My knowledge of NFC South teams is lacking. At the least, I can review what the statistics indicate about this team from the warmer bay.
Even I have heard that the Bucs’ defense has a couple of sprightly ILBs: Devin White and Lavonte David. Both were named to the 2020 AP All Pro team – each received second-team status. The only other Bucs’ defensive representative on either the AP team or the NFC Pro Bowl team is OLB Jason Pierre-Paul.
Starting with those ILBs, Pro Football Focus likes Lavonte David a bunch (5th out of 88 LBs). As for Devin White, he’s rated 71 out of 88. This is a very inferior grade for a guy named second-team AP All Pro – what gives? White is only a second-year pro, but he was drafted 5th overall – a spot more commonly reserved for quarterbacks.
Lavonte, a round-two pick in 2012, became a first-team All Pro in his second year, and now has worked his way back to being a second-team All Pro this season. The 30-year-old is concluding his ninth year, all as a Buccaneer.
The PFF interior defensemen ratings aren’t disturbing. Steve McClendon ranks 61 of 129, Ndamukong Suh (now 34) is 70th, and William Gholston is 73rd.
But wait – Vita Vea has just come off the disabled list, and in limited play he ranked second on the interior defender chart – behind only Aaron David – on the season. Vea fractured his right leg and ankle in Week 5, and was placed on the reserve/COVID 19 list in November – he hasn’t played a bit since October 8. It’s doubtful that he’ll be able to produce at a high level on Sunday.
As for the Bucs’ edge rushers, Anthony Nelson came in at 27 out of 112, Shaquil Barrett was 31, and Jason Pierre-Paul ranked 51st. Pierre-Paul, in taking 89% of the snaps, had 9.5 sacks; Barrett had 77% of the snaps and 8 sacks; Nelson was in on just 30% of the snaps and had but one sack.
There is a big difference of opinion between PFF and the Pro Bowl voters concerning Pierre-Paul. What is clear though, is that the Bucs have several competent pass rushers among its edge rushers, LBs and interior defenders.
Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks and their PFF rankings are: Jamel Dean (15th out of 121); Carlton Davis (32nd), and Sean Murphy-Bunting (74th). On the season, Davis has been on the field for 85% of the defensive snaps, Murphy-Bunting for 83%, and Dean for 67%.
By this measure, Murphy-Bunting looks highly exploitable. He was the Bucs’ 39th overall pick, out of Central Michigan, in 2019. Though he made the PFWA All-Rookie team last year, it appears he’s gone backwards in his second season.
Stats suggest he’s a feast-or-famine defender, as he’s had six interceptions during his two regular seasons, and he had two more during his two playoff games this season. It appears that he skipped the NFL Combine, but is listed as having these unofficial combine-type results” 4.42 dash time, 41.5 vertical jump, and 14 bench presses. He’s listed at 6’ and 195 pounds. PFF grades him quite low across the board, though better at run defense than pass coverage.
Tampa Bay’s primary safeties, both of whom played on at least 86% of the snaps on the season, were mid-range: Antoine Winfield ranked 35th out of 93, and Jordan Whitehead came in at 38th. Capable, but nothing special.
No Bucs player was named an All Pro, either on the first or second team, and no one on the offense made the Pro Bowl team. By comparison, the AP placed on its first team Rodgers, Adams, Bakhtiari, and Linsley, and Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander were placed on its second team. Rodgers, and Bakhtiari repeated as Pro Bowlers – and those voters added Aaron Jones and Elgton Jenkins to the NFC offensive unit.
Though David Bakhtiari will miss the entire postseason, Green Bay players will use his misfortune as extra motivation to prevail in the upcoming game.
The voters might appear to some to have snubbed Tom Brady, but he’s still among the league’s top-five QBs on most lists.
The Bucs’ running backs might not be as formidable as they seem. PFF ranks Ronald Jones 23rd out of 70, and they rank 4th year man Leonard Fournette at 57th. Both were high draft choices – Fournette was the 4th overall draft pick in 2017, while Jones was chosen 38th overall in 2018.
