Mission Impossible: Stopping Michael Thomas

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They don’t make receivers like they used to. Some receivers are easily replaceable in this new era of football. And then there is Michael Thomas. The Ohio State Buckeye has already shattered the record for most receptions in the first three years. The 6 ft 3, 212 lb Menace, has taken the NFL by storm. In his career he has only missed one game, and that was during his rookie season. The numbers are staggering. He has caught more than 76% of all targets thrown to him. He is currently responsible for 224 first downs. His physique and skill-set make him a prototype for every wide receiver to be. Quick off of the line of scrimmage, speed that can beat defenders, and size to bully undersized corners attempting to cover him.

If one were to compare his hands to anyone, first name mentioned would be Cris Carter. Elite route runner, continually producing in front of home crowds, and a volume receiver who doesn’t take prolonged breaks. Michael Thomas is a gamer. The only words that properly describe his four-year tear in the NFL is efficient. He has caught more than 76% of all of his targets. Every team passed up on him in the 2016 draft. New Orleans, took a chance on him in the second round with the 47th pick, and he has not disappointed. The LA kid, playing in New Orleans, has hall of fame numbers in only three and a half years time. So far this season, he has 34 catches for 361 yards. The only stat that he is currently lacking is touchdowns in the endzone. He only has one so far this season.

The last 3 weeks of the NFL season have been unkind to the Tampa Bay Bucs defense. In week 2 of a short week, they had to face Christian McCaffrey and the Carolina Panthers. Week 3, at home in Raymond James Stadium, they were invaded by Giants fans, and had to deal with Saquon Barkley and a rookie quarterback by the name of Daniel Jones. Week 4, they were counted out before the game was even played. A trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams happened to be the best medicine for this team that was lacking an identity. But now, in the mist of another division game, the Tampa Bay defense has proven that they can stop the run, but can they stop a juggernaut of a wide receiver? That remains to be seen. And that’s the only word to describe Michael Thomas.

For his career, Thomas has 355 receptions off of 460 targets. His current yardage total for his young career is 4,148 yards. If one were to nitpick a weakness in his arsenal, it would be fumbling. He has lost a total of four fumbles in his career so far. In order to stand a chance of slowing him down, he must be jammed at the line of scrimmage. A safety over the top shouldn’t even be questioned when it comes to trying to secure a victory against the Saints.

The Saints have other weapons besides Michael Thomas, the only problem is he is the weapon that needs to be slowed down or stopped to ensure victory. Shutdown Corners have been unable to stop him. Double coverage has been unable to stop him. The replacement of starting quarterbacks due to injury, has not stopped him.

Teddy Bridgewater, has connected with Michael Thomas 20 times so far in two and a half games. Thomas’ worst productive output, came against Seattle, in which he scored his lone touchdown of the season. Against the Dallas Cowboys, he was responsible for five 1st Downs.

An average catch ratio of 10.6 yards a reception is more than respectable. And now that he was paid in the offseason, the $100 million dollar man not only outperforms his height, but backs up a self-imposed representation as unguardable.

A proper game plan for the Buccaneers secondary? Hit him as often as possible. Make a man who is  comfortable, uncomfortable. Michael Thomas deserves and demands respect, so safety must shadow his coverage. Slant routes are his go to move for first downs, so taking away timing with his quarterback will be beneficial. Allowing him to interpret his brakes, open spots on the field, a manipulation of yards after the catch will prove detrimental to the Buccaneers secondary, and probability of winning the game.

The best defense against the wide receiver of this caliber, is keeping him on the sidelines. Nice, long methodical drives that can frustrate an impatient offense will be the best form of action to take against the Saints. Jameis Winston is so far blessed this young season with having not one, but two top 10 wide receivers. A trip to New Orleans is never an easy task. But with the proper planning, the Bucs can prevent a poor performance. Circled, and with stars all around it, needs to be the objective of slowing down or taking away Michael Thomas from controlling the pace of the game. The loan advantage that the Buccaneers defense  currently has, is that Teddy Bridgewater has not thrown the ball down the field more than twice this year. Deep passes are not within his current repertoire.

So a remedial song-and-dance must take place. In order for the Buccaneers to secure a victory against the Saints, they must avoid long lapses without the football. Maintaining or winning time of possession will be key. They have to protect Jameis Winston in the pocket. In order for there to be ball control, Jameis needs time to throw. Alvin Kamara must become another victim of the top ranked rush defense of the Buccaneers.

The season is young, but Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Todd Gurley to a degree, have all felt the power of the defensive front of the Buccaneers. And last but not least, all of the corners and safeties must be on board, and finding a way to limit the progress of the hundred million dollar man, known as Michael Thomas.

 

Photo credit: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

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