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Why has Buccaneers Mike Evans’ productivity disappeared?

Florida Football Insiders

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As the Buccaneers continue to struggle and are guaranteed a losing season now, at 4-9, questions and blame are abundant. One important one is: what has happened to Mike Evans and why has he become an almost non factor in big plays and in the red zone?

With the understanding that if you “own” Evans for fantasy football, you already know the bad news, that 2017 has been a statistical bust for the fourth year pro.

However, coming off a 2016, where Evans registered career highs in catches (96) yards (1,321) and tied in TDs (12), there was every expectation that he would have just as big or bigger impact, if not more so this season.

That’s because the Bucs not only brought in game breaking receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, but drafted tight end, O.J. Howard out of Alabama in the first round. When you, added those guys to Evans, tight end Cameron Brate, etc., the Bucs looked like a dynamic pass catching machine behind QB Jameis Winston.

And the best part for Evans, they could not repeatedly take him away with double teams to the exclusion of everyone other weapon Tampa Bay now has.

Unfortunately, for Evans and the Bucs, that has not really materialized.

Obviously, part of this has been the shoulder injury and re-injury to Winston. It first occurred in the first half of the Arizona loss in game five, and even though Winston battled and played through it, his play was affected. He eventually was seriously re-injured in the New Orleans loss week 9 and Winston was “shut down” to rest and rehab the shoulder for three games (Weeks 10-12) and not play.

Evans was also suspended for a fight in that Saints game and did not play against the Jets in week 10.

Still, there are disturbing trends:

Evans hasn’t caught a TD pass of any kind, length, etc. in six games. Nada. Bagel. Nothing.

That is the longest drought of his career. In fact, the only other times Evans went at least four games in the NFL without catching a TD, was the first four and the last four games of his 2015 second season in the league.

Consider further, in that second season he only had three TD catches. But, he quadrupled it a year ago with 12 and it makes this regression in scoring harder to swallow. He’s on pace to score 6 TDs (half of 2017) this season. Yikes.

Is Evans being schemed against and double teamed? Yes. Coach Dirk Koetter admitted as much last week. He said, especially in the red zone, Evans is seeing a safety come with him on almost every pass play. Meaning, he has to beat two defenders on the compressed field, repeatedly.

Still, there haven’t been as many attempts coming his way.

In 2016 Evans was targeted (pass intended and thrown towards him) 173 times in 16 games or an average of 10.8 times. That’s a high ratio but it’s also expected from a big play star receiver.

That average was 9.9 targets per game in 2015. However, this season? 107 targets in 12 games played so far is 8.9 targets per game. That’s Evans’ lowest total since his rookie year (8.1).

So, he’s had on average 2 less passes coming his way.

What about Evans’ catches per game average?

A year ago, he averaged 6 receptions per game (96 in 16 starts). In 2017, Evans average is down to 4.6 catches per game (55 receptions in 12 games) and scarier? Over these last six with Winston hurt, Ryan Fitzpatrick playing some, Winston returning, etc.?  3.7 catches on average.

Nearly three off his average last year.

So, you get the idea.

He is clearly trending down, as 2017 winds down.

Is Evans still a fantastic big play receiver? Yes.

Is he an important part of the Bucs game plans every week? Yes.

Have most of the problems with getting him the ball been with things out of his control at times? Obviously.

Still, it’s incumbent on Koetter, as the play caller, Winston, as the star QB, and Evans to get it going, again like the massive progress he showed last season.

We all know he is capable.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs staying with Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t appear to be Koetter decision only

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers are staying with veteran backup now starter Ryan Fitzpatrick for this week’s game with the Giants. But, the bigger story Monday was surrounding the announcement that coach coach Dirk Koetter made, and it appeared it isn’t only his decision.

That’s because, anyone with any experience in watching body language and how questions are answered, could tell that Kotter was not exactly convincing that it was only his decision. Judge for yourself, if you like early in the press conference here:

“We’re going to go with Fitz this week. Yeah. That’s how it’s going to stay,” Koetter said with his voice trailing off at the end.

He was then asked to follow up of how long it was going to stay that way? And, his answer was unconvincing with a simple, “Til we change.”

Finally, he was asked about why he was sticking with Fitzpatrick? And Koetter said, “I just think he gives us the best opportunity, (to win) right now.”

Fitzpatrick was 29 of 41 for 406 yards with no TDs in Sunday’s 16-3 loss to the Redskins, but continued with the Bucs recent trend of turnovers from the quarterback position with three more of them Sunday. And, they were all killers.

The first interception came as the Bucs had moved in the red zone on their opening drive of the game. The 35 year old veteran overthrew his intended receiver and was picked off by Josh Norman.

Later in the second quarter, the second turnover was another bad interception thrown, while locking onto a receiver over the middle and it led to a Redskins field goal and a 6 – 3 lead.

Fitzpatrick could not not be completely blamed for the final turnover, when he was blindside sacked by Patrick Smith and fumbled in the fourth quarter after the Bucs have driven inside the 10-yard line trailing 16 – 3.

Nonetheless, if the primary reason that Jameis Winston had gone back to the bench after three starts was his turnovers, which were abundant, the same argument can be made about Fitzpatrick.

He has five turnovers in the last two games and both are losses.

Still, this seems to be an overall strategy by the Glazer family that owns the team and it may even have the input of general manager Jason Licht, too. A strategy that the team has moved on from Winston for the future and will utilize Fitzpatrick in the short-term. And then, perhaps they turn to young back up Ryan Griffin for some playing experience at the end of the year, if the Bucs are officially eliminated from the playoffs soon.

