S.S. Mailbag: On RoJo, Shaq and Deflected Picks

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On December 19, 1993, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Los Angeles Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I was there, but I can't claim to remember much about it beyond the fact that it included a 57-yard field goal by Michael Husted, which at the time was the longest in team history. It wasn't enough, as the Raiders won, 27-20. A cheating peek at the box score from the game tells me that Reggie Cobb scored two touchdowns but a lost fumble on one of five sacks of Craig Erickson put the Bucs into an early 14-0 hole from which they couldn't escape.

That game was long enough ago that it was the first time I used an ATM card on a road trip. It's also the last time that the Buccaneers played a game in Los Angeles.

The Raiders moved back to Oakland two years later and the Rams followed them out of L.A. a year later for a 20-year dalliance in St. Louis. The Rams came back to their not-original home (the franchise first began play in Cleveland in 1937) three years ago and the Chargers, formerly of San Diego, joined them a season later, but the Buccaneers haven't been scheduled to play either on the road, until now.

The Rams are currently holding their home games at the Coliseum until their brand new stadium is ready, which means the Buccaneers will head back there 26 years after their last visit. On the Buccaneers' current 53-man roster, there are 39 players who are 26 years old or younger.

Those 26 years mark the longest span for the Buccaneers between a pair of games in the same stadium. Thanks to movement by the Colts and the Browns-turned-Ravens, the Bucs had a 23-year gap between games in Baltimore (1979-2003), but the latter game was played in a new stadium. Tampa Bay went 22 years between trips to Kansas City, from 1986 to 2008, both at Arrowhead Stadium, but that gap falls short, too. The Bucs had a 23-year absence from Pittsburgh, between 1983 and 2006, but by the second visit the Steelers had moved on from Three Rivers Stadium to Heinz Field.

With the rotational scheduling format that has been in place since 2002, every team is guaranteed a visit to every other NFL city within an eight-year period. There probably won't be another decades-long period between visits to a specific stadium for the Buccaneers again for a very long time…unless some team moves back to San Diego 20 years from now.

Now let's get to your questions.

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.

What can we expect to see from the run game this week? More RoJo?

- justinpace009, via Instagram

And

Has RoJo earned a bigger role in the offense yet?

- aaron\miller\88, via Instagram

Well, the Rams have the league's 11th-ranked rushing defense, in terms of yards allowed per game (93.0) and they are 16th in yards allowed per rush at 4.16. That sounds like a reasonably tough challenge, and specifically Aaron Donald can blow up any rushing play with a quick blast into the backfield, but not one that should frighten the Bucs away from their efforts to field a balanced offense. Now, if they were about to play Philadelphia, whose run defense has been like a brick wall so far this year, that might call for some tweaks to the game plan.

So I don't expect the Bucs to move away from running the ball, and with three consecutive good efforts in that part of the game we're starting to get some credible evidence that the ground game is going to be effective this year. The Buccaneers are running the ball well on first down (4.7 yards per tote, seventh in the league) and they are getting some sizeable chunks here and there – 12.4% of their runs, or basically one in every eight, has gone for 10 or more yards – even though they haven't broken the truly big play yet.

On Thursday, Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich was effusive about his two-headed backfield, Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones.

"I think these guys are giving us great production," said Leftwich. "I really like our running backs. I don’t know how everybody else feels – I really like who we have [and] who we get an opportunity to turn around and hand the ball off to. I think Peyton and RoJo are doing an excellent job, so I’ve really liked where we’re at. We’ve just got to make more plays [and] execute in more situations so we can win football games."

That sounds like a play-caller who believes in his running game and plans to keep it central to his game plan. Now, as we all know, if the Buccaneers' defense struggled against a potent Rams attack and the visitors fall behind early, that will change the equation. If the Buccaneers are playing catch-up, they'll be throwing the ball a lot more and that will artificially deflate the rushing numbers. Let's hope we don't see that.

As for Jones, yes, I could see him getting a larger share of the action. As it is, he's had more carries than Barber in two of the three games so far, though it was nearly an exact split last week against the Giants. Barber got 23 carries to just four for Jones in Week Two at Carolina, but Jones was dealing with a toe injury which he aggravated on that evening and Barber got to take over some possessions that were originally meant for Jones. Jones is no longer hampered by that injury and he's averaging 5.3 yards per carry to Barber's 3.7.

As Bruce Arians has said on multiple occasions, even before the season started, he likes both of his primary backs and if either one gets the hot hand in a game, he will stick with that back. That's happened on a couple occasions already with Jones. Perhaps going back to his college home stadium will add a little more pep to his step, too. I could see Jones getting hot again and therefore getting even more work than he did in Weeks One or Three.

Do you think Shaq will get 3 or more sacks against the Rams?

- byroncouncil8810, via Instagram

I'm going to go the smart and conservative route here and say no. Here's why: If Shaq Barrett gets at least 3.0 sacks against the Rams he will be the first player in the history of the NFL (or at least since sacks became an official stat in 1982) to post three straight games with three or more sacks. It seems foolishly aggressive to predict that one of your players will be the first in league history to do anything.

That said, it's not particularly far-fetched, either, depending upon what the Rams decide to do against the Bucs' defensive front. As Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles pointed out on Thursday – and he's not the first to do so – Barrett has been getting a lot of one-on-one pass-rush opportunities on the edge because teams have felt the need to double-team inside linemen like Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea. There's a reason for that, and opposing coordinators obviously think bad things will happen up the middle if they don't pay extra attention to those two. But at some point they may have to pick a different poison and see what happens if they give Barrett the extra attention instead.

Barrett has done such an incredible job of winning his one-on-one opportunities through the first three games that you have to believe it's possible he makes history if the Rams give him even more of those opportunities on Sunday.

