Didn't get to watch the game again this week, but with Tom Brady playing for the Bucs, maybe the NFL Network will be so kind as to actually re-play the game sometime (or some six times) this week. Many thanks to GA Skol, though, for including the link to the game's highlights in his weekly rundown of snap counts. They raised one question to the forefront of my mind: Why did Zimmer only rush Brady with three men on occasion, including on his TD bomb to Scott Miller over Chris Jones (we rushed Brailford, Mata'afa, I think, and Wonnum)?
Anyway, here are the overall Pro Football Focus SEASON grades as of Game 13 (Week 14) of the 2020 season against the Buccaneers, with the proviso that I can't see behind the PFF paywall, so these are the overall season grades, not the game grades, and not broken down by task, such as pass blocking vs. run blocking. Where GA Skol has listed the game grades, I will endeavor to repeat them here, as well.
Cousins, QB1 – 85.5, up a bit from 84.6, even with a PFF game grade of only 76.1. Honestly, on first blush, none of the sacks looked like they were Kirk's fault (if they re-play the game, I'll re-watch them slowed down to see if I missed anything). He hangs in the pocket to try to make plays, and I saw him both make some of those plays and get sacked while doing so. He's certainly not a statue, but neither is he Fran Tarkenton or Michael Vick. And there is such a thing as a coverage sack, even applied to Captain James Tiberius Kirk Cousins (that 2nd Q one by Suh on 3rd and 6 from the TB 11 looked like one of those in the highlights).
Cook, RB1 – 86.8, down from 87.5. He showed both his toughness and his moves. Going over the play-by-play at Pro Football Reference – but not having seen the game, remember – I didn't perceive some grand turn away from the run after our first couple of drives (10 runs to 5 passes on the second drive, and while I don't know about Cousins' two-yard run on the first drive, his 13-yarder looked to me more like a scramble on a passing play than some delayed QB draw). Yeah, Kubiak mixed in more passes on our third drive, the one ending with the aforementioned Suh sack, but it was back to alternating pass-run-pass-run-pass on our next drive until the false start by O'Neill put us at 3rd & 15 a couple of plays before Zimmer sent Bailey out to attempt that 54-yarder from Tampa's 36-yard line.
GAME MANAGEMENT SIDE NOTE No. 1: The options were to have Bailey try to kick himself out of his one and one-half game slide (against the Jags and Bucs, only, folks), ask Colquitt to pooch a punt somewhere between 16 and 35 yards, or attempt to gain enough yards on a pass or run to just make Tampa Bay's field position worse on the turnover by downs (and if by some quirk we make the first down, great!). Personally, I think the FGA was the worst choice and the punt the safest choice, but I would have risked the INT or fumble by going for the additional yardage with instructions to stay the hell in bounds if they can't make the first down. They don't call me "Danger Dick" for nothing!
Back to Cook, briefly. So far this year, he's average 4.0 ypc or better in eight out of 12 games, the first year since his injury-shortened rookie season where's he's had a majority of games at or above four yards per carry. And also for the first time since he was a rookie, he hasn't had a single game where he's averaged under three yards a carry. Yeah, he's slowed down again this year like he did in 2019 starting with Game #9, but he hasn't slowed down as much in either ypc or carries.
Mattison, RB2 – 71.3, down from 71.9 even though he was inactive. And this isn't the only example of a player's season game changing even though he didn't play in the game! PFF certainly has its quirks. Get well soon, Alexander, even if the sense of urgency isn't overwhelming anymore.
GAME MANAGEMENT SIDE NOTE No. 2: The impression I got from reading the game threads and post-mortems yesterday was that Zimmer called a time-out with 35 seconds left in the first half after Abdullah gained only three yards on 2nd and 10. However, Pro Football Reference lists this as a Tampa Bay time-out, their second of the half, so since I'm giving Zimmer grief for his game management this week, I feel I should point out that this was apparently not an instance of his sometimes screwy clock management.
Boone, RB4 – 77.0, up a good substantial amount for the second week in a row, from 70.4. Not sure why he got such a nice bump averaging only four yards gained on three touches; maybe it has something to do with the fact that he got the ball on three of his four snaps, while Abdullah only got it on five of his 15.
Ham, FB1 – 58.4, up for the second game in a row, from 57.7. Did some nice work as a receiver, and he seemed to help on Cook's TD., up from 57.2, but the half-tackle Aikman credited him with making on Cook (Burn!) wasn't in the game highlights.
Thielen, WR1 – 89.7, down a half-point from 90.2. I wonder if there's a connection between Thielen's lack of targets between the second and fourth quarters and the three sacks Cousins took during that timeframe, and the four touches Ham got on that long drive of ours in the 3rd, C.J.'s only touches of the game?
