For some insight into the Buccaneers, Fran Duffy chatted with SB Nation’s Jon Ledyard, who has covered Tampa Bay in-depth for several years. The conversation is part of Fran’s latest Eagle Eye in the Sky episode, which can be found below.
What are your thoughts on Baker Mayfield at this stage?
“I think he’s been above expectation because I think, I mean, if you think about realistically, there was a time last year after the Panthers stint where it was like, ‘Is Baker Mayfield gonna have a career in the NFL?’
“He went to the Rams and he was decent, and there was always some interest, but he signed for very little money from Tampa Bay for the season, so there was not a lot of interest in him. He didn’t have a lot of offers, so he came in, competed for the starting quarterback job, got the job, but there was definitely a sense that this could be one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league and he’s been a top-half quarterback in the league I think this year, so definitely a pleasant surprise.
“All the things that you struggle with him are still there. One thing that’s come up this season, he’s not been a great deep ball thrower. When he has, this is a pretty aggressive offense, so he’ll push the ball down the field. Baker, this season, is 22-of-74 on 20-plus air-yard throws down the field. You’re talking about an adjusted completion percentage of 31 percent. That is one of the lower marks in the league, even when you account for drops and things like that amongst quarterbacks at his position that have played as much as he has. So when he’s had games where he’s hit the deep ball, there’s not an arm strength (problem); it’s really just an accuracy, timing issue. When he’s had games that he’s done that, this offense has put up their best performances in the season – the Texans game, the Packers game, like all of those games, like they’ve been really good. But this offense is really predicated on that happening. And that’s been the struggle this season is when he doesn’t do that, then they have to live manageable situations.”
What gives Bucs Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales the most confidence going into this matchup?
“It’s a good question because the Bucs haven’t really been consistent at all this season. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly if there’s anything this team is great at. They’ve been pretty good at throwing the football this season, especially late downs. They don’t throw it enough on early downs is probably the biggest gripe I have, but the passing game and the concepts and the way they’ve built things out, without getting too much in the details, but they have great route development off of their play-action game, which is huge. Their pass concepts in general have been pretty aggressive. They found ways to get the ball down the field without running 989 every time. It’s just more variety. They’ve learned, ‘Oh, we can spread the field with Baker Mayfield, we can put four eligibles out in the route tree, and we can make things happen that way in the pass game. We can get our running back involved. Rachaad White, when the teams met back in Week 3, most of the routes were just flat, checkdowns, things like that. Now, he’s an active part of the pass game.
“Mike Evans is running the lowest percentage of go routes in his career. Still running them, but just running lots of different stuff and using him vertically. Chris Godwin is more on the outside, still playing in the slot a good bit, but more on the outside. And when he is in the slot, asking him to get vertical from the slot, so the pass concepts are good. The route concepts in general tend to be layered pretty well. There’s just a lot of good spacing in this offense. I would say they know how to attack areas of a defense.”
Same question, but with Head Coach Todd Bowles and the Bucs’ defense going into this game?
“This is a really hard one because your biggest strength is probably a couple individual players, so it’s not even sort of like something you’re doing conceptually. Antoine Winfield being arguably the best safety in the league this year, Pro Bowl-voting disaster. You have (defensive tackle Vita) Vea, who’s playing at a very high level this season as well. Lavonte David continues to dial back the clock. I think he’s had a better year this year than his previous two seasons. He’s been outstanding.
“So, you have a couple of pillars at each level of your defense. The rest of the players around them pretty good this season, the corners have struggled, not a dissimilar situation from Philly’s corners, where typically pretty good corners in Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean haven’t really stayed fully healthy this season and then have kind of had lots of ups and downs when they’ve been out there. And so that part of it concerns me a little bit.
“And then I think it’s more the matchup like the Bucs have not been a high-pressure team this season. They have they’ve sent a lot of pressure. They haven’t gotten a lot of pressure. It’s not been as successful as other years of the Bowles regime. He still continues to blitz at a very high rate. The encouraging thing is that he hasn’t gotten pressure, he didn’t get pressure in Week 3 necessarily on Jalen Hurts when he played him, but just the idea of blitzing and he blitzed 75 percent of Hurts’ dropbacks. He’s going to be aggressive.”