Tampa Bay Buccaneers

SS Mailbag: Snap Reactions From New Orleans

The Buccaneers won their season opener in New Orleans in dramatic fashion and we have some equally dramatic reactions to cover in this week's mailbag

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints by the score of 48-40 on Sunday, a game that was remarkable in quite a few ways. Here's another one:

The Buccaneers and Saints combined for 1,004 net yards of offense on their way to those 88 total points. That marked just the 13th time in NFL history that two teams have produced more than 1,000 yards and 80 points, combined, in a single game. While the Bucs-Saints shootout was the first such game since 2015 (coincidentally, the Saints' 52-49 win over the Giants on Nov. 1 of that season), seven of those 13 games have taken place since 2012. There was only one game with 1,000 yards and 80 points combined in the 2000s decade, and only one in the 1990s. Truly, the game has evolved.

Obviously, there was a lot going on in the Superdome on Sunday, and you had questions about it. I'll get to those below.

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. As you'll see from time to time, I also unilaterally appropriate for myself – as any good pirate captain would – questions I like that are meant for our Insider Live show or are simply responses to one of my previous tweets. I've also taken to stealing emails meant for our Salty Dogs podcast. As always, if you specifically want to get a question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Got a lot of Twitter responses like this on Sunday when the Bucs' list of seven inactive players included four of the nine rookies on the team, some of them specifically questioning the absence of second-round running back Ronald Jones. This seems like a massive overreaction to me.

All eight of the Buccaneers' 2018 draft picks made the 53-man roster. There is no way that the Bucs are going to make it through the season without getting contributions from 15% of the roster. The Buccaneers also didn't have Brent Grimes on Sunday (due to a groin injury) but they're going to need him in the long run in a big way.

Yes, the team's first three picks plus their fifth-rounder didn't play in the opener, but let's look at this one at a time.

First-round pick Vita Vea didn't play because he is still recovering from a calf injury. He has missed more than a month due to that injury but should be back soon and is undoubtedly going to be a key part of the defensive line rotation for the bulk of the season.

Skipping Jones for a second, third-round pick Alex Cappa is a rookie offensive linemen. Ali Marpet notwithstanding, mid-round offensive linemen don't commonly jump right into the starting lineup. The Buccaneers have 10 O-Linemen on the roster but only keep seven of them active on game day. It made a lot of sense for the Bucs to go with the more experienced Evan Smith as their one reserve on the interior line on Sunday.

Fifth-round wide receiver Justin Watson is in a similar situation. The Bucs like him a lot and he has a bright future with the franchise, but the team is absolutely loaded at wide receiver right now. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries combined for 361 receiving yards against the Saints. I'm not sure why anyone would have expected Watson to be a big-time contributor early in this season.

So that's one injury situation, which doesn't really fall into the "not meeting expectations" category and two rookies who were always going to have to wait a bit for their chances to play. The exception, of course, is Ronald Jones, the second-round running back who was expected to be providing big plays in a backfield timeshare with Peyton Barber.

And, no, I did not expect Jones to be inactive on Week One when the Bucs drafted him. That was an unexpected development. But let's keep in mind that he wasn't deactivated for the season. It's one game. The Buccaneers have generally kept four tailbacks active on game days under Dirk Koetter, and I think they will do that on most Sundays this season. This particular Sunday, the injury to Grimes and the fact that M.J. Stewart had been banged up led to the Bucs keeping nine defensive backs active. That plus an eight-man rotation on the defensive line meant the team had to go one shorter than usual at another position. I think that influenced the Jones decision on this particular Sunday. The Bucs could have gone with only four receivers – fifth man Freddie Martino played just 13 snaps – but Martino is a good special teams player and he had a kick-coverage tackle in the game. Jones is not a contributor on special teams. Fellow rookie back Shaun Wilson is; he handled kickoff returns. There are tough decisions to make in getting down to 46 on game day, and on this particular game day it was Jones who was squeezed out. He'll get his shot.

Meanwhile, five other rookies played in the game and made relevant contributions. Wilson kick-started the Bucs' opening drive, which resulted in a touchdown, with a 29-yard kickoff return out to the 32. Second-round cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart played a lot (56 and 19 snaps, respectively) and while it was a rough day for the secondary as a whole, they got some valuable experience. Sixth-round linebacker Jack Cichy had two of the team's four special-teams tackles. Fourth-round safety Jordan Whitehead only got one snap on defense but did play 52% of the special teams snaps.

Just give it time, Scott. I think we'll still get "the rookie help we were expecting."

View photos of the Buccaneers' Week 1 game against the New Orleans Saints.

SSMailbag…

The Bucs score 48 points and Cameron Brate doesn't have a single catch?!? I'm not bitter for fantasy football reasons or anything, oh no definitely not. Okay I didn't come here to complain about fantasy…especially after that win! Who cares about fantasy football? (Okay me still a little bit, but whatever). I really am wondering, though, if we are seeing a passing of the guard at tight end. I know Cam got a new contract, but Howard looks really good right now. What do you think – is this OJs show now?

