TAMPA, FL. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to a 7-3 start for the second straight year. This time, however, they’re in position to run away with the NFC South division title.
Ever since Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 8 against the Bucs,, the New Orleans Saints have become an afterthought in the NFC South. Tampa Bay should have the division wrapped up well before Week 18, and they’re still in a decent spot to claim the conference’s top seed and lone-first round bye.
Like last year, the Bucs’ success starts with the Tom Brady-led passing game. The ageless Brady has once mostly relied Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to lead the offense with him, though Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski have been far more productive this year when on the field.
Thanks mostly to their high-powered offense, Tampa Bay has the second-best Super Bowl odds entering Week 12 at +600. This makes the Bucs one of the best teams to put a wager on in Florida sports betting.
The Bucs are poised to reach the postseason for a second straight year, but there still are some adjustments that the offense must make.
Brady may be leading the NFL in passing yards per game (317.7) entering Week 12 and passing touchdowns (29), but the Bucs can’t rely solely on a one-dimensional offense the entire way.
We saw what happened when Tampa Bay’s stout offensive line a) failed to protect Brady and b) struggled to open up the rushing game in their three losses.
In their three losses thus far — against Los Angeles Rams, Saints and Washington Football Team — the Bucs combined for only 159 rushing yards. Brady was sacked six times and threw four interceptions in those three games.
So when it comes to facing a top-level defense with playmakers? Los Angeles, New Orleans and Washington have all laid out the formula to beating the Bucs. Take away the ground game, play solid man-to-man coverage all game long and you’ll keep yourselves in the game.
Tampa Bay finished with the No. 28 rushing offense in the regular season a year ago (94.9 yards per game). But Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich adapted the game plan for the postseason, giving a much larger role to power back Leonard Fournette.
In the postseason, the Bucs averaged 122.5 yards per game, with Fournette scoring three rushing TDs to go along with one touchdown reception.
The Bucs were able to rely on Fournette in their Divisional Round win against the Saints, when Brady was limited to 199 passing yards. Despite throwing three picks against the Green Bay Packers a week later, Brady enjoyed 76 rushing yards of offense and a TD from Fournette on only 24 runs.
The Buccaneers have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. It’s easy for Arians and Leftwich to keep it simple by just asking Brady to find his All-Pro weapons, but that formula isn’t going to last long-term.
Tampa Bay needs to balance the passing and running games the way they did last year. After all, Fournette and Ronald Jones were instrumental in helping the Bucs claim the Super Bowl a season ago.
But when the competition gets tougher in January, Tampa Bay simply cannot expect to get by with the one-dimensional offense that the Rams, Saints, and Washington all exposed earlier this year.
Defense: Less Blitzes, More Man-To-Man
The story is the same in 2021: Todd Bowles’ defense remains ultra-aggressive when it comes to bringing pressure.
Only the Miami Dolphins (190) have blitzed more times than the Bucs (175). The two clubs share the highest blitz per dropback percentage at 39.7.
As we saw in their Super Bowl win over Miami, Tampa’s blitz-heavy defense is more than capable of wearing out opposing offenses.
But when the Bucs went up against top-notch offensive lines like the Dallas Cowboys’ (Week 1, the Rams (Week 3) or the Saints (Week 8), Bowles’ blitz-happy packages rarely worked.
The Buccaneers are thin in the secondary, and when opposing offensive linemen give their QBs enough time to throw on blitz plays, Bowles’ group struggles to get off the field.
Dak Prescott had 403 passing yards to go along with three touchdowns, and he was only sacked once against the Bucs. Matthew Stafford wasn’t sacked until garbage time, and he finished with 343 yards and four touchdowns.
Now that the Bucs have top corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis healthy, Bowles needs to play more man-to-man or zone coverage and reduce the blitz rate.
Opposing QBS are wisely getting the ball out quickly in order to avoid Tampa’s resilient pass rush, and the overly aggressive blitz rates aren’t going to hold up against the league’s elite offenses.
The blitz remains the main ingredient of a Bowles-coached defense. But now that the secondary is getting healthy, Bowles and company need to trust the defensive backs to win their matchups and thus the front seven a little more support.
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