Beebe, WR3 – 56.0, down over five points from 61.2 after a game PFF graded a brutal 37.7. I thought Lavonte David might have earned a pass defense on the short and low pass to the right that Beebe couldn't haul in, but I can't speak to the other two targets he didn't catch; no one was credited with a PD on him, and GA Skol thought one of them was a drop. However, Beebe did return both of the punts he had a chance at, and gained first 10 yards (our longest punt return of the year!) and then five. Take away the 7-for-7 game he had with Thielen out, and his catch rate is a Kelvin Benjamin-esque 50%. with zero TD's and only 8.1 yards per catch. Gods, I hope Spielman puts his foot down and refuses to offer him a RFA tender after the season.
O. Johnson, WR4 – 66.4, down 67.8, and like Beebe, for the second week in a row, but not by nearly so big a drop. I did see him blocking a couple of times during the highlights, and picking up Jefferson or Smith after a tackle.
Sharpe – Woo Hoo! Our only wideout to see his season grade increase, to 46.7 from 46.3. For a guy with a career 12.7 ypc, why is it that every target he's gotten this year has been on a deep pass? To be fair, though, I did think the Tampa Bay defender on him on his one target yesterday almost deserved a pass interference call. He was so tight on Sharpe, and a little bit in front of him, that it looked like he was actually impeding Tajae from running to the ball. I would have loved to see it from the other angle to see if the Buc actually had a hand on Sharpe or not; probably not, though, because I think the official had the view from that side.
Conklin, TE3 – 52.0, a very healthy jump up from 45.4, which isn't surprising after he gets a very good game grade of 76.1. Saw a couple of very nice and even athletic catches in the highlights. PFR only listed him as having one false start penalty, but I could have sworn I read yesterday that he had two. I've been rooting for Conklin, so I was happy to see he had a really solid day. Keep it up!
Hill, LT2 – 73.8, way up from 58.9 thanks to a game for which he earned a grade of 78.3. He's best as a spot starter and injury fill-in, and seems to be a really good teammate to boot, so I hope we re-sign him after the season. Hell, I'd give him a two-year back-up deal.
Dozier, LG1 – 47.5, down from the second week in a row, from 49.7, and another season low for him. But then that's no surprise with a game grade of 39.7. The gap between him and Reiff is widening, and they are going in the opposite direction. This is now two straight games graded by PFF below 40. I know that means jack squat to Zimmer, but really, isn't it at least time to seriously consider benching Dozier for Jones? I doubt Brett would hurt the running game much, while he might help the passing attack a fair bit.
Bradbury, C1 – 65.2, down four ticks from 65.6. As GA Skol noted, his PFF pass blocking grade for the game was 77.9, so I guess his run blocking wasn't all we would want it to be. I was hoping he'd finish the year around with a season grade around 70, but he is still up over eight points from his rookie 2019 grade. I'd love to see a final push these last three games, and I do think he might have had his best game of the year against Chicago, so fingers crossed he repeats that feat.
Cleveland, RG1 – 64.8, UP from 61.5 after giving up eight pressures and earning a pass blocking grade of 32.0?!? What the hell?!? He must have been an absolute road grader in the running game, or is this another case of the infamous PFF left hand not knowing what the hell its right hand is doing?
Jones, Samia and Udoh – Holding steady at 77.6, 33.7 and 60.0, respectively, since the first two only played on special teams (per PFR, although it sounded yesterday like some of you thought Samia had gotten some offensive snaps) and Udoh was inactive again.
Reasons for cautious optimism on the offense this week – Smith and Conklin (yeah, it's really just one game, but here's hoping it's not), on top of Rudolph (and some commentator said after the game that our TE group was actually weak; Pfah!) The RB bench, and the trio of Cousins to Jefferson to Thielen. And, oh yeah, Dalvin Cook.
Reasons for continued pessimism on the offense – Cleveland's growing pains, but really, why the hell is Dozier still starting, and Beebe getting the solid majority of WR3 snaps? Insert Jones and Johnson, dang it!
Holmes, LDE1 – 55.2, actually up a bit from 53.9, thanks to his game grade – still only average, if that – of 69.4. Hopefully he'll get a lot less snaps next year, but he's been a useful stopgap this season.
Mata'afa, LDE2 – 59.5, down from 60.2. I think I saw him twice in the hightlights as the only interior pass rusher in a three-man front rushing Brady on an obvious passing down. Given Brady's history of being weakest against fierce interior pressure, I was shocked to see Zimmer only rushing three men at least a couple of times, one of them, as noted before, being on Brady's TD bomb to Miller.