Thanks!

Braden from Sarasota (via email to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com)

This is undoubtedly the most frustrating occurrence in fantasy football. You see a team with a huge score and you go to the boxscore to find out how much your fantasy player contributed to that onslaught. And…nada! On the flip side, if you had DeSean Jackson on your bench this week, which I'm imagining was relatively common, you're kicking yourself right about now.

I'm sorry, as Braden noted, this isn't a question about fantasy football (suuuuure it isn't). The question is about the expected usage of the Bucs' top two tight ends going forward. The problem here is that I don't think we have a big enough of a sample size to make a really strong prediction at this point. One game means one specific game plan so far. It could be that the Bucs will see something in the Philadelphia or Pittsburgh defenses in the next two weeks that they think they can exploit with Cam Brate. As for New Orleans, though, I think the Bucs had some specific plans as to how to attack that defense, and boy did they work! When it's all said and done, I expect Brate to have a big role in the offense this year, but Sunday the focus was on the outside receivers.

"We had a good game plan against them and they had a good game plan against us," said Dirk Koetter on Monday. "When you're getting that high-quality quarterback play [it works] – and really neither team could pressure the passer."

What you did not see hardly at all against the Saints was Brate and O.J. Howard on the field at the same time. The Bucs only used that combination on five of their 62 plays, even though they had at least one tight end on the field for 59 plays. The Bucs used "11" personnel (three receivers, one back, one tight end) far more often. They did do some other two-TE ("12" personnel) stuff with Antony Auclair and Alan Cross, but the Auclair playing time largely came later in the game when the Bucs were trying to power-run the ball to drain the clock.

I do think you're going to see more of the Brate-Howard combination as the season goes on. And that's the main thing you need as a Brate fan (or fantasy owner), just to get him on the field first. If he's running routes, he's got a chance to produce, especially in the red zone. Brate was in on 24 snaps against the Saints; that's lower than any of his snap totals from the 16 games last year. I think you can expect that to go up.

One more thing to keep in mind: Ryan Fitzpatrick was at quarterback on Sunday, not Jameis Winston. I am not suggesting in any way that Fitzpatrick purposely disfavors Brate when deciding where to throw the ball, but there does seem to be more of a connection between Winston and Brate than Fitzpatrick and Brate. Fitzpatrick started three games last year, and in those three games Brate caught three passes, one in each game, for a total of 28 yards. In the other 13 games, Brate averaged 3.5 catches and 43 yards per outing, and all six of his touchdowns came in Winston's starts. If you're looking at this from a fantasy perspective (c'mon, Braden, we all know that's what's going on here), you might want to save Brate until Winston is back under center.

The Buccaneers' defensive line was largely reshaped in the offseason, to the point that six of the nine players on that unit right now were not with the team in 2017. Three of the team's four D-Line starters on Sunday were playing their first games as a Buccaneer, with Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul on the ends and Beau Allen joining Gerald McCoy on the inside.

It's Curry and Allen that our questioner is interested in, as he is both an Eagles and Bucs fans (as I learned from a further exchange). The Buccaneers signed Allen in the early hours of unrestricted free agency and then quickly snapped up Curry when he was released by Philly in a salary-cap move. The Buccaneers added those two, and others, in the hopes of building a deep D-Line rotation that would keep everybody as fresh as possible for 60 minutes.

And the Bucs are expecting big things from that group after ranking last in the NFL with 22 sacks in 2017. The opener on Sunday was not, however, the best possible environment for that line to come out of the gate with a huge performance. Brees works behind a very good offensive line, as Koetter also noted on Monday, and he is famous (or infamous from an opponent's point of view) at getting rid of the ball quickly and not putting himself in position to be sacked often. The Bucs only got him down once and hit him five times in 46 dropbacks.

That said, the one sack belonged to Curry, who got to Brees in the second quarter by simply blowing around right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and getting right in the quarterback's face before he could even get set up. It was the type of one-on-one pass-rush victory that the Bucs were longing for in 2018 after rarely seeing them in 2017. It was also a very significant play, perhaps not as significant as the only sack in the Eagles' Super Bowl LII win (by Brandon Graham), but still big. It came on third-and-four and forced a punt, marking the first drive of the entire game that didn't produce points. That allowed the Bucs to take the lead for good on the next possession.

Allen didn't show up in the game's final stat line, but he played almost exactly 50% of the snaps and almost surely helped in what was a pretty good defense against the run. The Saints didn't try to run that often, with just 13 handoffs, but they were held to 43 yards on the ground and 3.3 yards per carry. Allen was a very good run-stopper for the Eagles last year.

Everyone gets a collective "A" because the Bucs won on Sunday. That said, Allen and Curry and the rest of the Bucs' new D-Line probably has a lot of more productive Sundays ahead.

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