FAB 4. Bucs Face 2 Franchise QBs In 5 Days

After what Case Keenum was able to do against Tampa Bay’s defense in last week’s 34-17 loss at Minnesota, maybe facing two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning and his New York Giants and five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and his New England Patriots within the span of five days will actually be easier for the Buccaneers.

After all, in completing 25-of-33 passes for 369 yards (75.8 percent) with three touchdowns and no interceptions Keenum looked like Brady to the Bucs.

“Yeah, he did,” said Ryan Smith, who got his first NFL start at cornerback last week for the injured Brent Grimes.

Vikings QB Case Keenum - Photo by: Getty Images
Vikings QB Case Keenum – Photo by: Getty Images

While Keenum clearly has their number and is 3-0 against Tampa Bay, Manning and Brady are also undefeated against the Bucs.

Manning is 4-0 versus Tampa Bay with two of those wins coming at Raymond James Stadium. After Manning completed 31-of-51 (60.8 percent) passes for 510 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions in a 41-34 win over Tampa Bay in 2012 in New York, Manning beat the Bucs in Tampa Bay, 32-18, while competing 65 percent of his passes (26-of-40) for 213 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brady is 3-0 against the Bucs as the Patriots have outscored Tampa Bay 86-10 in games in 2005 (28-0), 2009 (35-7) and 2013 (23-3). In those games, Brady has completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 791 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.

“They are great quarterbacks and they are guys that are experienced they can put the ball wherever they want to,” Bucs safety Chris Conte said. “They can read defenses. We face a lot of tough quarterbacks this year, but those two are as good as it gets. It really tests us as DBs to be on top of our game and know that you can’t make mistakes because these guys will take advantage of it. As a competitor you want to compete against the best and bring your best to the table.

Despite having the second-worst passing defense this year, allowing 329.5 yards per game, the Bucs secondary is eager to do battle against two elite quarterbacks who lead two teams that really like to throw the ball.

Giants QB Eli Manning - Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
Giants QB Eli Manning – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR

“You want to go against guys that want to throw the ball because it gives you more opportunities to make plays,” Conte said. “A team like the Giants, there is no doubt that they are going to come out and throw the football. We have to be on top of our game. We have to keep our home-field advantage going and bring our effort like we did in Week 1.”

Smith, who played on defense for just the second time last week has been looking forward to playing against the likes of Manning and Brady for months.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for me and for us,” Smith said. “It’s something I’ve been speaking about and my family has been speaking about since the offseason. This is my second year and I don’t really have much experience on the defensive side, but at the same time, when my name is called I have to go out and compete. I’m a competitor. That’s why I’m here. I love to compete. To go against those two guys – it’s an honor.”

Not only will the Bucs have to worry about two great quarterbacks in the span of five days, but the Giants and Patriots each have unique weapons in New York’s three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. and New England’s four-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski. Up first is OBJ.

“It’s the NFL, and it doesn’t get any easier,” said Smith, who gave up much of Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs’ eight catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Tampa Bay. “Odell is a great receiver and he’s somebody I watch and I’m a fan of. At the same time, he’s a human being. Just like the rest of us. I’m going to go in with the same mentality of ‘I’m going to win’ and go from there.

“You’ve seen everything he’s done. He’s a great wideout – probably the best or top two in the league.”

Smith may see reduced snaps on Sunday as Grimes expected to start and cover Beckham for a good portion of the game. But if he sees playing time at cornerback against Manning or Brady the opportunity is there to record his first interception against a living legend.

Patriots QB Tom Brady - Photo by: Getty Images
Patriots QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

“Honestly, if that happened you won’t be able to tell me nothing for a little bit!” Smith said. “Those are great quarterbacks that have done some great things in the NFL. This is the beginning of my second year. Those guys have been playing forever. They are Hall of Fame guys. To even be on the same field with them is a blessing. To get an interception against either one of them would be a huge plus. That would be a trophy interception! Everybody can’t say they have picked off a future Hall of Famer. Shoot, that’s what I’m here for.”

Conte, a seasoned veteran, is gunning for two wins within a week. If he gets his first interception of the season off Manning or Brady so be it – as long as the Bucs win.

“To me, all interceptions count the same at the end of the day,” Conte said. “Yes, getting an interception off certain guys is great, but to me an interception is an interception. I’d rather get a win than a pick and that’s the biggest thing. You treat every opponent the same no matter who is back there at quarterback.”

The Bucs play three dynamite quarterbacks twice a year in future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees, and the league’s last two MVPs in Carolina’s Cam Newton and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. All three have been to one Super Bowl with Brees the lone winner.

But Manning and Brady are exceptional. Brady is the only quarterback in NFL history to go to the Super Bowl seven times and he’s won championships, including last year’s thrilling overtime win against Atlanta in which Brady led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter. Manning is 2-0 in the Super Bowl with both of his wins coming against Brady and the Patriots.

