Quick: Name the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' leader in receiving yards one quarter of the way into the 2020 season.
Most Buccaneer fans would probably guess Mike Evans, who already has two 100-yard games this season and is always a good bet to be this answer anyway. Chris Godwin led the team in receiving yards last year but has missed two contests already. Tom Brady has spread the ball around to tight ends and running backs, so there could be a lot of reasonable guesses.
The answer is Scotty Miller, the 2019 sixth-round draft pick who is blossoming in his second season after winning the third-receiver job. Miller has been more of a second option for much of the first quarter thanks to Godwin's injury troubles. Evans leads the team with 17 catches and, most notably, five touchdowns, but it's Miller who has a team-best 250 yards and 16.7 yards per catch. That just happens to be a pace that would get Miller to 1,000 yards by season's end, if we want to start setting our expectations a bit higher.
Miller has been a consistent producer. He only had 11 yards in Week Two against Carolina but otherwise has at least 73 yards in each of the other three games. In the Bucs' high-powered win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week Four, Miller matched his season highs with five catches and 83 yards, and he scored for the first time in 2020.
With the Buccaneers initially struggling to open up the passing game, Miller did what Brady needed to get things going: He got separation.
According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats database, Miller had the highest average receiver separation of any player on either team, and it wasn't particularly close. Next Gen describes this particular statistics as such: "How much separation a receiver is getting from the nearest defender (in yards) at the time of catch/incompletion." They only apply this to receivers and tight ends, not running backs.
Miller's average receiver separation was 4.76 yards, and surely had to be helped by his 19-yard touchdown on which the play design sprung him wide open and uncovered over the middle of the field.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 4 matchup against Los Angeles.
There were 11 receivers and tight ends on the two teams combined who caught at least one pass in Sunday's game and Next Gen has average receiver separation figures on all of them except Buccaneers tight end Cam Brate. Here they are in descending order:
Bucs WR Scotty Miller: 4.76
Chargers WR Keenan Allen: 3.81
Bucs TE O.J. Howard: 3.00
Bucs WR Mike Evans: 2.74
Bucs WR Justin Watson: 2.38
Chargers TE Hunter Henry: 2.36
Chargers WR Tyron Johnson: 2.01
Chargers WR Jalen Guyton: 1.20
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: 0.57
Chargers TE Donald Parham: 0.48
Gronkowski's figure is a bit humorous because he essentially had negative yards of separation on both his 29-yard catch in the fourth quarter and his attempted grab in the back of the end zone just before halftime. His third target was an incomplete deep ball.
Miller may not make it to 1,000 yards this season, and he almost surely won't hit that figure on the money no matter what his current pace suggests. But if he keeps getting daylight between himself and the nearest defender, Tom Brady is going to continue to get him the ball.
Here are some additional observations gleaned from the updated Next Gen stats database after Week Four:
So You're Saying There's a Chance
Tom Brady may be the all-time master at comebacks, but that doesn't make what he and the Buccaneers did on Sunday any less rare. Teams that are down by 17 points with one minute left in the first half do not often finish the day with a victory.
The Buccaneers actually took a 7-0 lead on the game's opening drive, and the Next Gen win probability chart took off in their direction accordingly. After Cam Brate's three-yard touchdown catch, the chart indicated that the Buccaneers had a 73% chance of winning the game. Then things took a quick turn for the worse with Justin Herbert's 53-yard touchdown pass to Tyron Johnson and Michael Davis's 78-yard pick six. By the time the Chargers had increased their lead to 24-7 and then forced a Buccaneer punt with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter, that chart had reversed course drastically. At that moment, the Chargers were considered prohibitive favorites, with a 91% chance of victory.
The win probability chart is a tool to predict how likely it is a team is going to win at any given point in a game based on the historical outcomes of teams in the same situation. Obviously, the Buccaneers found a way to be among those 9% of teams who rallied from that point to a victory. The rally started with Joshua Kelly's fumble, which Brady turned into a six-yard touchdown pass to Mike Evans just before halftime and, down 24-14, the Bucs went into halftime as "only" 80% underdogs.
The Bucs were favorites again after the aforementioned Miller touchdown gave them a 28-24 lead with 52 seconds left in the third quarter, but it didn't last long as Herbert answered immediately with a 72-yard touchdown pass to Jalen Guyton. The chart had the Chargers as 60% favorites as the fourth quarter began. Tampa Bay didn't get the favorite status back for good until Mike Evans made a 48-yard catch down to the Los Angeles seven-yard line with 12:51 left in regulation.
Calling Off the Dogs
Last week, Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles brought the house at Broncos quarterback Jeff Driskel, sending extra pass-rushers on 60% of Denver's drop-backs. And it worked. The Bucs pressured the Broncos' passers on 12 of those 27 plays and got four of their six sacks while blitzing.
Bowles took a different approach against Herbert and the Chargers. Defining a "blitz" as any play in which more than four defenders come after the quarterback, the Buccaneers' defense only blitzed on 10 of Herbert's 27 drop-backs, or 37.0%. That was probably for the best, because Herbert performed well under that added pressures, throwing two touchdown passes among those 10 snaps. That included the only play on which the Buccaneers brought seven defenders after Herbert, as he stood tall in a collapsing pocket and threw straight over the top to Jalen Guyton for a 72-yard score.
The Bucs did get their two sacks on blitzes, one with five coming in and one with six. Overall, Herbert threw eight passes against blitzes and complete six of them for 122 yards and two scores. The Buccaneers didn't get a sack out of any of their four-man rushes but did log five quarterback pressures.
RoJo Runs Right
Tampa Bay's offensive line had one of its best outings in a while on Sunday, and running back Ronald Jones surely appreciated the seams he was getting on handoffs. In turn, the linemen appreciated how hard Jones hit those seams.
"He's a force, man," said guard Ali Marpet. "He's running his feet, he's hitting it hard. Guys aren't going to want to tackle him. He's done a really nice job and I think yesterday he got some opportunities and I'm sure he'll continue to run the ball that hard the rest of the year."
Jones finished the day with 111 yards on 20 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per tote. It was his first 100-yard rushing day of the 2020 season. Specifically, he did most of his damage between the tackles, and particularly when he ran over right guard, where Alex Cappa plays.
On seven carries in Cappa's direction, Jones picked up 61 yards, averaging 8.7 yards per play. His five runs to the middle left produced 23 yards, while his eight carries at or around the tackles accounted for 27 yards.