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By: Scott Reynolds
SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of reporting and analysis on the Bucs from yours truly, Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds. Here are four things that caught my attention this week, plus some random tidbits in my Buc Shots section at the end. Enjoy!
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FAB 1. Bucs’ Bowles Has Created “DB Heaven”
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles is known as a defensive mastermind, designing elaborate pressure packages. Tampa Bay blitzes more than any other team in the league, and the Bucs have ranked in the Top 5 in sacks since Bowles arrived in 2019. The team has been a model of consistency rushing the passer, recording 47, 48 and 47 sacks over the last three regular seasons.
But Bowles is a former NFL safety and told NBC Sports’ Tony Dungy in a recent interview he schemes up coverages before he looks to bring pressure when game-planning.
“I think I’m more of a cover guy than a blitz guy, actually,” Bowles said. “I really try to look at the coverage stuff first, and then I’ll add the blitzes on top of that.”
Bowles played safety at Temple for Bruce Arians – and current Bucs safeties coach Nick Rapone – before an eight-year NFL career, mostly with the Washington Redskins where he won Super Bowl XXII. Known as a smart, instinctive and tough playmaker, Bowles expects that kind of play from his safeties.
“He puts a lot of pressure on us, I’m not going to lie,” Bucs safety Mike Edwards said. “From when I first started playing here I was like, ‘Wow, he puts a lot of stuff on the safeties. You’ve got the Mike ‘backer as the leader, but the safeties have got to do a lot of things in this defense. We’ve got to talk to the D-line, talk to the linebackers, talk to the corners, and set up the defense’s goals. We’ve got a lot of great safeties on our team, so he trusts in us now. He makes the safeties big players, so definitely very privileged to play in this defense.
“He played safety so when we’re talking, basically it’s like, ‘What did you see right here? What do you think I could do better?’ I talk to him like that and he’ll tell me, ‘Alright, well on fourth-down if you get such-and-such then that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ So, it’s good to have because with him playing the same position as me, it’s only a bonus.”
The safety position can be an afterthought in some defenses – a less prioritized position. Other teams might view safeties merely as the last line of defense. But in Tampa Bay, the safeties are playmakers and often the stars of the show.
Pro Bowl safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has a sack and an interception through two games. Mike Edwards, who led the Bucs in interceptions last year with three, including a pair of pick-sixes, had a pick-six in last week’s 20-10 win in New Orleans.
General manager Jason Licht shares Bowles’ philosophy and has spent some premium picks on the safety position. Winfield was a second-round pick in 2020, while Edwards was a third-round pick in 2019.
In an effort to bring more physicality to the slot this year, Bowles replaced nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting with Winfield. In base defense, Winfield still plays safety. But when the Bucs go to nickel, Winfield moves into the slot and plays cornerback and veteran newcomer Logan Ryan comes in to replace Winfield at safety.
“So we really play like a three-safety defense,” Winfield said. “I think we do that because he’s played the position before and he knows how it is. It’s been fun, Coach Bowles puts us in great positions. It seems like he always dials up the game plans around us.”
Bowles has even gotten the Bucs’ cornerbacks in on the safety game. Last week in New Orleans, Bowles called some Tampa 2 variants that had Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III rotating to the safety position to provide deep half coverage.
Dean’s end zone interception against Chris Olave in the fourth quarter came when he was playing safety. The Bucs gave a single-high Cover 1 or Cover 3 pre-snap read and then rotated into a Cover 2 coverage after the snap.
Davis, who is the left cornerback at the bottom of the screen, also got in on the action and rotated to deep safety after the snap on this play against the Saints.
The opportunity to play for Bowles is what attracted Ryan to the Buccaneers this offseason.
“It all depends what type of pro you are, if you want to be coached,” Ryan said. “I love to be coached. I’m a football junkie and love to be coached harder. Coach Bowles coaches the safety room especially hard and to a high standard. He demands a high level of execution and communication from that position and obviously we have a very good one here. I love it, I love the role that I’m in and the responsibility I have on defense.
But even Nick Rapone, who was Todd Bowles’ coach when he played safety, that’s our coach. So we’ve got ‘The Godfather” coaching us and he’s been coaching at a high level, a high standard for … sheesh, longer than my parents were alive. We get coached really well. It’s DB heaven here. It’s like getting a master’s degree and I encourage all young DBs, or DBs in general, to come here because you get to learn a lot about the game.”
Ryan is the newest member of the Bucs’ Grave Diggers secondary and made one of the biggest plays in last week’s win with his forced a fumble. Saints running back Mark Ingram plowed ahead to the Tampa Bay 11 late in the third quarter, but Ryan punched the ball out and it was recovered by Carl Nassib to thwart a New Orleans scoring opportunity.
