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Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Last Thursday, three days before the Bucs traveled to New Orleans to do battle against their hated division rivals in the Saints, I wrote that the Tampa Bay linebacker duo of Devin White and Lavonte David had to be elite for the Bucs defense to succeed in the divisional round of the playoffs. There was an especially significant onus on White to step up his level of play after getting shredded in Week 9 against New Orleans in the Bucs 38-3 loss.

Boy, did he ever.

Returning to the lineup after missing two consecutive games following a COVID-19 positive test, White was the best player on the field for either team on Sunday night, making an unbelievable amount of elite plays in coverage and in the run game. What is wildly fascinating about White’s dominant performance is that it involves very little impact as a blitzer, typically his best skill. Instead, White did exactly what I wrote he needed to do last Thursday – stay disciplined, process-then-react, finish plays in space and play with better technique in coverage.

One of the things that had to improve for White in the divisional playoffs was his tackling, as the Saints love to get the ball to their play-makers, especially Alvin Kamara, in space. On Sunday night, White checked that box emphatically. Look at him come in balanced to wrap up a Kamara cutback attempt in the open field.

In writing about Week 9, one of my main takeaways was White’s overaggressive nature and tendency to get out of his own assignment trying to play hero ball. But on Sunday night that was almost never the case, as White stayed under control, processed his keys and attacked without overrunning plays. This was especially evident in his few man coverage reps, as White has struggled with his technique and footwork in these situations all season, but not on Sunday night.

Kamara is one of the toughest backs in the league to cover on this Texas route out of the backfield, but look at White staying square, reading Kamara’s break and mirroring the back while swatting the pass away on a diving effort. This is high level stuff from White that we really haven’t seen all season. The second-year linebacker’s emergence in coverage over his past three games has been an extremely welcome and pleasant surprise.

A big part of it is mental processing. When you have White’s elite physical and athletic tools and can play under control to key-and-diagnose offensive plays at the second level, you’re going to be a beast.

I loved this play near the end of the game. With the Saints down 10 late in the fourth quarter, everyone was obviously thinking they would throw the ball on this 3rd-and-4. But White stayed with his reads, didn’t start dropping out early and made an unbelievably athletic tackle on Kamara to hold this damage to four yards.

Sidebar: this is also an amazing play by Lavonte David, as the Bucs are out-gapped up front and he has to get outside of the puller to turn this run back inside where the weakside linebacker and filling safety can make the stop. David not only does that, but he also spins out of the block to help out on the tackle. Crazy good.

Shout out to the defensive line for bottling everything up on this one, allowing White a clean read from B to D-gap, where he scrapes and fills to stand up Kamara in the hole. Great job avoiding the block of right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, otherwise this could have been a big gain.

White’s ability to read his keys and track the running back’s movements was next level in this game. Early in the game the Saints tried to spread out the stout Bucs defensive line and find cutback lanes when the linebackers over-pursued, but White wouldn’t oblige.

As soon as White sees Ndamukong Suh win the backside A-gap, White knows Kamara is going to cutback to try and find a crease. So the linebacker cuts back with him, sifting through the trash to drop the Saints star running back at the line of scrimmage with a bear hug tackle.

The Saints tried to counter later in the game by running Emmanuel Sanders across the formation on a fake split zone action before leaking out into the flat.

Sean Murphy-Bunting does an awesome job of sifting through the trash to track Sanders across the field in man coverage, but even he can’t beat White to the play. This is the kind of play White would have chased to the opposite sideline before realizing the deception a month or two ago, but on Sunday night he stayed home, saw Sanders coming across the formation and then mashed the gas pedal to make the stop in space.

It is just so hard to work perimeter concepts and outside runs against the Bucs’ speed at linebacker. The Saints knew this and tried to quick snap the Bucs before they were ready. It kind of worked, but White made the play anyway.

While David is still getting the defense lined up, the Saints quick snap the ball hoping to get Kamara a soft edge on the jet sweep. They do catch David with his head turned, but White’s speed from the backside is so significant he’s able to make the play anyway, with an assist from Anthony Nelson pushing Kamara backward and not allowing him to turn the corner with speed. There are only a few linebackers in the league that can make this play, and the Bucs have two of them.

