Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Shaq Still on the Attack | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about Shaquil Barrett's speed and production in 2020, the lack of a rushing attack in Week Nine and more

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Please be advised: The following is not going to be any sort of attempt to make you feel better about the loss to New Orleans on Sunday night or to claim it wasn't as bad as it seemed. The players and coaches have a "24-hour rule" and have thus moved on and put that game out of their minds, but as Head Coach Bruce Arians has noted twice this week, that's not as easy for fans to do. And it definitely was an important game, with the Saints' win putting them in the driver's seat in the NFC South race.

All I want to do here, and only briefly, is to suggest that lopsided losses, as long as they're isolated, shouldn't necessarily make you feel like there is something very wrong with your team. I noted earlier in the week that there are some similarities between where the Buccaneers are right now – winning record, season's second half, coming off a big loss that broke a winning streak – and a sequence late in the 1999 season. The Bucs somehow lost in Oakland to the Raiders that December by a 45-0 score, and that was their only loss in a span of 10 games that extended into the playoffs.

That loss to the Raiders proved to be a strange blip, and of course you and I are both hoping the same is eventually true of the 38-3 loss to New Orleans, which broke a three-game winning streak. There's a little more evidence that you might find encouraging. The Buccaneers have had 10 previous losses by 35 or more points. Five of those came between 1976 and 1991 (none during the 1979-82 playoff era) and, frankly, the Buccaneers lost a lot of games by a lot of different margins in that span.

The other five have occurred since the franchise turnaround in 1997. Three times, the Buccaneers followed that game with a win the very next time out. In addition to the 1999 example above, in which Tampa Bay followed the loss to the Raiders with a 29-10 win over Green Bay, the Buccaneers also followed a 48-3 loss in San Francisco midway through the 2011 season with a 26-20 win over the Saints. Early in the 2014 season, the Bucs lost to the Falcons by a 56-14 margin and the following week took down the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 27-24. Lopsided losses at New Orleans in 2012 and at Chicago in 2018 were both followed by another loss, though the 2018 follow-up against Atlanta was a close contest.

And it's not just the Buccaneers, at least not this year. There haven't been any other 35-point losses yet this year but their have been five other games decided by 28 or more points. One of those was the Bucs' downing of the Packers by a 38-10 score in Week Six. Green Bay won their next game, as did Cleveland after lopsided losses in both Weeks One and Six. Dallas followed a 28-point loss in Week Six with another one the next weekend, and the Jets, who remain winless didn't rebound from a 29-point loss in Week Three.

So, three out of five is pretty good, and all three wins belong to teams that currently have winning records, like the Buccaneers.

So that's it. I'm not going to belabor the point anymore but I'm personally not going to be surprised on Sunday in Charlotte if the Bucs follow their worst game of the season with one of their best performances yet.

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.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 10 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Hey Scott,

I know the coaching staff says they're happy with what Shaq Barrett is doing this year, and I am too - to a degree. However, to me, he looks a step slower. Did he put an a few pounds? In the NFL that extra step, or two, is the difference between pressure and a sack.

Joel (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

Only Joel would have known this, but I edited one sentence out of his question as I thought it was unnecessarily rude to Barrett. Obviously, fans are free to say whatever they like, good or bad, about Buccaneer players, but that doesn't mean I'm obligated to print it! But I still wanted to include this question.

Well, let's start with your assertion that Barrett is a "looks a step slower" to you. That's obviously not much of a scientific argument to start with, but it turns out that I can let you know if your feeling is right or wrong with the help of the NFL's Next Gen Stats. Next Gen has been tracking all kinds of things for every player in the league on every play since 2016, and that includes how fast they are going.

Barrett has been on the field for 521 defensive snaps so far this season, and his average speed on those plays is 5.598 per hour. That is almost hilariously identical to his average speed on all of his 2019 snaps, and it's actually just a tiny bit faster. Barrett played 906 defensive snaps last year and his average speed was 5.594 miles per hour. The fastest he ran on any play last year was 20.00 mph. This year so far his top speed on any play is 19.08 mph, but he still has seven more games to try to match his high from last season. Barrett has run at a dead sprint (12.0 mph or greater) for 841.36 yards this season, or 1.614 yards per play. Last year, that average was 1.640 yards per play. Obviously pass-rushers don't always get an open field on which to sprint as they are fighting off blockers, but either way, that's not much of a difference.

