In last week's mailbag I was asked to come up with a nickname for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' on-the-rise defense. I didn't necessarily agree with the premise that every great defense has a nickname (for every Steel Curtain there's a 2002 Buccaneers team that had a lot of personality but never attracted a fun title). There's also the question of whether a defense that has played four games has necessarily earned a nickname at this point, and there was plenty of commentary to that effect on Twitter. As one respondent put it, "let's pump the brakes."
The main problem, though, is that I am not particularly good at coming up with nicknames. Never have been. So in the interest of having fun with this, I invited fans to send in some options of their own via email. That idea was also picked up on Twitter and we got some suggestions that way. So whether or not it's time yet for a nickname for the Bucs' defense, let's see what the fans came up with.
Instead of embedding dozens of emails and tweets, I'm just going to list all the ones that were sent to me or that I found on Twitter. If it was your idea, you'll know who you are, and if any of them does actually stick, we'll make sure you get the credit. So here were the suggestions, in no particular order:
· Pewter Blitz
· Buccaneers Brigade/Bucs Brigade (two submissions)
· Buccaneers Barricade
· Bucs Battalion
· Armada/The Armada (three submissions)
· Wrecking Krewe (two submissions)
· Boarding Crew/The Boarding Crew (two submissions)
· Pewter People Eaters (two submissions)
· Pewter Power
· Blitz by the Bay
· The Boogeymen
· The Flying Bucsmen
· Pewter Pearl
· Bucs Glory's Revenge
· The Red Tide
· Shutdown City
· The Thieves Guild
· The Jaws of Boom
· The Rogue Wave
· Shipwreck Cove
· Bay of Thieves
· TB's Dirty Dozen
· Beasts of the East
· Tampa Tigers
· Jolly Roger
· Soul Takers
· Tampa Blockade
· Give No Quarter
· Man-O-War/Men-O-War (two submissions)
· Formula 1
· A Defense Has No Name
· The Bay Boyz
· The Frenzy
· ShipWreck Island
· The Plank
· Clamp-a Bay
· Skull Krew
View photos of the Buccaneers departing for their Week 5 matchup against the Bears in Chicago.
So, is there anything there? I can't say I'm particularly sold on any of them, though Wrecking Krewe might work. Clamp-a Bay does have that clever play on words that sometimes lets a defense stick, such as the Legion of Boom. Anyway, I think we have a bit more time before anything has to be decided, and maybe a nickname will come around in the best way – organically.
Now on to your questions for this week.
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.
Is it me, or does Ronald Jones look like he's running blind? It worked out once Sunday, on third and one when he and the line moved the pile for nine yards. That's great for third, or fourth and short. But what's wrong, on 1rst and 10, or 2nd and 6, with bouncing to daylight - instead of running up your linesman's butt? I'm SO TIRED of watching our running backs get stuffed in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage. Teams like the Packers, Cowboys, Saints can all pass block AND run the football. Why can't we? (One 46 yard TD run in 8 years is just pathetic!). What's it gonna take?
- Joel (via email to email@example.com)
/wavy lines to suggest the passage of time, like on a sit-com
After complaining last week about not opening holes in the run game, I have to give props to the O-Line on what seems like the best Bucs O-Line performance I can remember. When is the last time a Bucs O-Line gave up no sacks AND had a 100+ yards runner?
- Joel (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you look closely, you'll see that I employed a very clever strategy to answer an angry email about a negative (in the questioner's mind) topic. I waited. That first question came in from Joel on September 28, which was after the win in Denver, in which the Bucs won despite rushing for just 68 yards and 2.7 yards per carry. The second one was after the home win over the Chargers, in which Ronald Jones had a great day (111 yards, 5.6 yards per carry) and the offensive line was dominant. Problem solved, and now I get to answer a question about stats and Bucs history, which is a lot more fun.
To find the answer to Joel's question, I pored through years of statistical databases and game play-by-plays. After a while, my eyelids got heavy and my mind started to wander…and then finally I found the last time it happened. I triumphantly present the results:
The last time before Sunday's game that a Buccaneers O-Line gave up zero sacks and also blocked for a 100-yard rusher in the same game was way back in Week Two of the 2020 season. I don't expect any of you to remember that far back, but Tampa Bay beat Carolina, 31-17, with Leonard Fournette rushing for 103 yards and Tom Brady suffering nary a single sack.
Those were the good old days, weren't they? Gas cost about $2.09 a gallon. South Korean boy band BTS (remember them!) had a number-one hit on the Billboard chart. Tom Brady was the Buccaneers quarterback. It's sometimes fun to take a walk down memory lane.
