Buccaneers game day is approaching, and it’s time for the PewterReport.com staff to offer up its weekly game predictions. Let us know what you think in the article comments section and add your prediction, too.
WHEN: Sunday, September 27, 2020 Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET WHERE: Empower Field at Mile High TV: FOX PLAY-BY-PLAY: Adam Amin ANALYST: Mark Schlereth SIDELINE: Lindsay Czarniak RADIO: 98 Rock, Flagship Station (WXTB-97.9 FM) PLAY-BY-PLAY: Gene Deckerhoff ANALYST: Dave Moore SIDELINE: T.J. Rives
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Denver is one of the most banged up football teams after Week 2, as the Broncos put four players on injured reserve this week, including star receiver Courtland Sutton. The Broncos still have plenty of talented weapons in the passing game with rookie wide receivers K.J. Hamler and Jerry Jeudy, the team’s first-round pick, in addition to tight end Noah Fant, who was Denver’s first-round pick in 2019, but starting quarterback Drew Lock is out with an injured shoulder. That means Jeff Driskel gets the start for the Broncos and he’s no slouch, but the Bucs have the clear advantage with Tom Brady in the head-to-head QB duel.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs offense gets Chris Godwin back and clicks on all cylinders with Rob Gronkowski getting a red zone touchdown, while Shaquil Barrett picks up his first two sacks of the year as Tampa Bay’s defensive front records five sacks again this week. Dressed in the new all-pewter uniforms, Tampa Bay wins back-to-back games and collects its first road win and adds the insult to the Broncos’ injuries.
Mark Cook: Bucs Make It Two In A Row, Relatively Easy
To say Denver is a wounded football team would be an understatement. Missing the team’s starting quarterback, an experienced cornerback, their top wide receiver and best pass rusher, the Broncos are hurting – literally. But sometimes the scariest animal is a wounded animal. Denver has nothing to lose and if I were head coach Vic Fangio, I would throw the kitchen sink at the Bucs and let the chips fall where they may.
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul and ILB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Buccaneers have the edge in essentially every key match-up, especially this pass rush versus the Broncos’ offense line. If Tampa Bay got five sacks against Carolina last week, it should be able to match or exceed that number with ease this week against Denver.
Quarterback Tom Brady was much improved last week over his Week 1 performance against the Saints – even with the Bucs dropping at least seven catchable balls. His rise should continue this week as he becomes more comfortable with his receivers. The game might be a little closer than many might like through two quarters, but there is just too much talent on both sides of the ball not for the to pull away and win fairly easy.
I’m way more nervous about this game than I should be, largely because I believe the Broncos offensive and defensive scheme are very sound despite the rash of injuries that has hit their team. Vic Fangio’s defense has been excellent against the run, and if the Bucs aren’t aggressive offensively early on, allowing a try-hard Broncos team to hang around could be their undoing.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Where Tampa Bay has a significant advantage is in their passing game, as the Broncos starting trio of corners has struggled mightily since losing A.J. Bouye to injured reserve. Denver does boast two talented safeties, but it’s difficult to see how they can match-up with all the Bucs talent at wide receiver on Sunday. I expect Tom Brady to have a strong performance.
The Broncos offense has tons of speed and lots of man-beating route combinations, as well as a mismatch tight end that they actually use (take notes, Bucs) in Noah Fant. Even with Jeff Driskel at quarterback, this offense has plenty of talent and toughness, especially at the skill positions. Where things will eventually unravel for Denver on Sunday is in pass protection, where the unit has struggled to process and pass off stunts and twists while Driskel’s internal clock has always ran a tick slow.
Right from the start, I expect the Bucs defense to take full advantage of all of the injuries to the Broncos and bludgeon their offense. With all due respect to Jeff Driskel, you can’t let him beat you. The Bucs will get a great pass rush and get to Driskel as much as they did to Teddy Bridgewater, but this time it’ll be Shaq Barrett coming up with the plays as he goes against his old team. Barrett doesn’t have a sack yet, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t played well.
Bucs LB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
If there are any questions about the Bucs defense for this game, it would be about how it will stop tight end Noah Fant. Denver has tried to make him a focal point of the offense through two games, and that trend most likely will continue. We could see safey Jordan Whitehead get that opportunity, or maybe Tampa Bay will stick Devin White or Lavonte David out against him. I trust Todd Bowles will come up with the right plan.
So far through two games Tampa Bay’s defense has been ahead of the offense. However, with Chris Godwin returning, it feels like we’re seeing the Bucs offense in full force for once. I know Mike Evans played in Week 1, but he wasn’t very healthy. This is the first week where all of the starters are up to speed. What I want to know is if the Bucs tight ends will get involved at all. Tampa Bay hasn’t gotten much in the passing game outside of Evans and Godwin yet. I think this week we see either O.J. Howard or Rob Gronkowski emerge to quiet the naysayers. As long as they don’t turn the ball over, the Bucs will do enough to put away the Broncos early.
The Broncos have been absolutely torn to shreds by injuries heading into their Week 3 match-up against the Bucs, but Denver’s biggest problem isn’t just the sheer number of injuries that their facing as 12 players appear on their latest injury report. It’s who the injuries are happening to. Starting right tackle Ju’Wuan James was a known absence after opting out of the season but Denver is now missing their top edge rusher in Von Miller, their top cornerback in A.J. Bouye, their top wide receiver in Courtland Sutton, their franchise quarterback in Drew Lock and likely their second-string running back Phillip Lindsay.
Bucs WR Chris Godwin – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
That’s just the list of major impact players that the Broncos will be without, not to mention a number of depth pieces across the board. But all-in-all, this isn’t a team that Tampa Bay can look past, losing by less than a touchdown to the Steelers this past weekend, despite the fact that I think they should escape Denver with an easy victory. The Bucs offense will be back to full strength with the return of Chris Godwin and with Jason Pierre-Paul returning to practice on Friday, their defense should roll out a fully-powered and healthy unit as well.
As Jeff Driskel leads the Broncos on Sunday I’m sure it brings back vivid memories of Case Keenum, Derek Anderson and Kyle Allen as just a few of the backup quarterbacks to give Tampa Bay’s defense the business in year’s past, but this isn’t the same Bucs team and it sure isn’t the same defense. Tampa Bay was able to get pressure on Teddy Bridgewater early and create takeaways last Sunday, something I expect them to repeat this weekend. And as Tampa Bay’s offense took a big step last weekend after an out-of-sync performance against New Orleans in Week 1, I fully expect the unit to build on that this weekend.
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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