Each and every Friday, managing editor Gil Arcia and deputy editor James Yarcho will discuss topics from the week pertaining to the Buccaneers and the rest of the NFL. Some things may have a positive spin while others may get under their skin.
This column is broken up into different parts with brief takes: a hot button topic, a team headline, a wild card topic, and a point-counterpoint. We will also include the weekly Bucs Nation staff pick for Tampa Bay’s game.
The Hot Button: Jameis vs. The Beard
Gil: Over the weekend, the numbers folks over at FiveThirtyEight decided to compare Bucs quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. This was inspired by the words of DeSean Jackson saying that Tampa Bay should continue riding the hot hand.
While the statement is true and cliche, FiveThirtyEight wondered how much better one quarterback is than the other. And they ultimately uncovered that Winston is the better of the two based off of statistics and their own point system. That included the category labeled “more effective passing.”
Interestingly enough, as shared by the site, the Elias Sports Bureau labels Winston as a very accurate passer for the most part. Winston is above league average in completion percentage when receivers are at a depth of around 32 yards or less from the line of scrimmage — including being better than Fitzpatrick. Where the bearded wonder throws at a higher rate than Winston is when receiver depths hit 32 yards of further. Both fall below average on passes of at least 40 yards downfield.
But FiveThirtyEight acknowledges something many seem to disregard. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken is calling plays to the strength of Fitzpatrick right now. Hence why the 34-year-old has been playing lights out. He also carried his highest completion percentage in preseason of his entire career under Monken’s playcalling. Which oh by the way, Winston threw incredibly accurate this preseason — also his highest percentage of his career.
Fitzpatrick is the popular guy now. He’s winning behind a much improved offensive line and phenomenal playcalling. It’ll be an incredible sight to witness Winston throwing under the same environment that Fitzpatrick has so far in 2018.
James: I’ve been very vocal about Winston needing to be re-inserted to the starting lineup once he’s back. I’ve even bent so far as to say that I can see Fitz getting the week four start given the short week then Winston returns post bye week.
That said, the Bucs have to - and will - ride the hot hand.
I get it. There is something special happening inside the walls of the Bucs’ facility and you hate to do anything to shake that up. Until Fitz implodes, you gotta stick with him. That’s not to say Winston would come in and mess anything up, though. As Gil pointed out above, Winston was performing at an elite level during preseason.
Yeah, I know, it was preseason. But has the Buccaneers’ offense really looked that different in the regular season? They’re efficient, they’re opportunistic, and Todd Monken calls one hell of a game.
Wouldn’t one venture to believe that the more talented player would also excel in a system such as this? I understand what the Bucs are doing and why they’re doing it. I’m sure Winston does too. He’s a team player that will trot out and say that he just wants to put the team in the best position to win and Fitz is doing that right now.
No, I don’t believe Fitz is going to remain a season long starter (as you’ll see below). No, I don’t think the offense is going to falter once Winston takes over. No, I don’t think this offense has been a fluke through two weeks nor will they be considered as such by season’s end.
Bucs Headliners: Tony Dungy in the Ring of Honor
Gil: When I was 17 years old, I remember stopping at a local gas station to fill up my car. As I was leaving out onto a busy intersection, no one was giving me a chance to exit into the street. After what felt like 10 minutes, this SUV slows down forcefully and I see a driver waive me out in front of him.
It was then head coach Tony Dungy. I “nerded out” and lowered my window to waive at him and yell out “hello!” He smiled and waived back.
That move was classic Dungy. It was putting others first and being considerate of others. The Hall of Fame coach had just finished coaching the Buccaneers to an 11-5 record and it showed that despite the successes he had as a coach, he remained humbled.
If it weren’t for the Bert Emanuel screw job back in 1999 in the NFC Championship against the St. Louis Rams, we may be potentially talking about Dungy being a Super Bowl winning head coach in Tampa Bay. It is that kind of recognition where despite not taking the Bucs to the promised land, he will forever be one of the greatest coaches to have ever donned the orange and the pewter. His .563 winning percentage is worthy enough of a spot at Raymond James Stadium. And the honor should have come sooner.
James: It’s about damn time.
I remember last year I was very vocal for the website I wrote for at the time as well as on the podcast that Tony Dungy should have been inducted before Jon Gruden. Yes, Gruden got the Super Bowl - but without Dungy building this team essentially from the ground up, it never happens.
I was hated on quite a bit, but took it in stride - much like I was for not wanting Gruden to return during the speculation at the end of last season. To me, Dungy should have been in the Ring years ago.
Dungy changed everything it meant to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bucs football all of a sudden meant a nasty, suffocating defense that would chew you up and spit you out. It meant playoff appearances. It meant year in and year out title contenders. It meant being the one team in the league that could - and did - shut down “The Greatest Show On Turf.”
It still stings, nearly 20 years later, that Dungy and the Bucs missed out on that Super Bowl.
Tony Dungy is a living embodiment of an oxymoron. Thunderous silence. Stoic intensity. Or, as his autobiography was titled, quiet strength. Tony Dungy changed everything about the franchise from the moment he walked in the door - and for that, we are forever thankful for his tenure.
It’s about damn time.
Week 3 Wild Card
James: So, the Bucs are sticking with Fitzpatrick until he does something “disastrous” on the field according to Jay Glazer. This begs the question: just how short of a leash will he be on?
Let’s be honest, Jameis Winston isn’t exactly the most cautious person with the football. He takes risks, he takes chances, he makes mistakes. So, is Fitz’s leash that of a two interception half with the Bucs down 10? Is it short enough that two turnovers and a loss lands him back on the bench? And if so, what happens when Jameis has a two interception performance? Does Fitz get to go back in?
