Bucs Must Create Takeaways To Win On The Road
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s time for Scott Reynolds’ 2-Point Conversion post-game column, which features two statements, two questions and two predictions based on the latest Bucs game.
Tampa Bay got a big road victory at Indianapolis, 38-31, to improve its record to 3-3 on the road and 8-3 overall. This was a quality win over a playoff-caliber team, but it took five takeaways and winning the turnover margin by plus-3 for the Bucs to come away victorious. Leonard Fournette scored four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) and Rob Gronkowski had 123 yards receiving on offense. Defensively, pass rusher Shaquil Barrett had eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
2 BIG STATEMENTS
STATEMENT 1: Playmakers Made Plays For Bucs In Big Road Win
Well, we found out why the Bucs have struggled so much on the road this year. It was a lack of takeaways by the defense and not being able to score 30 points.
That’s been Tampa Bay’s proven winning formula on the road dating back to last year, and the Bucs had strayed from it. The team’s 2-3 road record prior to Sunday’s 38-31 win in Indianapolis is proof of that.
But when the Bucs defensive playmakers decided to make some plays and create more takeaways – five – combined with a more efficient, effective offense that saw four touchdowns from Leonard Fournette and a 123-yard receiving performance from Rob Gronkowski, it resulted in a victory. The 38 points, which was the first time the Bucs have topped 30 away from Raymond James Stadium, was a sight for sore eyes.
But the real key was the five takeaways, including three big ones in the second half that helped the Bucs come back to win despite trailing by 10 points at halftime.
Bucs Takeaways On The Road In 2021
Rams (LOSS) – zero takeaways – even turnover margin
Patriots (WIN) – 2 takeaways – plus-2 turnover margin
Philadelphia (WIN) – 1 takeaway – even turnover margin
New Orleans (LOSS) – zero takeaways – minus-3 turnover margin
Washington (LOSS) – 1 takeaway – minus-1 turnover margin
Indianapolis (WIN) – 5 takeaways – plus-3 turnover margin
The Bucs have lost every road game in which they have lost the turnover margin. Turning the ball over on offense is one thing, but not making up for it by creating some takeaways is another. In the previous five road games Tampa Bay’s defense has created just four takeaways combined.
The Bucs defense has created 14 takeaways at home in five games. No wonder Tampa Bay is undefeated at Raymond James Stadium.
There was no bigger takeaway than Shaquil Barrett’s sack-fumble-recovery at the start of the third quarter with the Bucs trailing by 10. That play ignited the team and led to a Tampa Bay touchdown, cutting Indianapolis’ lead to 24-21.
“That was huge because they were moving it,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “They were moving it and that strip-sack I think changed the whole ball game.”
Barrett finished the game with eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It was the first time he had recorded a sack in over a month, snapping a three-game streak without a quarterback capture. With a new contract that pays him an average of $17 million, games like the one Barrett had against the Colts need to become more frequent.
“Shaq got the strip-sack,” Bucs quarterback Tom Brady said. “They just made big play after big play. That’s what it takes to win. You have to make the plays. There’s not a lot of margin of error. There are really well-coached teams that have a lot of good players, and everyone’s working hard to win. So, you’re either going to make the play or you don’t. And we didn’t make them as much in the first half, but we certainly made them in the second half.”
Barrett now has 7.5 sacks on the season along with three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception. With seven games left, it seems highly probable that Barrett not only surpasses last year’s sack total of eight, but finishes with double-digit sacks.
“Just rushing the whole game trying to affect the game any way I could,” Barrett said. “Then the opportunity presented itself to make that play. I was able to hit the ball out, looked around for it, found it. I think a couple of their guys missed it and I was able to jump on it. It was a big play for us and helped the team out a lot.”
Barrett missed a chance for another sack, as did defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on the same play. But Suh did record his fourth sack of the season earlier in the game.
Barrett and Suh weren’t the only Bucs’ big-time defenders that made plays.
Safety Mike Edwards, who leads the team with three interceptions, began the Bucs’ takeaway-fest by punching the ball out of a Colts receiver in the first half. Naturally, ball-hawking linebacker Lavonte David recovered the fumble for Tampa Bay.
Safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. also came through with a huge interception in the second half, out-leaping 6-foot-4 receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. for the ball. In a moment of poetic justice, the game ended on an interception by fill-in cornerback Pierre Desir, a former Colt, after he surrendered a touchdown right before halftime.
While the Bucs defense did a great job forcing five takeaways, the downside is that Tampa Bay needed all five plus 38 points from the offense to eke out a seven-point victory on the game’s final play. The defense surrendered 392 yards and 31 points. This is cause for concern moving forward, especially losing starting cornerback Jamel Dean to a shoulder injury.
STATEMENT 2: Reich Lost The Game For Colts In The Second Half
I believe in the Bucs’ run defense. Tampa Bay’s run defense has led the league in that category for three years straight now and for good reason. It’s a really good scheme executed by really good players.
But no scheme is completely bulletproof – not even the Bucs run defense.
Colts head coach and play-caller Frank Reich decided to attack the Bucs’ weakness – Tampa Bay’s pass defense – rather than emphasize his own team’s strength, which is the running game led by the NFL’s leading rusher Jonathan Taylor.
It worked for a half as quarterback Carson Wentz completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns to help build a 24-14 lead at halftime. Taylor, who was fresh off a 185-yard rushing day at Buffalo, had eight carries for 25 yards in the first half. But Wentz was shredding Tampa Bay’s banged up secondary, which lost cornerback Jamel Dean to a shoulder injury in the first half.
