The biggest thing around the building yesterday was of course the injuries to both Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy. Head Coach Dirk Koetter confirmed that both have torn ACLs, which is just as tough of a blow as you can get. Not only do the two both play middle linebacker, they suffered the injuries in back-to-back quarters of the game. Coach Koetter called Alexander the ‘heart and soul’ of the Bucs’ defense and he couldn’t be more right. Whether it’s practice or a game, you can always see number 58 bouncing around, slapping guys helmets, making noise or talking to guys on the sidelines. You may think Alexander is all over the field during the game, but he’s all over the building, too. He was voted captain for a reason. The team was emotional following the injury, both on the field and in the locker room. As soon as he went down, his teammates formed a circle on the field and were all holding each other. Some took a knee. The whole stadium was dead silent. Coach Koetter revealed that Alexander had just come out of the training room before the team was due back on the field for the second half. He had the chance to address his teammates, and Coach Koetter said it was very emotional. I can only imagine.
Then it was the rookie linebacker Jack Cichy who came in for Alexander at the MIKE position. Cichy missed his senior year at Wisconsin due to an ACL injury. Instead of applying for another year of eligibility, he declared for the draft where the Bucs scooped him up in the sixth round. While he waited in the wings behind one of the best middle linebackers in the league, he was a contributor on special teams. When Alexander went down, it was his time to step up. Then, in the third quarter, he went down as well, tearing his other ACL. Medically, I have no idea which is worse. But it’s just absolutely heartbreaking for the young player. I’ve been through ACL reconstruction and rehab. Put bluntly: it sucks. And I’m not a professional athlete (not even close). The silver lining is that they will receive the absolute best care they possibly can and guys do return from this stuff faster and faster, it seems. Look at QB Carson Wentz of Philadelphia, or C Jason Kelce, also of Philadelphia. The Broncos’ CB Chris Harris had his first All-Pro season after returning from an ACL injury in 2014. It just takes a lot of patience, diligence and hard work. Luckily, neither player is a stranger to those things.
The Bucs set a record on Sunday for number of first downs in a single game, and it was due in part to the fact that the Bucs had more plays on offense in general. Coach Koetter said teams run an average of 64 plays on offense per game. The Bucs had 95 on Sunday. Ninety-five. There were guys, ahem the offensive line, that played every snap of that. That’s insane. Granted, the game did go well into overtime, but the team still had 31 first downs in regulation. Their 34 first downs overall are a franchise record. The next closest was 30, which they had against Atlanta the week prior. Go figure.
Speaking of offense, the Bucs have had 2,261 passing yards this season which is good for the second-most in NFL history. Not Bucs history. League history. That should give you some context for just how much this offense is doing and even on a perceived ‘down’ performance, they’re still breaking records. The 2018 Bucs offense now holds new team highs for most total yards, passing yards and points scored through the first six games of the season.
It seems teams around the league are starting to buy into analytics when it comes to playcalling. We’ve seen successful examples of that aggressiveness pay off (hey, the Bucs were 1-for-1 on fourth-down attempts last game) but then we’ve now also started to see what happens when that goes wrong, i.e. the Giants vs. Falcons Monday Night Football game last night when New York went for a two-point conversion. The Giants were down eight with five minutes to go in the game. If they kicked the extra point, they would only tie with a touchdown. If they went for two they had an opportunity to win with their next touchdown. If they didn’t convert, they would still be down eight and would need to attempt another two-point conversion should they get that next score. It ended up being irrelevant because the Falcons kicked a field goal in between that solidified their win. But in the end, the math backs up Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur’s decision. He gave them a chance to win the game in regulation if they converted that first two-point attempt, something that wouldn’t have been possible by just kicking the extra point. It’s paid off for teams like the Philadelphia Eagles in the small sample size we have in this new age of football math so it will be interesting to see if it truly starts to change the game as the season goes on.