Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Honors and Injuries | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about potential Pro Bowl nods for Jason Pierre-Paul and Tristan Wirfs, Ronald Jones' chances to play this weekend and more

mailbag

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings was a great result for the home team, as it strengthened Tampa Bay's playoff chances and put them within two wins of clinching a spot. Whether or not you would consider it a great game depends on what you're looking for from a Buccaneers game. If you like chunk plays on offense and a swarming pass rush, this was your cup of tea. If you want to see a dominant running game and a bunch of turnovers, this probably wasn't your favorite game of the season.

What it was, however, was an odd game in a number of ways. Allow me to point out some of those ways:

- Thanks to a number of long but fruitless drives by Minnesota and a flurry of scoring by the Bucs just before halftime, the Vikings finished the game with a nearly 2:1 edge in time of possession. As I pointed out earlier in the week in Data Crunch, the Bucs' T.O.P. of 20:57 is not something you often see associated with a winning team. In fact, that's the lowest time-of-possession total Tampa Bay has ever record in a victory, across 45 seasons of play. I have since learned something that makes this note even crazier: There has been only one game this season in which a team won with a lower time-of-possession total than the Buccaneers had in Week 14, and that was by Seattle in Week Five. The opponent: Minnesota. Wow.

- For a while at least, Ryan Succop did something that no Buccaneers kicker had done in 32 years. Just before halftime, the Bucs got in position to try a 'Hail Mary' pass and hit the mini-jackpot when Vikings linebacker Todd Davis was flagged for pass interference on tight end Rob Gronkowski. That gave the Bucs one more untimed down, with the ball placed at the one-yard line. Bruce Arians chose to take the (almost) guaranteed points and sent Succop out to make an easy field goal. At the time, it was judged to be an 18-yard field goal…which is weird.

Somewhere around the mid-'90s, NFL teams started to make a minor adjustment on how they handled kickoffs. For years, the usual distance between the line of scrimmage and where the holder set up was seven yards. Given that snap length and the extra 10 yards of distance to cross the end zone, a fan could calculate the distance of the kick by adding 17 yards to wherever the line of scrimmage was. Example: A kick that is snapped from the 26-yard line would be a 43-yard field goal. In the latter half of the 1990s, though, teams started snapping the ball eight yards back to further guard against getting them blocked by rushers around the edge. Since then, a kick from the 26 would be a 44-yarder. Therefore, the shortest possible kick would be 19 yards.

There have been recorded 18-yard field goals in this millennium, 30 of them in fact, most recently by Green Bay's Mason Crosby in 2016. These were either shorter snaps than usual or possibly an error by the stat crew. As it turns out that's what we had on Sunday, as the NFL later corrected the ruling to make Succop's kick a 19-yarder. Had it stood as an 18-yarder, it would have been the first Buccaneer field goal of 18 yards since Oct. 23, 1988, by Donald Igwebuike. The opponent: Minnesota. You can't make this stuff up. The Bucs did have a more recent 18-yard attempt, by Michael Husted in the 1998 season finale at Cincinnati, but he hit the right upright and missed. It didn't matter; the Bucs won, 35-0.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 15 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

- Wait, there was a penalty on a Hail Mary pass? I don't have a clue as to how to look up stats about that, but I don't think that's very common.

- Scotty Miller scored the Buccaneers' first touchdown of the game on a pretty 48-yard post with a perfect arcing pass from Tom Brady. The Bucs took the lead on that play and never gave it back. Was it a sign that Miller was becoming more integrated in the offense again after spending the middle part of the season trying to overcome groin and hip injuries? Not really. Miller only played five snaps. He is the first Buccaneer this season to score in a game in which he played five or fewer snaps. There have been only eight other instances in the NFL this season of a player catching a TD pass while being on the field for five or fewer snaps. One of those was against the Buccaneers, as Chargers tight end Donald Parham caught a 19-yard TD pass on his only offensive play in Week Four. Parham's teammate, running back Gabe Nabers, has done it twice this year. Maybe they should play him more.

- The Buccaneers won the turnover battle against Minnesota, 1-0, and are now 7-0 this season when they have more takeaways than giveaways. But did they really have a takeaway. With 2:14 left in the game, the Vikings were forced to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Bucs' 48 and Jason Pierre-Paul eventually chased Kirk Cousins down from behind, stripped the ball and recovered it at the Vikings' 44. But should we really consider that a turnover? As soon as Pierre-Paul sacked Cousins the play was unsuccessful and thus the ball would have gone over to the Buccaneers on downs even if it was recovered by the Vikings. I mean, I'm glad that the Pierre-Paul gets credit for a takeaway, but that seems like a strange ruling to me.

