The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. This week’s topic: Which game on the Bucs 2021 schedule will present the biggest challenge to the team?
Scott Reynolds: Trip To L.A. Is Toughest For Tampa Bay
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The Buccaneers will play the Los Angeles Rams for the third year in a row this season. Two years ago, Tampa Bay won an epic shootout at the L.A. Coliseum, 55-40. Then the Bucs hosted the Rams on Monday Night Football and lost, 27-24, in a hard-fought contest. This year’s clash, which is once again in L.A., will be the toughest trip for Tampa Bay this year. The Rams with new quarterback Matthew Stafford and new defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, could be favored to win the NFC West and challenge the Bucs for conference supremacy.
Rams head coach Sean McVay – Photo by: USA Today
With Stafford, who has a much stronger arm than former quarterback Jared Goff, Sean McVay’s offense can open up and become more deadly. DeSean Jackson joins a receiver corps that already includes Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, while running back Cam Akers is a rising star. Stafford brings more experience to L.A., but the one question mark about the Rams offense is whether or not the offensive line is formidable enough to keep him healthy for 17 games. That was a problem during Stafford’s tenure in Detroit, although it’s expected he would be under center in Week 3 when Tampa Bay comes to town.
Defensively, Morris knows Bruce Arians’ offense. He was charged with trying to defend it twice a year when he was with the Falcons. Morris takes over a more talented defense in L.A. with Brandon Staley leaving to become the Chargers head coach. With Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald providing the pass rush up front, and Jalen Ramsey and Taylor Rapp in the secondary, there are enough pieces to slow down the Bucs offense. Last year, L.A. held Tampa Bay six points below its’ season average. Yet the Bucs and Rams battled in Week 11 in 2020, and Tampa Bay was a tired team. Facing the Bucs in Week 3 this year means facing a fresher Tampa Bay team, whose only concern will be the long plane ride to the West Coast.
Mark Cook: Believe It Or Not, Patriots Will Present Problems
As I wrote in last week’s The Hook column, if the season started today, the Buccaneers likely would be favored in all 17 regular season games. Of course much can happen between now and when the season starts, but on paper at least, the Buccaneers appear to be the best team in the league. That doesn’t mean they will go 17-0 however. There is a reason that just one team – the 1972 Miami Dolphins – completed a perfect season and a Super Bowl win. The Buccaneers face some very talented teams, like the Rams, Bills, Cowboys and others, But the team that likely could give Tampa Bay its biggest challenge in 2020 is the New England Patriots on the road in Week 4.
Bill Belichick and Tom Brady Photo by: USS Today
The Patriots aren’t the most talented team the Bucs face this year. In fact they are probably a middle-of-the-road team in terms of overall talent. But going on the road on national television against Bill Belichick and a coaching staff that knows Bucs quarterback Tom Brady so well won’t be an easy game. And make no mistake, Belichick wants to win this game more than any game on the schedule by far. Seeing Brady leave New England and go to Tampa Bay and win a championship in his first season under center for the Buccaneers must have made Belichick absolutely crazy last year. Couple that with the Patriots finishing 7-9 and not even making the playoffs, it was probably a huge blow to the Patriots head coach’s ego.
There won’t be anything the Patriots coaching staff won’t throw at Brady. I can see Belichick even now, four months away from the start or the season and five months away from the matchup with the Bucs, already in his laboratory designing exotic blitzes, unique coverages and anything he can to give Brady a difficult time when the two teams face. While the Patriots aren’t the best team that Tampa Bay will face in 2021, they could be the most challenging.
Jon Ledyard: Solving The Rams Will Be Bucs’ Toughest Task
I think there are two correct answers to this question – Buffalo or Los Angeles. One could also choose the mental hurdle of facing New England as a significant challenge for Brady. Especially given the added talent Bill Belichick and Co. acquired this offseason. However, I still see the Rams as the biggest challenge on the Bucs 2021 schedule. Their standout defense, Sean McVay’s coaching and their much-improved QB play with Matt Stafford are the reasons why.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
Remember, as awful as the Bucs offense was against the Rams last year, it has been Todd Bowles’ defense that has struggled more consistently against L.A. In 2019 Tampa Bay won 55-40, but surrendered 518 yards of offense to the Rams’ Goff-led offense. Four turnovers by Goff was enough to give the Bucs the victory, although Bowles has since remarked it was not one of the better games by his defense. Last year the Rams were once again only deterred by Goff’s two turnovers, moving the ball at will outside of those mistakes. If Stafford can avoid those errors, Los Angeles will present a huge challenge for Tampa Bay’s young secondary.
