Playoff Profile: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will battle for the NFC Championship and a trip to the Super Bowl on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
The Buccaneers avenged their two regular season losses to the New Orleans Saints by ending their season — and possibly Drew Brees’ career — in the Divisional Round last Sunday. The Bucs relied on what made them successful all season: efficient offense coupled with a disruptive defense.
Tom Brady has always relied on getting the ball out quick and letting his playmakers go to work — nothing has changed with his move to Tampa Bay. Brady has a litany of weapons at his disposal to find the optimal matchups on every play.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were an explosive duo last year, but the additions of Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Leonard Fournette have turned this offense into one of the most talented in the league. But the talent is not what has vaulted this offense into a juggernaut, it is the championship timing and execution that Tom Brady has added.
Nothing proves this more than the emergence of the 6th-round wideout out of Bowling Green, Scotty Miller. In spite of the abundance of talent in the Bucs offense, Miller has carved out a role because of his undeniable connection with Brady.
Brady expects everyone to be in the right location at the precise time, and that type of connection takes time. This was evident early in the season and the Bucs offense sputtered out of the gate, but they appear to be hitting their stride at the right time.
When the offense is clicking, Brady is able to scan the field for Evans and Godwin on intermediate routes, Brown or Miller on deep routes or Ronald Jones, Fournette or Gronk for the check down.
If Brady hits his drop and lets the ball fly, more often than not, it is ending in a completion. The offense has too many threats to blitz too often so the key for the Packers will be trying to provide pressure with their front four so they can play aggressively at the sticks. The Packers best chance at being successful with this strategy is playing their four best pass rushers: Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, Kenny Clark and Preston Smith.
The issue with playing those four too much is being susceptible to the run. Jones and Fournette are both explosive, powerful runners, but luckily for the Packers the Bucs rank 29th in rushing attempts, 28th in yards and 25th in yards per carry.
Only the Bears and Saints held Tampa Bay’s offense to under 20 points. The Saints managed to intercept Brady three times while holding the Bucs to three points. The Bears only forced one turnover, but more importantly they kept the Bucs out of the end zone and held the Bucs to four field goals en route to 19 points.
Green Bay’s defense is designed to best imitate the Bears strategy, but Brady has put the ball in harm’s way uncharacteristically often throughout this first year with the Bucs.
The Packers know very well how aggressive Tampa Bay’s defense is. Led by Todd Bowles, and his affinity for blitzing, this unit flies around and creates havoc for opposing offenses.
The defense’s calling card is their top-ranked rushing defense. After eradicating opposing running games, Bowles can key in on the quarterback.
Everyone is expected to play close to the line of scrimmage which allows for a ton of different looks, but their defense is best when their speedy middle linebackers — Lavonte David and Devin White — are running twists and stunts at the line. Even when Bowles doesn’t dial up a blitz, Tampa Bay’s stout front of William Gholston, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett can provide pressure with a four-man front.
After speeding up the quarterback’s clock with constant blitzes, Bowles relies on that four-man pressure to force opposing quarterbacks into quick throws into coverage. The Bucs led the league with 31 turnovers (15 INTs, 16 FRs) because of all the pressure that Bowles places on offenses.
Although they have gaudy turnover numbers, this defense has chinks in their armor.
The biggest weakness for Tampa Bay’s defense is their red zone defense. The Bucs allowed 32 touchdowns on 51 red zone appearances (62.7%) which was good for 20th in the NFL.
Green Bay’s offense needs to do what got them here: keep Rodgers clean and protect the ball.
After rewatching all of Tampa Bay’s games this year, here are a few ways Tampa Bay’s defense was beat by other teams.
- Rams – Early in the game, the Rams used a good amount of tempo to keep Tampa Bay’s big packages on the field. They scored touchdowns early and field goals late to stave off a Brady comeback.
- Chiefs – The Chiefs relied heavily on RPOs to counter David and White’s aggressiveness. The Chiefs constantly targeted their stars — Tyreek Hill (263 yards, 3 TDs) and Travis Kelce (8 catches, 82 yards) — to beat Tampa Bay’s defense.
- Falcons – Calvin Ridley was an absolute monster (18 catches, 215 yards) in both matchups vs. Carlton Davis. Davante certainly has all the tools to replicate Ridley’s performance.
It may be cliche, but if the Packers can protect the ball they will be headed to the Super Bowl. The Packers are the better team, but they need to prove that on Sunday. Buckle up Packers fans, this is one for the ages.