EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants tomorrow will host the NFL's most schizophrenic team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an offense that is at the top of the NFL in some statistical categories and at the bottom in others. And while the offense has been one of the NFL's most productive, the defense has struggled.
The Bucs are 3-6 and have lost six of their last seven games, but the Giants only see a team that posts impressive numbers and has an array of talented players.
"This week's going to be a great challenge," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "As we all know, one of the best offenses in the league, 500 yards this past week. If I remember right, that's three or four times this year they've put up 500 yards on people."
He is correct. Tampa Bay has gained at least 500 yards in a game four times, and at least 400 yards in three other contests. The Bucs lead the NFL with averages of 452.8 total yards and 361.2 passing yards a game.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has reclaimed the starting job from Jameis Winston and leads the NFL with an average of 9.8 yards per pass attempt. He has thrown 17 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
Fitzpatrick throws to one of the league's deepest and most talented stable of targets, including wideouts Mike Evans (50 catches, 837 yards, four touchdowns), Chris Godwin (37 catches, 483 yards, four touchdowns), Adam Humphries (37 catches, 431 yards, two touchdowns), and DeSean Jackson (33 catches, 693 yards, four touchdowns), plus tight ends O.J. Howard (29 catches, 487 yards, five touchdowns) and Cameron Brate (15 catches, 143 yards, three touchdowns).
"This offense is a passing offense," said safety Landon Collins. "We see they got a lot of weapons out there. They use them very well, they got a quarterback that's not scared to throw the ball and give his receivers a chance to catch the ball and make plays and they do a great job."
"It is taxing (trying to cover them all)," coach Pat Shurmur said. "I was with DeSean in Philly, so I know how he can impact the defense, and then Evans. They've got a lot of playmakers, so it's hard to overload and double on somebody when the other guy can beat you one-on-one as well. That's where the challenge of playing team defense is going to come in. Everybody's got to make sure they get good pressure on the passer and the guys in coverage got to do a good job of staying tight."
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Despite the gaudy stats and the impressive skillsets of the offensive players, Tampa Bay is just 12th in the league in points, averaging 25.7 points a game. Last week was a microcosm of the Bucs' season; they gained 501 yards vs. Washington, but scored only three points in a 13-point defeat.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter spoke about his team's split personality.
"(It is) the first time in NFL history that it's happened like that," Koetter said of the yardage/points chasm. "There's a lot of both (good and bad). The goods are we moved the ball up and down the field, we had a lot of explosives, we had a lot of first downs, we had a lot of third-down conversions. The bads, the main one, we only had three points, we had four turnovers, and we were 0-for-five in the red zone. The good are we moved the football consistently, the bad, however you get there you've got to score points to win."
The culprit has been turnovers. Tampa Bay has committed a league-leading 25, three more than any other team. The Buccaneers' turnover minus-19 turnover differential is easily the NFL's worst; the Giants' last opponent, San Francisco, is second at minus-15 (the Giants are at minus-two).
The Buccaneers' offense has to score a lot of points, because the defense is giving them up at a pace that is difficult to match. Koetter fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith after the season's fifth game and replaced him with Mark Duffer, but the points parade has continued. Even after allowing just 16 points last week, Tampa Bay is giving up an average of 32.3 points a game, which projects to 517 for the entire season. That would tie the second-highest total in NFL history, by the 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008.
The most problematic area for the Buccaneers has been the red zone, where they've allowed 28 touchdowns in 32 opposing trips inside the 20, a league-worst 87.5 percentage.
Opposing quarterbacks have completed 73.6 percent of their passes and thrown for 23 touchdowns and just one interception for a passer rating of 122.3.
"I don't put any stock in it," Shurmur said of those numbers. "We watch the tape, we see how they play, and we have a plan to attack them. Sometimes it doesn't always play out that way. They've put up points in the games they play well in, so other teams then throw the ball. We're aware of it obviously, it does help paint a picture, but it doesn't always play out some people may predict it might."
The prediction for tomorrow is a lot of points could be scored. The Giants have to find a way to score one more than the Bucs.
*The Giants lead the regular-season series, 13-7, and won the teams' only postseason meeting in a 2007 NFC Wild Card Game. They last met on Oct. 1, 2017, in Raymond James Stadium, where Nick Folk kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bucs a 25-23 victory. That broke the Giants' five-game winning streak in the series, including the postseason win. The Giants are 7-1 at home against the Buccaneers.
*The Giants, in partnership with Stop & Shop, will host their 22nd annual food drive at MetLife Stadium when they host Tampa Bay tomorrow. Fans are encouraged to bring canned or non-perishable food items and donate them into collection bins that will be located at all stadium entry gates.
All contributions will be donated to the Food Bank for New York City for distribution to local partner charities in the area. This year more than ever support is needed, as it is getting increasingly more difficult for those in need to put food on their table.
Since 1997, the Giants' annual food drive has helped feed thousands of hungry families during the holiday season. Thanks to the generosity of Giants fans, about 5,000 pounds of canned or non-perishable food is collected each year.
For more information about the food drive, contact the Community Relations Department of the New York Giants at (201) 935-8111.