The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a 34-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. On Monday, Head Coach Bruce Arians held his usual day-after-game press conference back at the AdventHealth Training Center, where he noted that quarterback Jameis Winston, who sustained an ankle injury near the end of the game, did not appear to be seriously hurt.
"No, he looks fine right now," said Arians. "He [has] a little limp, but he's okay."
Here are some of the other topics on which Arians spoke on Monday:
1. Rookie WR Scotty Miller is getting more involved in the offense.
The Saints' insistence on doubling both Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as much as possible on Sunday led to more opportunities for some of the Bucs' other pass-catchers. Tight end Cameron Brate most notably took advantage of that with a career-high 10 catches on 14 targets, which tied a franchise single-game record for tight ends. But rookie wideout Scotty Miller saw increased action, as well.
Miller's six targets matched his total from the previous three games combined and his 71 yards on four receptions were both new single-game highs for him. He was also on the field more, with 35 snaps (51% of the offensive total) as compared to 23 over the last two weeks. A sixth-round draft pick, Miller has speed to burn and is starting to find ways to use it, such as his 48-yard fly down the right sideline that set up Peyton Barber's touchdown catch in the second quarter.
"He's improving," said Arians of the rookie pass-catcher. "We knew they were going to double-double [Evans and Godwin], so Cam Brate gets 12 targets, Scotty gets a bunch of targets – so those inside guys had to win. We were losing our back in the protection scheme, so Scotty produced. I would just like to see him go one more yard, where he's supposed to be, for that first down."
Miller's 48-yard catch was originally ruled a 49-yard touchdown before it was reviewed and he was ruled to be down at the one-yard line. But that's not the "one more yard" to which Arians is referring above. In the third quarter, Miller ran a short route out to the left and caught a pass for nine yards on second-and-10. The Bucs then committed a false start penalty, failed to convert the third-and-six and settled for a field goal and a 10-point deficit. Arians' description indicates that Miller was supposed to run his route a little deeper, and it is lessons such as this that will help the rookie continue to improve.
2. Early turnovers are putting the Bucs in bad situations.
View photos of Tampa Bay's Week 11 matchup against New Orleans.
In Week 10, Jameis Winston had his second pass of the game picked off by Arizona's Byron Murphy. Tampa Bay's defense managed to hold the Cardinals to a field goal on the resulting drive and the Buccaneers took a 7-3 lead before the first quarter was over in an eventual 30-27 victory.
On Sunday, Winston was again intercepted in the first quarter, on an accurate pass that slipped out of O.J. Howard's hands and was eventually snared by diving linebacker Demario Davis at the Bucs' 16-yard line. In this case, the Bucs were already trailing by six points but had a chance to grab the game's momentum after holding the Saints to a pair of field goals. Instead, Drew Brees threw a touchdown pass to Michael Thomas on the next play and the Buccaneers were never again closer than 10 points down on the scoreboard.
Six of Tampa Bay's 25 turnovers this season have occurred in the first quarter, a percentage that seems to make sense, but it's been more of an issue lately. Four of those six fourth-quarter giveaways have occurred in the last four games. Arians broke out a new term for that disturbing trend on Monday.
"This team, we have a 'gift habit,'" he said. "We keep giving away points early in games and then try to fight our way back. It was a 10-point game, we had three or four possessions to get it within one [possession] and just couldn't get it done. [It was a] really good football team we were playing and when you make those kind of mistakes, you're not going to win against a really good team.
"But it's been a habit and it's one that we have to break, no matter whose fault it is. It's been a habit of a gift early in the first quarter and then playing hard from there on out. I think as a team, it's frustrating as a coach because I see us practicing and preparing extremely hard. Guys are staying extra hours to prepare, but then it's not showing up on Sunday and for me as a coach, it's my job to figure out why. That's kind of where we're at right now."
That gift habit and the resulting imbalances on the scoreboard have also made it more difficult for the Buccaneers to field a balanced attack. On Sunday, the Bucs were essentially forced to abandon the running game because the Saints not only had a lead but were consistently chewing up the clock with even their non-scoring drives. Tampa Bay ran the ball a season-low eight times on Sunday and Winston threw 51 passes, the second time this year he's gone over 50. Both were in losses.
"You throw it 51 times – show me who wins," said Arians. "[Tom] Brady a couple of times – not always. But, if you're throwing it 51 times and running it eight, you're probably not winning the game."
If you want to show Arians a game in which a team has thrown the ball 50-plus times and won, you're going to have to go to a previous season because it hasn't happened this year. Teams with 50 passes in a game are 0-14-1 in 2019.
3. The Bucs have another shot at getting a division win in Week 12, but it comes against a red-hot opponent.
Whatever Dan Quinn's Falcons did during their bye week needs to be studied and duplicated, because Atlanta has looked like a brand new team since its return.
The Falcons headed into their Week Nine bye with a 1-7 record and a six-game losing streak. After the bye, all Atlanta has done is win two road games in very convincing fashion over division opponents who had winning records. The first was a surprising 26-9 in New Orleans, followed this past Sunday by an even more lopsided 29-3 decision in Charlotte against the Panthers.
"[A] division [opponent] on the road and a team that's similar to us," said Arians of the Bucs' next challenge, at Atlanta on Sunday. "They're playing really well right now and have kind of found their stride after their [bye week] and [have made] a lot of changes coaching staff-wise. They're playing with a lot of energy and it's showing on tape."
Indeed, some of what the Falcons did during the bye would not be practical for every other team and every other situation. Quinn took his assistant head coach/passing game coordinator, Raheem Morris, and put him with the defensive backs, a position he has coached with great success at several stops in his career. Assistant Special Teams Coach Bernie Parmalee, a former NFL running back, then took over that position, allowing Running Backs Coach Dave Brock to switch to wide receivers, who had been under Morris's purview.
That change and some strategic switches have worked wonders so far. Atlanta was giving up a league-high 29.8 points per game heading into their bye; in the two games since they've allowed no touchdowns and a total of 12 points.
"They simplified, it looks like," said Arians. "Defensively, they're playing really fast and they're not very complicated. The front four is teeing off and doing a heck of a job. Offensively, they're moving the ball [and] scoring points."