It’s playoff time in the NFL. The hope is the Cowboys will last more than one game, unlike last year. Dallas will travel to Tampa Bay to take on Tom Brady and the Bucs on Monday night. Despite the Cowboys looking awful in Week 18, they are still favored by 2.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
We talked to the fine people over at Bucs Nation to get an idea on what has been going on with the Bucs since the Cowboys last saw them in Week 1.
Blogging The Boys: Evaluate the season that Tom Brady has had so far. How close does he look to being the Tom Brady of old, or is the old starting to show?
Bucs Nation: I would probably lean towards the latter some. Reason is because for the majority of the season a decent amount of Brady’s throws have not been on target. I’ve talked about this often, and Pro Football Focus even charted his throws proving as much. It’s undoubtedly one of his worst seasons and despite his yardage alongside touchdown to interception ratio, the story lies in the game tape that shows the placement of his passes.
Now I will say that the past month or so it has gotten “better” to some degree. I feel that is evident in his reconnection with wide receiver Mike Evans (finally). However, if you look at the last two games against the Panthers and Falcons, there were still passes in the grass and off the mark where receivers had to either leap real high to grab them or stretch out wide to haul it in. We’ll see which Brady we get on Monday.
BTB: The Buccaneers average a little over 18 points scored per game. What have been the main issues on the offensive side of the ball?
BN: Well, again, Brady’s play had something to do with that. But that was just part of the issue. The offensive line woes, the running game (or lack thereof), and at times the playcalling all factored into Tampa Bay’s problems on offense. Then when things appear to be flowing for them, they would be called for a holding penalty or not line up correctly. One could argue that the injuries along the offensive line and confidence in the unit played a role in how the offense was being designed. But it wasn’t until recently, more specifically against the Bengals, that we saw the offense we got used to seeing since Bruce Arians was hired. That being some pre-snap motion, shifts, and more passes beyond the sticks.
BTB: What are the strengths and weaknesses on the defensive side of the ball for the Bucs?
BN: I’ll preface this by saying when they are healthy, the Buccaneers honestly have several strengths on defense. Starting up front, Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks do an incredible job clogging the interior of the line and forcing opposing running backs to bounce runs outside which plays right into the speed Tampa Bay has on the edges. They also open up gaps for linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White to hit and get into the backfield. Then there is edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka who has had an increased role on the defense since Shaq Barrett was lost for the season. He has done a good job getting into the opposing team’s backfield and has improved a tremendous amount against the run. The Buccaneers’ secondary is also good with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean at the corners and Antoine Winfield, Jr. at safety. Those three guys are all very good in all aspects of the game against the pass, the run, and blitzing when in the box. You can throw nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting into that mix as well.
Now, their weakness ties into health. Their backups are just not very good, particularly in the secondary. Young cornerback Zyon McCollum has struggled often this season when having to play due to injuries throughout the defensive backfield. Then there is hard-hitting veteran safety Keanu Neal who seems like he has lost a lot of steps from his early days in Atlanta. Another corner by the name of Dee Delaney has played OK to some level but overall, that secondary is very suspect outside of the starters.
BTB: Who are a couple of players that have come on strong this season that general football fans might not have picked up on yet?
BN: On defense, I’ll give a name previously mentioned: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Despite the criticism early on this season by many, he has really silenced many critics with his play. As I stated before his play against the run has gotten very good and his speed off the edge is unreal. The sacks aren’t there yet, but they will be.
Offensively, rookie running back Rachaad White has earned an incredible amount of playing time and praise from coaches and his peers including Tom Brady and Leonard Fournette. White has done an excellent job trying to help improve a lackluster run game and has great hands out of the backfield. He’s even very good in picking up blitzes and in pass protection overall. Brady has specifically called for him in certain situations including the game-winning touchdown against New Orleans several weeks back.
BTB: The Bucs beat the Cowboys 19-3 to start the season and are at home for the playoff game. Should they be underdogs like DraftKings Sportsbook has them? How do you think the game plays out and who wins?
BN: They most definitely should be underdogs. Tampa Bay’s offense hasn’t done much collectively throughout the season to confidently say they can easily win whether they are at home or not and these last few weeks hasn’t been enough in my opinion. When it is all said and done, Dallas will prove to be too much for them. Defense gets the job done but the offense lets them down once again. I have the Cowboys by a touchdown, 20-13.