- Oh yeah, that was the last of five fourth-down tries by the Vikings. That equals the most fourth-down attempts in a game by any team since Denver went for it seven times against San Francisco in 2018. It's just the third time in the last 30 years that a Buccaneer opponent has attempted five fourth down conversions.

- The final score was 26-14. That's not as weird as the Bucs' 46-23 win at Carolina in Week 10, which was the first NFL game ever to end in that score, but it's not that common, either. It had happened 38 times before in NFL history, most recently in a Chiefs win over Arizona in 2018. The Bucs are responsible for three of those 39 games, having beaten Green Bay by that score in 1990 and St. Louis by that margin in 2002.

So, yeah, it was an odd game. Perhaps odder than you realized at the time, but now you know. You're welcome. 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 tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Do you think JPP has cemented his spot on the Pro Bowl roster with this year's performance?

- @ninjaneat (via Instagram)

…and…

Is Tristan Wirfs a potential pro bowler?

- @u.2.smooth (via Instagram)

I don't know, ninja-smooth, the Pro Bowl is a tricky beast.

Let's start by stipulating that both players are definitely worthy of selection. Pierre-Paul is seventh in the league with 9.5 sacks but more importantly he's fifth in the NFC and third at the outside linebacker position. I'll explain why that's important in a moment. JPP is also tied for first in the conference in forced fumbles and somehow he also has two interceptions. Those are rock-solid statistical credentials.

Wirfs is harder to judge, of course, because offensive linemen don't really have individual statistics. But on Wednesday, Buccaneers Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin went so far as to call the rookie tackle an All-Pro candidate. Wirfs has been nothing short of amazing, with one game in Chicago against Khalil Mack his only real hiccup of the season. Otherwise, he's been dominant, week-in and week-out.

Now, will those two guys get the Pro Bowl nod? I think Pierre-Paul's chances are significantly better than Wirfs'. It may not be fair, but that's just the way it is.

Pierre-Paul, notably, has already been to two Pro Bowls and is a very recognizable name on the NFL landscape. The extra attention that Tom Brady and a playoff run have brought the Buccaneers is helpful for all the other players on the team who are having big years. Most importantly, though, Pierre-Paul is on the ballot as a linebacker.

The ballot on NFL.com has defenders grouped into DE, DT, ILB and OLB. Most of the players in the outside linebacker group are analogous to Pierre-Paul – edge rushers like Mack, Za'Darius Smith and JPP's teammate, Shaq Barrett. Still, while there is good competition in that group, those pass-rushers don't have to compete with players designated as defensive ends, like the Saints' Trey Hendrickson and Cam Jordan or Washington's Montez Sweat and Chase Young.

While Mack is a bit down the list with 7.5 sacks he'll probably still earn another Pro Bowl nod based on his reputation, and he will probably be deserving. Otherwise, Pierre-Paul's main competition comes from the likes of Green Bay's Smith, Arizona's Haason Reddick, the Rams' Leonard Floyd and his own teammate, Barrett. I kind of like Pierre-Paul's chances in that battle.

On that NFL.com Pro Bowl ballot, the outside linebackers are listed on the page in descending order of their sack totals, which helps put Pierre-Paul front and center when you get to the OLB page. The tackles, however, are listed alphabetically. That doesn't help Wirfs, who is way down in the lower right corner after a lot of scrolling. Right at the beginning of the first line on the page are the Saints' Terron Armstead and the Packers' David Bakhtiari, both of whom are incumbents from last year's NFC Pro Bowl roster. They already have name recognition, so surely some fans are going to pick those guys right off the bat without even looking too far down the list.

There's also this: No rookie offensive tackle has made the Pro Bowl since Minnesota's Matt Kalil in 2012. By the way, that's not a career we hope Wirfs emulates; Kalil never made another Pro Bowl and was out of the league by 2018. Before him, Miami's Jake Long made it in 2008 and Cleveland's Joe Thomas did so in 2007. The Chargers' Marcus McNeill got the nod as a rookie but also had a relatively short career. Before him, no rookie offensive tackle had made the Pro Bowl since 1990.

