After a decisive, 38-10 victory over the Packers where many people will and should begin to talk about whether the Bucs have one of the next great young cornerback tandems in the NFL in Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean, I’m still left in awe of the performance by the Bucs linebacking duo of Lavonte David and Devin White.
Let’s take a look at their brilliance from Sunday in this week’s Bucs Briefing.
In the first half, the Packers tried to execute a balanced game plan as they had all season, running and throwing the football efficiently and taking big plays when they were there. The Packers were the top-ranked rushing offense in the NFL heading into Sunday’s game, running for over 150 yards per game and confident they could make it work against the NFL’s best run defense. And although Green Bay did some good things against the Bucs defensive line, David and White were simply too good for the team to have success.
The Packers love to get their run game out on the perimeter, which has worked well for them all season – until matching up with two of the rangiest linebackers in the league. The Packers’ right guard has absolutely no shot at reaching White on the second level here, and the linebacker’s rapid key-and-diagnose allows him to take off at the snap and drop Aaron Jones for no gain.
Later in the same drive, the Packers tried to run the same play to the other side of the field, with a similar lack of success. Lavonte David quickly read the play, blew through the tight end’s block with an aggressive angle to the ball, and makes a stop for a gain of just two yards. The anticipation and range by the Pro Bowl linebacker is so elite.
On the Packers’ second drive they short pitch it to Jones, but the center has no chance at reaching White before Tampa Bay’s second-year linebacker is all over the play. White also devours Jones’ stiff arm as if it isn’t even there. Impact tackling matters, and White makes absolutely certain that Jones isn’t getting away or falling forward for more yardage.
On most of the Packers’ outside zone runs up above, the Bucs defensive line did not do a great job fighting off reach blocks from Green Bay’s offensive line, which created a lot of green grass for backs to work through if White and David had continually saved the day with their range and tackling. But on the play below the defensive line hold their ground for the most part, allowing David to work around the mess and nearly drop Jones for a loss.
The Green Bay running back wriggles free, but David blows up the play and forces Jones to go backward in the backfield – typically a recipe for success for an opposing defense. It’s an easy clean-up for Anthony Nelson, caused by David’s recognition and burst to backdoor the zone scheme and get upfield. He’s not quite in-line for an impact tackle, but David’s effort allows the rest of the Bucs defense time to get home in pursuit and make the play.
Speaking of impact tackles, the Packers finally looked like they had opened an alley for Jones to run through on their strong toss play, especially after the tight end had a good angle to work down on White, taking the middle linebacker out of the play. But David came screaming across the field from the backside, beating the center’s cut-off block and making a huge hit in the hole to drop Jones for no gain on second-and-4. The Packers would punt a play later.
All of the plays above came in the first half for the Packers, most of them on the team’s first two drives. Green Bay adjusted at halftime, sensing the impossible task they were asking of their interior offensive line to eliminate these athletic freaks at linebacker in space. Instead, Green Bay opted for a lead blocker on these toss plays, charged with blowing up the play-side linebacker in the hole. White had other ideas.
White plays every game with energy and passion, but he was on another level on Sunday and finished with a team-high 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and his first sack of the season. However, what I was most impressed with was his awareness in run defense, as White identified blocking concepts and then found the football with his eyes. This allowed him to play more under control and cerebral throughout the game, especially when the Packers switched up the run concepts later in the second half.
The Packers chucked the toss plays after White blew up their first attempt of the second half, running split zone and looking for the cutback with the Tampa Bay linebackers flowing downhill so fast on Green Bay’s earlier run concepts. But White stays disciplined here, not overreacting to the play-side, but finding the football and tracking the runner as he stops his feet and cuts backside. White’s ability to stay clean and accelerate to the ball-carrier prevents a potential big play, as Shaq Barrett had stayed out wide to defend against a possible play-action bootleg pass. This is also an impressive tackle by White outside his frame, showing insane grip strength to finish this stop on Jamaal Williams.
One more for good measure. Again, both David (spotlighted) and White work with the zone flow, but see through the trash to find the football. When the runner stops his feet behind the line of scrimmage to cut back, David and White are both shot out of a cannon to get backside and make the stop for a short gain.
The Packers did hit two big runs in the game, a 25-yarder by Jamaal Williams early in the game and a 20-yarder by A.J. Dillon when the game was already decided. Green Bay was wildly unproductive on the majority of their runs however, finishing the game with 19 carries for 80 yards despite those two carries of 20-plus yards.
Tampa Bay’s defensive line had some ups and downs in run defense throughout this game, but the Packers simply had no answer for David, who had eight tackles, two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, and White on a per-snap basis. As a result, the duo completely wrecked the Packers’ run game to the tune of 18 combined tackles and 5.5 tackles-for-loss, then went on to wreck their passing game with a combined 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits. Not many teams can boast a game-changing duo at linebacker, and Tampa Bay certainly had that in Week 6.
• Tampa Bay’s run game was devastatingly unproductive throughout most of the game until late in the third quarter, when Ronald Jones ripped off a 25-yard run. The Bucs had just 78 yards on their first 21 carries through three quarters, but managed to match that total in the final period despite just 11 attempts. Major credit to the offensive line for taking over late in the game.
• With Ronald Jones II clearly established as the team’s top ball carrying back after three consecutive 100-yard performances, the only question now is who will fulfill the Bucs’ primary passing down duties out of the backfield when Leonard Fournette returns – probably this Sunday night. Ke’Shawn Vaughn dropped another pass on Sunday, giving him three drops and a fumble on seven targets. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. Jones has a handful of drops on the season as well, and LeSean McCoy should be inactive when Fournette returns. I think the ex-Jaguar is destined to lead the Bucs’ running back room in receptions when he’s back in the lineup.
• It’s huge for this Bucs offense to have Chris Godwin back in the lineup. His first two catches of the game he broke tackles and made things happen with the ball in his hands. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a guy like that when he’s out of the lineup. His route-running from the slot is also a huge weapon that the Bucs’ passing game will definitely need to utilize in more competitive contests. Godwin’s 25-yard catch off play-action set up the Bucs’ dagger touchdown right before halftime.
• Can’t say enough good things about the way Davis played in this game. He shutdown Davante Adams in press man coverage and was active in zone as well. Four pass breakups, including one which led to the defense’s second interception of the game, and six tackles indicated Davis’ impressive game.
• I wasn’t very impressed with Rakeem Nunez-Roches’ first start in place of Vita Vea. He was easily reached by the Packers zone blocks in the run game and failed to generate any pressure as an interior rusher. Will Gholston also struggled at times, especially when the Bucs put him at nose tackle for a new snaps early in the game. Newcomer Steve McLendon’s positional flexibility should allow Gholston to move back outside the guard or head up on the tackle exclusively, while cutting down on the snaps a career part-time player like Nacho needs to play. Good move by general manager Jason Licht.
• Jason Pierre-Paul took some flak on social media after acting unaware of who Packers star left tackle David Bakhtiari was last week, but he played one of his best games as a Buc on Sunday afternoon. Not much of it came against Bakhtiari, but JPP’s ability to play inside and out and defend the run at a high level was huge. He generated seven pressures and 1.5 sacks in the pass game as well, bringing his total to 5.5 on the year, which is the third-best mark in the NFL.
• It feels like we’ve already become so accustomed to Antoine Winfield Jr.’s rock solid play in the deep middle of the Bucs defense that we don’t even bring him up anymore. He continues to play outstanding football despite dropping his first career interception on Sunday. Those are the ones Winfield will need to come up with to win Defensive Rookie of the Year – an award that is wide open for the taking right now.
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