Bowles’ secondary was full of playmakers in New Orleans. Ryan forced a fumble. Winfield got a sack. Dean picked off two passes. Davis recovered a fumble. And Edwards’ fourth-quarter pick six sealed the Bucs’ first win over the Saints in the regular season since 2018.
“It’s a sight to see Carlton Davis, Dean, all of us, all those guys, corners especially,” Ryan said. “They were very impressive last week, the standard is just on-body coverage, there’s not a lot of space. You can see a lot of the receivers on film, they did such a good job of playing tight. Like I said, I’m new getting used to it in game action, but it was a lot of fun to play with and it’s going to make my job very easy and very productive playing with these guys around me.”
FAB 2. Bucs Defense Wants To Be Great, Not Let Bowles Down
Football teams often take on the identity of their head coach. For three years under Bruce Arians, the Bucs offense was as bombastic as their leader with a no risk it, no biscuit type of approach. Deep shots in the passing attack and 30 points per game was the norm for Arians, whether it was Jameis Winston or Tom Brady under center.
Injuries and changes in personnel have stunted the development of the Bucs offense out of the gate in 2022. Tampa Bay has only scored two touchdowns on offense in two games, and the defense has had to carry the team.
In just two games, we’ve seen the Bucs become much more defense-oriented. With defensive coordinator Todd Bowles at the helm, the Bucs have taken on his personality.
“I would say so,” said Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. “His personality – he’s cut-throat. That’s the goal we have as a defense. We are not trying to give them nothing, they’ve got to earn everything. It just goes to say that Bowles, his personality kind of makes our identity on defense.”
It’s safe to say that the Bucs defensive players don’t want to let their guy – Bowles – down now that he’s gotten his second opportunity to become an NFL head coach.
“No matter who the coach is we feel like that, but definitely Bowles, being in his system, him being a DC for three years – my first three years – for him to be elevated as a head coach, he’s still our DC, but it’s like he’s the head man now,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to put a show on for him. We still play for him, the whole defense. We play for each other, we play for Bowles, we play for everybody.”
But it’s more than just wanting to play well for Bowles, because this Tampa Bay defense wants to be great.
“That’s the whole goal of the season is to be the No. 1-ranked defense,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “You know – yards per game, turnovers, get the goal we want. All of that.”
So far, the Bucs are first in the league in scoring defense (6.5 ppg) and sacks (10), and second in third down defense (25%). Those are very important benchmark statistics for Bowles and his defense.
And with the Bucs offense struggling to score points with just 19 and 13 points in each of the first two games, Bowles’ unit has had to put on the Superman cape and save the day for Tampa Bay. In last week’s 20-10 win in New Orleans, the Bucs defense recorded six sacks and forced five turnovers, including three big fourth-quarter interceptions.
“Just because the offense isn’t scoring doesn’t mean we’re going to let up when they start scoring,” Tryon-Shoyinka said. “We know when we capitalize as a defense the standard is set.”
Bucs linebacker Lavonte David agrees, and says that the defensive players have grown and matured to the point where the unit can be the league’s best.
“I just think it’s the mentality of the defense as a whole,” David said. “Each year, we show flashes of us being a great defense and this year it’s kind of like, this is our fourth year in the defense, it’s time for us to put it all together. It’s been showing.
“Unfortunately, things have been happening on the other side of the ball but defensively, we’ve just been focusing on ourselves and just trying our best every time we are out there on the field. It just so happens we’ve been playing great, complementary football. Our offense is not having so great of a day, we pick them up. I’m sure it happens vice versa. But at the same time, we just want to play great football no matter what. If the offense is playing great or they are not playing great, we just want to play great defense.”
The Bucs defense has had to play great and limit opponents’ scoring out of the gate. But the standard has been set and when the Bucs offense comes around, the defensive players have vowed not to let up.
“Even if the offense is clicking, scoring 60 points per game, we feel like we can hold the [opponent] to zero,” Edwards said. “We just take care of our side of the ball, we know the offense is going to take care of themselves and we’ve got Tom Brady. You know what I’m saying? No matter if they’re scoring three points, 10 points – we feel like we should shut down any offense no matter who the offense is. We know there are some challenges week in and week out, we’re going to play different opponents, different quarterbacks. Bowles definitely will have us ready.”
FAB 3. Matchups To Watch: Bucs Offense vs. Packers Defense
Each week, you can find five matchups to watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here are the five key matchups to watch on offense in the Bucs’ home opener against the Packers.
