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Giants vs. Buccaneers: 5 Players to watch in Week 8

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The Giants have had a tough schedule to start the season, facing some of the league's top defenses in the first seven weeks. Things won't get much easier in Week 8 as the Giants will welcome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to MetLife Stadium for a showdown on Monday Night Football. 

The Giants suffered a heart-breaking 22-21 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles last week on Thursday Night Football. The defense limited the Eagles to one touchdown in the first 55 minutes of the game, but then allowed two touchdowns in the final few minutes, including a score with just 46 seconds remaining. 

Tampa Bay is coming off a strong 45-20 road victory over the Raiders. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady completed over 73 percent of his passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, adding a 1-yard rushing score. The Bucs' offense has been rolling in recent weeks, scoring 38 or more points in three of the last four contests, while the defense has not allowed more than 20 points in any of its last three games.  

Here are five players to watch heading into the matchup.

Daniel Jones

Jones rebounded in last week's game against the Eagles. He completed a season-high 66.7 percent of his passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns, his first multi-touchdown game since Week 1. In addition to his solid passing numbers, Jones added four rushes for a career-high 92 yards, including an 80-yard scamper in which he reached 21.23 miles per hour, the fastest QB speed in the NFL over the last three seasons. 

It's been an interesting start to the season for Jones. His completion percentage on the year is exactly on-par with his mark from last season as Jones is completing 61.9 percent of his passes through seven games. However, both his yards and touchdowns are well-below his rookie year numbers. Jones has thrown for just 1,410 yards and five touchdowns this year after reaching 3,010 yards and 24 touchdowns in 12 starts last season. However, Jones has played a much bigger role in the running game in 2020. His 296 yards on 31 attempts (9.5 yards per carry) has already topped his rushing marks from last season (279 yards on 45 carries, 6.2 avg.).

Coordinator Todd Bowles has the Buccaneers' defense playing as well as it has in recent years. The unit comes into this Monday night matchup with the ninth-best passing defense (225.3 avg.). Tampa Bay's defense has given up nine passing touchdowns on the season, tied for the eighth-best mark in the league - but the unit has been a bit susceptible to opposing quarterbacks running the ball. The opposing QB has run for at least 14 yards in four of the Bucs' last five games, despite the unit ranking as the NFL's top rush defense.  

"I think his players play very hard," head coach Joe Judge said about Bowles' defense. "They're very talented. But they don't make a lot of impact just because of talent. It's about how they play schematically and fundamentally. I think this is a good tackling team. It's a very good pass rush team. The DBs on the back end, although you would say this is the younger group of their defense compared to their front, they're very productive, they cover very, very tightly, they're opportunistic and get their hands on a lot of balls, and they break extremely fast when they're in zone with good vision on the quarterback. They get a number of hats to the ball if there's any kind of deflection."

Darius Slayton

Slayton leads the Giants in just about every receiving statistic this season. He has caught 27 passes on 47 targets for 429 yards (15.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. Slayton's 41-yard touchdown reception in Week 1 against the Steelers still remains the team's longest passing play of the season, while his 429 receiving yards ranks 23rd among NFL wide receivers.

Slayton has converted 81.5 percent of his receptions into first downs, one of the highest marks in the league among receivers with 15+ receptions. 

The Buccaneers have allowed 19 passing plays of 20+ yards this season, the 12th-best mark in the NFL. However, they have also surrendered four passing plays of 40+ yards, tied for the seventh-most in the league. In last week's win over the Raiders, the Bucs allowed Derek Carr to complete five passing plays of 20+ yards, including a 44-yard pass to Nelson Agholor which set up a Raiders touchdown.  

"They're a good group. They have a lot of good players across the board," Jones said this week about the Buccaneers' defense. "Their scheme and what they're doing from a strategy perspective or a scheme perspective is good, too. But we'll be prepared for it. Yeah, that's part of any plan for us each week is to push the ball down the field and take shots when they're there. We'll be prepared and ready to go on Monday night." 

Dexter Lawrence

Lawrence has registered 27 tackles (16 solo), 2.0 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and four quarterback hits in his sophomore campaign. He is on pace to shatter all of his rookie season marks while playing a lower percentage of the team's defensive snaps this year (60 percent) than last year (63 percent).

Lawrence has also produced six QB pressures on the season. His ability to get after the quarterback has helped him earn a strong 77.4 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus. The analytics site has awarded Lawrence an overall grade of 75.8 over the first seven games of the season, which ranks 17th among all interior defensive linemen. Dalvin Tomlinson (13th) and Leonard Williams (16th) also rank among some of the league's best interior defensive linemen – they will need to put pressure on Brady Monday. 

