In his first season as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bruce Arians seemingly did one thing right: the team was scoring again and unlike they ever had before.
With a talented arm capable of doing anything, Jameis Winston helped the Bucs rank third in points scored in 2019, their highest such ranking in franchise history. In fact, 2000 was the last and only time that Tampa Bay even ranked in the top 10 in points and this is their 45th season as a franchise.
Unfortunately for them, Winston’s arm could do too many anythings and the Bucs had the most turnovers in the NFL and without any challengers.
They made the highly publicized change at quarterback and though Tampa Bay is eighth in points, they are scoring more per game than they did a year ago and the offense is above average in protecting the football. The defense has helped a lot — first in yards allowed, second in passing yards allowed, first in rushing yards and yards per carry allowed — but that’s because they’re getting more help on the other side of the ball.
The Raiders host the Bucs and will need a season-best performance by their defense. Here is who they are facing on the offense of the number one team in the NFL by DVOA.
QB - Tom Brady
143 of 224, 64.1%, 1,541 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT, 6.9 Y/A, 6.9 AY/A, 8 sacks, 4 fumbles
As comfortable as it is to be skeptical of a 43 year old quarterback, Brady seems as good now as he did towards the end of his time with the Patriots, if not better, and the Buc have improved from ranking 23rd in DVOA on offense with Jameis Winston last season to being seventh after six weeks. They are ninth in passing and sixth in rushing, by DVOA.
Even if you felt that Brady was the 20th best quarterback in the NFL (Brady: 20th in QBR, seventh in DYAR, ninth in DVOA, 27th in on-target%, 15th in passing rating) that would be remarkable for a player who is four years older than Peyton Manning was when he won a Super Bowl with the Broncos as an apparition and called it quits.
RB - Ronald Jones II
97 carries for 472 yards, three touchdowns, 4.9 YPC, 17 receptions for 84 yards
I used to feel that running backs did not matter but like most NFL narratives, the argument fell apart in short order when I attempted to argue for the other side. That was about a year ago and I have not looked back: running backs do matter. Indisputable. Unfortunately, the people who remain on that side of the argument continue to cherrypick examples that help confirm their biases and ignore anything that threatens their identity as “the smart football opinion havers.”
I don’t spend time on Twitter anymore, so you tell me: have they conceded they were wrong about Ronald Jones yet?
“RBDM” folks claim that a team should never draft a back in the first round and Jones doesn’t escape the conversation only because he went a few picks outside of it in 2018. And three picks after Nick Chubb, another fringe first rounder who I’d like to hear “RBDM” folks publicly denounce as a horrible pick — immediately. Over there yonder on the hill, that’s the one you chose to die on.
Jones struggled as a rookie under Dirk Koetter in 2018 but Bruce Arians was brought on board the next year and his patience at the position has paid off: 122 carries for 655 yards and four touchdowns over his last eight games. Jones also has over 100 rushing yards in each of the last three games. Jones also has seven broken tackles this season and is averaging three yards per play after contact.
Backup Leonard Fournette had 12 carries for 103 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2 but an ankle injury has forced him out of the last three games. He is expected to return this Sunday.
(And to argue that because Fournette also had a 100-yard rushing game that it “proves” Tampa has a formidable rushing attack that anybody could succeed in, I don’t believe a former fourth overall pick and a former 38th overall pick are proof that Joe Anybody can rush for 100 yards with Tampa Bay. Especially if you had an understanding that Arians is anything but a “running backs coach.”)
WR - Mike Evans
37 targets: 23 catches for 281 yards, six touchdowns, 7.6 Y/T, average depth of target: 11.1
WR Chris Godwin
20 targets: 16 catches for 191 yards, one touchdown, 9.6 Y/T, ADOT: 7.1
WR Scott Miller
23 targets: 16 catches for 256 yards, one touchdown, 11.1 Y/T, ADOT: 16.8
Almost all of Miller’s numbers come from the first four games, as he’s been targeted only twice in the last two weeks and is dealing with both hip and groin injuries. He’s limited in practice this week.
Godwin returned in Week 6 after missing the previous two games and was targeted seven times against the Packers, catching five passes for 48 yards. He is limited in practice this week also, dealing with his hamstring issue.
Evans caught at least one touchdown in each of the team’s first five games, including two against the Broncos. He only had two catches for two yards in that game. Being targeted in the end zone and red zone will only lower a player’s ADOT, so that’s not much of a concern. Evans is doing what he does, but he was also limited in practice this week with an ankle injury.
Depth past these three includes Tyler Johnson and Justin Watson.
TE Rob Gronkowski
28 targets: 17 catches, 218 yards, one touchdown, 7.8 Y/T, ADOT: 10
Last week against Green Bay, Gronkowski had his best game since returning to the NFL, catching five of eight targets for 78 yards and a touchdown. Gronk had four first downs and an ADOT of 11.4, proving to be a downfield threat again. O.J. Howard went on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles, pushing veteran Cameron Brate back into the rotation.
Offensive Line: Donovan Smith-Ali Marpet-Ryan Jensen-Alex Cappa-Tristan Wirfs
The Bucs have invested heavily into their offensive line, so it would be sensible for it to be a good unit. Smith is making $14.5 million this season, Marpet is at $11 million and Jensen is at $10 million. Wirfs was the 13th overall pick in the draft and one of many counter-examples to another NFL narrative that hasn’t stood the test of evidence once the games were played: that most rookies would struggle because of the 2020 offseason.
Many rookies are excelling, including a high number of offensive linemen, and Wirfs is no exception.