Will Wirfs Play Sunday? Will Whitehead Re-Sign?

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Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds answers your questions from the @PewterReport Twitter account each week in the Bucs Monday Mailbag  Submit your question to the Bucs Monday Mailbag each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Here are the questions we chose to answer for this week’s edition.

QUESTION: Odds of Tristan Wirfs coming back next week? Why did the Bucs try putting Wirfs back in the game when he was obviously hurt?

ANSWER: It’s hard to say on Monday. We’ll know more about Tristan Wirfs’ chances of playing in the Bucs’ next playoff game on Wednesday, which will be the first day that Tampa Bay practices. Well, the Wednesday practice will be a walk-through. But after a Victory Monday and the players’ day off on Tuesday, Wirfs will have a better sense of how his injured right ankle is feeling.

The Bucs will have Wirfs in for an MRI on Monday to check for any damage, but the fact that he returned to the game and tried to play is viewed as a good sign by the team. Wirfs and the team trainers went through some tests on the sidelines before returning to action. He passed those tests and wanted to play, so the trainers – not the coaches – let him back in. Unfortunately Wirfs’ ankle couldn’t hold up after a few plays. When he gave up a sack to Ryan Kerrigan on third down, that was it.

Wirfs’ backup, Josh Wells, also gave up a sack and got injured himself. But Wells was able to stay in the game. Even if Wirfs can play, the Bucs will likely have Nick Leverett active for the next round of the playoffs due to injuries to both Wirfs and Wells. Leverett was inactive for the Eagles game.

What could really help Wirfs is that Tampa Bay will play the winner of the Arizona at Los Angeles playoff game on Monday Night Football. The NFL won’t force the winner of that game to travel to Tampa Bay to play on a Saturday. That would make for an incredibly short week. It will be a very short week as it is for either the Rams or the Cardinals. Playing on Sunday rather than Saturday will give Wirfs an extra day to rest and recover and let his ankle heal.

QUESTION: Can we just throw money at Jordan Whitehead already?! He’s definitely a well-kept secret around the NFL.

ANSWER: Safety Jordan Whitehead is playing some great football this season. He was great in Carolina in Week 15, and again in the playoffs against Philadelphia. Whitehead is fourth on the team with 73 tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had six tackles and two tackles-for-loss in Tampa Bay’s 31-15 win over Philadelphia.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: USA Today

Playing in a contract year, Whitehead has been a consistent playmaker in coverage and in run defense. He’s no longer a secret around the league and will likely attract some attention in free agency. While not the biggest safety at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Whitehead may not be a great scheme fit elsewhere. But he’s a fantastic fit in Todd Bowles’ defense.

The key will be how much he commands on the open market and how much are the Bucs willing to pay? Tampa Bay does have Mike Edwards, who makes more plays on the ball, evidenced by a team-high three interceptions during the regular season. But the Bucs are better off with the trio of Whitehead, Edwards, who had an interception against the Eagles on Sunday and Antoine Winfield, Jr. on the roster – and in the game at the same time.

QUESTION: Should the Bucs continue to use Mike Edwards at nickel cornerback/safety or go back to Sean Murphy-Bunting if he’s healthy? The defense looks great with the three safeties on the field.

ANSWER: It’s going to be hard to keep Mike Edwards off the field moving forward. He recorded a team-high nine tackles and had an end zone interception to save a touchdown against the Eagles. He just makes plays – more plays than Sean Murphy-Bunting does.

Edwards has four interceptions on the season, including his playoff pick against the Eagles. He also has seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. Murphy-Bunting has three pass breakups this year and a forced fumble. He’s yet to record an interception after missing half the season due to a dislocated elbow.

Because Edwards and Antoine Winfield, Jr. can both play in the slot as well as deep in centerfield, he’s a more versatile defender than Murphy-Bunting is. Murphy-Bunting can play inside the slot and outside cornerback. But Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III have been better than SMB this year. Todd Bowles would be wise to keep Edwards in the lineup – even at the expense of a healthy Murphy-Bunting if his hamstring heals up by next Sunday.

QUESTION: What was the difference? Both sides of the ball have looked pretty “meh” the last few weeks, leading this Bucs fan to be pretty concerned. How did they just come out and dominate this week?

ANSWER: The difference in Sunday’s 31-15 victory over the Eagles was that the Bucs got off to a fast start, unlike last week against Carolina. Tampa Bay had a 14-0 lead because the offense came out firing with Tom Brady taking what the Philadelphia defense was giving him. Having Mike Evans beasting and feasting with nine catches for 117 yards and a touchdown also helped.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and SS Jordan Whitehead

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: USA Today

The Bucs defense had a great game plan to shut down the Eagles run game with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles bringing pressure from the slot on blitzes from safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. rather than up the middle. That forced Jalen Hurts to stay in the pocket or escape up the middle rather than break free on the perimeter. Getting linebacker Lavonte David and outside rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul back in the lineup didn’t hurt.

The other thing is that the Bucs played at home, where they are now 8-1 this year. Tampa Bay came into Sunday’s game outscoring opponents by an average of 33-17 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs’ 31-15 victory was right in-line with that margin.

QUESTION: Were you wrong about Ke’Shawn Vaughn?

ANSWER: I addressed the Ke’Shawn Vaughn topic a few weeks ago in a Bucs Monday Mailbag after his big game at Carolina where he had a 55-yard touchdown run. Not much has changed. The biggest thing for Vaughn would be consistency.

Vaughn had a great start to Sunday’s game against the Eagles with a 17-yard run. But after that play, he averaged 2.3 yards per carry, rushing for 36 yards on 16 carries. He did catch both of his targets for nine yards. Vaughn is a decent back, but I’m still not sure if he’s anything more than a No. 2 or No. 3 back on an NFL roster. Still waiting for more consistent big runs and his first 100-yard game before I change my mind.

QUESTION: Tell me the Bucs can beat the Rams.

ANSWER: The Bucs can beat the Rams. Does that make you happy to hear that?

But the key is – will the Bucs beat the Rams? Will the Bucs even play the Rams? Or will it be the Cardinals if they score the upset in Los Angeles? We’ll have to wait until Monday night to find out.

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: USA Today

The Cardinals beat the Rams in L.A. earlier this season, but lost the rematch at home in December. The Cardinals are 8-1 on the road this year, and just 3-5 at home. Arizona has quality road wins against Tennessee, San Francisco, Cleveland, Dallas and L.A. The Cardinals only road loss was a head-scratcher at Detroit.

Tampa Bay has played Los Angeles each of the past three seasons. The Bucs won in L.A., 55-40 in 2019. But they lost at Tampa Bay in 2020 in a 24-21 game on Monday Night Football. The Rams made it two in a row, winning 34-24 in L.A. in Week 3 this season.

Where Tampa Bay has struggled in those two defeats has been in the trenches. The Rams sacked Tom Brady once and picked him off twice in 2020, while Jared Goff wasn’t sacked at all. This year, Brady was sacked three times and Matthew Stafford was only sacked once.

Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh haven’t been able to get to the Rams QBs and apply enough pressure to make a difference. If the Bucs face the Rams in the next round of the playoffs, they will have to get to Stafford to be successful.


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