Oof. I don’t envy Jason Licht or Dirk Koetter at all right now.
Ultimately, I think it boils down to the present vs. the future. Fitz’s leash is always going to be a fraction of Winston’s. Winston was taken number one overall to be the franchise quarterback, the face of the franchise, the future of Tampa Bay. Fitz was brought in to back him up.
You can’t justify throwing Fitz to the bench immediately with the way he’s started the season. The Bucs will have to be looking for a reason - or an excuse - to get Winston back on the field. We’re all riding high on our Fitzmagic carpet ride, but it will come crashing down. We don’t know when, but it will. That’s the history with Fitz. He can go on some impressive runs, but he always comes back to the median. With as high as he is now, that crash will look even more glaring.
I love Fitz. It was absolutely the right decision to bring him back to weather this storm while Winston was out and he’s played better than every single human on earth predicted he would. For that, Bucs fans should be eternally grateful. I’m not trying to tear the man down, I’m not trying to rain on his parade, but we’ve seen this movie. We saw it in Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston, Tennessee, New York. We know how it ends. Just enjoy the ride before that end comes.
Gil: When was the last time this Buccaneers franchise had so much hype going into a Monday night football game? That is, the hype of a very good Buccaneers football team potentially continuing their undefeated streak or just having a well above .500 record.
It’s been a while
When Pittsburgh comes in to Raymond James Stadium, the football world will be watching. They will be watching a 2-0 Tampa Bay team that has managed to be one of the most talked about teams this season due to their (believed by some) unexpected success.
The line for the game has changed a couple times already. Vegas doesn’t even know what to think of this Bucs team. It’s been fun. So far.
At some point, you have to think that the Buccaneers will come back down to earth. That Ryan Fitzpatrick will begin playing like the journeyman quarterback we’re used to. This can’t certainly continue, right?
The Bucs have actually been a good team. They have beat teams that, at the time they played them, were not all that good. The Saints (2-1) have a suspect defense while the Eagles (2-1) came into Ray Jay with injured players.
However, the Buccaneers have also been without players. They’ve had miscues. They’ve had a suspect defense at times, too. They’ve overcome all of that.
Pittsburgh is coming in with question marks. But the Bucs have done what — dare I say — good teams do and that is beat teams when they’re down and not play to their level.
On Monday night, the Buccaneers need to do more of the same. They have to keep the momentum going and there is a chance they will.
Point-Counterpoint: Le’Veon Bell and the Bucs
James: And here...we...go...
Let the “what will it cost to bring Le’Veon Bell to Tampa” questions, speculation, and social media posts begin. Yes, it makes a ton of sense for the Buccaneers to be interested in Bell. This offense has proved that they’re prepared to win this season and bringing in Bell would give the Bucs the run threat that would make their offense completely unstoppable.
Here are the problems: for starters, the Bucs can not currently afford to fit Bell on the team and remain under the salary cap. They would have to free up around $8-million dollars in order to get him on the team - much easier said than done.
Second, what is the right price for a twelve to thirteen game rental? Remember, the Buccaneers can not negotiate or extend Bell until the offseason and there is little to no chance he doesn’t explore free agency to maximize his contract.
Is it draft picks? Players? Could the Bucs offer Cameron Brate, Ronald Jones, and a conditional pick to bring Bell in? Brate hasn’t been utilized at all thus far, but would offer the Steelers a major upgrade over Jesse James or Vance McDonald. RoJo could share time with James Connor. The draft pick could be contingent on a Super Bowl appearance or whether or not he signs the extension with Tampa.
That would solve the money issue, then the Bucs could go running back in the draft again next year. Worth it for a shot at a Super Bowl now?
Some will say yes, some will say no.
To me, the speculation at this point is fan driven more than anything. Every team in the NFL is interested in a back like Bell and the Bucs are no exception. That said, the chances of the Bucs actually pursuing a trade or making a deal are about as likely as me starring in the next installment of the Star Wars franchise.
Gil: The reports of the Bucs being one of three teams interested in trading for disgruntled Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell may have legs, or it may not. Tampa Bay’s season may be good enough to reach the playoffs, or it may not. And that is exactly how they should view their interest in acquiring the veteran Bell.
Peyton Barber is a decent running back and very good in pass protection. The team also drafted Ronald Jones II but has yet to see regular season action. Then there is young rookie Shaun Wilson and veteran Jacquizz Rodgers. Respectfully, that’s not much to brag about and that group hasn’t done much on the field.
General manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter are on short leashes despite Licht getting an extension through 2019. Koetter’s deal carries him through 2020. But in reality, 2019 may either be their final year or the year they are looking for jobs elsewhere.
Winning in 2018 will buy each of them some time. With quarterback Jameis Winston already missing some time this season due to his suspension and Ryan Fitzpatrick playing well, the passing game won’t be able to carry the team for long. Factor in a poor running game and the wheels can fall off quickly.
If the front office feels they can win this year with one more piece to this puzzle, that puzzle being a big one like Bell, then you make the trade happen. Find a way. You instantly upgrade the backfield and the passing game due to Bell’s ability in both the running game and passing game.
Don’t sleep on 2018. Take the chance and bring him in.
Week 3 Game Predictions
Latest line: - Bucs by 1, over/under: 54.5
Gil (2-0): Bucs 33, Steelers 30
James (0-2): Steelers 36, Bucs 34
Evan (1-1): Bucs 32, Steelers 31
Alex (1-1): Steelers 42, Bucs 38
Jon (0-2): Steelers 31, Bucs 20
Kyle (2-0): Bucs 35, Steelers 34
David (1-1): Bucs 35, Steelers 34
Bailey (1-1): Bucs 35, Steelers 27
Dustin (1-1): Bucs 31, Steelers 27