The Buccaneers’ Identity is Being Challenged with Injuries

Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

For several years now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have boasted one of the league’s best passing attacks. Even all the way back in 2014, with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center, the Bucs produced two 1000-yard receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.

And then, after a brief period of time with Evans as the sole focal point of Tampa Bay’s offense, the addition of Chris Godwin gave the Bucs one of the best WR duos in football yet again. The Bucs of last season put the finishing touches on their dominant receiving group by adding Antonio Brown as WR3, giving them easily the best group of receivers in football.

This team strength at receiver emphasized Bruce Arians’ and Byron Leftwich’s style of offensive play calling, which leaned heavily on the passing game to move the offense down the field. In fact, since 2019 when Arians took over the head coaching job, the Bucs have been top-10 in pass percentage every year (including this year, where the Bucs are #1 in that category).

It was a trust exercise in their receiving group that has paid off handsomely for the Bucs. Since last season, after a Saints game in Week 9 that saw Brown on a small snap count for his first official game as a Buccaneer and Godwin dealing with an ankle injury that limited his playing time, the Bucs with all three receivers averaged over 33 points per game on the way to a Super Bowl Championship.

It is safe to say that the passing game has been vital to Tampa Bay’s success, and that the dominance of the receiver group has been vital to the passing game. This team identity looked to continue into the 2021 season, where it would once again lift Tampa Bay into the upper echelon of the NFC.

And then, disaster struck. During another embarrassing loss to New Orleans, a low hit to Chris Godwin’s knee knocked him out for the season. And two weeks later Antonio Brown pranced off the field and off the team in a stunning development that is still ongoing. And so, two of the most central players to Tampa Bay’s offensive identity are out for the upcoming marquee matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

What is left is a position group full of uncertainty. Behind the now-unquestionably WR1 Mike Evans is a jumble of WRs looking to earn Brady’s trust. Players like Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, and Cyril Grayson have proven their ability to perform in big moments, while depth piece and special teams member Jaelon Darden has plenty of potential.

Against the Rams, who boast perhaps the NFL’s best corner in Jalen Ramsey, these unproven commodities will have to rise to the occasion. Mike Evans will do his best against Ramsey, but the offense will likely not be able to flow through him with consistency, like it has been doing the last several weeks. This means that, more than ever before, Tampa Bay faces a challenge to the reliability of their pass-first identity.

If the Buccaneers are to put up points this Sunday, the offense will need strong games from proven playmakers Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette, and Tom Brady. But they will also need one of the younger receivers to seize the spotlight. It’s going to be interesting to see who does.

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