Finally, the play of the game. With the Bucs up 23-20 with the clock winding around seven minutes to play, White snatched his second career interception by reading Drew Brees like a book in zone coverage.

With the Saints looking for a big play against the Bucs’ 4-deep coverage, Sean Payton called for three vertical routes to the boundary, forcing the boundary safety to take the post and putting the outside cornerback in conflict on the outside nine route or the running back seam. Brees stares at the post pattern by Cook hoping White will fall off on the pattern, allowing him to work back to Kamara on the seam route. But White stays flat-footed and breaks on the ball perfectly, reading Brees’ eyes and snagging the pass before it can reach Kamara (it also looks like Kamara and Brees weren’t on the same page).

The subsequent return showed off White’s running back background, as he fought off and evaded tacklers to get all the way to the 20-yard line. On a night where the Bucs offense struggled mightily, don’t underestimate how big White’s returns on his fumble recovery and interception were, as well as Murphy-Bunting’s.

There was no question that for the Bucs to shut down the Saints offense on Sunday night, White needed to be special. He struggled at times in Week 1 and Week 9 against New Orleans, and there was little doubt that Brees and Payton would attack him again. When they did, White answered the bell over and over and over again, making splash play after splash play in his return to the Bucs’ lineup, finishing with 11 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one pass breakup, one interception and one fumble recovery.

Next up, a Green Bay offense that will test White in every way, even more-so than they did back in Week 6, when White had one of his best NFL games against the Packers in a 38-10 victory. If the former fifth overall pick is going to start stringing performances together like he has during his last three outings however, the ceiling for this Bucs defense just went back up this postseason.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

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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eaustinyoung
8 months ago

If he finally fixed his coverage skills, hes a faster Derrick Brooks. DPOY candidate next year.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 months ago

It’s a one game sample size but at least we have the evidence he can do it. White crushed in coverage and it helped punched their ticket to the NFCC. Hopefully it is something he can build consistency on.

Last edited 8 months ago by PatrioticChief
cgmaster27
8 months ago

Defense was phenomenal this past week. Were going to need it again for sure. Play the exact same style of defense this week. Fluster rogers. And for the love of god on offense dont run the ball almost 20 times on first down. Those 2 yards a carry you get just dont work. This team goes with this offensive game plan, they are going to get worked. Itll be cold so youll have to run the ball, just dont do it every first down.

eaustinyoung
Reply to  cgmaster27
8 months ago

Arians finally admitted he’s letting Brady take the reins on the offense. Weather shmeather. Who is the best postseason QB in clutch games in the cold? It aint Rodgers, who has choked out of the playoffs 7 out of the last 10 years.

drdneast
Reply to  cgmaster27
8 months ago

The Bucs actually ran the ball more than they passed it last week and I have no problem with that but like you, I think they should really mix up run/pass on first down more. Even a scribe for NFL.com noticed their propensity to run on first down and you know how few Buc games he has probably seen.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  drdneast
8 months ago

I think that was a unique game where running the ball wasn’t the worst process given the way the defense was balling. If they want to do that against GB, who has gotten at least okay against the run during the second half of the year, I think it will be a huge mistake. I’m not saying they should pass 50+ times but this will probably have to be a game where Brady throws at least 40+.

