Every week at halftime of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game I do a little ask me anything Q&A on Twitter. It’s always a good time, and if you’ve ever sent in a question, whether I was able to get to it or not, you’re a true friend.
I once again opened up the Q&A during halftime of this week’s game between the Buccaneers and the Las Vegas Raiders, and most of the responses went something like this:
“What did Mike Evans do to make Bruce Arians hate him?”
“Is Mike Evans alive?”
“Why does Mike Evans hate my fantasy team?”
Evans didn’t have a single target going into halftime. He finished the game with just two targets, which, crazy enough, was the second week in a row where he had just two targets in the game. Since he was drafted in 2014, Evans had never seen back-to-back games of two or fewer targets. In fact, he had never finished a single game in which he played more than 50% of the team’s snaps and saw two or fewer targets.
After the game, this is what his head coach Bruce Arians had to say about Evans.
“Mike is the ultimate pro,” Arians said. “I mean, he is a warrior. I probably shouldn’t have had him play in Chicago. He’d beat me up but I would have had to fight him to keep him off the field. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”
Arians went on to say that Evans is playing at about 80-85% right now after suffering a hamstring injury to start the season. But is the team not looking Evans’ way? And what are we supposed to think about back-to-back games with such a low target share without Antonio Brown even on the team yet?
Arians went on to say that the lack of Evans targets isn’t due to anything Evans is or isn’t doing, but might be something they have to adjust for when it comes to game planning and making in-game adjustments.
“We broke him loose and we got a couple of [pass interference calls] against him,” Arians said. “We are trying to target him as much as possible. But we have to do a better job of it also.”
Earlier in the year, Arians said, “I never want to come out of a game without 10 targets to Mike, at least.” Evans has only seen double-digit targets in one game this season: the home win against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2. He saw eight targets against the Chargers and nine against the Bears, but outside of that, it’s two four-target performances and two two-target performances, the latter being his latest.
Evans didn’t see a single target in the first half, but that wasn’t because he wasn’t getting open.
The play above was early in the contest. In it, Evans was the No. 1 on the left side. He was running a slant route on the play, and if Brady would have been looking his way, I think Evans would have been able to bring that pass in for close to a first down. I saw Evans and quarterback Jameis Winston hit those throws so many times over the last few years—Brady just didn’t happen to look his way.
Here’s another example of Evans being open but Brady just not looking his way.
Evans was the outside receiver in the bunch formation and his route was an in-breaking route at the back of the end zone. He was able to eat up the cushion between him and the deep defender quickly, and when he made his cut in the back of the end zone, the throwing lane was there. But Brady already made up his mind he was going to target Rob Gronkowski getting single coverage on the left side, which wasn’t a bad idea.
Can’t blame Brady for turning down the single coverage with Gronkowski on the outside, but it’s important to note Evans could have very well scored there, too.
On this play, Evans was actually the No. 3 on the right side as the receiver closest to the trenches. This is a good spot for Evans. It’s an area where Evans can really create some mismatches with his size and speed combination—Arians has said this as well. Evans was running a short post over the middle here during the two-minute drill. Last year, this ball totally would have gone to Evans, but Brady once again just didn’t pull the trigger. The reason why this play was even more of a head-scratcher for the non-target was that it seemed like Brady was looking right at him.
But the Raiders seemed to be comfortable with keeping things in front of them, giving the Buccaneers underneath routes while putting more emphasis on limiting explosive plays. Brady might have just been in that mindset.
Here’s a potential touchdown look that could have gone to Evans, but there was a reason why it didn’t.
In the pre-snap. The deep safety was aligned at the hashmark on the weak side due to giving some cap coverage to the two receivers over there. At the snap, that safety really didn’t move, even when wide receiver Scotty Miller crossed in front of him and to the opposite side of the end zone. With the safety keying in on Evans running the 9-route, Brady went with the shorter pass to Gronkowski. But watch how Evans put his defender in a blender by the subtlety of his feet and his quick little hesitation. That is one of many signs to show that when the Buccaneers do decide to go Evans’ way, it will be fruitful. No safety there or the safety just shading more to the middle and that would’ve been six for Evans.
Here’s the last play I’ll show. It was the beauty of a throw and catch from Brady to Miller. But let your eyes go to the opposite side of the field.
Evans was running a similar “get to the end zone” 9-route, and would you look at that, he was able to get behind the sideline corner. It appeared to be a Cover 3 Cloud look where the cornerback going up against Evans was only supposed to stay with him for a certain distance before passing him off to the deep safety if it was a vertical route. But the coverage looked to be deployed to cap Evans getting vertical, this is why there was no over the top help on Miller’s side.
This was an example of Evans being a decoy or an emphasis player the defense had to account for while other players on the offense (Miller) were able to thrive. That seemed to be the story against the Raiders, and when it wasn’t, Brady just wasn’t looking Evans’ way as much—he was completing passes to other receivers.
If the Buccaneers weren’t winning or even weren’t moving the ball well through the air, this would have been a bigger story. But it’s not because Brady isn’t afraid to spread the wealth. So when teams really key in on Evans with their coverage, the Buccaneers can win elsewhere. There will be times when teams just try to take out Evans and ask Brady to beat them with other players for their game plan, but the Buccaneers have shown they can still win when that happens.
Evans’ targets will come against different matchups. Is he guaranteed to see double digit targets every game like he saw when Jameis Winston was his quarterback? Likely not, but he isn’t a forgotten man. This Buccaneers offense just has too many ways to beat you, and they’re showing they’re more than willing to use them. That’s a good problem to have, not a reason to panic or get disgruntled. Evans himself would tell you that. He knows his heavy target games are still coming.