After last week’s tough loss, what do we need to improve the MOST on going into week 4?

- drip.nonetheless, via Instagram

So you mean specifically improving something from last week's game to this one? Such as, in Game One the Bucs beat themselves with four turnovers, which was the most glaring issue, and in Week Two they didn’t turn it over once and one. Of course, a high number of drive-killing and drive-extending penalties were a problem and helped keep that game close so the Bucs had to squeak it out at the end; in Week Three, penalties were not a big problem.

So if you mean some problem from Week Three that needs to be addressed in order to have a chance to win in Week Four, I would say it was breakdowns and lack of big plays in the secondary. The run defense was good and the pass rush was getting there, especially in the second half, but the Bucs still gave up 336 passing yards to a rookie quarterback making his first start. They'll have to do better against the more experienced Jared Goff, who also has a better group of wide receivers around him.

The other obvious answer from the last game is that the Bucs need to make extra points and clutch field goals. But Matt Gay also made four field goals in that game, including 52 and 47-yarders, and I think we're going to find that performance to be an aberration.

If we're talking about this in a broader sense, in terms of an area that has been a problem throughout the first three weeks of the season, then the number-one thing the Bucs need to improve upon in Week Four and going forward is their touchdown efficiency in the red zone. Tampa Bay's offense ranks second-to-last in that regard, and that means the Bucs are leaving a lot of points on the board. The coaches are convinced that the approach in that area of the field is fine; the execution simply hasn't been there. Facing a team that is averaging 25.7 points per game this year and averaged 32.7 last year on the way to the Super Bowl, the Bucs can't afford to go one-for-five in the red zone, as they did against the Giants. Three or four of those need to be touchdowns.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 4 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Hi Scott. 

Jameis has apparently thrown 61 interceptions in his career. Against the 49ers one of them bounced in and out of the hands of OJ. Hardly his fault. I’m sure that I can remember at least 6 others where exactly the same thing happened. Do you have any information or details of this happening, and how often. On the same subject, I’m sure there must be the odd interception thrown on Hail Marys at the end of the half or a game. My point therefore is, if you factor in both the points above I’m guessing that his interception total isn’t as bad as we think, and drops him into the pack in terms of stats. I do realize that all interceptions count against him, but I just feel these are at least excusable. 

Thanks, Gary Botteley, via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com

I appreciate what you're trying to do here, Gary, but it doesn't really work, and it wouldn't work for any quarterback over a large enough sample size. This sort of analysis is better when you're just examining one game, such as the San Francisco game that you reference. One of Jameis Winston's three interceptions in that game did hit O.J. Howard in the hands, though you can tell on replay that it's not an easy catch. Still, there's at least shared blame there. And we found out from Bruce Arians the day after the game that Richard Sherman's pick-six in that game was at least in part the result of Peyton Barber running his route a few yards too deep, and Winston's pass was where it was supposed to be. Even on that one, though, Arians also questioned the idea of choosing to throw to a running back on the sideline covered by Sherman.

See, there's just too many nuances to just about every NFL football play to make this such a black and white issue. But what the heck, you took the time to send in this question so I'll take the time to give you the count that you want. Winston has 62 career interceptions – Gary's question was probably composed before the Giants game, in which he was picked off once – and I just reviewed tape of all of them.

I found 10 interceptions in which the ball first hit the hands of a Buccaneer player before deflecting to the defender. I found another three you could classify as Hail Mary passes – not all three made it to the end zone but all were last-second heaves downfield while trailing. And there were two others that became floaters way off target when Winston's arm was hit during the throw. So that's 15, or roughly a fourth of his picks, where you might be willing to say they weren't his fault.

But, again, there are so many nuances, even among those 10 that were tipped or deflected in some way. Only a couple were absolutely egregious drops, when the Buccaneer pass-catcher should have had it. On a couple, it's hard to blame anyone because the throw was good and the pass-catcher almost had it except the defender got an arm in at the last minute or something similar. Several of them were on passes that were very unlikely to be caught and the receiver just managed to get one hand on it. That may have been the difference between a deflection into an interception and the ball harmlessly hitting the turf, but you can't blame the receiver for trying. On one, the pass deflected off the back of a defender's helmet when he had his back to Winston!

Watching the accumulated picks of any quarterback will demonstrate that there are a whole lot of reasons that they happen. I was admittedly guessing on some of them, but at least a couple looked like the receiver ran the wrong route, based on where the pass went and Winston's reaction at the end. I saw one where it looks like Mike Evans was knocked down, but no flag was thrown, and the ball sailed right over where he should have been standing. On at least one other, Winston was hit as he threw, causing the pass to be errant.

Even on the ones that look like they are completely on Winston, I have to admit that there might have been mitigating factors of which I wasn't aware. Would any of us have known, for instance, that Barber ran his route wrong in that Niners game if Arians hadn't shared that with the media?

I guess what I'm getting at is that, yes, there have absolutely been interceptions in Winston's career that were not his fault, even a couple this year, apparently. But if you break down any quarterback's career interceptions you're going to find the same thing, and you're also going to have a lot of uncertainty unless you discuss each play in detail with the coaches at the time.

Winston's 62 interceptions, as well as his 93 touchdowns and 15,410 passing yards, aren't judged in a vacuum. They are compared, positively and/or negatively, against what other quarterbacks have done. And if you're going to find ways to excuse the interceptions of one quarterback – or somehow find reasons to discredit him for some of his accomplishments – you have to do the same for all the other quarterbacks in the discussion.

Basically, every interception is different, but 62 picks is 62 picks. And 93 touchdowns are 93 touchdowns.

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