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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.