With the 9-5 Buccaneers traveling to Detroit for a Saturday afternoon game against the 5-9 Lions there won’t be an SR’s Fab 5 column on Friday, which is Christmas Day. But I’ve pulled my 4 Match-ups To Watch section out of Fab 4 to preview the Bucs at Lions contest.
If Tampa Bay wins and improves to 10-5 on the season it will clinch at least a wild card playoff spot and make its first postseason since 2007 when Jon Gruden’s 9-7 Buccaneers won the NFC South division.
Be sure to read my post-game column, 2-Point Conversion, on Saturday night.
Table of Contents
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Lions LT Taylor Decker
Decker, who was Detroit’s first-round pick in 2016, is the highest-graded offensive player on the team, earning an 84.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, including an 86.8 run-blocking grade, and a 73.8 pass-blocking grade. When the Lions run rookie D’Andre Swift and Adrian Peterson they won’t hesitate to do it on the left side behind Decker. The Ohio State product is 6-foot-7, 311 pounds and has long arms and pretty good power, especially in the run game. Decker is battling a groin injury, but the Lions need him to play if they have any chance of winning this game. Decker’s potential replacement, Matt Nelson, is a first-year player out of Iowa, who is the lowest-graded offensive player in Detroit (49.3), and he may have to start at right tackle if Halapulivaati Vaitai, who is also on the injury report with a concussion, can’t go.
Pierre-Paul, who has a 69.7 grade from PFF, was just selected to the Pro Bowl this year due to his team-high 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles, his career-high two interceptions, and his two fumble recoveries. Yet he might have had his worst game in Atlanta last Sunday, not even recording a single statistic. Pierre-Paul wasn’t alone, as fellow outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett didn’t record a sack against Matt Ryan, and had just three tackles. Pierre-Paul is half a sack away from reaching double-digit sacks for fourth time in his 11-year career and Matthew Stafford is a pocket passer without much mobility. Whether he’s going against a Decker who isn’t at 100 percent, or Nelson, Pierre-Paul needs to rebound with an impressive game that backs up his Pro Bowl status. ADVANTAGE: Pierre-Paul
Bucs CB Jamel Dean vs. Lions WR Marvin Jones, Jr.
Jones, who is Stafford’s most reliable weapon in the passing game with star receiver Kenny Golladay out with a hip injury, needs to step up and have a 100-yard day against Tampa Bay if Detroit has any hope of prevailing on Saturday. Jones, who has a 71.7 PFF grade this year, is closing in on 1,000 yards. Like the Bucs’ Mike Evans, Jones also has 779 receiving yards with two games left, and is averaging 12 yards per reception and has a team-high seven touchdowns. Jones isn’t as explosive as he was nine years ago when he entered the league, but he’s a crafty veteran who still has some speed and knows how to get open.
With Carlton Davis III out for Saturday’s game due to a groin injury, will defensive coordinator Todd Bowles match up Dean with Jones? He should, as Dean has the second-highest PFF grade (81.3) of all Bucs defenders, and an 84.8 coverage grade that is the best on the team. Dean has had three games with a coverage grade of 90 or higher from PFF this year, including last week’s game in Atlanta (90.3). Dean deserves the chance to show everyone that he can be the top cover corner on the team, especially in Davis’ absence. ADVANTAGE: Dean
Bucs LT Donovan Smith vs. Lions DE Romeo Okwara
Okwara is the single best pass rusher left in Detroit with Trey Flowers on injured reserve and Everson Griffen missing time due to injury and being on the COVID-19 list Okwara, who has an overall PFF grade of 65.9, including a 54.5 pass rush grade, has 44 tackles, a team-high eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks this year. The Lions’ next closest sacker is Griffen, who has just 2.5, followed by Flowers’ two. Okwara is a high-motor player, who wins reps by hustling.
Smith missed last week’s game due to being on the COVID-19 list. Will he be rested and ready with the week off, or will Smith be a bit rusty? He’ll need to be on top of his game as Okwara is a relentless pass rusher that could get a sack on any player where Smith lets up. Smith, who has a 71.8 PFF grade and a 72.6 pass protection grade, will need to play every down with a sense of urgency and not let up. The Bucs need Tom Brady healthy heading into the playoffs and one missed blindside block could spell doom for Tampa Bay’s postseason hopes. ADVANTAGE: Push
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette vs. Lions MLB Jamie Collins, Sr.
Collins is in his eighth year in the league and is the Lions’ leading tackler with 101 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one sack. The athletic, 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has a 64.2 overall PFF grade, and is also formidable in coverage with six pass break-ups and one interception. But he hasn’t been that great, either, as his 59.3 PFF coverage grade suggests. Collins has surrendered 35 catches for 422 yards (12.1 avg.) and two touchdowns and he’ll split his time trying to chase Fournette out of the backfield in addition to covering tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Fournette, who has a PFF grade of 59.8, hasn’t been special at all this season, but did play better than he has over the course of the previous month with a solid showing at Atlanta on Sunday, subbing for Ronald Jones II, who was on the COVID-19 list. Fournette has just 320 yards and five touchdowns this season while averaging 3.9 yards per carry, including 49 yards and two TDs last week. He also has 31 receptions for 187 yards coming out of the backfield this year, but is averaging a woeful six yards per catch. Fournette will get the start for Jones against this week and will need to win the match-up against Collins in the hole between the tackles in the running game, and in the flat catching the ball, too. ADVANTAGE: Collins
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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