Naplesfan
Reply to  drdneast
8 months ago

cg has been bitching about the playcalling all this week, but the playcalling was perfect. It represented what we could do given what the super defense of the Saints was going to try to do to us. They blanketed our receivers with man coverage that was tighter than white on rice, both mid field and way downrange This is what Troy Aikman called “Tom Brady Ball” – and nobody can play TB Ball better than TB-12. Running on first down made perfect sense. And given that we generated 124 yards on the ground (way above our season average) against a… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Naplesfan
cgmaster27
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 months ago

Ahh so the very guy that wrote this article is full of shit as well huh? I can think of quite a few others that have as well. You bring up the score which is nice, but conveniently forget 3 scores came from total of 63 yards. Our runs on first down were not good. That’s just a fact. Our offense almost had 3 straight 3 and outs to start he game. All because they got a lousy 2 yards on those first down carries. You think that’s’ going to work against Mr. Rogers? Where was the play action on… Read more »

Dave
Reply to  cgmaster27
8 months ago

Agreed. Just because we won, doesn’t mean the play calling on first downs was good. We won despite average at best first down play calling. The other 3 downs were called fine. But on 1st down, I thought we were way too predictable. That absolutely will need to change against GB

RW
RW
8 months ago

Maybe this had something to do with it: “Thing I love about Tom is he’s always teaching,” White said. “Teaching me how to be a great leader. Every single day, every single practice, he puts the team before himself. First few days he’s in the locker room, we’re all like, ‘We’re in the locker room with the greatest quarterback of all time! Like, I wanna talk to him, I wanna get a picture with him.’ But then, he’s your teammate. You’re here for a reason. “Few weeks ago, I was kinda upset I didn’t make the Pro Bowl. He’s like, ‘D,… Read more »

drdneast
Reply to  RW
8 months ago

Damn, that what was the perfect perspective to throw at White. Here’s a guy with six SB rings and he tells White his objective is chasing another. Damn. White played a great game and it was great to see him putting his mental facilities together with his physical ones. The ceiling is so high for this guy. Loved the physicality of his play once he gets the ball in his hands by delivering forearm shivers to would be tacklers. Hope in the future he can work in some Derrick Henry type stiff arms. Tell me again why we blew a… Read more »

Michael76
8 months ago

Go back and look at your notes for the GB game…. their coach declared that our linebackers were the biggest factors in the game, calling them the best in the game with their speed.

I suspect that their focus will be on neutralizing White and David (how?), as their offensive plans are based on play action and incorporating using their backs in the passing game.

None are as difficult to tackle as Kamara… closer to power runners than speed/shifty.

eaustinyoung
Reply to  Michael76
8 months ago

If Carlton Davis can lock down Davante, SMB work on Tonyan, and the safeties can cover deep against Lazard or Valdes-Scantling, I’m not worried at all about Aaron Jones. Bucs have been chewing up and spitting out top 10 RBs for 2 years now.

Dave
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 months ago

Well you are one, very optimistic person. If CD3 covers Adams 1 on 1, he’s going to absolutely torch us. I also don’t like our safeties trying to cover MVS and Lazard deep. Because neither safety has the speed to cover either of those on deep routes. The only pass catcher I feel confident we can shut down, is Tonyan, and the RB’s. This is going to be one hell of a test. Don’t get too caught up in anything you saw week 6

eaustinyoung
Reply to  Dave
8 months ago

If Davis can’t cover a top WR then he’s not the future and a garbage cornerback.

Dave
Reply to  eaustinyoung
8 months ago

Good god, what a horrible thought process. You win the award for the worst comment of the day. Adams isn’t A top WR. He’s THE top WR. There isn’t a single db in the league that can cover Adams 1 on 1. Not a one. Even Ramsey, who’s unanimously viewed as the best corner in the game, couldn’t shut him down. Just like there isn’t a single db In the league that can cover Hill 1 on 1. The smart DC’s don’t let their ego get in the way of doing the right thing. If the approach isn’t to do… Read more »

chefboho
Reply to  Dave
8 months ago

Just so you know, last time the bucs played GB, Carlton Davis shadowed Devante Adams and only gave up 3 receptions for 33 yards on 66% of the offensive plays. I’d say that’s pretty outstanding.