Did Barrett put on a few pounds? The Buccaneers didn't adjust any of the weights on their roster at the start of this season so I don't have any hard evidence that he is higher or lower than the 250 pounds he has been listed at since arriving in 2019. However, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles was asked about Barrett near the end of training camp and the very first thing out of his mouth was, "He came in in great shape." I'll trust Todd Bowles on that one.

As for Barrett's performance in 2019, we already agree, at least "to a degree," that we're happy with it. I'm sure you'd like to see more sacks; I'm sure Shaq would like to see more sacks. Before the season, he was asked if he would be happy with a 12-sack follow-up to his incredible 19.5-sack season in 2019, and he said if he finished with 12 that would probably mean the NFL didn't get 16 weeks in. Through nine games Barrett has 4.0 sacks, which suggests he'll finish the season with seven or eight. However, we have seen on multiple occasions over the last two years that Barrett is capable of putting together huge, multi-sack games, so you never know. His pace could go up in a hurry one of these Sundays.

But Joel, you and I both know that it's not all about sacks. Affecting the quarterback without fully getting him down can blow up a play just as well. Think of the two times that Barrett hit the Giants' Daniel Jones in Week Eight, both of them causing off-target throws that were intercepted. Those are huge plays but they don't look like much in Barrett's stat line. In the last four games, Barrett has those two plays, another two passes defensed, the sack and forced fumble of Drew Brees last Sunday and a play in Las Vegas that looked like another strip-sack before it was reviewed and overturned. I actually think that Barrett has been around the quarterback a lot more in the last month, and Next Gen Stats back that up. Barrett's average separation from the quarterback in the last two games has been nearly a yard better than the league average and by far the best of any of the Bucs' pass-rushers.

I hope you're cool with these Next Gen Stats, Joel, because I'm going to dip into them one more time. Just a week ago (before the Saints game), that service posted a note helpfully entitled "Breakout Continues," noting that Barrett had 34 QB pressures through the Bucs' first eight games. At the time, that was the third-most in the NFL. The numbers haven't been updated yet to include Week Nine, but I doubt they got worse. Barrett's pressure rate (amount of times he pressures the quarterback divided by his total pass rushes) is 14.2% this year, which is better than the mark of 13.4% he posted last year.

Barrett's sack totals are down, for sure. But every time Head Coach Bruce Arians, Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles or one of Barrett's teammates is asked about him, they swear he's performing as well as he did a year ago. Some of the issue is that opposing offenses are giving him more attention and blocking him in ways he didn't see much of last year. As a result, he has recently started working on some new techniques. Last week, Barrett said he had nearly perfected a new move that he thought would get him a big play on Sunday night. Was it the move he used on his strip-sack? I hope to ask him soon, but it's certainly a possibility.

The coaches say that Barrett is playing as well as he did in 2019, and some of the peripheral numbers suggest the same thing. I think we should probably start believing them, Joel.

Why are we not focusing more on running the ball with Jones and Fournette?

- @randersons (via Instagram)

That's an obvious question to ask after the team just a set an all-time NFL record for fewest rushing plays in a single game. The Bucs ran it five times against the Saints on Sunday night, and the last of those was a Blaine Gabbert kneel-down. Of course, that was almost totally situational – I can guarantee you that neither Arians nor play-caller Byron Leftwich went into that game intending to run it only five times.

The Buccaneers threw play-action passes on first down on each of their first two drives, and to be honest, that was probably a smart move to play off the opponent's expectations. Leftwich actually fielded a question recently about the Bucs seemingly having a tendency to run the ball on first-and-10, and it wasn't completely baseless. Through the first eight weeks of the season, Tampa Bay ran on 56.3% of its first-and-10 plays, which was the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL and the highest percentage in the NFC. Given that, I actually think it's pretty good strategy to come out early and fake a handoff on first-and-10.

