TAMPA – Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith has never tried to hide the fact that, on occasion this year, he will line the Bucs up in a three-lineman, four-linebacker set.
That won’t be the Bucs primary look, of course, but just as they did last year, they will make some use of that alignment when they believe it will work to their advantage, and it could prove to be some advantage.
The Bucs have several players ideally suited for 3-4 looks, including Noah Spence, who can be just as effective rushing the passer as a 3-4 linebacker as he can a 4-3 end.
Rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith, the second of the Bucs two third-round draft picks this year, is another and of course tackle Chris Baker can work in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.
Two others who are apparently a little more scheme diverse than many may have initially thought are veteran defensive end Robert Ayers and veteran defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
During their minicamp workouts last month the Bucs at times rolled out a 3-4 look that had Baker in the middle at his customary nose tackle spot, Ayers at left end and McCoy at right end.
It was a rather odd site to see McCoy working as a defensive end, but he has been and still is the Bucs best pass rusher so it makes some sense to put him out there on that edge on occasion.
And when you consider that in such an alignment McCoy might have Spence or another linebacker such as Lavonte David or Kwon Alexander attacking the passer right along with him, such a group could be quite devastating.
Of course, devastating would be a slight step up from where the Bucs were as a pass-rushing unit a year ago, when they recorded 38 sacks (tied for ninth in the league) but had only 76 quarterback hurries, according to SportingCharts.com.
The Bucs are obviously hoping to get a lot more pressure on the opposing passer than that this year and with alignments that include McCoy at defensive end they should be able to do it.
Again, the Bucs aren’t planning (at least not as far as we know) to make extensive use of 3-4 sets but they will use them and who lines up where in them will be one of the things worth following closely once training camp opens up.
Bucs QB Winston in limbo with injured thumb
The Bucs are very much concerned and waiting to see the status of quarterback Jameis Winston injured thumb suffered in Sunday’s wild victory over the Colts.
And they have to be prepared to be without their starting quarterback this weekend in Detroit.
First, credit to Pewterreport.com which was at teammate Mike Evans’ charity bowling event Monday evening, and where the fifth year quarterback participated bowling left-handed with a brace seen on his right hand and thumb:
#Bucs QB Jameis Winston bowling at his teammate @MikeEvans13_ charity bowling event tonight in Tampa to raise money for Mike’s foundation. Winston was wearing a brace on his right hand, and bowled his left. pic.twitter.com/fsIAXIc9fc
— PewterReport (@PewterReport) December 10, 2019
Winston injured the thumb at some point late in the second quarter of the 38 – 35 victory over Indianapolis. Coach Bruce Arians relayed after the game that Winston came out for the second half warm up and couldn’t grip the ball, when he was trying to get ready for the third quarter.
He went inside for an x-ray and backup quarterback Ryan Griffin ran the team for the first series of the second half. Winston returned and threw for over 200 yards in the second half including the game-winning touchdown to Breshad Perriman in the final five minutes of the game.
After the game Arians revealed that Winston had what he described as “a slight, slight crack in the thumb” that showed up on the X-ray.
On Monday afternoon at his regular news conference, the Buccaneers coach said that it would be day by day evaluation, that Winston had swelling on the thumb and would be getting a second opinion from a specialist:
"We’re going to come, we’re going to work. We’re going to try to win four in a row, five in a row and then six in a row.”
➡️: HC Bruce Arians pic.twitter.com/XrdtIA2yQQ
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) December 9, 2019
The injury comes at a time of great debate about whether Winston will be kept on for the Buccaneers beyond this season.? He’s currently playing on the 5th year option of his rookie contract for $20 million.
As we wrote last week, Arians made it clear that the evaluation will begin after the season as to whether Winston will be back for 2020 and long-term.
The former number one overall pick is still leading the NFL in interceptions this season with 23, but he is also second in the NFL in touchdown passes and yardage. And, the Bucs have responded with three straight wins late in the year to keep their NFC wild-card hopes barely alive.
Tampa Bay had hoped use veteran Blaine Gabbert, if something happened to Winston, but Gabbert was hurt in the preseason with a separated left shoulder, placed on injured reserve and will not be able to be activated down the stretch of the season.
So that means if Winston cannot play, Griffin, a six year veteran who has played well in the last two preseasons, will be expected to get his first start Sunday.
Bucs-Winston overcome miscues to win third straight
It wasn’t easy and there were plenty of self-inflicted mistakes, but the Bucs found a way to come from behind, and defeat the Colts for a third consecutive victory Sunday.
Tampa Bay turned the ball over four times and found themselves trailing by double-figure twice, but QB Jameis Winston threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman with under four minutes to play and the Buccaneers defense held up to improve their record to 6 – 7.
On a day in which Winston threw for a career-high 456 yards, it actually started horribly This as, he threw an interception, once again, on the opening possession of the game. Darius Leonard’s pick led to a Jacoby Brissett 48 yard touchdown to Marcus Williams and a quick 7-0 lead. It was the third time in five games that Winston has thrown an int on the first Bucs drive.
Winston threw another interception later in the second quarter that was returned by Leonard 80 yards for a score and the Colts led 24-14.
Undaunted, Winston continued to gun-sling finishing 456 yards passing for a career-high yardage and four touchdowns, including a second half score to reserve receiver Justin Watson. And then, he threw the eventual game-winning 12 yarder to Perriman.
#Bucs take the lead!
Jameis connects with Breshad Perriman 🎯#INDvsTB
— PFF (@PFF) December 8, 2019
The Colts gave away two opportunities to potentially put the game away. First, when backup running back Nyheim Hines fumbled inside the Tampa Bay 20 with 10 minutes remaining, and then, later new rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin ,who replaced Adam Vinatieri who’s dealing with an injured knee, hit the right upright on 47 yard field goal that would have put in the Colts up by 7 late in the game.
Winston led the go-ahead drive from there, going 63 yards in eight plays and including converting a fourth down with a pass of 4 yards to Dare Ogunbawale. The touchdown to Perriman came on the very next play.
Tampa Bay stopped Brissett and the Colts on fourth down at midfiled with 1:45 remaining, when DE Jason Pierre Paul hit the QB’s arm. The ball fluttered in the air, Brissett caught it and then desperately and illegally tried to throw it a second time forward to another teammate. That pass was incomplete.
The Bucs ran out the clock for their second win at home this season.
The Buccaneers playoff hopes were all but dashed even in victory, though, as the Minnesota Vikings won their 9th game on Sunday. That means that even if the Buccaneers win out, they can no longer catch the Vikes in a head to head tiebreaker in the NFC race. Tampa Bay could benefit from a multi-team tie at 9-7, but likely not.
Still, first year Bruce Arians team is certainly playing hard, and at the right times with three games to go