If it seems like Lavonte David and Devin White were all over the Superdome turf on Sunday, that wasn't a mirage. The Bucs' pair of fast and rangy inside linebackers were extremely active and constantly around the football, which was a big part of a defensive effort that held an offense featuring Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara to just 271 yards.
In the end, David had 11 tackles, as did White, as they shared the team lead on the afternoon. They also combined for three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed. David had one eye-opening sequence in which he nearly single-handedly caused a Saints three-and-out with two tackles for loss and a third-down hit on Brees in the backfield.
There may be more days ahead like the one on Sunday, when both David and White cross into double digits in the tackle column. As it turns out, though, that dual performance was more rare than it might have seemed at the time. Despite nearly constantly having at least one star linebacker on the field, the Buccaneers only had seven other games over the past 20 years in which two different linebackers had at least 11 tackles.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 2 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
These are those duos and their big tackle games together:
1. David (12) and Kwon Alexander (12) did it against Detroit on Dec. 12, 2017.
2. David (12) and Bruce Carter (12) did it at Carolina on Jan. 3, 2016
3. Barrett Ruud (17) and Geno Hayes (12) did it at New Orleans on Jan. 2, 2010.
4. Ruud (11) and Quincy Black (11) did it at Atlanta on Nov. 29, 2009.
5. Ruud (11) and Derrick Brooks (12) did it at Indianapolis on Oct. 7, 2007.
6. Brooks (15) and Shelton Quarles (11) did it against Chicago on Nov. 27, 2005
7. Brooks (12) and Quarles (13) did it against Carolina on Nov. 17, 2002
It's fitting that the above list starts with two combined performances by Brooks and Quarles, who were the last two linebackers to go to the Pro Bowl together in the same year for the Buccaneers, in 2002. The Buccaneers are hoping that David and White will be worthy of serious Pro Bowl consideration by the end of this season. They certainly got off to a good start. Now if they could be the first Buc duo of the last 20 years to pull off the above feat two games in a row, the Pro Bowl chatter might begin a little early.
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.
Do you think Gronk will be more involved against the Panthers on Sunday?
- @projectsports33, via Instagram
I'm not sure "involved" is the right word here. I think what you mean by that, Mr. 33, is will Rob Gronkowski have more than the two catches for 11 yards he recorded in New Orleans. But Gronkowski was definitely involved in the offense. He was on the field for 54 of the team's 70 offensive snaps, or 77% of the offense. That was significantly more than O.J. Howard, who got 37 snaps, and especially Cam Brate, who only had nine. Fourth tight end Antony Auclair did not see the field on offense in Week One.
Moreover, Gronkowski got 30 snaps as the lone tight end in the team's most common personnel grouping, which featured one back and three receivers. (That is known as "11" personnel, by the way.) Only 12 of Howard's snaps came with him as the only tight end on the field. This is just one game and it doesn't necessarily mean that pattern will be the same from week to week, but the Week One game plan clearly involved having Gronkowski on the field the most among the team's tight ends.
Gronkowski only caught two short passes, it's true, but he was targeted on a seam route well down the field on another occasion. Overall, his three targets were half of what Howard got but two more than Brate. Howard's targets were more productive, resulting in four catches for 36 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, the Buccaneers probably do expect to get more out of their entire tight end position than 47 yards in a game, but they also didn't exactly light it up on offense overall. The Bucs finished with 310 yards of net offense, which was only the 23rd most out of the 32 teams that played their first games last weekend. I don't think anyone believes Tampa Bay will finish the season with the 23rd-ranked offense. There will be more productive days and that will mean more opportunities for everyone, including Rob Gronkowski.
Even with that relatively low receiving yardage total, the Bucs' offense was actually more productive with "12" personnel (two receivers, two tight ends, one back) on the field Sunday than with its plays with 11 personnel. The Buccaneers ran 42 plays in 11 personnel and averaged 4.48 yards per play. They ran 16 plays out of 12 personnel and averaged 5.50 yards per play. That 24.6% usage of 12 personnel was up from the team's average of 20.0% through all of last year.
One note: If those numbers seem a little off it's because the notes about usage are coming from the NFL's Next Gen stats database. The play-by-play from the game notes each player's snap count but includes plays that officially didn't count do to penalties. So while I noted that there were a possibility of 70 snaps for each Buc offensive player on Sunday, the Next Gen stats start with the game's actual play count of 65.
One other thing to note: This was Gronkowski's first game in about 19 months. He has said he feels great and Bruce Arians has said he's running around like the Gronkowski of three or four years ago, but it would certainly be reasonable to expect him to gradually get back into the flow of the game and get closer to his peak form.
So, after all that, my answer to your question is that I would guess Gronkowski's receiving numbers will go up this weekend from his Week One output. I notice that the leading receiver for the Raiders last weekend against the Panthers was a tight end, Darren Waller. The Panthers defense is working two new linebackers and one new safety into its starting crew; that sounds like an opportunity for the Bucs' multiple-TE packages to sow some confusion.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster as it currently stands.
What were your thoughts on the first game? Does this loss worry you?
- @vandrepaes, via Instagram
It depends on how much I think about it.