Yet Wentz’s success this season had been as a game-manager, not a gunslinger. He entered the game with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions, but threw two second half picks and fumbled the ball when sacked from his blindside by Shaq Barrett. Reich and Wentz kept going back to the well too much – throwing 26 straight passes in the second and third quarter at one point – before Taylor got a carry. That’s criminally bad coaching.
Once Taylor finally got some carries in the fourth quarter the Colts’ ground game got rolling. He had 58 yards on eight carries (7.3 avg.) and scored a touchdown to tie the game.
“Yeah, I mean nobody runs the ball on us,” Arians said. “I don’t care who the hell you are. I mean you are going to end up throwing it because if you’re going to run it all day, you’re not going to get much, and they did that last drive. We were a little bit playing pass defense and they ran it on us. I’ll take our run defense versus anybody’s run offense anytime.”
I appreciate Arians’ bluster and bravado after the fact. But what Reich should’ve done is realize that Taylor helped the Colts win five of the last six games more than Wentz did. Reich attacked the Bucs’ weakness masterfully in the first half to build a 10-point lead at halftime. But Indianapolis should have come out and tried to establish the run in the third quarter to wear down Tampa Bay’s defense. That’s playing to the Colts’ strength.
That’s what makes any good rushing attack so effective – attrition and physically wearing down and wearing out an opponent. Did Taylor see some favorable light boxes to run into in the fourth quarter? Yes, but he also made tired Bucs defenders miss and broke some tackles, too.
Is it any surprise that Leonard Fournette’s longest carry of the game – his game-winning 28-yard touchdown run – came on his last tote of the game? Nope. That was carry number 17 for Fournette, and the Bucs’ 27th rush of the game.
Indianapolis ran for 107 yards and a 5.4 average without even truly committing to running the ball outside of the first and fourth quarters. Taylor finished with 83 yards on 16 carries (5.2 avg.) and a touchdown.
I’m not saying that the Colts would have gashed the Bucs run defense and ultimately would have won the game. But had they decided to not become one-dimensional there is a greater chance that the momentum-creating turnovers of Wentz’s fumble and interception don’t happen.
2 PROBING QUESTIONS
QUESTION 1: Who Was The Bucs’ Unsung Player Of The Game?
Without a doubt it was wide receiver Scotty Miller, who returned to action after missing the last seven games due to a foot injury. Miller didn’t even record a catch, but made a few impactful plays in Tampa Bay’s 38-31 win in Indianapolis. The first was drawing a big, 37-yard pass interference penalty he drew on cornerback Rock Ya-Sin on the Bucs’ first touchdown drive of the third quarter to draw closer to the Colts, 24-21.
Then Miller, who was forced into action as a gunner on special teams, came up with a huge fumble recovery on Nyheim Hines’ muffed punt on a fair catch. That made up for the interception he allowed when he failed to properly track a deep ball in the first half.
“You have to give Scotty credit,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “On that fumble recovery, he was down there. He beat double press and used his speed.”
Scotty Miller played four special-teams snaps for Bucs on Sunday, including a crucial recovery of muffed punt. He’d played five special-teams snaps in his NFL career before Sunday.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) November 29, 2021
Miller only played eight snaps on Sunday – four on offense and four on special teams – and didn’t even catch a pass. But he made his presence known when he was in the game.
“Scotty also had a big, big block on Gronk’s third down run on that short pass,” Arians said.
It’s rare that receivers can make such an impact without any catches, but that’s what Miller did in Indianapolis.
QUESTION 2: Who Is Making The Biggest Impact In The Bucs’ Secondary This Year?
With apologies to starting free safety Antoine Winfield, Jr., who had a dynamite game against the Colts with seven tackles and a highlight-reel interception, Mike Edwards has been the biggest play-maker in Tampa Bay’s secondary so far. Edwards leads the Bucs with three interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes, and is tied for the lead with seven pass breakups.
On Sunday, he forced his first fumble of the year and then made a heroic tackle on a 71-yard kickoff return with 10 seconds left in the game.
“Mike, I think he hit top speed of his life chasing the guy on the kickoff return, and thank God that he did,” Arians said.
The Bucs coaches were wise to replace Ross Cockrell with Edwards as the starter in the slot. Edwards collected his third interception of the year in last Monday’s 30-10 win over the Giants, and then created another takeaway against the Colts. Keep this guy in the lineup, Tampa Bay.
2 BOLD PREDICTIONS
PREDICTION 1: The Bucs Don’t Lose Again On The Road
Tampa Bay’s undefeated home record of 5-0 will be put to the test in the coming weeks by games against New Orleans and Buffalo. But it should be smooth sailing for the Bucs on the road where the team faces Atlanta (5-6), the New York Jets (3-8) and Carolina (5-7). The combined record of those teams is 13-21.
Next up is Atlanta, which has seen four of its five wins come on the road where the team has played better, including Sunday’s 21-14 win at Jacksonville. The Falcons are just 1-5 at home, with the lone victory coming against the Giants, 17-14, in Week 3.
PREDICTION 2: If Tampa Bay Makes It To The Super Bowl, It Faces New England
Since losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 19-17, in Week 4, the New England Patriots are red hot. They’ve won six straight games, including seven of their last eight. The Patriots’ only loss during that stretch was an overtime defeat at the hands of Dallas. New England and Kansas City (7-4), whom the Bucs beat in Super Bowl LV last February, might the two hottest teams in the AFC right now. We’ll see how things finish.
But it would be only be fitting for the Bucs to play the Patriots in a rematch of Week 4 against a much improved Mac Jones in the Super Bowl if Tampa Bay makes it that far and has a chance to defend its title, right? Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick 2.0 anyone?
https://www.pewterreport.com/2-point-conversion-barrett-bucs-must-create-takeaways-to-win-on-the-road/ Bucs Must Create Takeaways To Win On The Road