Pictures of the Top 10 Niners in Week 6, according to their Pro Football Focus player grade.
For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.
It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 140 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, we pinpoint some areas in which we optimistically think the Buccaneers will perform better after the break. We also count all of Demar Dotson's teammates and counsel a wait-and-see attitude on the players returning from injury. Let's get to it.
1. Second-Half Surge?
Well, that's a good one, Greg, and probably a necessary one if the Buccaneers are going to stick around in the playoff race. You could actually say that Winston has already begun that improvement, as he threw 30 passes without a pick in the Monday night win in Carolina before the bye.
Also, I know what you meant and I'm not splitting hairs, but we really are still in the first half of the season. The Bucs have 11 games to go, or 69% of the season. If there are things that need improvement (and of course there are), then the team has a lot of time to turn it around.
Obviously, though, you meant pre- and post-bye week, which is good a place as any to break up the season. You probably took the best answer in your question, Greg, and I believe Winston can indeed limit the turnovers, just as he did as a rookie when he threw seven interceptions in the first four games of the season and just eight more over the final 12. With that choice off the board, I'll give you a couple other options.
First of all, the Bucs could do a lot better at not getting hurt. I know that's really just a matter of good or bad fortune, but it hardly seems like the team's luck could be worse after the break. In fact, many of the key players who have been missing for several weeks could be back in action when the Bucs hit the field in Santa Clara on Sunday. We'll know a little more about that in the next few days.
Since that one is really more of a cross-your-fingers type of thing, let me give two more concrete answers, one each on offense and defense.
*Offense: Run the ball more consistently. *Last year, the Buccaneers ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards per game (135.1) and second in yards per carry (4.75). Through the first six weeks of the 2016 season, the Bucs rank 27th (88.6 ypg) and 29th (3.31 ypc) in those two categories, respectively. I think many of us believed the Bucs were on the verge of an offensive breakout this year after a very promising start to the Jameis Winston era in 2015, but that leap forward isn't going to happen if the running game regresses to that extent.
Now, there are, of course, extenuating circumstances, most notably injuries to Doug Martin, Charles Sims and Luke Stocker. Too many turnovers in the early weeks put the Bucs behind on the scoreboard and in passing mode in the second halves of games. The Bucs have run the ball on 38.0% of their offensive plays this year, down from 44.7% last year and good for just 20th in the league. And even if there haven't been enough chances to run the ball, that 3.3 yards per carry figure must improve.
And I believe it will. Sims is on injured reserve but Martin and Stocker should be back soon. The Bucs could get a boost in improving their running game after the break right away, as their upcoming opponent, the 49ers, have the league's worst run defense so far. The next four contests after that are against Oakland (30th against the run), Atlanta (11th), Chicago (19th) and Kansas City (24th).
Defense: Sack the quarterback. Like the running game, this looked like it could be a Buccaneer strength heading into the regular season. After leading the league in sacks during the preseason, the Bucs did get Atlanta's Matt Ryan down a respectable three times in the season opener, though they lost one of their sack leaders, Jacquies Smith, for the season in the process. Subsequent injuries to Robert Ayers, Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald and Noah Spence have drained much of the team's pass-rushing juice.
The Bucs need to improve a lot of things on defense, from a total of 6 takeaways in five games (four of them last Monday) to an opponent completion percentage of 60.8 to 20 completions of 20+ yards allowed. The first ingredient to fixing all of that is getting more pressure on the quarterback. As the D-Line regains its overall health and the players get more and more comfortable in Mike Smith's defensive scheme, I believe that will come.
2. Hey Scott – I know that among the players there now Demar Dotson has been on the team the longest. He has played for four different head coaches, so I know there's obviously been a lot of roster turnover in his time? How many teammates has Demar played with. And if it's possible to figure it out, which player in team history has had the most teammates. (Not doing your job for you, but it's probably Derrick Brooks or Ronde Barber, right)? Thanks!
Mark from Safety Harbor (via email email@example.com)
Hmm, interesting. As usual with a question like this, we have to start by defining the terms. Dotson has been a Buccaneer since signing as an undrafted rookie in the spring of 2009, and if you wanted to know every player that has come and gone on the roster since then – offseason and regular season – I would say, "Thanks, but no thanks." However, I'm going to seize on the fact that you wrote "…played with," and get this down to a digestible size.
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That is, I think (I'm writing this before I actually try) that I can determine the number of players with whom Dotson has played alongside in regular-season games. So to qualify for this, a player had to make the regular-season roster and then also actively play in a game in which Dotson also played. A game-day inactive or a "DNP" (did not play) doesn't count.