To me, the Rams are still the most formidable defense the Bucs will face this season. Yes, John Johnson and Troy Hill are losses in the secondary, but this group still has Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, and Taylor Rapp and Terrell Burgess are ready to step into bigger roles on the back end. Raheem Morris’ defenses got lit up last year by the Bucs for 75 points in two games, but he’ll have far more talent in this Rams secondary than he did last year in Atlanta. Add in the fact that L.A. is commonly thought of as Tampa Bay’s biggest NFC challenger (if Aaron Rodgers’ departs Green Bay), and the matchup carries a ton of weight for a Week 3 tilt.
Matt Matera: A Late Season Battle With The Bills Looms Large
The Bucs face a number of tough opponents on the schedule, but a lot of them come early in the season when each team is still trying to figure themselves out. When they play the Bills, however, it comes in the last month of the season when both Buffalo and Tampa Bay should be playing their best football. Outside of the Chiefs, the Bills are the favorite to win the AFC. They’re a dangerous group and a good test for the Bucs in December.
Although having Tom Brady changes a lot of things, you have to consider that Raymond James Stadium will feature a lot of Bills fans in attendance. Buffalo fans travel very well, they’re a rambunctious and fun bunch. It’s good for the game of football as their fanbase has been appropriately titled “Bills Mafia.” Their presence in the stadium will certainly be heard. Is it going to be like in year’s past when a northeast team comes to play and you only hear their crowd? No, absolutely not. But it needs to be accounted for.
This game features a great matchup between two excellent opponents. The Bills had the second best offense last season, averaging 396.4 yards per game. It makes for a great battle with a Bucs’ defense that is sure to be even better than last season after every starter returned and Todd Bowles is still calling the shots. Tampa Bay recorded 50 sacks last year, a number it can match in 2021. The battle between the Bills’ secondary and the Bucs’ secondary is one in particular that everyone should be looking at. Buffalo’s defensive front is also a good challenge for the likes of Tristan Wirfs and the offensive line as they protect Brady. Surprisingly not a primetime game, it has all the elements to be one.
Taylor Jenkins: Buffalo Will Be Bucs’ Biggest Challenge
After two middling years to start his career with the Bills, quarterback Josh Allen made massive jump last year. After the Bills invested a ton of future capital in receiver Stefon Diggs, Allen put himself square into the MVP conversation with 37 touchdowns and over 4,500 yards. These gaudy numbers came alongside a career-high completion percentage of 69.2, up from just 58.8 the year before.
With Allen’s individual ascension came the Bills’ rise up the AFC rankings, ultimately falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship. Already boasting one of the more talented rosters in the league, Buffalo followed that up with a successful offseason where they were able to re-sign right tackle Daryl Williams and linebacker Matt Milano before adding a veteran receiver in Emmanuel Sanders. Then in the draft they took two edge rushers early in Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. to give them high-ceiling depth at the position.
With one of the league’s top offenses – orchestrated by play caller Brian Daboll – prepared to follow up their 2020 campaign with another playoff run, and a defense that is good enough to keep them in contention, the Bills and Bucs could provide a potential Super Bowl preview when they clash in Week 14. Two high-powered offenses meeting will likely leave the game as a battle for which defense can disrupt their opponents’ quarterback into a crucial mistake or two. And as we’ve seen so many times since Tom Brady came to Tampa Bay, it will be new-age quarterback with a ton of tools and weapons against the mid-40’s GOAT and the bevy of offensive playmakers at his disposal. All-in-all, Buffalo should be a genuine late-season measuring stick as the Bucs gear up for the postseason.