One of the biggest challenges Tampa Bay’s defense will face in Week 2 is how they defend the slot. With starting nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Bucs must scheme up new ways to defend bigger slot receivers. With a match-up against the Falcons looming on Sunday, 6-foot-6 rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is a tough assignment for any nickel.
Falcons WR Julio Jones – Photo by: USA Today
“I don’t think there’s any 6-foot-6 DBs running around the league,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “We do have some length back there. But he’s a force. He’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. That’s a very special cat. He’s gonna create some problems.”
Against Dallas, the Bucs turned to veteran cornerback Ross Cockrell to replace Murphy-Bunting and that didn’t go so well. Cockrell will still see the field a lot against 11 personnel packages (three wide receivers), but with the Falcons operating heavily out of two-tight end sets, it remains to be seen how the Bucs will deploy their defensive backs on Sunday. One option is to play three safeties together when in nickel, a luxury the Bucs have with Jordan Whitehead returning from injury this week.
Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards have both spent some practice time in the slot since becoming Buccaneers. But during the preparation for Atlanta, it sounds like only the latter will be a nickel option for the Bucs. The indication also seems to be that Winfield will remain the team’s free safety no matter what.
“Yeah, we’ve got three or four guys who rotate in and out of that nickel spot,” Arians said. “And Mike is one of them.”
The Bucs were zone heavy in their defensive approach in Week 1, and will likely do so again in Week 2. Atlanta’s versatility on offense will make matching up an art for defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, but having three quality safeties is a huge advantage for this game. Expect to see Edwards get a few slot reps if Atlanta attempts to spread the field from 12 personnel.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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