Getting to Manning and Brady with the pass rush is of ultra importance because each veteran has a quick release, and that spells trouble for the Bucs defense, which only has one sack on the year despite 78 pass attempts by opposing quarterbacks. In last week’s loss at Minnesota, Keenum wasn’t sacked once in 33 pass attempts.

Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

On Wednesday, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith shared his concern over the team’s lack of pass rush through the first two games of the 2017 season. Without starting linebackers Kwon Alexander (hamstring) and Lavonte David (ankle) for these two games, the defensive line must find a way to disrupt Manning and Brady.

“It’s a concern,” Smith said. “If you look at the game last week there were a lot of seven-man protections. We probably could have done a better job in terms of what I wanted to present against those seven-man protections. It is a concern. This is about affecting the quarterback. Sacks aren’t the only number. It’s getting him off a spot. It’s hitting him. Obviously we have not had the sack numbers we’d like, but these are the guys we’ve got and we’ve got to coach them up and get them going. We have to do a better job schematically putting them in position where they can put pressure the quarterback.”

With second-year defensive end Noah Spence dislocating his shoulder – which is the same injury he suffered last year – in last week’s loss at Minnesota, the team may get a boost with the return of defensive end Jacquies Smith, the Bucs’ second leading sacker in 2014 and ’15 with a combined 13.5.

The opportunity to record a sack against Manning and Brady would not only aid Tampa Bay’s chances of winning, but special moments for Tampa Bay’s pass rushers.

“Those are poster sacks, man,” Smith said. “Those are picture sacks. Those are the kind of pics that you hang up on the wall in your man cave. Those are the ones you want to show your kids and say, ‘I went up against one of the greatest quarterbacks and played against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.’ You want to get to those guys. You are hungry for them. We have to put in the right preparation, though. They are great quarterbacks for a reason. They’re not going to hand you sacks.”

Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald has sacked Brees twice as a Buccaneer, and would love to add Manning and Brady to his collection.

“That’s definitely going to be the case because you’ve got two high profile quarterbacks,” McDonald said. “Even though they are trophy sacks, a sack is a sack. Our main objective is to stop the run and disrupt the quarterback. At the same time, we know what these guys are capable of. These guys are multiple Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. They know how to get rid of the ball, read defenses and perform at a high level each and every play. Our job has to be every man doing his job. It’s definitely not going to be easy.”

Patriots QB Tom Brady - Photo by: Getty Images
Patriots QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

The Bucs’ metric for success when it comes to the pass rush is to get at least one sack for every 14 pass attempts. Applying that metric, the Bucs should 5-6 sacks on the season rather just one, which has frustrated the defensive linemen.

“It does get you in your craw, but I’ve been a part of groups where we didn’t have a sack for two or three weeks and then all of a sudden you get five sacks in one game,” McDonald said. “They get paid, too. They get paid to block us up. They get paid to scout us. We can’t put our guard down when we play the Rams or somebody people think we should beat because any given Sunday you can get beat by any team. Now we’ve got two great ones coming in and they have a mindset of a chess player – not a checkers player.”

The good news for Tampa Bay is that the offensive lines in New York and New England haven’t exactly been stout in pass protection this season. Manning has been sacked eight times in three games, including five times by Detroit two weeks ago. Brady has been sacked 10 times, including five times last week against Houston.

These are the types of games where the Bucs defense needs to come alive and five sacks.

Game on.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

14 COMMENTS

  1. If we try to control the Giants game with the run then we are in very serious trouble of getting behind quickly. This is the game we need to throw, throw, throw. Thursday we can run to keep Brady off the field. Go Bucs! Coaches, please make adjustments quicker!

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    • “Throw, throw, throw “is a recipe for Jameis tossing lots of passes to the other team, thus putting our defense in the hole, and tuckering out an already depleted defense by the second half.

      Run/Pass/Run, or an even mix of running and passing is the only way to thrive.

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      • I’d agree with you Naples, we need to run the ball effectively in this game to win. We need it for Jameis and play action, but to keep our defense off of the field.

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  2. Way too much panic here over the running game. We didn’t run the ball in one game because our defense was completely decimated by injury and let us get behind early, so we only ran it 8 times, which is pretty ridiculous.

    I’m going out on a limb here, sure to draw some hate from pass happy fans, but just because you’re behind in the score due to poor defense, the answer isn’t to pass 100% of the time. Particularly through the first three quarters. The reasons are obvious:

    1) It’s making the opposing defense’s job way too easy going one dimensional early in the game .. you are guaranteeing the D will pin their ears back and play pass defense all day long, which is self defeating.

    2) Jameis – he throws INTs when he throws too often and when he throws when playing from behind. That’s just how he is, at least so far in his NFL career.

    Listen, if we’re behind 28-3 in the fourth quarter, sure, you have to pass every down, virtually, just to preserve the clock. But running only 8 times the entire game, and that trend starting in the first quarter? Nope, that’s not productive.

    Yet, this is what NFL coaches do most of the time, Koetter is no different. Maybe this is a teachable moment not just for the offensive players, but for the offensive play caller.

