The Green Bay Packers fly South for the weekend for their showdown with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What’s in store for this matchup?
Fresh off a loss to the Chicago Bears that left fans with more questions than it answered, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-2. They suffered a week-one loss to the Saints but rebounded with three straight wins against lesser competition before their game in Chicago.
The Bucs are 11th in the league in points scored per game and 19th in yards gained. Defensively, they are 8th in points allowed per game and 2nd in yards allowed. Their 9 takeaways place them at 4th in the league while their 7 turnovers leaves them at 18th.
The Bucs’ offense might be middling but their defense is clearly playing well. How are they going about it?
Head Coach Bruce Arians paved the way for Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. This is still Arian’s system but Leftwich calls the plays. He’s a former starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars and had mild success there.
Leftwich is an ascending talent with a headset on and is likely on the path to a head coaching opportunity in the near future. Just like Bruce Arians, Leftwich has an appreciation for the tight end position. The Bucs play as much ’13’ personnel as anybody. TE3 Tanner Hudson played 16 of the teams 71 offensive snaps on Thursday.
The Bucs have been at their best with Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard on the field at the same time. With Howard injured, Cameron Brate is now the TE2 and Rob Gronkowski is the clear TE1. The Bucs do not employ a fullback and operate exclusively in single-back formations.
Leftwich has called 196 pass attempts to just 120 rushing attempts on the season. He establishes the passing game to try to pull defenders out of the box to open up the ground game. Given Leonard Fournette’s injuries, the Bucs have leaned on Ronald Jones to lead the rushing attack. Jones has done well on the ground. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry, while the team average is just 4.1.
Leftwich likes to air it out. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the top receiving targets when they’re healthy, while Scottie Miller and Rob Gronkowski are the team’s secondary targets. Of course, Tom Brady is at the helm.
As he’s always done, Brady is checking it down a lot. When he takes shots downfield, he does a good job of placing the ball where only his receiver can get it. When Brady puts the ball in harm’s way, it’s typically a pick-six – he’s already thrown two this year.
The Bucs have turned the ball over 7 times and those turnovers are leading to points on the other side of the ball. The Bucs offense needs to do a better job of setting up the defense for success.
Todd Bowles is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator. Following a decent career as a player, Bowles began his coaching career with the Green Bay Packers. He moved around plenty and spent some time as Head Coach for the New York Jets.
He landed in Tampa Bay in 2019 and turned the defense around. He’s transitioned the team to an attacking 4-3 defense, which looks more like a 3-4, with left outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett consistently on the line of scrimmage and right defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul with his hand in the dirt.
Vita Vea has been operating at nose tackle and he’s been very successful. It took the first-rounder some time but he’s turned into a great defender for the Bucs. He, unfortunately, went down with an injury against the Bears, on Thursday and will be unavailable going forward.
At the second level lives Lavonte David and he wears the green dot on his helmet. He’s been starting at linebacker for the Bucs since he was drafted in 2012 and he’s an absolute force. David is arguably the top coverage linebacker in the league but is almost as good against the run.
On the backend, rookie Antoine Winfield Jr operates at safety and he’s been the top performer at the position for the entire rookie class. He does well in deep coverage and is a skilled pass-rusher. Third corner Jamel Dean has been a stud as well.
Bowles brings Dean on the field whenever the opposing team is in a three-receiver set. That means that Dean is typically in the slot but he’s occasionally positioned outside as well. Bowles likes to press slot receivers and uses a mix of zone and man on the outside.
This system is working for Bowles and the Bucs – just take a look at the stats I shared earlier. While the defense allowed the Chargers and the Saints to put up over 30 points, they held the Bears to 20 points, the Panthers to 17, and the Broncos to just 10. The defense is winning games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Three Factors for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Tom Brady
Tom Brady’s offseason was well documented. He chose Tampa Bay over dozens of other offers which gave the Bucs an immediate upgrade at the game’s most important position. While Brady’s mobility and arm strength are not what they used to be, he’s still efficient.
Brady can still zip the ball downfield and he’s accurate at every level of the field. He was quick to learn the Buc’s playbook and already has complete control over the offense. Pro Football Focus grades Brady as the third quarterback in the NFL right now.
The Tampa Buccaneers have seven players on defense with at least 2 sacks. Both starting safeties, Jordan Whitehead and Winfield, have a pair of sacks and Vita Vea has done a great job of pushing the pocket from the nose.
The combination of Pierre-Paul and Barrett off the edge has been productive – both are on pace to record double-digit sacks this year. On the whole, the Bucs have recorded 17 sacks – good enough for 4th in the league. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has been just as productive protecting Brady
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed just 8 sacks in their five games which ties them at 9th in the league, per-game. Considering how statue-esque Brady is, that’s an impressive stat. Ali Marpet is one of the best guards in the league, while 2020 first-rounder Tristan Wirfs has been everything the Bucs hoped he could be at right tackle.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have eight players on injured reserve. Vita Vea broke his leg in Thursday night’s matchup with the Bears and O.J. Howard tore his Achilles the week before. Both players are likely done for the season.
Chris Godwin and LeSean McCoy were inactive against the Bears and Leonard Fournette played just one snap. Mike Evans was active but it was obvious that his ankle wasn’t 100%. Tyler Johnson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn are two rookies that saw an increase in snaps due to injury. The latter is doing fine at wide receiver while the former has been an embarrassment at running back.
The injuries continue to pile up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Having played on Thursday, they’ll have a long week to get healthy but there’s a lot of healing to do. We’ll be monitoring their injury reports as the week goes on.
I circled this game when the schedule was first released. I figured it would take time for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but they would eventually develop into a playoff-caliber team. It was trending that way until the Bucs stubbed their toe against the Bears
I expect the Bucs to be hungry after such a tough loss. If their skilled players can get healthy, the offense should have success against the Packers and this Bucs defense will be the Packers’ first real test. This will be a tight matchup in Tampa Bay. Stop here at Game On Wisconsin leading up the game for all of our hot takes.