Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to 2-0 on the 2023 season with a 27-17 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and wide receiver Mike Evans has had a lot to do with that fast start. Through two weeks he ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, with 237, and is tied for second with two touchdown grabs. Evans played a particularly pivotal role in Sunday’s win with one of his best performances in recent seasons.

The surface numbers tell the story well enough: Evans led all NFL wide receivers in Week Two with 171 yards, catching six of the eight passes thrown his way and tacking on a career-high 83 yards after the catch. He had a 70-yard catch-and-run that set up the first of the Bucs’ two offensive touchdown and then later scored his own touchdown on a 32-yard grab.

Bring in some deeper numbers from NFL Next Gen Stats and we see that Evans’ output against the Bears ranks as one of the best games played by a receiver through the first two weeks of this season.

According to NGS, Evans produced a total EPA of 12.8 against Chicago, the fourth-highest single-game total by a receiver through Week Two. (This stat and the others below are among players who had at least five targets in a game.) EPA stands for “expected points added” and is “the change in expected points value from pre-play to post-play.” NGS uses an expected points model to measure how each play potentially affects the score of the game relative to the situation. In other words, the Bucs scored nearly 13 points more than they would have without Evans’ contributions.

Because it was an extremely hot and humid afternoon at Raymond James Stadium, Evans played a smaller percentage of the team’s offensive snaps than he normally would. He was on the field for only 60.6% of the Bucs’ plays, compared to 83.8% in Week One inside the Minnesota Vikings’ domed stadium. That made his EPA on a per-target and per-route run basis even more impressive.

Evans finished the Bears game with an EPA/target figure of 1.60, the third-best figure by any pass-catcher so far this season. Only San Francisco’s Brandon Aiyuk, who had eight catches for 129 yards and two touchdowns in Week One, and Houston’s Nico Collins, who caught seven passes for 146 yards and a score, have had higher EPA/target figures this year. As per route run, Evans’s average EPA was 0.49, the second-best mark in any game for a pass-catcher this season. Aiyuk’s 0.61 in the aforementioned Week One game is the only one better, at 0.61.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield had his first 300-yard passing game as a Buccaneer and finished the contest with a stellar 114.5 rating. Evans helped him tremendously in getting to those numbers. On plays that Evans was targeted, Mayfield had a 156.3 passer rating, the fourth-best figure for a pass-catcher this year and only two points below the maximum possible number. Aiyuk, New Orleans’ Rashid Shaheed and Buffalo’s Gabe Davis have all hit that maximum in a game this season.

Evans made more out of his targets than the NGS model would have anticipated. Not only did he catch 75% of his targets when the expected rate was 58.7%, but he generated a massive total of 103 more yards than were expected (RecYOE). That’s by far the highest single-game total by any pass-catcher this season; second on the list is Philadelphia’s DeVonta Smith, with 71 RecYOE against Minnesota in Week Two. So far only six players have had at least 50 RecYOE in a game this season.

Evans’s final total of 171 yards actually ranks just eighth on his personal list of best games. He’s had countless huge performances for the Buccaneers over the past 10 seasons, including a 207-yard, three-TD explosion just last January against Carolina. Still, his game against Chicago on Sunday, when he produced far more than evidence suggest he should have, clearly stands as one of his best NFL outings.

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