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 Bucs On Offense And Defense Must Step Up At Washington?
Scott Reynolds: QB Tom Brady and OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
The reason why the Buccaneers signed quarterback Tom Brady wasn’t just to get to the playoffs. It was to advance in the postseason and compete for a chance to win Super Bowl LV. Brady has a ridiculous 30-11 record in the postseason and has won an NFL-record six Super Bowls. Coming off a tremendous first season in Tampa Bay in which he accounted for 43 touchdowns (40 passing, three rushing) at age 43, Brady needs to live up to his postseason glory and guide the Bucs to a win on Saturday night in Washington in the team’s first wild card playoff game since 2007. Brady has struggled against teams with good defensive lines – New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles and Kansas City – and completed just 123-of-208 passes (59.1) for 1,262 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in all five of Tampa Bay’s losses. As the trigger man for the Bucs offense, Tampa Bay averaged just 18.6 points per game in those losses – well below their season average of 30.8 points per game. And the Bucs did not score over 24 points in any of those defeats. Brady needs to shake off any pressure he receives from Chase Young and Co. and power the Bucs offense to 30 points or more in the nation’s capital.
On defense, outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul needs to show up and show out in D.C. Since being named as the Bucs’ lone Pro Bowler he’s been nearly invisible on defense, registering just five tackles and two pass break-ups over the last three games. In fact, after recording a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Minnesota, Pierre-Paul didn’t even make the stat sheet in Atlanta the following week, which is the first time that has happened all season. Pierre-Paul has battled a knee injury all year, but he must come through with a splash play or two against Washington to help Tampa Bay win and advance in the playoffs.
Mark Cook: LT Donovan Smith and LB Lavonte David
The Bucs are favored in this game – and for good reason – they are the more talented team overall. But roster talent doesn’t always equate to wins, as the Buccaneers found out against the Chicago Bears this season. Its about the matchups and this one doesn’t exactly favor the Bucs when you look at their offensive line going up against Washington’s defensive line. The most important piece on this chess battle will be Donovan Smith who must have his best game of the season on Saturday night. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady can’t be constantly harassed and forced to get rid of the ball before he wants to. The Bucs offense will perform only as good as their offense line plays, in particular Smith.
Defensively the Bucs will be without Devin White again this week and this is where Tampa Bay really needs Lavonte David to take it to an even higher level. David has been very good for the most part this season but without White, David’s play becomes even more crucial whether in pass coverage or run support. And maybe this is the game where defensive coordinator Todd Bowles unleashes David as a blitzer, taking on White’s pass rush role to some degree. David is constantly overlooked for national honors and part of that has been playing on poor teams during his previous years in the league. If David wants more recognition, this is a great stage to show the casual fan outside of the Tampa Bay area how good of a player is and has been over his career.
Jon Ledyard: LG Ali Marpet and OLB Shaq Barrett
Much of the attention on Washington’s defensive line goes to soon-to-be Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young or sack leader Montez Sweat, but defensive tackle Jon Allen may be having the best year out of any Washington defender. Sure, his stats aren’t gaudy, but Allen has been a monster at producing pressure in one-on-one situations, and left guard Ali Marpet will need to be ready. The Bucs’ best offensive lineman was outstanding in two premier match-ups against Grady Jarrett in Weeks 15 and 17, and he’ll need to continue that level of play against Allen’s patented cross chop-hump move. We know Tom Brady isn’t built to escape the pocket on a consistent basis, but he typically does a great job of navigating edge pressure by stepping up or sliding in the pocket. It’s a lot harder to evade interior pressure, so Marpet and center Ryan Jensen will be key in shutting down Washington’s top pocket pusher.
On the other side of the ball, pressure from anywhere is probably the key to defeating quarterbacks Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke. That’s where Shaq Barrett comes in huge for Todd Bowles’ defensive game plan on Saturday. Washington right tackle Morgan Moses is a good player, but he better have his hands full with Barrett on Saturday. Tampa Bay’s best pass rusher has been up-and-down this season, but if he can win one-on-one on a consistent basis, it’ll keep the Bucs from having to go blitz heavy and instead allow them to drop seven more often and smother the short-intermediate areas of the field. If Barrett wants to be paid as a top-tier pass rusher this season, these are the types of games he needs to be a force in, especially with Tampa Bay’s interior pass rush struggling most of the year.
Matt Matera: LT Donovan Smith and OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
We all know the Bucs’ offense is all about protecting Tom Brady, and that starts and ends with left tackle Donovan Smith. A majority of the Bucs’ losses have been similar in which Brady has been sacked multiple times and the offense failed to score more than 24 points, most notably that came in losses to New Orleans twice and Chicago. The biggest detractor for Smith has been that he’s inconsistent and can take a play or two off, but that can’t happen against Washington pass rushers’ Montez Sweat and Chase Young, who have combined for 16.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns on the season. If Washington smells blood in the water the team will make sure it can get one-on-one match-ups against Smith and dominate the line of scrimmage. That would be a disastrous recipe for the Bucs.
Jason Pierre-Paul was the Bucs’ leading pass rusher this season with 9.5 sacks, just edging out linebacker Devin White, who had nine. While getting back Shaq Barrett is big for the Bucs, White will still be absent from the game, so Pierre-Paul will have to step it up. Since coming to Tampa Bay, no one has talked more passionately about making the playoffs than Pierre-Paul, who’s only been to the postseason once in his career during the 2010 season, making the most of it when the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. Though he led the team in sacks, Pierre-Paul hasn’t taken down the quarterback since Week 13. It’s time to see all that enthusiasm for making the playoffs again come to fruition on Saturday.
Taylor Jenkins: LB Lavonte David and RB Ronald Jones II
Washington wins games by leaning on its defense, finishing the season at 7-9 despite ranking 25th in the NFL at 20.9 points scored per game. Defensively, Washington has allowed the second-fewest yards per game at 304.6 and it specialize in something that has given Tampa Bay problems this season, creating pressure with a fierce front seven that totaled 47 sacks in 2020, the sixth-best mark in the league. We know that when the Bucs’ offense is clicking they’re as dominant as any unit in the league, but should Washington force Tampa Bay into another instance of a slow and uncomfortable start, the Bucs will have to rely on an efficient run game led by Ronald Jones II to stay on schedule and keep the chains moving.
Washington’s offense, as previously stated, has struggled throughout the season. One of the consistent bright spots however has been rookie running back Antonio Gibson, Jr. Gibson, in just 14 games and 10 starts, totaled 795 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 130 carries while adding 36 receptions and 247 yards through the air. Linebacker Lavonte David is the anchor for Tampa Bay’s defense and he will need to fill that role even more so, as second-year linebacker Devin White is set to miss the Bucs’ first round match-up as he remains on the league’s COVID list. In addition to keeping Gibson under wraps, Washington also brings talented tight end Logan Thomas to the table, finishing second on the team with 72 receptions for 670 yards and six touchdowns. David has spent all nine years of his career with Tampa Bay, never seeing a playoff appearance, and he will be the key player on the Bucs’ defense in his first chance at a rare postseason victory.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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