For a lot of young players, especially offensive linemen with their lack of catchy stats, Pro Bowl recognition tends to lag a few years behind actual Pro Bowl-level play. The Pro Bowl roster will include three tackles in the NFC; it would be easy to see those going to Armstead, Bakhtiari and San Francisco's Trent Williams. Wirfs is deserving, in my opinion and that of his coaches, but it will be a bit surprising (in a pleasant way) if he gets the honor this year.

I should also point out that fan voting is only one third of the process of selecting the Pro Bowlers. NFL players and head coaches also get to vote, and the collective choices of each of those groups each counts as one-third of the selection process, along with the fans' collective vote. So it's possible that Wirfs has impressed his peers so much that he gets a big boost from those two groups. We'll have to wait until next week to find out.

Should we concerned that the slow starts continue with offense at this point in the season?

- @visionsof_success (via Instagram)

Sure, I think that's fair. It has been a defining factor in most of the Bucs' five losses this year, and even in last week's win they had to come back from another slow start. One can't count on huge third-down plays and the opposing kicker getting the yips to keep you close in every game that opens slowly. If the Bucs do continue to start slowly on offense in every game, it probably will come back to bite them at some point. It might not keep them out of the playoffs but they'll need to step up their play in the postseason to get anywhere.

Here's the thing, though: It's completely reasonable to think that the Buccaneers will overcome this problem. Tampa Bay's offense was actually noteworthy for its fast starts in the season's first half, especially in the first five games. The Buccaneers scored at least one touchdown in the first quarter of six of their first seven games but have done that only once in the last six contests, with a total of 10 first-quarter points in that span. That's concerning, but it might not be as bad as it seems.

Take this last game against Minnesota. The Vikings got the ball first and used up the first five minutes of the game on an ultimately-unsuccessful drive. The Bucs' offense came out with a quick first down on a nice Ronald Jones run and a Chris Godwin catch, and then faced a third-and-four three plays later. You probably remember that one. Tom Brady went through several shorter reads before seeing Rob Gronkowski breaking free on a corner route to the left sideline. Gronkowski was very open and a completion here would have been a huge play, maybe even a touchdown. But Brady's pass missed.

Through no fault of its own, the Bucs' offense didn't get the ball back until a minute was gone in the second quarter. A three-and-out followed but Tamp Bay then scored on its next four possessions. So the team's "slow start" was one bad miss on a wide-open play and one three-and-out. Is that really bad enough to consider it to be a major problem? In this case, the issue was a slow start by both the offense and the defense. That's a bigger concern, really.

But, again, it's fair to be concerned at this point. I'm of the opinion we won't be talking about it much more in a couple weeks, but until the offense proves that it can get back into its early-game groove, it's perfectly reasonable to be worried about it.

Will Ronald Jones be ready this week or not due to his procedure? Which running back would we see more from if he couldn't go?

- @jwoloszyn14 (via Instagram)

…and…

Was there any reasoning to Fournette being inactive on Sunday?

- @Brahjahn (via Instagram)

Well, that first question was sent in before Jones also landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, so things have become significantly more complicated. The procedure referred to here was the surgery to have pins inserted into the pinkie finger that Jones fractured in Sunday's win over Minnesota. As of Wednesday, it was still far from clear whether he would be able to play through it on Sunday in Atlanta. Arians said he hoped that Jones could try practicing with the injury on Thursday but if not, then Friday.

The issue Arians is concerned with is if Jones will be able to "protect himself" while playing through that injury. In other words, can he carry the ball in that hand and still absorb hits without losing the ball? That would be kind of hard to simulate in practice; it's not like the Buccaneers want their defenders hitting Jones on his injured hand.

When asked if Jones' prognosis could be similar to that of Godwin, who missed one game after fracturing an index finger in Las Vegas in Week Eight and then played several more with a fairly large brace on his hand, Arians said no. The difference is that Godwin plays out in space more and doesn't take as many hits. Jones will be getting hit every time he's handed the ball. One also wonders if the Bucs would try to throw it to Jones while his hand is hurt, and if the opposing team knows that option is off the table it makes it easier for them to diagnose the play from the beginning.

But those might all be moot points. We don't know at this point if Jones is on the COVID list because he tested positive or because he was deemed to be in close proximity to somebody who did. If it's the former, there's no chance he'll be playing this Sunday, and even if it's the latter it's a little dicey. Put it all together and I would be surprised if Jones is in uniform in Week 15.

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