Again, Koetter did not get into those kind of details at this news conference, but it’s rather obvious but if the belief was that Winston had a chance to help them and had a future in Tampa Bay, they have all the reason you need to go back to the former #1 overall pick now and stick with him.

Yet another complication in the decisions being made is: the Bucs have picked up the fifth year option on Winston rookie deal. That option is only guaranteed for injury in the event that he cannot pass a physical next March. And with Tampa Bay now 3 – 6, the discussion may be centered around “no need to risk it” in that scenario with a team that is not going to end up making the playoffs, anyway.

It’s entirely possible to Fitzpatrick could be really bad next Sunday in New York and if he is, we will very quickly find out whether Koetter alone can make a decision during the game to put Winston in. However, if that scenario plays out and he doesn’t bench Fitzpatrick during next week’s game, then you definitely have the answer that it’s not just “best chance to win” with Winston.

And it isn’t only Dirk Koetter’s decision.

No, the bigger question that would asked would be: have we seen the end of Jameis Winston, as a starting quarterback in Tampa Bay or not?

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Redskins take classless social media “dig” at Bucs coach Koetter

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Buccaneers suffered through the humiliation of having 500 yards of offense and scored only three points in a loss to the Redskins Sunday, Washington’s digital staff decided to “rub the Bucs and their head coach’s nose in it,” even more.

Koetter had jokingly tossed “Bit-o-Honey” pieces of candy to members of the media saying that it was his favorite candy and he had gotten so much of it after Halloween that he wanted to share it with them by tossing it to them.

As you can see above in the doctored “spoof video,” the Redskins decided to insert an “L” for losses that Koetter would be tossing.

Most will view it as a childish classless move that is usually reserved for “wacky morning radio shows” and fans to put something like that on social media.

UPDATE: Sometime after 8 p.m. Eastern time the Redskins digital team, probably on orders from owner Dan Snyder, deleted the tweet.

Still for over two hours, the Redskins, who pulled out the victory to go to 6 – 3 on the season apparently, felt they needed to gloat about it and had the tweet out there for tens of thousands to see.

As of 9:00 p.m. Eastern time Sunday night, four hours after the social media dig, the Buccaneers still had yet to react publicly to their opponent clowning them on Twitter.

Maybe, they just decided to take their medicine and let their defeat (their fifth in six games) sink in Sunday, and figured the Redskins would take it down, which they did.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Remember – Give us 17 points and we’ll take care of the rest?

Roy Cummings

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Nov 11, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Washington Redskins defensive end Matthew Ioannidis (98) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Back in the good old days, when Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch were protecting the Buccaneers end zone and the Bucs won more often than they lost, the Bucs defense made a weekly promise.

 “Give us 17 points and we’ll take care of the rest.”

The current Bucs finally played a lot like those Bucs of old on Sunday. Now, they weren’t special in any way, but for the first time all year, the current Bucs gave up less than 21 points.

And guess what?

They still lost. The final score was a very un-Buccaneer-like 16-3 and it came despite the offense racking up 496 yards. So how did they manage to drop this one?

Here we go

This game came down to red zone play. In particular, it came down to the play of the Bucs offense in the red zone, where we’re going to say Tampa Bay went 1-for-6 on the day. And it was a bad 1-for-6.

The Bucs first red-zone opportunity, which came on their first possession, ended with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing an interception on a ball he underthrew for running back Shaun Williams at the goal line.

Their second red-zone opportunity ended with kicker Chandler Catanzaro missing a 30-yard field goal. Their third resulted in Catanzaro actually making a 33-yard field goal, but then the real fun began.

On their fourth trip inside the Redskins 20, the Bucs got as far as the 16. Then on third-and-7, center Ryan Jensen fired his snap past Fitzpatrick for a 14-yard loss to the 30. Catanzaro then missed the ensuing 48-yard field-goal try.

Nov 11, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) kicks a field goal during the first half against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 11, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro (7) kicks a field goal during the first half against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs next advance into the red zone won’t go down as an official red zone possession because they never ran a play from scrimmage inside the red zone but we’re going to call it a red zone opp anyway and here’s why.

On a first-and-10 play from the Redskins 28, Fitzpatrick hit running back Jacquizz Rodgers with a short pass over the middle that Rodgers ran 10 yards with to the Redskins 18.’

It was there that linebacker Zack Brown came up from behind and popped the ball out of Rodgers arms so hard that the ball rolled in and out of the end zone for a touchback.

Finally, Fitzpatrick finished off the kind of game that got Jameis Winston benched as the Bucs starting quarterback by losing a fumble at his own 7 with a little more than three minutes left on the clock.

Score there and the Bucs have a chance to win this game, but that ended all hope of the Bucs winning what was yet another winnable game against yet another beatable team, which doesn’t bode well for coach Jason Licht’s future.

The Bucs are a team that simply can’t seem to put all the winning ingredients together on the same day. If it’s not their defense that lets them down, it’s their kicker and if it’s not their kicker it’s their red zone offense.

On Sunday it was the kicker and the red-zone offense, and given that Fitzpatrick was responsible for two of those blown scoring chances, you have to wonder if the time has come to go back to Winston.

The belief here is that it has. The switch back to Fitzpatrick has not provided the Bucs with the spark it was designed to and he’s not playing any worse (better) than Winston was when he was benched.

Granted, the Bucs lost on Sunday for reasons that stretch far beyond quarterback play. But that’s been the case all year.

So why not go back to Winston right now?

It certainly can’t hurt.

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