Brailford, LDE3 – 94.8, down from his post-coming out party grade of 98.6. No great surprise that he only got 10 D snaps, not with Wonnum back and Zimmer occasionally rushing only three men, with Brailford and Wonnum on the outside and Mata'afa, I think, inside. Odd that Zim didn't rush four, with Ifeadi or Jalyn the second interior rusher.
J. Johnson, DT1 – 39.8, down again – for the 6th game! – from 41.4. Again, no shock with a game grade of only 40.3. He is worse than Dozier! And while his snap count of 30 D snaps was his lowest since the Chicago game, his 59% of defensive snaps played is actually precisely in the middle for the season so far, with him playing a higher percentage of D snaps in six games, and a lower percentage of them in the other six. Please, Coach Zim, please. Bench him.
Davis, MLB2 – 49.3, waaaaay down from 64.2. I don't really object to his being called for pass interference on the Hail Mary at the end of the first half – he did fail to get his head turned around to look for the ball and was simply sticking his arm up in the air to try to get between Gronk and the ball – but I DO object to his even being on the field for the play.
GAME MANAGEMENT SIDENOTE No. 3: It's one second to go in the half, the ball is 53 yards away from the end zone, and instead of flooding downfield with every cornerback and/or safety you've got before the ball is snapped – who cares if Brady completes a short pass with one second on the clock? – OR rushing more than three down linemen against a guy who is weakest under pressure, especially interior pressure, OR having your best coverage LB available (Wilson) cover one of the best tight ends to ever play the game, you ask a middle linebacker who is far stronger against the run than he is against the pass to trail said tight end 50 yards down the field in the hope that he can get in position in time for the inevitable jump ball. That made no sense to me. Davis shouldn't have been out there, Zimmer should have rushed four or five men, one of them Eric Wilson, who instead was hovering around the middle of the field just past the line of scrimmage, mirroring Brady as if he was Steve Young and a threat to run the ball 53 yards for the TD. At least have Wilson cover Gronkowski instead of Davis, for Pete's sake!
Dye, WLB2 – 29.6, up from 29.2, breaking a five-week downwards streak, which I guess a game grade of 61.1 will do for you when your usual grades are so bad. When Kendricks returns, hopefully Davis and Dye will rotate the way Gedeon and Wilson did in 2018 and 2019, Davis on the field on running downs, and Dye out there for passing ones.
Nickerson (Heeeee's baack) and Connelly – Holding steady at 29.0 and 30.3, respectively, what with being limited to special teams. Nickerson had missed the Jaguars game after being cut and then signed to the practice squad after the Panthers game, but was then one of several call-ups from the PS to take on the Bucs.
Gladney, CB1 – 51.7, down three ticks from 52.0, and for the fifth week in a row, though none of them have been big drops, and this is the smallest one yet. Like GA Skol, I thought he earned a pass defense. On the other hand, judging from the highlights, the DPI he was called for probably was as a result of his committing a minor face mask pull on Mike Evans, noticeable during the replay.
Boyd, CB2 – 55.8, held steady because he played only one special teams snap and was apparently benched for the day otherwise. Or did I miss a report that he got hurt early in the game? In any case, no defensive snaps at all after a pretty disastrous three games (more from eye tests and reports than from PFF).
Jones, CB4 – 53.9, actually up a tick from 53.8. Not sure how the coverage broke down on the bomb to Miller, but this was another one of those plays – not an obvious long-ball play, I grant you – where Zimmer only rushed three men. Against Tom Brady? WTF? Even on only a 3rd and 4 play, why only rush him with three men?
Reasons for cautious optimism on the defense – This is definitely one of those "Not many reasons for even cautious optimism" games. Not when our highest defensive grade for the game was 68.0, and James Lynch saw the biggest increase in his season grade, which is still under 50! The fact that Boyd was benched gives me some tiny sliver of hope that Johnson will be next. Still, even without getting a single turnover, and even with a placekicker doing a better job kicking the air out of his teammates than kicking the ball, they allowed 2.5 points less than the Bucs' season average. The whole of the defense really was greater than the sum of its parts, and did at least give us a chance to win the game.
Reasons for continued pessimism on the defense – For the second week in a row, Kendricks' calf, but here's a newbie: Zimmer rushing only three men against a QB notorious for being susceptible to interior pressure. What, is he going to start catering his defenses to NOT take advantage of our opponents' weaknesses? Avoid even attempting to bring pressure on Trubisky? Leave the flats and the middle of the field uncovered for Brees if he's back, or not assign a mirror to shadow Hill if he's still starting? The team seemed up enough to win a big game, but the brain farts of the placekicker and the head coach conspired against them. Let's hope they both get back on track.