I kid, but Joel actually does have a point here. Before the Bucs' O-Line pulled off that dual feat a couple weeks ago, it had been eight seasons since any Tampa Bay team had done so. The last such occurrence prior to 2020 was On December 30, 2012, when Doug Martin ran for 142 yards at Atlanta and a Buccaneers offensive line comprised of Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Demar Dotson kept Josh Freeman from suffering a single sack. The Bucs beat the Falcons, 22-17.
So the Buccaneers went seven seasons (2013-19) without having a single game in which they produced an individual 100-yard rusher and also allowed zero sacks. And then in 2020 they've already done it twice within the first four weeks. The last time the Buccaneers were able to do this twice in an entire season was in 2008, once with Earnest Graham getting 111 yards against Green Bay and once with Warrick Dunn going for 115 against Carolina.
That would seem to indicate that the Buccaneers' offensive line is actually playing quite well this season. Reasonable minds can disagree over just how good they've been, but at the very least we can point to the Bucs' sacks-per-pass-play rate of 3.23%, which is ranked fourth in the NFL, and say they're giving Tom Brady time to throw. The rushing stats aren't as robust but the ground game was very good against the Chargers and Bruce Arians believes that the Bucs are, "running the ball at a really good rate right now."
Joel maybe overreacted just a bit to one game, but the other side of that coin is we can't declare the Buccaneers' offensive line one of the best in the NFL after just four games, especially when only two of those were particularly effective outings for the rushing attack. But there's certainly reason for hope, and a lot of coaches will tell you that an offense is only going to go so far as its offensive line will take it. The Bucs have pumped a lot of valuable resources into that idea – the line consists of two second-round picks playing on lucrative second contracts (Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet), a high-priced free agent signee (Ryan Jensen), a third-round pick (Alex Cappa) and a rookie who was selected 13th overall (Tristan Wirfs) – and all of that may now be coming together in a really good way.
That question came via email but I also got a lot of questions this week from Instagram, and most of them were pretty good, so let's speed-round this the rest of the way so I can get to a lot of them.
Will Ke'Shawn Vaughn get more opportunity moving forward with the injuries?
- @615_phil (via Instragram)
That seems inevitable at this point. Vaughn himself said that he had thought his opportunity to get into the offensive mix was probably a few more weeks down the road, but injuries accelerated that timetable. Fortunately, he made sure he was ready just in case, and his successful debut should lead the coaching staff to keep him in that mix moving forward.
But in the short term it's a virtual certainty. The Buccaneers won't have LeSean McCoy for Thursday's game and Leonard Fournette is expected to be a game-time decision. Even if Fournette is active, he may not be ready to contribute as much as he was in the first few weeks of the season. Kenjon Barner can't even be called up from the practice squad due to a concussion and a suspension.
That leaves Vaughn and Ronald Jones as the only certainties in the Bucs' backfield this week. Jones will continue to be the lead back but Bruce Arians likes to split the workload in the run game and will surely give Vaughn some carries. It's also possible that Vaughn will emerge as a more reliable pass-catcher than Jones; he certainly looked good in that regard last Sunday.
Any updates on Godwin? Who will take the majority of his snaps if he can't go Thursday?
- @g.davis562 (via Instragram)
Godwin (hamstring strain) will not play again this week, which was expected. The hope has always been that after missing these two games within five days of each other that he would be able to return for the following game with the long break in between. We'll see.
The Buccaneers will also be without Justin Watson (shoulder injury) on Thursday night, so he won't be part of the equation. However, it will be hard to answer your question with certainty until about 90 minutes before the game in Chicago. That's because both Mike Evans and Scotty Miller were both deemed "questionable" on Wednesday's injury report. That's obviously better than out or doubtful, but it doesn't tell us for sure if either will play. Mike didn't take part in any of this week's practice while Miller only did so in a limited fashion on Wednesday.
If Mike and Scotty can play, then you're most of the way to your three-receiver personnel grouping, which the Bucs use on a majority of their offensive snaps. After that, I think rookie Tyler Johnson would be the one most likely to round out that threesome. He played 25 snaps in the Bucs' Week Four game in Godwin's absence, while Jaydon Mickens played 11. Justin Watson played 56 snaps in that game; I would expect Johnson to pick up a lot of those.
The Bucs will also have Cyril Grayson available after he was promoted from the practice squad, and they could elevate rookie Josh Pearson from the practice squad for the game at any point up until 4:00 p.m. ET on Thursday. If neither Mike nor Scotty can play, it's going to be all-hands-on-deck with Johnson, Mickens, Grayson and possibly Pearson. And at that point we're not really talking about replacing Godwin's snaps but basically creating a whole new offense.
How many 1,000 yard receivers would you predict us having this season?
- @jarsiny (via Instragram)
My best guess would be one, but a couple other guys will probably get close.