RB Leonard Fournette vs. ILB De’Vondre Campbell
Campbell has thrived in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense since his arrival a year ago. In 2021, he finished with an 85 Pro Football Focus grade. He had a career-high 146 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. Campbell hasn’t been as dynamic this year, but he’ll be charged with stopping Fournette in the running game and passing game. He’s one of the more athletic linebackers in the game and has the speed to go sideline-to-sideline.
Fournette ran for 127 yards in Week 1 and was held to 65 yards on the ground last week. Part of that reason was the predictability of the Bucs running on first down, which they did against the Saints 17 times. Fournette is playing with a hamstring strain, which might be limiting his effectiveness, too. But without Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and possibly Julio Jones, Fournette will need to step up and deliver a 100-yard game.
WR Breshad Perriman vs. CB Eric Stokes
Stokes, the Packers’ first-round pick from a year ago, starts opposite Jaire Alexander at left cornerback. He started 14 games as a rookie and developed on the fly, recording 14 passes defensed and one interception. Stokes has good size at 6-foot, 194 pounds, and he’ll face both Perriman and Russell Gage on Sunday. Those Bucs receivers will have to take advantage of Stokes’ inexperience.
Perriman scored the go-ahead touchdown against New Orleans last year and has the size to match up against Stokes at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. He’ll likely spend the majority of his snaps at Z receiver (flanker) against the Packers and could be the most-targeted Bucs receiver with Mike Evans (suspension) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) out, and Julio Jones (knee) uncertain for Sunday. Does Perriman still have the ability to take over a game and produce 100 yards or more? We’ll find out Sunday when he might need to for Tom Brady.
WR Russell Gage vs. NCB Rasul Douglas
Douglas is one of the better slot defenders in the game in terms of coverage, and he’s off to a good start. He has an 83.2 coverage grade through the first two weeks of the season due to his physical play. At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Douglas is a big slot cornerback and he could make life difficult for the smaller Gage, who is only 6-foot, 185 pounds. Douglas excels in coverage, but he’s not a good tackler. So, he can be exposed in the run game.
Gage has been a disappointment through two games in Tampa Bay. He’s caught just seven passes for 41 yards (5.9 avg.). But Gage has not been healthy, as he’s battled a hamstring injury since training camp. That’s limited some of his effectiveness and ability to separate. Gage will have to win with quickness and speed against the bigger Douglas. That might be a challenge given his wounded hamstring.
C Robert Hainsey vs. NT Kenny Clark
Clark is a two-time Pro Bowler who still has the ability to be a special player in the league. At 6-foot-3, 314 pounds, he has enough size and power to anchor against the run, and enough athleticism to rush the passer. In fact, Clark has a 91.9 pass rush grade through two weeks, according to PFF. He has 10 total pressures, including three QB hits. He’s the key to the Packers defensive front.
Hainsey has fared well in his first two NFL starts in place of Ryan Jensen. He’s a smaller center at 6-foot-4, 306 pounds, so he has to win with suddenness and technique. Hainsey has a respectable 70.3 PFF grade through two weeks and has been much better in the run game (73.4) than he has in pass protection (51.5). Clark will be his biggest challenge so far, especially on passing downs.
LT Brandon Walton vs. OLB Preston Smith
Smith had two sacks in the Packers‘ 27-10 win over the Bears last week. He’s the best pass rusher Green Bay has with 51.5 career sacks, including nine last year. The 30-year old Smith wins with experience, size (6-5, 265) and power. Green Bay doesn’t have much in terms of a pass rush outside of Smith, outside linebacker Rashan Gary and nose tackle Kenny Clark. Smith will either face Brandon Walton in his first start or an injured Donovan Smith – if he plays – and he’ll need to win this matchup for the Packers to pressure Tom Brady.
Walton stepped in and played very well for Josh Wells when he was injured in the second quarter last week. But sometimes there is a difference between coming in instantly during the heat of battle as opposed to thinking about starting all week. Sometimes nerves can sink in that way. If Walton plays for Donovan Smith, who returned to practice with a brace on Thursday, he’ll have to forget that it’s his first NFL start and just battle the Packers’ veteran edge rusher like he did last week against Marcus Davenport and Carl Granderson.
