Mike Evans is not getting the ball enough to satisfy Buccaneers fans, or Bruce Arians — at least on Sunday night.
Buccaneers receivers coach Kevin Garver spoke with reporters Wednesday and was peppered with questions regarding Evans’ opportunities to make plays. Garver took a safe approach, explaining Evans is operating in an offense run by a quarterback who spreads the wealth.
“There’s one football, and Tom (Brady) does a great job distributing the football,” Garver said.
Despite Chris Godwin’s injury-related absences and Evans’ lower target total (52, producing 34 catches), Brady’s receiving corps still ranks among the top 10 in the NFL. It just hasn’t come as a result of Evans stuffing the stat sheet.
Unsurprisingly, of Buccaneers pass-catchers with at least 150 routes run this season, Rob Gronkowski has seen the highest target rate at 22.3 percent, per Next Gen Stats. Next in line is Godwin at 20.7 percent, though he’s run a little more than half as many routes as Evans because of his aforementioned absences. Evans, though, is seeing the lowest target rate among these pass-catchers at just 16 percent, even trailing Scott Miller, who has been targeted on 41 of his 234 routes run (17.5 percent). Evans’ rate is also the 12th-lowest in the entire NFL (minimum 150 routes run).
Evans is still a key part of Tampa Bay’s game plan, especially in the red zone, where he has six touchdown receptions on nine targets this season. It’s just in the other 80 yards, he’s not seeing the ball as much as he’d like.
“I’ve never met a receiver that doesn’t want the football,” Garver said. “If they’re open they want to get the football. That’s every receiver, that’s every team. Our approach, our mindset, if we can have the best 11 on the field, we want the best 11.”
Garver is correct. For example, the number of targets seen by Odell Beckham Jr. has been a constant topic in Cleveland since he first took the field for the Browns in 2019. It’s an easy number to look to for questions and criticism when things aren’t going well, even if it isn’t entirely realistic within the scope of a given team’s offense. Beckham, Baker Mayfield and others have had to answer questions about it for more than a year. This isn’t an issue exclusive to the Buccaneers, but can be partially blamed on being in the spotlight.
After Evans caught just four passes in Tampa’s blowout loss to New Orleans in Week 9, a disgusted Arians said Evans “didn’t get targeted” but “was open.”
Brady rarely looked to throw through those open windows in the loss that was stunning because of how lopsided it ended up being. But even with the massive defeat, it’s unlikely the 43-year-old Brady is suddenly going to change his entire mode of operation just to feed Evans.
Folks are going to have to get used to seeing Brady spread it around, and enjoy those Evans touchdowns in the red zone. He might pick up a few more outside the 20s, too, as the season provides more chances in the weeks ahead.
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