Mike Evans has spent the last three months journeying all over NFL playing fields. This Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expect him to have a very specific traveling companion.
With 916 yards on 65 receptions so far this season, Evans is the NFL's third-leading receiver. He's the only player in the league with at least 50 receiving yards in every game, and he has more than double the yards of Tampa Bay's next leading receiver. That sounds like a job for Richard Sherman.
The Seattle Seahawks will bring the NFL's top scoring defense to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, and a star-studded secondary led by Sherman, the outspoken playmaking cornerback. Tampa Bay Head Coach Dirk Koetter said on Wednesday that he expects Sherman to shadow Evans wherever the Bucs put him in their formation. The Seahawks' approach when the Atlanta Falcons and Julio Jones (the NFL's leading receiver) visited Seattle in October serves as a likely blueprint.
"They played Atlanta earlier, so we got a pretty good picture of it with Sherman and Julio," said Koetter. "It was earlier in the year; it was at their place. He matched him and it was a good battle all day. They put the safety over there to help him a little bit. It's no big secret – in critical situations teams are looking for their number-one guy. We're no different than Atlanta or anybody else."
Pictures of the Seahawks' starting offense and defense, according to the team's depth chart.
Jones still caught seven passes for 139 yards and a touchdown in that game but the Seahawks won the game, 26-24. What makes the anticipated matchup between Sherman and Evans so intriguing is that it matches two big players – Sherman is 6-3 and 195 pounds and Evans runs 6-5 and 231 pounds – and they both excel at a physical style of football. Evans may find it more difficult than usual to get into his routes, but the Buccaneers still expect him to get open. Koetter isn't going to exclude his top pass-catcher from his play-calling just because he has a difficult matchup.
"You can't have a number-one guy and then say, 'Okay, we're not going to him,'" said Koetter. "That doesn't set a very good tone. Now, that doesn't mean he's not going to get covered sometimes. There are good receivers and there are good cover guys, the best players in the world. That's what you compete for.
"I'm sure if you interview Richard Sherman he's going to say, 'I can shut down anybody.' That's what you go to the game to watch."
The good news for the Buccaneers is that their passing attack has started to show more variety in recent weeks. In the win over Kansas City on Sunday, five different Bucs notched 40 or more receiving yards, a first for the team this season. Evans is the most targeted receiver in the NFL so far, but Winston shouldn't feel compelled to force the ball in his direction. Other playmakers are stepping up, and the protection is giving Winston time to find them.
"I don't think we should think of it as Jameis spreading the ball [around]," said Koetter. "Jameis, he's going based on the coverage and then his progression. And the other thing you've got to remember, you've got to have time to do that. Last week, we had such good protection that Jameis was able to get through his reads. The fact that those guys made plays, that's what's great. We haven't always been able to have the time, and sometimes we get back and those guys aren't open. We had both last week so it was awesome. We had a lot of guys contribute."
- The Bucs had two changes to their injury report after their Thanksgiving morning practice, and both of them were movement in the right direction.
Cornerback Brent Grimes, who did not participate in Wednesday's practice, too part in Thursday's workout on a limited basis. In addition, tight end Luke Stocker progressed from limited status on Wednesday to full participation on Thursday. Grimes is trying to overcome a quad injury that knocked him out for most of Sunday's win in Kansas City while Stocker has been bothered by an ankle injury for several weeks.
Particularly with the loss of nickel corner Jude Adjei-Barimah to a four-game suspension, the Buccaneers would benefit significantly from Grimes's availability on Sunday, but that decision is likely still days away.
"Brent's just a guy that you can put out there one-on-one and know he's going to cover his guy," said Koetter. "He was only in the game six plays the other day and he has a pass break-up, and they catch the one and he punches the ball out. He's just got really good ball skills. If they throw it to his side, like any corner he's going to get beat once in a while but he's going to make his share of plays over there."
Koetter also said that starting left guard Kevin Pamphile remains in the concussion protocol, though he has taken part in both practices this week.