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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

Former Bucs coach Dungy- “You can’t make that move”

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It remains a huge topic for now in Tampa Bay, what happens when former number 1 pick and franchise quarterback Jameis Winston comes off of suspension after Monday night’s game with the Steelers?

For now, the answer appears to be simple, Ryan Fitzpatrick has played tremendous football for two weeks. This includes being named the NFC offensive player of the week for both weeks to start the season as the Bucs are 2 – 0.

Former Buccaneers coach and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Tony Dungy weighed in on the Winston debate Friday morning on “ProFootballTalk Live” and NBC Sports Network:

“If Ryan plays like he played these last two games, if he does it again Monday night, how can you say ‘we have a better chance to win with a quarterback who hasn’t been in the building for three and half weeks….You can’t make that move.” Dungy continued, “Right now, you have to say ‘Ryan Fitzpatrick gives us the best chance to win.'”

Dungy, who’s the commentator now in the studio for NBC on Sunday nights, will actually be at the Monday night showdown between the Bucs and the Steelers. This is because he’s being placed in Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor, acknowledging Dungy having turned around the buccaneer franchise in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Dungy went on to reference the example in the early 70s of the Dolphins and Don Shula facing this dilemma when Bob Griese had broken his ankle at the beginning of a season. And veteran journeyman backup Earl Morrall replaced him, and ended up being the MVP of the NFL regular season that year. Morrall played all the way until he was ineffective in the AFC Championship Game. Griese replaced him and the Fins won it all with a perfect season.

Dungy’s point was the Shula chose to “ride the hot hand,” even with a great player and established quarterback waiting in the wings, and Miami ended up making history.

Dungy, the former Super Bowl coach of Colts, then even told Florio how he would handle the situation in his locker room and with the media after Monday night, if Fitzpatrick leads the Bucs to a win:

“I don’t think you can say with Ryan, ‘you’re our guy no matter what.’ … You’ve gotta say, ‘I’ll make the decision, when I feel like Ryan doesn’t give us the best chance to win, we’ve got a great player (Winston) ready to play. But, for now? Don’t ask me any questions, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s playing. I’ll let you know when he’s not gonna play.'”

It’s obvious that if it’s Patrick just plays decently and the Bucs win, he’s going to remain their quarterback. Also, if FitzPatrick plays well and the Bucs narrowly lose, he more than likely is going to remain the quarterback, for now.

However, few believe that this situation is going to remain the same throughout the 16-game schedule and more than likely, the Bucs will turn back to Winston at some point and maybe soon.

However, as Dungy put it out there Friday, that time just isn’t right now.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs got good injury news Thursday starting with rookie DT Vea

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their 2 – 0 start, the Buccaneers have been battling early-season injuries, but they got good news on Thursday. In particular, mammoth rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea returned to the practice field for the first time, since injuring his calf in the first week of training camp in late July.

The former number 1 pick out of Washington was on the practice field with a helmet and shoulder pads during the time period that the media was allowed to view and film practice. There is eager anticipation on Vea being able to get in the lineup and be paired next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy on the Bucs defensive why.

Tampa Bay officially listed Vea as “limited” in Thursday’s workout, as they prepare for Monday night’s match-up with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The good news on the defensive side of the ball, has lockdown defensive back Brent Grimes also returned to practice for the Bucs Thursday. Grimes has missed the last two weeks after injuring his groin just before the opening game at New Orleans. He was also officially listed as limited by the team on their injury report.

Grimes will be counted on even more heavily now that the Bucs have lost another starting Corner in Vernon Hargreaves, who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury. Last week, Tampa Bay played a mix of rookies and a veteran, whom they had just picked up during the week.

Second round picks M.J. Stewart and Carlton Davis played significantly in last Sunday’s 27 – 21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Tampa Bay was also forced to use veteran free agent Marcus Williams for a couple of series, who they had picked up off of waivers during the game onSunday. Third-year veteran Ryan Smith played significantly, as well in the game and will also be counted on moving forward.

The Bucs also listed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who’s won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week back to back to start the season, is also on the injury report with a knee, but he was able to practice.