    When your defense is letting the other guys score, the most important thing to do is run the ball well, which consumes game clock, keeps your quarterback from doing stupid stuff, and as long as you keep making first downs, it keeps the other guy’s offense off the field, which is a tremendous help to a rickety defense.

    If Jacquizz can’t get it done, then switch to Payton and see what he can do. DON’T give up on the run in the first half, it will only compound the problems of a leaky defense and a passing offense that turns it over too often.

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  3. The Bucs run game will be better when Doug Martin returns. We have to make secondaries respect the run and not play back and double cover our WRs. The Bucs cannot win with a pass first offense. Pretty sure everybody saw how Green Bay used the run and the short pass game to defeat Chicago last night. Dirk Koetter could take a page out of that book and our budding QB could use that relief.

    Unfortunate situation, but it is what it is now. Doug will play at the top of his game when he returns, play for the Bucs next year in a marginal role on a different contract, or play for another team. Let’s hope it works out for him and the Bucs.

    But fear not if worse comes to worse, next year’s draft is loaded with RB talent. If the Bucs play well from this point on as I expect, Saquon Barkley/Penn State and Derrious Guice/LSU will be long gone. But keep an eye on later round RBs like Akrum Barkley/Iowa, Bryce Love/Stanford, and Kalen Ballage/Arizona State.

    One way or another the Bucs will get this fixed. Go Bucs!

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    • Sorry, meant to say Akrum Wadley/Iowa.

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  4. “Aside from the famous names like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Oregon’s Royce Freeman and USC’s Ronald Jones II, keep an eye on some unheralded prospects, such as Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, Stanford’s Bryce Love, the heir apparent to Christian McCaffrey, and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, the heir apparent to Donnell Pumphrey.”

    You need to add Tennessee’s John Kelly to this list. His combination of speed/balance/power is truly impressive, and since he sat behind Kamara and Hurd all of last year, he’s going to be undervalued in the draft and a mid round steal by whoever gets him.
    https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2017/9/29/16370164/john-kelly-tennessee-volunteers-running-back

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    • Good call Hank, and Great Clip!

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  5. Doug is the most talented back on the roster. That’s not debatable. He looked good in camp and preseason games. If he can even get close to 1,000 yards, we’ll be in good shape with Quizz & Barber providing needed rest/change of pace. Maybe he comes back at a Pro Bowl level. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way RB will be a top priority next draft.

    Maybe Licht thought he was getting a steal in McNichols and expected him to push Doug out. But the whole offseason strategy with Doug has been odd. Drug suspension voided his guaranteed money & I believe his dead cap hit. If they didn’t believe in him, (which they had ample reason not to) just cut him, draft a RB high and go about the offseason without question marks.

    We needed WR depth in case of injury, (see last season) so I’m fine with Godwin. He had a much better game on Sunday than he did against the Bears. Excited about him. The Evans pick is debatable, as we already had signed Wilcox in FA. We could have gone DE (needed) CB (needed) or RB in the second round. I do think Evans will be a nice player, but as Scott said, he’s not gonna help much on a win now team.

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  6. You should not be allowed to lump Brady and Eli manning into any category. There is nothing Great about Eli Manning.

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  7. Eli is a shell of his old self. His career statistics are not that great. His reputation was made on the two Super Bowl wins. That being said, Buccaneers are too banged up to win this one. I want to be wrong, but I see a final score of 28-24 Giants. As for the running game, hey, we are in Game 3. The offensive line looks better than last year to me. They will take time to gel. I’m looking at a 1-3 start offset by six wins a row. Hang in there fans. We’ve had some bad luck, but in three weeks we should have a healthier lineup and a more favorable schedule.

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    • Eli is definitely on the downside of his career. He’s a statue behind a terrible OL. He doesn’t handle pressure well anymore & he’s missing reads consistently. Luckily the injury report is better than last week. Grimes, Baker, Spence, GMC, Ayers all practiced & will play on Sunday. I agree the OL looks better, but Smith has still let in 10 pressures through 2 games. He has to get better in protecting Winston’s blind side. Hopefully the run game rebounds.

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  8. I’m not gunna criticize Licht too much, since he’s the pro and obviously has more knowledge than I do.
    But I will say that my motto has been that we should take at LEAST one offensive or defensive lineman with one of our first three picks every year. I think those are the two most important groups to have depth for. Other than having an elite QB I think the fastest path to playoff team is having an above average o-line and d-line and being able to win in the trenches on a consistent basis. And this will obviously help our run and PA game if we are controlling the line of scrimmage.

    I am hoping for D Smith to turn a corner this year and be our LT of the future. Whether he does or doesn’t I hope we take a tackle this year in the first three rounds just to build more depth. We all remember what happened in the Dallas game last year when Dotson when down.

    On a side note. I hope we draft the tackle out of UW, Trey Adams next year. I think he will be able to compete with Smith and eventually take over for Dotson when the time comes.

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  9. Maybe the BUCS should read PR. Did you not call for drafting Kamara?
    Go Bucs

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