line. The defense responded with stops on the next three downs and appeared to get off the field when Minshew's fourth-down pass was also incomplete, but linebacker Lavonte David was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, making it first-and-goal at the one.
Devin White stood Leonard Fournette up for a loss of one on the next play and then made a diving break-up in front of the Jaguars' back on second down. On third-and-goal, Minshew scrambled left and tried to zip a quick pass in to Dede Westbrook. Instead, the pass was intercepted by rookie cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting about a yard past the goal line.
The pick was a great play by the rookie but he followed it up with the regrettable decision of trying to run the ball out of the end zone. Instead of a touchback and the ball at the 20, the Bucs' offense had to start with its back to its own goal-line and it didn't buy much breathing room with the next three plays. Eventually, the Bucs had to punt from their own two-yard line, with Bradley Pinion's heels on the back line of the end zone.
Fortunately, Pinion delivered perhaps his biggest kick of the year. The 63-yard screamer tied for his longest punt of 2019 and it had the hang time needed to get the Bucs' cover men downfield and in the face of Westbrook, the return man who had brought one back 43 yards to set up the aforementioned drive down to the goal line. Not only did the Bucs have cover men in place, but they drew two penalties on Jaguars blocking, one of which was accepted, pushing the ball back to the Jacksonville 30. Over the next five minutes and two Jaguar drives, the home team never got the ball an inch past that 30-yard line.
"I can’t say enough – it was a great kick, great coverage," said Arians. "They hit us right in the back, so I can’t say enough. Bradley’s been outstanding all year, but that was a huge field swap."