Also, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is battling a knee injury and was not able to work out on Thursday. Pierre-Paul hurt the knee in New Orleans, but played that entire game and all of the Philadelphia game.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s cool to be a Bucs fan, again

Jeff Pantridge

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

(Please welcome a new contributor to F.F.I. Jeff Pantridge is a long time resident of the Tampa Bay area who has formerly hosted on the Tampa Bay sports radio scene, and also most recently in Virginia Beach, VA. He will be giving us his unique humor and insight into everything involving Florida’s college and NFL teams. Welcome “Pants!”)

In a country that’s as divided as ever; we don’t have many things that we agree on in 2018. Despite all of our differences though, there is one thing that we share. We all want to be cool.

This is how life works. You’re born. You learn how to walk. You learn how to talk. You run around the playground for a few years and once you hit 8 years old or so; you figure things out. You want to be cool. You realize that the cute sweater with the sailboat on it that mom got you when you were 7 sucks and you want to start picking your own clothes. From that point on, pretty much until we die, while we may have a few more meaningful purposes; we’ll always on some level, just want to be cool.

I’ve been a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, since I was 7 years old. I started watching and listening to their games with my dad in 1984. I loved my Bucs and I would go to school every morning and let all of the other kids know it. They weren’t impressed. The Buccos finished 6-10 that year and 7 year old kids don’t like losers. Then 1985 hit. I ditched that stupid sweater and got me a brand new orange Tampa Bay Bucs shirt. I traded in my sailboat for a menacing pirate ship. I had to be cool at this point, right?

Nope. The Bucs went 2-14 that year. Unfortunately, 8-year old me had no idea that my football team hired a former used RV salesman (Leeman Bennett) to be their head coach. Meanwhile, the coolest team ever assembled shuffled their way to a Super Bowl by dismantling everyone in their path. They also danced, they rapped, they appeared on TV shows and redefined what cool was. Just about every 8-year old kid in my class and in every other class, was a Chicago Bears fan. After that 2-14 season, the Bucs had another 2-14 season. And then 10 more losing seasons after that. The Bears would go on to wear out their welcome at the cool kids table too.

The thing is; coolness is fleeting. Trends fade over time. For the rest of my youth, many teams sat at that cool kids table. The Giants were cool. Then the Redskins were cool. Then the 49ers were cool. Then the Cowboys were cool… It seemed like every team was getting to eat lunch at that table except my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then it happened…

In 1997; everything changed. The Bucs had just hired a new Head Coach (Tony Dungy) in the previous year. (This guy didn’t sell RV’s.) They were led by Hardy Nickerson and 2 first round draft picks in their 3rd year who were destined to become first ballot Hall of Famers. They ditched those comically uncool creamsicle uniforms and they were off and running.

While most people will tell you that 2002 was their favorite Tampa Bay Buccaneers season for obvious reasons; I will always lean towards 1997, because that’s when my football team became cool. They started 5-0 that year, and to this day; I’ve never seen The Bay Area buzzing like that.

Not when the Lightning won The Cup. Not when The Rays got to the World Series. Not even when the Buccaneers themselves brought the Lomabardi trophy home 5 years later. EVERYBODY was talking about the Bucs!

21 years later; everybody is talking about these Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again. It might be a new cast of characters, but your Pewter Pirates are the coolest team in America, led by the coolest athlete in America; Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who would’ve thought that a guy like him would ever fit that title? He’s a 35-year old backup quarterback that went to Harvard. This is 2018 though. Nerds are cool now. Marc Zuckerberg (another Harvard nerd) is worth more than the entire NFL. LeBron James wears glasses, when he doesn’t need to wear glasses.

Heck, I just watched SportsCenter do 10 minutes on some dude that plays video games for a living. By the way, this nerd also hangs with Drake, Paul George and a bunch of other really cool people that don’t hang out with any of us.

Do we know how long this ride is going to last? No. Will it be a long ride? Probably not. Like I said… coolness is fleeting. I’m just happy to be sitting at that cool kids table once again.

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