Unfortunately, it didn't work, which led to two quick three-and-outs and not much chance to run the ball. Then the Saints scored so quickly that the deficit started to get out of hand and the Bucs had to throw. They didn't get a first down until the second quarter, so there weren't too many opportunities to run or throw. And eventually the only chance the Bucs had to eat into a huge deficit was to throw on every down.

So to answer this question, let's take a look at where the Bucs were before that five-carry fluke of a game. And these numbers actually do show that there is some basis for your question. Through eight weeks, the Buccaneers were running the ball on 39.0% of their plays, which ranked 25th in the NFL. Now, Tampa Bay was never going to be a team like Baltimore or New England that is running on half or more of their plays because their quarterbacks are adding big numbers to those totals, or like Minnesota which has a superstar back like Dalvin Cook that drives the train. But they would probably like to be a little higher on that list. Arians has certainly talked about wanting a more balanced offense on several occasions. He definitely believes that more running plays puts more bite into play-action passes.

The Buccaneers are actually up a bit from where they were in this category last year (or they were through Week Eight), when they ran on 37.7% of their offensive plays. As we all remember, though, that had a lot do with too many turnovers on offense leading to deficits and high-volume passing games. That wasn't supposed to be the case this year, and in most cases it hasn't been, but the Bucs have had to work against big deficits on a couple occasions this year, with varying levels of success.

As recently as yesterday, Arians said that the Buccaneers want to run the football more. But he also said the main goal was to have a "flexible" offense – that is, enough talent at every spot to draw up a different game plan any given week to best suit their opponent. Sometimes they'll want to run the ball more if the opponent is susceptible to that. Sometimes they'll want to pass it more, like a run-heavy Buffalo team did in its Week Nine win over Seattle because the Seahawks came in with the NFL's worst pass defense.

Why are we not focusing more on the run? Honestly, I think that the strength of this offense is in Tom Brady and the incredible array of pass-catching weapons around him. Wouldn't you want to get Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller and Rob Gronkowski on the field as much as possible, and get them all involved in the attack? The Buccaneers used three or more receivers on 40 of 46 offensive snaps on Sunday night; that was obviously dictated to some degree by circumstances, but they had already been ramping up their use of four-receiver sets in the two weeks prior against Las Vegas and New York.

If things are going well in any given game in the next seven games, I think you will see Jones and Fournette get more involved in the rushing game (Fournette is already heavily involved in the passing attack). But I don't think you're going to see the Buccaneers rushing the ball on 45 or 50% of their plays. As Godwin noted on Monday, the strength of this team is its deep and varied passing attack, which just happens to be guided by the Greatest of All Time.

What does the team need to do to provide better protection for Brady? How big of an impact did Marpet's absence make?

- @chasedr01 (via Instagram)

Play exactly the way it has in all seven of its games that weren't against the Saints.

Overall, it's pretty hard to argue with the Buccaneers' pass protection results this season. Even after that game on Sunday night the Buccaneers still rank seventh in sacks allowed per pass play, and they were sitting at fourth through eight weeks. In two games against the Saints, Brady has been sacked six times; in the other nine games he's been sacked a total of seven times. Brady does get rid of the ball quickly and knows when to throw it away and fight another day, but the protection has still been quite good.

That Saints game is fresh in all of our minds but let's remember that things were going pretty well before that. Now, if things go poorly this coming Sunday in Charlotte, then perhaps its time to worry a little bit about the protection, because Carolina comes in ranked dead last in the NFL in sacks per pass play on defense.

I do think the absence of Marpet made a difference on Sunday. Certainly those last two sacks by Trey Hendrickson were quick break-downs on Brady's blind side. Marpet is probably the Bucs' best offensive lineman right now, so even a good performance by Joe Haeg wasn't likely to be equal to what the team generally gets at right guard. The bigger issue, though was Haeg working in tandem with left tackle Donovan Smith. Marpet and Smith have been playing together for six years now, with Marpet at left guard for the past three. They know each other and what they're going to do and they work well in tandem. We shouldn't have expected that same sort of instant chemistry between Smith and Haeg.

Marpet started practicing on a limited basis on Wednesday and there's a good chance he can return from his concussion this Sunday against Carolina. With the full lineup back intact, as it was for each of the first eight games, the pass protection results should be good. They have been most of the year.

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