Dotson made his regular-season debut in 2009, playing in the last nine games of his rookie season. There were 54 other players who saw action for the Buccaneers in those nine games, so we start from there. Dotson spent the 2010 season on injured reserve and did not appear in a game, so we can skip that one. He returned in 2011 to play in 13 games, and in the process played with 66 other Bucs. Of those 66, 42 were new; that is, they were players he had not suited up alongside in 2009. So through 2011, he had shared game action with 96 different Buccaneers.
Repeat the process through the first five games of 2016. It was easy from 2012-2014, as Dotson played in all 48 games over that span so everybody else who got into a game in those seasons would be on the list. Weed out the duplicates and you're up to exactly 200 teammates with whom Dotson played a regular-season game to that point.
It was a little trickier in 2015, as Dotson only played in six games, but he did 23 new names to the list in that span. So far, he's appeared in every game this year, so all 19 men who have made their regular-season playing debuts for the Buccaneers, from Roberto Aguayo to Channing ward, join the list.
All told, that means Demar Dotson has played in a regular-season game as a Buccaneer with 242 teammates. I wonder if he could name them all. There are seven Smiths (Antone could soon make it eight), five Johnsons and three Williamses. There's a Haye (Jovan), a Hayes (Geno), a Hayward (Adam) and, yes, even a Haynesworth (Albert) for a brief time in 2011. There has been a Skye (Dawson) and it's been Rainey (Bobby). He's played with Trevor Scott, Scott Solomon and Solomon Patton.
Sure, Dotson has known Anger (Bryan) and someone being Rudd (Barrett), but he's also partnered with those who are Earnest (Graham) and Goode (Najee). There was a Cadillac (Williams), a Carr (Deveron) and a Lane (Jorvorskie), not to mention a Penn (Donald), a Dye (Donteea) and a Page (Eric). Dotson has even served alongside a Noble (Danny) English (Larry) King (Tavarres).
Okay, enough of the word play. The answer to your first question, again, is 242, if we define "teammates" as players with whom Dotson has played in a regular-season game. As for your second question, I think it's safe to assume that you're right that it has to be either Ronde Barber or Derrick Brooks. And even from among those two it's an easy call because Barber holds the team records for most seasons played (16) and most games played (241).
Barber makes it easier still for us because he famously played in every game from 1998 through 2012. That means all we need to do for most of his career is tally up the number of other players who suited up for a single regular-season game in that period. According to Statspass, that number is 362. That seems a little low for a 15-year span seeing that Dotson has had 242 in seven years. On the other hand, that's also probably the result of all that turnover you mentioned with the frequent coaching changes, Mark. From perusing through the player participation charts of the various seasons, there's definitely a higher rate of turnover in recent seasons than in the relatively stable period of Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden from the mid-'90s to the mid '00s.
Ronde also played in one game during his 1997 rookie season, so we have to give that a quick look for any players who should be added to the list. That did, in fact, turn up six new names: Horace Copeland, Melvin Johnson, Kenny Gant, Jackie Harris, Tyrone Legette and Jim Pyne. So Ronde Barber's list of men with which he played a Buccaneers regular-season game is 368 names long. Wow.
3. Reinforcements on the Way?
Well, that's not completely true, but I get your point. My answer would be, stay optimistic and wait for further information on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Wide receiver Louis Murphy began the 21-day practice window that will hopefully lead to him coming off the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform list soon. He says he feels great after missing almost a year due to a knee injury. His return will help, but at the moment he's not on the 53-man roster so his "return" will really be when he's activated and eligible to play on Sundays.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Cecil Shorts and tight end Luke Stocker, two players who have been out since suffering leg injuries in Week Two, returned to practice on Monday. That was a bonus practice and the team didn't have to put out an injury report detailing the players' level of participation, but it was encouraging to see those two on the field.
As for the rest of the Buccaneers' injured players, I'll refer you to Head Coach Dirk Koetter's response to a post-practice question on Monday. The question was: "When you have an extra practice in a week that you don't normally have in a normal Monday-to-Saturday prep, are you more likely to rest somebody that's on the bubble from an injury standpoint?" Koetter's first words of response were: "Absolutely. Absolutely, and we did that today. We held several guys out. We got a few guys back out there."
That's why I'm counseling a wait-and-see attitude here. The official injury reports on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will tell us a lot more than what this Monday bonus practice could offer.