The Buccaneers are among the league-leaders in protecting the quarterback. Heading into Week 8, Brady has only been taken down eight times on the season, tied for the second-lowest in the NFL. All five starting offensive linemen have been playing well, as they all have earned overall grades of 66.2 or higher from PFF. Through seven games, the brightest star among the unit has been guard Ali Marpet, who has earned an 87.9 overall grade thanks to dominating performances in both the run and pass game. 

"I haven't seen anybody work as hard as him, be as studious as him," defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said about his time spent with Brady. "In front of the meetings, when Bill (Belichick) used to have meetings, he was up there in front taking notes. It shows the hard work pays off from what you see on the field. What I'm seeing now with Tampa Bay, it's a continuation and obviously the combination of him, B.A. (Bruce Arians) and Leftwich working together and with the tools he has in Tampa Bay. Tom is getting rid of the ball pretty quickly, making the right decisions."

James Bradberry

In his first season with the Giants, Bradberry registered 25 tackles (20 solo), three interceptions, a league-high 11 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. The 11 pass breakups are tied for the NFL lead, while his three interceptions is tied for second and just one behind the league lead. 

Bradberry has faced receivers such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson, Robert Woods and Amari Cooper so far this season, and was able to keep all of them in-check. 

"He has patience and he has length," Logan Ryan said this week of his teammate. "He's got this calmness and this poise about him that I've seen in some other guys that are elite corners in this league and he's one of a kind… I believed in James Bradberry before I ever met him. When I play with him, I am his biggest believer, I'm his biggest fan. I'm hyping him up. I think he is the best corner in the league and I'm going to tell him that every day. I think he is playing like it."

Bradberry spent his first four seasons with the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South, meaning he knows all about the Bucs' offensive weapons. The corner has faced off against Tampa Bay on eight occasions, and in each game, his main responsibility was to cover Buccaneers big-play wideout Mike Evans. In the previous meeting between the two, Evans was able to reel in nine passes for 96 yards. In the three prior matchups to that Week 6 meeting last season, Bradberry limited Evans to just nine receptions for 125 yards and zero touchdowns total. Evans was targeted 59 times total in his last six outings against Bradberry and was held out of the end zone, while topping 61 yards in just two of those games. 

 "I feel like Mike Evans, he's the same guy that he was a year ago, two years ago," Bradberry said this week. "Big, physical guy, plays well through press coverage because he's a strong, physical guy. He's 6-5, 230 (pounds), I think, 220, long arms. I think his best attribute is he's able to go up there and attack the ball at the highest point. Just an elite receiver overall. A lot of it is just mental recall from the past experiences when I played him when it comes to pressing him, when he gives his release off the line, stuff like that."

Logan Ryan

Logan Ryan has registered 44 tackles (33 solo), 1.0 sack, one tackle for loss, three quarterback hits, one forced fumble and five passes defended in his first season with the Giants. Over the last five games, the late free agent signee has been on the field for every single defensive snap.

Ryan faced off against former Patriots teammates Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski every day at practice through the first four seasons of his career. He then joined the Titans for three seasons, where he went up against the Patriots once each year. In fact, Ryan ended Brady's tenure with the Patriots by intercepting a pass and returning it nine yards for the game-winning touchdown in last year's AFC Wild Card Game.

After retiring for the 2019 season, it took Gronkowski a few games to really get going. The veteran tight end was held to two receptions for 11 yards total in his first two games, before picking it up in Week 3. Since the Bucs' Week 3 game against the Broncos, Gronkowski has recorded at least 48 yards in four of five games. Over Tampa Bay's last two games, the 31-year-old tight end has reeled in 10 of 16 targets for 140 yards and two touchdowns, clearly re-emerging as one of Brady's favorite options in the passing game. 

"What I see in Tom Brady is Tom Brady," Ryan told reporters this week. "Like fine wine, he keeps getting better. Twenty years of experience, arguably, I think the best player to play the game, the best quarterback. He does everything he can to figure out the defense. He's a great point guard in this league where he just distributes the ball to his playmakers. He has everyone playing well for him. They have a guy Scotty Miller, number 10, who's running past everybody. Mike Evans, Godwin, Gronk is back to old Gronk form.  

"He brings the best out of his teammates. He is one of the greatest teammates I ever had. He makes everyone around him better and that's what I see in Tampa. The same old Tom Brady to me and that's excellence."

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starters ahead of the Week 8 matchup, based on their unofficial depth chart.

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