Keys to the Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team

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It’s been 13 years since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have suited up for a playoff game. It’s been a long and rough road for fans, but Tampa Bay is finally back, ready to make some noise in the post-season.

Don’t overlook the Washington Football Team just because they have a 7-9 record. Their pass defense is one of the best in the NFL, anchored by a star-powered defensive line. This probably won’t be a blowout, but make no mistake, the Buccaneers are the better team.

Live and Die by the O-Line

I feel like we say this every week, but it’s true. The Buccaneers will only go so far as the offensive line takes them. Stopping Chase Young and Montez Sweat is going to be a difficult task, and if the line doesn’t hold, Tom Brady may be in for a long day.

I have no concerns with rookie Tristan Wirfs, who has played at an All-Pro level for much of the season. But Donovan Smith’s ability to stop Young is truly concerning. Pro Football Focus has Smith graded out at a 72.1, which really isn’t bad. It’s just not good or very good relative to his contract.

I expect Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich to use a ton of 12 personnel, meaning two tight ends and one running back. This will stop Washington from generating pressure, giving Brady time to deliver an accurate pass.

Even 11 personnel would suffice, as Rob Gronkowski can consistently chip on Smith’s side, further protecting Brady’s blindside.

Interestingly enough, the Buccaneers’ offense matchups up well to Washington’s in terms of the scheme. Ron Rivera runs a ton of cover two and cover four, and fortunately for the Buccaneers, Arians utilizes many zone beaters in his offense.

Even more importantly, Brady has made a career at shredding zone defense. It certainly helps that he has utilized pass-catching running backs, but this receiving core should be able to get the job done.

If the Buccaneers’ offense can stay on the field and convert third downs, they should have no issue accumulating points, even if just a field goal.

Key in on Playmakers

Washington has only three playmakers on offense. Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin, and Logan Thomas. The Buccaneers should have no problem stopping the run game, as they have excelled all season. But Thomas and McLaurin provide a real mismatch in the secondary.

Getting Carlton Davis III back is going to be key, as he should be able to lock down McLaurin one on one if given the opportunity. The real problem lies with 6’6″ 260 lbs Thomas, who presents a real threat against the Buccaneers linebackers.

Luckily, Washington’s offensive line is lackluster at best, and Alex Smith struggles to move in the pocket after his injury. Missing Devin White’s nine sacks is an issue, but Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul should be able to generate pressure against below-average tackles.

The Buccaneers are favored by eight points in this game, with an over/under of 45. So Vegas is projecting a low scoring contest.

I think Washington is able to score a few times, but it won’t be enough to match the Buccaneers’ potent offense. Look for Tampa Bay to advance to the divisional round in a rematch against the Green Bay Packers.

 

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