Like I would imagine was the case for a lot of Buccaneers fans, I was pretty bummed out on Sunday night. I mean, I didn't think Tampa Bay was going to go 16-0 in 2020, so one loss shouldn't really get me down that much, but I think the feelings were magnified by the circumstances. After all that the team did to construct this all-in roster, including the still-unbelievable signing of the G.O.A.T, it really felt like it would be important to come right out and show the league that the Buccaneers are prime playoff contenders.
If you think about it a little dispassionately, though, it's easier to get over. The Buccaneers were on the road against the three-time defending NFC South champs, a team that went 13-3 last year and, at least on paper, didn't seem to get any worse during the offseason. That's a tough draw for any team. And while this was billed, understandably so, as an historic matchup between Brady and Brees, the latter had the significant advantage of continuity. He's been working with Sean Payton since 2006; Brady is trying to assimilate himself into Bruce Arians' Buccaneer offense on the fly.
That's what I tell myself to remember when I look at the team's so-so start on offense. There's no reason this group can't produce a lot more than 310 yards and 23 points in a game. Almost all of the main contributors from last year's top-ranked passing attack are back (and Scotty Miller looks like an able replacement for Breshad Perriman) and Tom Brady is…well, the G.O.A.T. There were no signs of underlying issues to worry about in Brady's first game; as Scotty Miller said Wednesday and was evident on a lot of well-thrown deep balls on Sunday, Brady's arm strength is just fine. All of his experience and proven decision-making will start to bear fruit as he becomes more and more comfortable in the offense and more aware of what his various targets do best in a game.
Mistakes were made. There was some miscommunications between the quarterback and his receivers on some option routes, one that led to an easy interception for the Saints. Arians said that Brady should have chosen to go elsewhere with the football on the throw that turned into a pick-six. Am I worried that Brady is going to make a lot of decisions like that? LOL. No.
As for the defense, it was a pretty decent first showing. The final score of 34-23 is a little misleading in regards to the Bucs' defensive effort because that pick-six added seven points and another field goal came off a 15-play drive following a botched kickoff return. Many of the other numbers are encouraging: 270 total yards of offense allowed; 160 gross passing yards for Drew Brees; three catches for 17 yards for Michael Thomas; 2.4 yards per carry allowed; five-of-13 third-down conversions allowed. The Saints got 38 yards on a trick-play double pass with Taysom Hill that the defense won't have to worry about very often. Other than that, the only real "chunk" play was a 46-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook that was open because one of the safeties missed his assignment. Everyone on defense knows exactly what happened on the play and know it is easily correctible.
What was lacking was takeaways and sacks. Those are hard to get against Drew Brees and the Saints, and sometimes you just have to give your opponent some credit. They didn't make any flagrant mistakes, so the ones that the Bucs made ended up being the main difference in the game. Lavonte David, Devin White and Carlton Davis all looked like potential stars and rookie safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. looked like he belonged in his NFL debut. I'm not worried about the defense at all.
If there's any area of concern, one that I can't write off quite as easily, it's special teams. Now I see why Arians consistently pointed to special teams as the area that worried him the most in terms of getting game ready without any offseason program or preseason games. The Saints definitely had an edge on the Buccaneers in that phase of the game in Week One, including the two huge plays of a blocked field goal and a fumble recovery on a kickoff. Arians also pointed to tackling on punt coverage as a problem. Sure, all of this could get better quickly, and the Bucs probably just need it to improve enough not to be a negative, but I can't say I know for sure that will happen.
Overall, I'd say that the first game gave me some nagging worries that would be quickly washed away if the Buccaneers rebound with a strong game against the Panthers this coming Sunday. The good thing about losing in Week One is that you have 15 more games left to turn things around.
Do you think Donovan Smith loses his starting role if he doesn't progress soon?
- @williamscarnel, via Instagram
That seems awfully dramatic to me, William. Smith may need to rebound from what Arians called "one of his poorer games," but it's not like we're talking about a rookie who has done nothing to earn his team's confidence overall. Arians said that Smith reverted to some techniques that are "not very good" in Week One, but knowing the problem and understanding that it's not a lack of talent makes one more confident it can be fixed.
Smith has started all but one game at left tackle, one of the game's toughest positions, since he was drafted at the top of the second round in 2015. Through three different coaching staffs, the Buccaneers have consistently said that they believe Smith is one of the league's more talented left tackles and that his ceiling is high when he is playing consistently from snap to snap. The Buccaneers were happy enough with his level of play after four seasons to sign him to a new and lucrative three-year contract in the spring of 2019. He's now in the second year of that deal.
Just like I suggested above that we give Tom Brady a few starts before we start deciding how good the offense is going to be, I think we need more than one game before we begin thinking about whether one specific player or another is going to lose his job. Sure, if Smith or any other player on the offensive line starts putting together a string of bad performances than the Bucs would have to think about making some changes, but I don't think we're close to that with Smith or any other player just yet. If he comes out and has the type of strong game we've seen him play at times in the past, we won't even be talking about this next week. The issue of whether to stick with Smith at left tackle or go in another direction is more of a long-term discussion regarding seasons to come, not one that we need to be having on a week-to-week basis.