Jones, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry on the season, fell just short of a 1,000 yards in this his third year. In some ways, Jones isn’t so impressive: he’s 5’11’ and 205 pounds, he had a terrible 4.65 dash time, and he passed up on taking nearly all the other tests at the NFL Combine. Jones has had only one 100-yard rushing game in his last nine. He might be tiring out.
Fournette played in only 13 games on the year, and only started in three of them. The 240-pounder has gone from a starter and 1,000 yard rusher as a rookie, to an oft-injured second-stringer with a new team in his fourth year. His career rushing average is only 3.9 yards.
Of the two, Fournette seems to be the preferred receiver – he recorded 76 catches for over 500 yards in 15 games in 2019. However, that was when he was with the Jaguars. Just prior to the opening of the 2020 season, the Jags waived him, so Fournette is playing this season under a one-year contract.
Tampa Bay is well-stocked with good receivers – at least two have explosive potential.
Mike Evans, in the middle of a spectacular career, just finished his seventh regular season with the Bucs. He’s reached the 1,000-yard mark every time, though he barely made it this time, gaining 1,006 yards. He is down, however, over 500 yards from his peak year of 2018, when his primary QB was Jameis Winston.
Chris Godwin, who just finished his fourth campaign with the Bucs, was a second-team All Pro and Pro Bowl player in 2019, but he has been hampered by injuries (hamstring, broken finger) in 2020. Still, he managed 840 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. Brady inherited a strong 1-2 punch of receivers when he signed on with the Bucs.
League bad-boy Antonio Brown has just been ruled out for Sunday’s game. That will make defensive game planning easier.
At tight end, Brady has the legendary Rob Gronkowski and 7-year veteran Cameron Brate. You probably know what Gronkowski has done in the past. Coming out of a one-year retirement, Rob caught 45 Brady throws for 623 yards and seven touchdowns. Brady doesn’t hesitate to look to his old Patriots pal when he needs something good to happen.
Journeyman Brate has only produced about 300 yards in each of his past two years. PFF rates the Gronk as 19th out of 71, and Brate as 26th.
Here’s PFFs ratings on the Buccaneers O-line: C Ryan Jenson, 18th of 37; guards Ali Marpet (7th of 80) and Alex Cappa (23rd of 80); and tackles Tristan Wirfs (12 of 81) and Donovan Smith (38 of 81). Above average, but without any all-stars – the Pack’s O-line had three stars until Bakhtiari’s injury, so they still have two – sizable advantage to the Packers.
I’m hoping that keener followers of the NFL than I will offer some insights that go beyond this statistical run-through.
While the Bucs appear to be pretty solid across the board, they lack the firepower and athleticism that the Packers possess at most positions.
Brady had a fine year, especially in view of switching teams and coaches: 2nd best in TD passes, 3rd in passing yards – but only 9th in passer rating, 11th in yards per attempt, 19th in completion percentage, and tied for 6th worst in interceptions.
The Pack appears to have a decided edge with regard to running backs.
Based on the above points, Green Bay would seem to have the tools to sustain long drives, while the Bucs are going to need some big plays – something Green Bay hasn’t often surrendered in the second half of the season. Having one QB first in completion percentage (Rodgers steadily moved upwards on this stat all year) against another at 19th should be a decided advantage for the Packers.
It appears to me that the Bucs have no one in its defensive backfield who can begin to cope with Davante Adams. Rodgers of late has had lots of open targets to throw to, and that shouldn’t change this weekend.
The game might well come down to which team’s pass rushers can put the most pressure on which future HOF quarterback. On paper, the two pass rushes are pretty even.
One big difference between these combatants is that Bucs’ DC Todd Bowles loves to blitz, even as much as 40 percent of the time. DC Pettine prefers to stick with a four-man rush. Will these patterns hold true?