I’ve always been a fan of Scotty Miller.
You’re probably thinking, “Sure Terez, that’s easy to say now,” especially after the Tampa Bay receiver’s unexpected star turn in the Buccaneers’ 31-26 win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game on Sunday.
Here’s the proof of my fandom: Miller, 23, was a member of the 2019 All-Juice Team, an annual list of my favorite players in the draft.
While it’s a stretch to say he could beat Tyreek Hill in a race — as he did in an interview with “The Dan Patrick Show” on Wednesday — the man indeed has plenty of juice. He is 5-feet-9 and 166 pounds, but he ran a 4.39 at his pro day a couple years ago, and his tape was great as he regularly flashed the ability to stretch the defense with his speed.
Apparently the Packers didn’t get the memo. Miller, just a second-year pro, has been overshadowed this season by the bigger names on the Bucs’ offense, but his 39-yard touchdown reception from Tom Brady just before halftime on Sunday — in which he sprinted past cornerback Kevin King, who inexplicably had zero safety help — gave the Bucs a needed halftime boost.
And in part one of a two-part, championship game edition of the original Yahoo Sports web series “Check the Tape,” I examined the mechanics of this game-changing play, which came with eight seconds left in the half and the Bucs possessing zero timeouts.
Tom Brady finds Scotty Miller deep for a 39-yard TD with one second left in the first half!
🔸 Air Distance: 54.1 yards
🔸 Completion Probability: 25.2%
*Scotty Miller has been targeted on Tom Brady's 4 of 6 deepest & 5 of 6 most difficult passes this season#TBvsGB | #GoBucs pic.twitter.com/xqwvWgIgg8
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 24, 2021
It was a gamble as the Bucs could have attempted a 56-yard field goal, a sideline throw or a shorter pass followed by a spike. But Bucs coach Bruce Arians has never been afraid to risk it all.
So please check out the video atop the page, which includes audio from Miller, Arians, Brady and Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who seemed disgusted with his team’s defensive call, for which I don’t blame him. They all did a good job explaining how such a significant turning point play came to be in such a big game.
The biggest takeaway from it — other than the fact that while Miller is fast, he’s not Hill — is that if the Bucs are going to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, their opponent in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, this is the type of aggression and execution they’re going to need to keep up with with the high-powered Chiefs, who have gone a staggering 44-9 in games started by Patrick Mahomes since 2017.
In Mahomes’ nine losses, the Chiefs have scored an average of 31 points, with their opponents averaging 36. If you’re Tampa Bay, that has to be the goal, which means you’ll need contributions from any and everywhere.
And with their primary targets — Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown — figuring to get much of the Chiefs’ attention, don’t be surprised if someone like Miller — who is sixth on the team in catches with 33 but fourth in yards with 501 — gets a shot or two to put his imprint on this game, especially after he didn’t catch a pass (and was targeted just once) in the Bucs’ 27-24 loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 29. As he showed against the Packers, when he was targeted only three times but made arguably the play of the game, that may be all this All-Juice alum needs to swing the game in his team’s favor.
Some other notes and observations from the Bucs’ NFC championship game win:
Tampa Bay’s ferocious pass rush poses a problem for Kansas City
Tampa Bay’s defensive front was outstanding on Sunday. So much so that I see some 2011 New York Giants potential in their upcoming Super Bowl against the Chiefs.
Remember that Giants team? They beat the favored Patriots in the Super Bowl that season, in part due to a strong pass rush that harassed Tom Brady to the tune of two sacks and eight hits.
And with the Chiefs’ expected to miss their two starting tackles from last year’s Super Bowl – right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and left tackle Eric Fisher — the Bucs’ dominant edge rusher duo of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul have the potential to wreck the game if Tampa Bay can get ahead and/or force the Chiefs in obvious passing situations.
Those two are playing great football right now. They were the primary threats to Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, as they teamed up to sack him five times and hit him six. Watch the collection of highlights curated in the video below: speed rush, club rips, cross crops, power, these guys were blistering the Packers’ tackle with everything in the book:
Barrett has been killing it in a contract season. According to Next Gen Stats, he has multiple pressures in 17 straight games since Week 2, the longest active streak in the NFL by far.
If the Bucs want to topple the favored Chiefs and prevent them from winning their second straight Super Bowl, both he and Pierre-Paul — a member of that 2011 Giants team — need to be on their “A” games on Super Sunday.
The Gale Sayers Memorial Juke of the Week
I live-tweeted this during the game, but for as much crap as Leonard Fournette gets, his powerful, twisting 20-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a glimpse of everything the Jacksonville Jaguars thought they were getting when they took him No. 4 overall in the 2017 draft, well ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Fournette, once a schoolboy legend, was generally thought to be a safe pick, hence the reason he went ahead of those QBs. That was a mistake but that doesn’t mean Fournette isn’t talented. The Packers’ run defense here was atrocious, as Rashan Gary and Jaire Alexander lost contain, and numerous other Packers failed to haul Fournette down.
Leonard Fournette (20-yd rush TD)
🔸 Expected Rush Yards: 3
🔸 Rush Yards Over Expected: +17
🔸 Yards After Contact: 21.7
Touchdown Probability: 0.4%
*According to the NGS Expected Rushing Yards model#TBvsGB | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/Jx2a5QU8Uv
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 24, 2021
At the same time, Fournette showed an outstanding combination of vision (to bounce it outside), elusiveness (the dead leg juke on Alexander and the spin on Adrian Amos) and power (bowling over two Packers at the goal line). As the great Louis Riddick said, give the man his credit.
The next “Check the Tape” will focus on the AFC championship game between Kansas City and Buffalo.
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