FAB 4. Matchups To Watch: Bucs Defense vs. Packers Offense
Each week, you can find five matchups to watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here are the five key matchups to watch on defense for the Bucs as they take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
ILB Devin White vs. RB Aaron Jones
Jones is one of the most elusive running backs in the NFL. Last week against Chicago, Jones forced 13 missed tackles as he piled up 170 total yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Eleven of those missed tackles came as a runner. Jones averaged 3.5 missed tackles per game as a runner last year, and already has 13 this season. He runs with the perfect combination of speed, power and elusiveness, and is deadly catching the ball on screens and wheel routes.
White has done a tremendous job in coverage (72.7 PFF grade) through two games this year. He’ll be challenged to cover Jones out of the backfield, and White can’t afford to miss tackles against Jones like he did last week in New Orleans. The last time Jones played in Tampa Bay he was held to 15 yards rushing on 10 carries and caught five passes for just 26 yards. White, who is playing great football right now, was a big reason why.
CB Carlton Davis III vs. WR Sammy Watkins
Watkins was signed to be a big-play veteran receiver to help ease the sting of not having Davante Adams in green and gold. He’s the leading receiver through two games and had three catches for 93 yards last week against Chicago, including a 55-yard reception. Watkins still has some speed and he’s physical at 6-foot-1, 211 pounds. Without Adams, the Packers’ passing game goes through Watkins for now until rookies Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson establish themselves.
Davis had a good game last week, containing Saints receiver Michael Thomas, who got a touchdown late in garbage time while trailing 20-3. While Davis hasn’t recorded an interception yet this season, he is due. And he may get his first of the year against Green Bay – picking off Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career. Davis did record a fumble recovery against New Orleans and has started the season off hot.
DB Antoine Winfield Jr. vs. WR Randall Cobb
Cobb is an old, reliable option for Rodgers to throw to. At age 32, he’s lost a step and isn’t the threat he used to be in the passing game. Last year, Cobb posted the fewest catches (28) and fewest yards (375) since his rookie season. But he did score five touchdowns and still has the trust of Rodgers working in the slot, especially in the red zone.
Winfield has done a remarkable job transitioning from playing safety in base defense to slot corner in nickel defense. He’s got a 79.1 PFF grade through two games, including a 74.1 coverage grade. But it’s been Winfield’s tackling that has been superb so far – both in the slot and in the open field. Winfield got an interception in Week 1 and could get another against Rodgers, who will be looking for Cobb a good deal, especially on third downs.
OLB Shaq Barrett vs. LT Yosh Nijman
Nijman has been filling in at left tackle for the injured David Bakhtiari and is doing a solid job through the first two weeks. He’s a better pass protector than he is a run blocker, but protecting Rodgers’ blind side is of paramount importance. At 6-foot-7, 314 pounds, he has a big frame that can move people, and he’ll have a size advantage over the smaller Barrett, who is just 6-foot-2, 250 pounds.
Barrett had two sacks last week at New Orleans, one rushing from the left side and one from the right side. He’ll get the opportunity to rush from both sides against Green Bay, but spends the vast majority of his snaps rushing against left tackles. Barrett has sacked Rodgers before – notably three times in the 2020 NFC Championship Game. He should win this matchup against the less-heralded Nijman.
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches vs. RG Royce Newman
Newman is the weak link along the offensive line, as he’s graded out at 53.6 per PFF for the first two games of the season. He’s given up a sack and four pressures through Week 2, although his pass protection was better against the Bears in Week 2 than it was against the Vikings in the 2022 opener. Newman has good size at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds and is slightly better in the running game.
The Bucs will be without Akiem Hicks on Sunday and will either start key reserve Rakeem Nunez-Roches or Logan Hall, but both will platoon against Newman. Nunez-Roches will likely be used on first and second downs, as he’s the better run stopper. Hall, a rookie, will likely see action on third downs and obvious passing downs. This one-two punch will need to expose Newman, stop Aaron Jones and get to Rodgers.
FAB 5. SR’s Buc Shots
• BUCS RUNNING MORE 2-HIGH SHELL: Tampa Bay is running more 2-high looks pre-snap this year. That’s because Antoine Winfield Jr. has been better against the run than Sean Murphy-Bunting was last year. The Bucs don’t have to bring a safety down in the box to help out as much nearly as much. Plus, Jordan Whitehead had some limitations in deep coverage and was better in the box, which resulted in more Cover 1 and Cover 3 looks last year.
Here’s the rate at which every NFL defense has shown a 2-high shell pre-snap in 2022 as compared to how often they showed it in 2021. Ed Donatell is running a completely new scheme in Minnesota while Wink Martindale is going against the grain pic.twitter.com/Z7L1IgenjG
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) September 20, 2022
• BUCS RUN DEFENSE FACES PACKERS’ 1-2 PUNCH: As if trying to stop future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a big enough challenge, the Bucs defense must contend with a very balanced Packers attack. Green Bay ran for 203 yards against Chicago in last week’s 27-10 win, led by Aaron Jones’ 132 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries (8.8 avg.). Power back A.J. Dillon chipped in 61 yards on 18 carries (3.4 avg.).
