I had some initial thoughts following the game yesterday here, but for today, I wanted to dive deeper into a couple observations that maybe weren't so readily recognized.
-Something happened during the course of the Buccaneers’ four sacks of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday. Not one, but two linebackers were responsible for two of those sacks, meaning pressure came from multiple levels of the defense. It was the first time two Bucs linebackers had a sack in the same game since 2015. The first sack of the day came from linebacker Kevin Minter, who the Bucs re-signed just two weeks ago after an earlier stint on the team. It was just the second play of the game for Carolina’s offense and the Bucs ended up bringing five after defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul actually dropped into coverage, while Minter as the middle linebacker came down completely unblocked to get to Newton. It was a direct result of better execution and timing. It doesn’t hurt that a guy who has the league’s third-most sacks acted like he was rushing at first, drawing the offensive tackle in before Pierre-Paul ultimately dropped back. Once he made his move, Pierre-Paul actually caught the attention of the Panthers’ left guard, who followed him over to the right side of the formation and completely missed Minter blowing past. Both Pierre-Paul and Nassib have created pressure all season, drawing attention to them by opposing offensive lines and away from unassuming players underneath like Minter.
The second linebacker-sack came from veteran Lavonte David in his first game back from injury. It was another example of just how much of a problem Pierre-Paul is for offensive lines and how much he can distract them. Prior to the snap, David creeps up to Pierre-Paul’s outside hip, aligning himself in the gap between the offensive tackle and wide receiver in a reduced split. With Pierre-Paul occupying the tackle and later, the guard, David comes screaming off the edge completely unblocked and gets to Newton in a split second. It’s a testament to the timing between the two and just how disruptive Pierre-Paul is.
Speaking of the big lug, JPP’s 11.5 sacks are currently tied for third-most in the NFL. If I would have told you at the beginning of this season that this was the year the Bucs would not only have the league’s third-best pass rusher and the team’s first double-digit sack player since 2005, would you have believed me?
-So by now you know about safety Andrew Adams’ three interceptions on Sunday. That puts AAA, as he’s now known by his teammates, in some very rare air. Just how rare, you ask? Dating back to the 2012 season, Adams is one of only two players in the NFL to nab three picks in a game. Yeah, in seven years the only other player to do it across the entire league was the Titans’ Kevin Byard in 2017. The last time a Buccaneers player did it? Aqib Talib in 2009. In fact, Adams is one of only three players in franchise history to accomplish the feat, joining Talib and Pro Football Hall of Fame Candidate Ronde Barber, who actually did it twice. Show off.
The four-interception day for the Bucs’ defense makes it the most since 2013, when they had four picks against the Buffalo Bills. It marks two consecutive games with multiple picks after a seven-game drought of no takeaways for the Tampa Bay defense. The six takeaways are made even more impactful because the offense has only turned the ball over once in the last two games. And it came on a very questionable goal-line fumble by Peyton Barber in this past Sunday’s game, in my opinion (and many others). Regardless, the Bucs’ turnover margin has now improved to -18 after being as low as -23 before the San Francisco game. It’s certainly a step in the right direction as Head Coach Dirk Koetter regularly states how he considers that stat to be the most significant indicator on wins and losses.
-Getting lost in the shuffle of the impressive defensive effort on Sunday is the 100-yard game by wide receiver Chris Godwin in the absence of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who was out with a thumb injury. It’s his second 100-yard game this season and fifth with a receiving touchdown. What’s even more impressive is that his 101 yards on Sunday came on just five catches, giving him a 20.20 yards-per-reception average. Godwin now has 676 yards on the season and with four games left, could make a push for that 1,000-yard mark in just his second year in the league.
Godwin wasn’t the only receiver who stepped up in the absence of Jackson. Adam Humphries caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. It marked his third-consecutive game with a touchdown reception, a career-high streak for the slot receiver. His five touchdown receptions in the last five games are tied for the most in the NFL during that span with Davante Adams in Green Bay. Hump is just 25 yards away from his season-high of 631 and with his highest yards-per-reception average of his career this season at 11.4, surpassing that total seems to be totally doable over the next four games.
-The man responsible for getting the two aforementioned receivers into the end zone on Sunday is of course, quarterback Jameis Winston. The Bucs’ signal caller had another solid day, passing for 249 yards on 20 completions, including two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also led the team in rushing yards with 48 during the game. It’s evidence that the fourth-year player is becoming ever-more mobile, rolling out to his right and left to make things happen. As Scott Smith outlined in this week's Data Crunch, Winston does well when scrambling. In fact, both of his passing touchdowns came as he rolled out of the pocket to find his open man. Coach Koetter said in his postgame press conference how he thought Winston’s best play of the day was actually the touchdown throw to Chris Godwin in the back of the end zone. On third-and-11 at the Carolina 13, the Bucs were in a 3x1 formation with Mike Evans to Winston’s left on his own and Chris Godwin on the outside to his right. As the ball was snapped, you could see Winston look immediately towards Evans on the go-route, but in not liking what he saw and pressure coming, Winston scrambled to his right (where he has a perfect passer rating) and ended up finding Godwin in a hole in the back corner of the end zone. Winston fired the bullet and Godwin came down with it for the score. Coach Koetter said this was Winston’s best throw because as it turns out, Godwin was his fourth option on the play, meaning Winston had to go through his entire progression, and do it on the run, in order to make the completion. It shows great awareness by Winston and good timing by the offense as a whole to keep the play viable.