One of the most hectic and entertaining plays of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 45-20 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday didn't actually count.
On the first play of the second quarter, with the Raiders facing a third-and-four at the Bucs' 24 in a 7-7 ballgame, outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett got to quarterback Derek Carr in a hurry around right end and hit him as he was starting to throw. The ball came out of Carr's hand and went forward to just past the line of scrimmage. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh scooped it up and sprinted (yes, sprinted – he reached a max speed of 16.4 miles per hour) down the sideline for 62 yards to the Raiders' 15.
However, the play was reviewed, as all turnovers are, and the replay official ruled that Carr's arm was in motion and that he did not lose control of the ball before it left his hand, which made the play a simple incomplete pass. Much less exciting.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 7 matchup against Las Vegas.
It remains noteworthy, however, that Barrett was the man who caused all that chaos. He finished the game with six tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass defensed; had it not been overturned the play above would have been a sack and a forced fumble. As it is, Barrett's 2020 sack total remains at 3.0, one year after he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in a stunning breakout season.
Through the first seven games last year, Barrett already had 10.0 sacks and 12 quarterback hits. In addition to his three sacks through seven games this season, Barrett, who is playing under the franchise tag, also has four quarterback hits. That might seem like a significant dip in production, but Head Coach Bruce Arians has insisted on multiple occasions that Barrett is playing as well as ever.
The Buccaneers do have 25 sacks as a team, which is second in the NFL only to Pittsburgh, which has 26. Barrett might not be at the top of the Bucs' sack list at this point but he is getting a lot of respect from opposing blockers after his incredible 2019 campaign.
"I think everybody knows who he is now," said Arians. "There's a lot more attention [being paid] to him. Again, he's been really close – been really, really close to about three or four more [sacks]. He's playing at a high level and I think they'll come. It's just keep putting pressure on the quarterback."
Next Gen Stats support Arians' opinion that Barrett is getting close to opposing passers. That was definitely true in Las Vegas, when Barrett led Buccaneer defenders in average separation from the quarterback. That is defined by Next Gen Stats as "a pass rusher's average pressure distance from the QB at the time of the passer throw or sack (in yards). Only includes passing plays where the defender is rushing the passer."
Barrett's average separation from Derek Carr on pass rushes on Sunday was 3.65 yards, the best by any Buccaneer and the second-best any Tampa Bay pass-rusher has recorded in a game this season. The only one better was Barrett's own separation of 3.52 yards in the Week Four win over the Chargers.
The NFL average in this category is 4.51 yards, which means Barrett was nearly a full yard better than average in Las Vegas. Here are the Buccaneers' game-by-game leaders in this category so far in 2020:
1. at New Orleans: Vita Vea, 4.96 yards
2. vs. Carolina: Will Gholston, 4.11 yards
3. at Denver: Shaq Barrett, 4.30 yards
4. vs. L.A. Chargers: Shaq Barrett, 3.52 yards
5. at Chicago: Vita Vea, 3.92 yards
6. vs. Green Bay: Jason Pierre-Paul, 4.37 yards
7. at Las Vegas: Shaq Barrett, 3.65 yards
Here are some additional observations gleaned from the updated Next Gen stats database after Week Seven:
Speeding to the Top
The Buccaneers have a new speed champion after Week Seven.
Cornerback Ryan Smith clocked a top speed of 22.07 miles per hour on a play in Sunday's game in Las Vegas, the fastest any Buccaneer has run this season. It came on a play on special teams, where Smith makes his living, but surprisingly it wasn't on punt or kickoff coverage. Instead, this sprint occurred on a punt return by the Buccaneers.
To be more precise, the play was a fair catch by return man Jaydon Mickens on an A.J. Cole punt six minutes into the second quarter. In his efforts to get from the line of scrimmage back to where Mickens was to help with the blocking, Smith became the first Buccaneer to break 22 miles per hour in 2020.
Before that play, wide receiver Scotty Miller had held the top spot for more than a month. He reached a top speed of 21.76 miles per hour on a route into the end zone against Carolina in Week Two, which just missed being a touchdown catch.
Working All the Zones
Tom Brady had one of his best days as a Buccaneer so far in Las Vegas, completing 33 of 45 passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions, leading to a high-water passer rating of 127.0. Brady didn't just throw short passes or pretty deep balls – he was above average in nearly every direction he tossed the football.
Next Gen Stats breaks the field up into 12 passing zones, splitting it horizontally into left, middle and right and vertically into four regions: behind the line of scrimmage, 1-9 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, 10-19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and 20 yards or further beyond the line of scrimmage. Brady threw passes into 10 of those 12 zones (he had none in the middle or to the right behind the line of scrimmage) and he had a passer rating above NFL average in six of those 10 zones. He was average in three others and only below average to the deep middle zone, where he threw one incomplete pass.
Brady was particularly effective in that intermediate zone. On passes thrown to 10-19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he was above average to all three horizontal zones. In total, he threw nine such passes, completing eight of them for 130 yards and one touchdown. That produces a passer rating of 155.8; the highest possible rating is 158.3.
Gronkowski Got Open
Tight end Rob Gronkowski also had one of his best days as a Buccaneer in Las Vegas. He caught five passes for 62 yards and caught the first of Brady's four touchdown passes in the second quarter on a patented back-corner fade. Cornerback Nevin Lawson got a hand on the pass but Gronkowski simply wrenched it away and buried it in his stomach as he got two feet down inbounds.
Gronkowski didn't have much separation from the closest defender on that touchdown, but for much of the afternoon he did a good job of getting open for Brady. In fact, he had the highest average receiver separation of all the Buccaneers' receivers and tight ends in the game. Gronkowski averaged 3.08 yards of separation from the nearest defender at the time of the catch or incompletion. The league average is 2.85 yards of separation.