The Giants are getting ready to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here’s what I’ve seen on the coach’s tape from the Bucs in the first two weeks:
When the Bucs Have The Ball…
The Spotlight: Quarterback Jameis Winston
Winston has not gotten off to a fast start this season. He has completed 59% of his passes for 402 yards, and thrown three interceptions to only one touchdown. He has fumbled twice and has three other passes that have hit defenders in the hands but they did not catch. In a one-score game against the 49ers with 2:10 remaining, he threw a screen pass to a blanketed target that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and effectively ended the game. Winston will hold the ball as long as he can so plays can develop down the field, which has contributed to him getting sacked six times this year.
Winston still has a big and accurate arm and can make all the throws. He is willing to put the ball in tight spots and bet that his receiver can get to the football. These types of daring plays can lead to turnovers. At any time, he is capable of an explosive performance that makes him look like a Pro Bowl level player, much like he did against the Giants in 2018.
The Matchup: Mike Evans or Chris Godwin vs. The Giants young defensive backs
The Bucs have two receivers who can consistently beat one-on-one coverage: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Giants will feel confident in Janoris Jenkins covering any receiver in the league, but it will be interesting to see how they decide to deal with the player Jenkins is not charged with covering.
Evans only has six catches for 89 yards to start the season, but his combination of size (6-5, 231), speed and playmaking ability make him one of the toughest covers in the NFL. Godwin has emerged as a dangerous weapon, with 11 catches on just 15 targets for 174 yards and two touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, eight of his catches have resulted in first downs, thanks in part to his 15.8 yards per catch average.
Bucs Scheme and Tendencies
*This is Tampa Bay’s first season in Bruce Arians’ offensive system, which features a downfield passing attack. There are vertical routes and play action in an attempt to make big plays. So far this season, Bucs receivers have had some issues getting open downfield, which has forced Winston to hold the ball in the pocket longer than he would like.
*The Buccaneers have a two running back backfield. They used Ronald Jones more in Week One when he rushed 13 times on his 22 snaps for 75 yards. Peyton Barber had eight carries on 25 snaps. In Week Two, Jones played only seven snaps compared to 40 for Barber, who rushed for 82 yards on 23 carries. Jones is the far more dynamic and explosive runner, with Barber as more of a grinder between the tackles.
*Of the Buccaneers’ 124 offensive snaps, 64 have featured 11 personnel (1 running back and one tight end) and 43 have featured 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends). The Bucs have two very capable tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Howard has played 64 snaps to Brate’s 46, but Brate has one more catch than Howard, who has only been targeted on five passes with 32 receiving yards to show for it over two games. This week, Arians was asked why Howard hasn’t broken out this season.
"You'd probably have to ask him," Arians said. "He's got so much talent and he can play a heck of a lot better than he's playing."
*The Buccaneers have had some trouble protecting the passer, especially on the outside. According to PFF, left tackle Donovan Smith and right tackle Demar Dotson have combined to allow three quarterback hits and five hurries. Smith has committed five penalties and Dotson has committed two.
*The Bucs offense has run the ball on 63% of their 1st and 10 opportunities in the first half of games, the 5th highest rate in the league. They are most likely to run with two tight ends on the field, with 24 runs to only 19 passes in that personnel group. Fouty-five percent of their run plays come in 12 personnel even though that personnel group makes up less than 35% of their plays.
*The Bucs are only averaging 18.5 points per game, which ranks 21st in the league. They’ve only scored touchdowns on two of six red zone appearances. Their 20 penalties is near the most in the league. Their 4.71 yards per play ranks 28th. They are only converting 30% of their third downs (23rd in the NFL), which can be partially explained by their average distance to go on second downs, 9.05 yards, which is ranked 28th in the league. They have only six plays of 20 yards or more, and Winston’s passer rating on passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air is 39.6, tied for 25th in the league.
*Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher worked under Arians and Todd Bowles in Arizona, so there is knowledge of what they are going to try to do. There is no way to predict how that will manifest itself in the game.
Quotebook: Bettcher on how that familiarity might impact the game: “They practiced against a similar scheme during training camp and OTAs with Todd (Bowles) being the coordinator there. It’s certainly not me versus him. He’s someone I respect more than I can probably put into words. Personally, I’m very close with him and his wife Chris and their family (is close) with my family. I owe him a ton. I do. Again, I couldn’t put it into words. But this isn’t about him or me and all that stuff. It’s about us lining up, having our eyes right, playing with good fundamentals and techniques, communicating on downs and playing fast.”