Miller is actually the team's leading receiver with 250 yards at the quarter-pole, which puts him on pace for exactly 1,000 yards. That's mostly because Evans has had two games with almost no yards, first in New Orleans when he was slowed by injury and only had one two-yard touchdown catch, and then again in Denver when he scored twice on one-yard grabs but otherwise was shut out. Those games are likely to be aberrations, and Evans surpassed 100 yards in each of his other two outings. Overall, Evans seems like the surest bet to get to 1,000, which would make him the first player in league history to open his career with seven straight 1,000-yard seasons.
The problem, of course, is injuries. Godwin got to 1,333 yards in just 14 games last year, and Evans made it to 1,157 in just 13. If both had a full 16 games with Tom Brady, I think they would be virtual locks to make it. But Godwin will only have 143 yards through the Bucs' first five games this year. Even if he does return in Week Six and is able to play every game the rest of the way, he'll have to average 78 yards a game to get there. That wouldn't be a big problem for Godwin; after all, he was second in the league last year with 95.2 receiving yards per game. But there's no guarantee he'll get all of those 11 games in.
Evans hasn't missed a game yet and he's close to a 1,000-yard pace, but he's a question mark for this one, as is Miller. Each time any of those three guys misses another game their window for getting to 1,000 shrinks a little bit. That's why I'm going to be conservative here and say one. I hope I'm off by at least one.
Could we sign Mohamed Sanu? With all these receivers getting injured would he be a good contingency plan player?
- @craigg_iwl397 (via Instragram)
Well, the Bucs couldn't do it in time to make any difference for Thursday's game. The 72-hour COVID testing rule makes it essentially impossible for a team starting a search on Monday to get an outside player on the roster and ready to play by Thursday. Obviously, the Buccaneers could start the process of getting Sanu or another available receiver in town and ready to play by Week Six, but they haven't done so yet. I think the thought is that all of the Bucs' receiver injuries are short-term and that by the time they would have an outside player ready to go they wouldn't need him anymore. That being said, if the receiver need does become more pressing, I fully expect the Bucs to consider every option. I don't know if Sanu would be the best available option; he only had one catch for nine yards in three games with the 49ers.
What should the main focus be going in to the game against the Bears?
- @joshtheincredibleba (via Instragram)
Defensively, I would say the focus should first be on stopping the run, and if that is accomplished (as it usually is by this defense), then getting pressure on the quarterback. The Buccaneers two best defensive efforts this season were against Carolina and Denver – 27 total points allowed in those games – and in those outings they had 11 sacks and 17 quarterback hits. Just about any quarterback in this league can have a good game on any given Sunday, but if you take away his run game and make him uncomfortable, it's a lot harder. And Nick Foles isn't exactly the most mobile quarterback around.
Offensively, it's kind of the same thing. Continue to give Tom Brady time to operate, which is going to be even more important this week as he plays with an altered cast of skill-position players around him. The Buccaneers will be trying to tailor their offensive approach to what some of those new contributors can and can't do, and that's going to make things more difficult on Brady.
What has been your favorite play of Brady's so far this season?
- @juliancienga (via Instragram)
I have five favorite Tom Brady plays and they're all tied for first: two kneel-downs to end the win in Denver and three more to run out the clock against the Chargers. That's the number-one play you want to see your quarterback performing every week.
Jokes aside, I have two. Can I have two? It's my mailbag so I say yes.
The first one was his 50-yard strike to Mike Evans over the middle early in the win over Carolina in Week Two. If you re-watch the tape of that play, you'll see that Brady releases the ball before Evans has passed the closest defender but the pass leads him right to an open spot over the middle. I liked this play even more when I heard after the game that it was very similar in design to the one that got picked off in New Orleans when Brady and Evans failed to get on the same page. The successful hook-up in Week Two was evidence of the offense evolving and progressing each week. It also led to a touchdown and started the run to a 21-0 lead.
In terms of Brady's skill and vision, my second choice is probably an even better play. That would be the third-down touchdown pass to Mike Evans against the Chargers last week. After Devin White recovered a fumble forced by Ndamukong Suh at the Los Angeles six, Brady dropped back three times to pass but the first two were basically throwaways against tight coverage. Brady knew he couldn't throw it away on third down so when the Chargers again covered the play well initially he scrambled up and to his right, giving him time to find Evans in the back of the end zone for the touchdown pass. That one was particularly significant, too, as it cut the Chargers' lead to 10 going into the half and ignited a huge rally for a 38-31 win.
Do you think Brady is fully adjusted to the offense and playbook at this point in the season? - @markthomaslevine (via Instagram)
Fully adjusted? Oh no, I don't think so. I'm almost certain that Brady himself would say no to that question. We knew it was going to take time to find the right combination of what Brady likes to do and is best at and how Arians likes to approach a game. Brady uses the term "work in progress" to describe the offense in just about everyone one of his interviews.
And yet he just threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns and won NFC Offensive Player of the Week award in Week Four. So if that offense is still in progress, that's actually a very promising thing!