The Packers have the league’s sixth-best rushing attack, averaging 157 yards per game. Tampa Bay surrendered 100 yards rushing on 20 carries (5.0 avg.) last week in a 20-10 win at New Orleans. The Bucs have the NFL’s ninth-best rushing defense, allowing just 85.5 yards on the ground. Something has to give this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium when these two teams collide.
“They got a great little 1-2 punch,” Bucs outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka said. “Dillon is a big-body running back that will try to run you over. And then Jones tries to get to the perimeter, you can’t let him use his quickness. We got a lot of things to cover before we get ready to go and move forward in our preparation. Just continue to work at that and ultimately shut down the run to get [Aaron] Rodgers on the ground.”
CELSIUS PEWTER REPORT TAILGATE PREGAME SHOW AT WALK-ONS
Bucs fans and Pewter Report fans can join the PR staff for a LIVE pregame show before each Bucs game – home and away – at Walk-Ons Sports Bistreaux. The CELSIUS Pewter Report Tailgate Show is presented by Age Rejuvenation and is LIVE at the Walk-Ons in Wesley Chapel for the Bucs vs. Packers game this Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is at 4:25 p.m. ET and the PR Tailgate Show begins at 2:30 p.m. ET.
For those Bucs fans outside of the Tampa Bay area, the CELSIUS Pewter Report Tailgate Show presented by Age Rejuvenation will be streamed live on the PewterReportTV YouTube channel.
The Pewter Report Tailgate Show will feature a pair of Pewter Reporters and former Bucs tight end John Gilmore each week, offering up all of the analysis and matchups for that week’s Bucs game live on location. There will be CELSIUS and PR giveaways in addition to game day food and drink specials at Walk-Ons.
Miller Lite pints are $3.99 and 22 oz pours are $5.49. Blue Moon pints are $5.00 and 22 oz pours are $7.00.
The CELSIUS Pewter Report Tailgate Show presented by Age Rejuvenation is an hour-and-a-half show and begins two hours prior to kickoff each week. Thirty minutes prior to kickoff, Matt Matera and Josh Queipo take over on the livestream and add their insight and pregame analysis. Then, Pewter GameDay begins as the Bucs kick off with Matera and a special guest providing insight and commentary throughout the game. Pewter Report’s Paul Atwal joins Matera for this week’s Bucs game.
THIS WEEK’S PEWTER REPORT PODCASTS
• BUCS-PACKERS PREVIEWS ON THE PEWTER REPORT PODCAST: The Pewter Report Podcast is energized by CELSIUS and broadcasts four live episodes each week. Next week’s schedule will feature PR Podcasts on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday as the Bucs begin preparations for Week 4 against Kansas City on Sunday Night Football.
Scott Reynolds, Matt Matera and Josh Queipo recap the Bucs’ 20-10 win over the Saints in New Orleans.
Reynolds and Matera celebrate a Victory Monday with Bucs fans and further analyze the Bucs’ big win against the Saints.
Reynolds and Matera previewed the Bucs vs. Packers game during Wednesday’s podcast.
Matera and J.C. Allen discuss whether or not the Bucs can beat the Packers without Mike Evans on Thursday.
Watch the Pewter Report Podcasts live on our PewterReportTV channel on YouTube.com and please subscribe (it’s free) and add your comments. We archive all Pewter Report Podcasts. So, you can watch the recorded episodes if you missed them live.
There is no better time to listen to or watch a new Pewter Report Podcast – energized by CELSIUS – than Friday afternoon on the way home from work. Or early Saturday morning during your workout or while running errands.
The popularity of the Pewter Report Podcast continues to grow. In addition to listening to the Pewter Report Podcasts on PewterReport.com, you can also subscribe to the free podcasts at PodBean by clicking here and on SoundCloud by clicking here. And of course, the Pewter Report Podcast is also available on iTunes and YouTube. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode.
• PERRIMAN HAS MADE CLUTCH CATCHES FOR THE BUCS: Tampa Bay wide receiver Breshad Perriman has made some big-time catches for the Bucs over the years. One of those came last week with a 28-yard touchdown catch, which propelled Tampa Bay for a 20-10 win in New Orleans. Click here to watch a great video with Perriman’s highlight catches since 2019.
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Originally posted on Pewter Report