Keys For The Giants Defense
*Prevent big plays in the passing game
*Force Jameis Winston into turnovers
*Don’t let Winston hold the ball in the pocket
When The Giants Have The Ball…
The Spotlight: Defensive End Shaquil Barrett
Barrett left a part-time role with the Broncos in the offseason and has thrived as a full-time edge rusher with the Buccaneers in his first two games. He is the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week and is second in the NFL with four sacks. According to PFF, he also has a quarterback hit and four hurries in the first two weeks of the season.
Barrett is a smaller pass rusher at 6-2 and 250 pounds and fits perfectly into that hybrid 3-4 edge rusher position that Todd Bowles covets. He will primarily line up over Nate Solder as the right outside linebacker in base or the right defensive end in sub-packages.
The Matchup: Vita Vea vs. Giants Interior Offensive Line
Vea was the Bucs 12th overall pick in the 2018 Draft. He has carried his strong play at the end of 2018 into his second season. A massive human being at 6-4 and 347 pounds, Vea is an immoveable object in the middle of the defensive line. He is a big reason that the Bucs are the third best run defense, allowing only 2.69 rush yards per play.
In addition to his size, Vea is an athlete and has flashed ability to get after the quarterback. He does not have a sack this season but according to PFF, he does have one quarterback hit and four hurries. Vea is an emerging star as a one-technique who can control the interior of the line of scrimmage.
Bucs Scheme and Tendencies
*The Bucs are going to send pressure and play man defense. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Tampa Bay has blitzed on a league leading 56.1% of dropbacks this season. They blitzed Cam Newton an absurd 63% of the time last week. Those numbers should remain high since Daniel Jones is making his first NFL start. Jones did handle pressure well in the preseason, completing 9 of 10 passes for 118 yards against the blitz. According to PFF, in the Giants’ first two regular season games, they are 11 of 20 for 110 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions against the blitz. Even with their 55 blitzes this season, the Bucs have only four sacks, all by Barrett, which is tied for 19th in the league.
Quotebook: Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula: “They do such a good job (with their blitzes), it poses a lot of problems for a lot of offenses. As we go into the game, you can imagine starting a rookie quarterback is probably going to increase it a little bit. They’re really good at what they do, and they’re really fast at doing it, and they give you a lot of disguises, so I think all of those things present problems. So, we’ve really got to be on point with our recognition and our communication.”
*The Bucs will play mostly man-to-man defense behind those blitzes. According to PFF, they are in cover 1 (man-to-man with a single high safety) 43% of the time and in cover zero (man-to-man, no high safety) 11% of the time. Their other two most frequent coverages are quarters and cover 3, which are both played 18% of the time. They will drop a second safety late to try to disguise whenever they play quarters coverage.
*The Bucs talent on their defensive line extends beyond Barrett and Vea. Ndamukong Suh is their 3-technique and can dominate. Carl Nassib is their other edge rusher, but don’t be surprised to see more of rookie Anthony Nelson from Iowa, who has played well in his first two games. William Gholston is their other interior defensive lineman.
*Bowles has his unit playing an aggressive and effective defense. According to PFF, they put eight men in the box on 15 snaps last week against the Panthers, which helped hold Christian McCaffrey to just 37 yards on 16 carries. Usually a threat through the air, McCaffrey had only two catches for 16 yards. It is easy to anticipate a similar game plan to slow down Saquon Barkley this week. The Bucs have allowed only five rushes of 10 or more yards, and no rushes of 20 or more yards.
*Linebacker Lavonte David never leaves the field and is the Bucs “do-everything” inside linebacker. He can cover, is strong against the run, and is rarely fooled. Safety Jordan Whitehead is a very steady tackler and is aggressive near the line of scrimmage against the run.
*Vernon Hargreaves is having his best season as professional and is the Bucs top cover cornerback. He is no longer being asked to cover in the slot, and has been used primarily as an outside cornerback. Against the 49ers, he sat back in zone and anticipated a short Jimmy Garoppolo pass for a pick-six. Carlton Davis is the other outside cornerback, with M.J. Stewart playing primarily in the slot.
*The Bucs are one of the best third-down defenses in football, holding teams to a 29.6% conversion rate (7th in the NFL). On third downs of six or more yards, teams are only converting 12% of their first downs (5th best in the league). According to PFF, teams have passed on the Bucs on 22 third down attempts. Tampa Bay has blitzed on 13 of those plays, and played man on 10 of those 13 plays.
*The Bucs are ranked eighth in yards allowed per game (304) and fourth in yards per play (4.57). The Buccaneers have allowed six red zone trips against them and haven’t given up a touchdown. They are a stout defense that will provide a challenge for the Giants.
Keys For The Giants Defense
*Run the ball consistently to keep the pressure off the rookie quarterback
*Handle Tampa Bay pressure on third downs
*Score touchdowns in the red zone