Last edited 8 months ago by chefboho
Dave
Reply to  chefboho
8 months ago

Yeah last time they played, C.Davis played very good against Adams. I agree. But in Adams defense, that was his first game back from injury. He had missed a month before the Bucs game. And most considered him questionable at best for that game. So he clearly wasn’t still 100%. But if Rodgers is protected, and Adams is singled all game, you can absolutely bank on him having a much better game than last time. Rodgers was under constant duress, and Adams was still not 100%

chefboho
Reply to  Dave
8 months ago

You’re probably right cuz, just give him safety help over the top and hope that eliminating him puts them in a bad spot

TBChucky
8 months ago

White played phenomenal Sunday! He showed us what he’s capable of. I’m hoping like hell a light came on for this young man. If it has, the league better watch out! We could sure use THAT guy in Green Bay!

Spitfire
8 months ago

It looks like White is finally allowing himself to be patient and let his athleticism be the difference after he makes his read which is exactly what he should do. Instead of rushing in on his first reaction, just be patient and once you know what’s happening then you use your speed to get there and your strength to finish it. Very nice to see. If he can make this his every game like David, he will be the future best LB in the league.

drdneast
8 months ago

Two Bucs, Ryan Jensen and Devin White, were nominated for the Black Scepter for their Angry Runs last week on GMFB. Jensen was actually given the nickname of “Redman” because he looked like the kind of OL who likes to play in the mud and the style of his aggressive blocking. White won the scepter for his pick where he delivers a forearm shiver to a Saint player. Even better is when White calls his INT play while talking to Bowles on the sideline when he says he’s going to, “stick a dagger in it.” See the Mic’d up segment… Read more »

cgmaster27
Reply to  drdneast
8 months ago

I love this kids swag. He’s got the confidence in spades. Once his mental processing catches up with his physical abilities, he will be unstoppable. This week was a damn good start. He looked like he recognized much quicker and reacted. Not just rushing uncontrolled to a spot.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  cgmaster27
8 months ago

He still barreled in the wrong direction a few times to be honest but you’re right he’s clearly growing. The one thing we hadn’t seen from White was being a consistent playmaker in coverage and we saw that tonight. At this point he’s demonstrated he has the capacity to be elite in coverage, rushing, and in run defense. Now it is simply a question of whether he can consistently do all 3 the way LVD has for years.

Buc76
8 months ago

He knocked that #11 out of the game. He crushed that guy on a play and that was it. The guy was done with a neck injury.

surferdudes
8 months ago

We tend to forget.. he’s only 22! This is what I’ve been waiting to see out of White. Playing under control, reading the offence, making the play. Maybe missing those two games was a blessing. It sure seemed like he was watching tape to get better. Hat’s off.

scubog
Reply to  surferdudes
8 months ago

Residents of Bucville always expect an instant Pro Bowl player. Like anyone else, the youngsters need to learn and gain some real life experience.

Madman
8 months ago

White was an absolute MONSTER! Player of the Game for sure. Bring it again on Sunday!

chefboho
8 months ago

The dude just looks bigger than everyone else on the field. Love seeing those white gloved arms spread out looking to snatch the life and the football from whoever has it. Reading from another poster about what Brady said to him is reason 1000 the Brady should be this years mvp. Aside from stats, no one has meant more to their teams success then this QB. Hes even changing the mentality of the defense.

Naplesfan
8 months ago

The Play of the Year for the Bucs (so far) was Devin White’s interception of Drew Brees (Drew Brees!!) and, especially, his runback. His stiff arm of that Saint’s receiver #12 was simply a work of football art. I could watch that play on a constant loop for a long time and never get tired of watching it.

PatrioticChief
Reply to  Naplesfan
8 months ago

Honestly just getting from the grasp of the receiver after the pick was impressive. That was a legit running back run from him.

fredster
8 months ago

That was more enjoyable win and more important game to me personally than beating the Eagles. Saints had our number for while. Defense played a great game overall. White looked like a man possessed. It was great. He has elite speed and strength and it took him little time to be good at coverage. His ceiling is so high and why the Bucs drafted him. Winfield was awesome as usual. SMB has solid game especially if didn’t have the penalties. Hopefully the soft zone from Bowls is gone and they attack against packers too. Some commented already but I didn’t… Read more »

jongruden
8 months ago

D White reminds me of Hardy Nickerson and that’s a beautiful thing

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