Although Friday night’s matchup between Tampa Bay and Cleveland lacked any sort of spark on offense, the defensive backs for the Bucs stepped up in a big way. Before we talk about the secondary not allowing a touchdown or the amount of flying bodies I saw diving for pass deflections, let’s talk about the lights out game that was played by strong safety, Jordan Whitehead.
Whitehead’s Big Night
The second year player out of Pittsburgh was all over the field Friday and tied for game high in total tackles (4). Here’s what I observed from Whitehead’s all-around night:
– He’s a much more instinctive player than he was last year. He’s reading offenses and making pro level plays.
– A sure tackler. All too often you notice great players who give up yards after contact because of tackling technique. Whitehead was making solid, compact tackles all over the field that stopped players in their tracks and minimalized yardage.
– His interception was simply a great bait play. Read the quarterback’s eyes,stayed low in coverage and broke to the ball right when he needed to. Enjoy the highlight.
Jordan Whitehead comes up with interception to close out the half for the @Buccaneers!
— NFL (@NFL) August 24, 2019
It’s a pleasant surprise to see Whitehead maturing rapidly so early in his career and hopefully he takes the momentum earned into the regular season. With his play keeping the coaches happy and the cautious efforts to slowly bring back rookie Mike Edwards, the strong safety spot (for the moment) seems like his to lose.
Collective Unit Mentality
For all the hype about Whitehead’s excellent play, his teammates in the secondary served up excellent performances themselves. Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis stepped up in a big way. Their coverage was sticky all game while both men flew around the field neglecting catches and racking up pass deflections. Ryan Smith even showed up tonight with four solo tackles. One of the bigger showings for me though was MJ Stewart. His play Friday night has all but supplanted Sean Murphy-Bunting from the starting nickel corner.
The cornerbacks played lockdown football for the majority of the game and held Baker Mayfield to a disappointment 10/26 for 72 yards and an interception. These were his numbers for an entire half. You would’ve thought the Browns were facing the 03’ Bucs defense. Let the lockdown play continue.
Photo credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports