Where do we start? The Bucs are off to an outstanding start yet it seems every week the team loses a player to injury. But the Bucs are managing to piece together their roster each week and win games.
The Bucs are off to a record-setting start despite the obstacles that have presented themselves so far. Tom Brady leads the NFL in pass yards, the Bucs offense is tied for the league lead in touchdowns (25), and the Bucs rank 3rd in total offense.
Going into the game against the Bears Sunday the Buccaneers have officially ruled out Rob Gronkowski, Lavonte David, Richard Sherman, and Antonio Brown for Sunday. The list of injured Buccaneers does not stop there with Calton Davis III, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Scotty Miller all on injured reserve.
I would not expect to see Gronk or Sherman back until after the bye. Although Sherman mentioned on his podcast- The Richard Sherman Podcast, that he would not expect to miss more than a couple of games. Context matters, with the Bucs atop the NFC South sitting at 5-1 going into their next two matchups against the Bears (3-3) and the Saints (3-2) it would be surprising if the Bucs forced the issue on returning any of these players from injury. I would expect to see players like Gronk, David, Sherman, back after the bye week. Given how nonchalant Arians was when mentioning the injury, I would not expect his injury to be serious and would suspect the staff plays the injury week-to-week.
The positives? If Thursday night against the Eagles was any indication of what is to come. The Bucs will lean into their offensive unit that has shown is plenty capable of carrying the team. Dominating time of possession will be key to this process. So, while the Buccaneers may not win the coming games in flashy style. If the other team doesn’t have the ball they can’t score. And, Shaq Barrett has kept his promise since the Bucs week 3 loss against the Rams. Barrett told media the Bucs would not have a game with 1 or fewer sacks and has recorded 9 sacks in 3 games since. Count on the front 7 to set the tone for the defensive unit as the Bucs continue to spell the injuries of Lavonte David, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis III, and Richard Sherman.
Speaking of those substitute players we should acknowledge the work they have done since being thrust into action. Kevin Minter, while not as rangy as Lavonte David has been physical against the run playing to the characteristics of this Bucs defense. While he’s not Lavonte he’s good- very serviceable. I have no worries about his ability to perform while David heals from his injury.
Ross Cockrell is continuing to show he has been a great signing for the Buccaneers. From playing in critical spots during the Bucs playoff run to now being a trustworthy option in the secondary. Playing in the slot is no easy task, ask Ronde Barber. However, Cockrell has manned the position and been solid in spelling Sean Murphy-Bunting. Cockrell has become a consistent contributor for the Bucs defense, a player this staff trusts.
And lastly Pierre Desir. Although week 3 did not go well for Desir, it should be noted Desir was launched into a spot he was not ready to be in. This could not have been emphasized more than when the Bucs staff was visibly coaching him up on the sideline pre-snap for a good portion of the game against the Rams. Fast forward to his next opportunity- Thursday in Philadelphia. Desir didn’t have his name called, that was a good thing. The experience he’s gained since week 3 will be valuable down the stretch. The Bucs have emphasized the importance of depth on their roster. That depth is being put to the test and showing the Bucs have guys beyond their starting 11 they can count on.
Sunday likely won’t be the type of blowout most people are expecting to see for the reasons above. It’s no secret, Justin Fields has yet to show he can be an effective quarterback in the NFL. Watching Fields consistently struggle to see open players running down the field, I would expect for Sunday to be another performance like last week. Relying on zone defense to keep the ball in front of the secondary and forcing the Quarterback to make throws and decisions under pressure. Fields has shown an inability to make decisions under pressure thus far.
With the Bucs playing zone there will be open throws but the Bucs will bring pressure. Just like Jalen Hurts, I expect Fields to crumble under pressure and force throws he shouldn’t attempt. If the Bears continue to operate with a run-first philosophy this game could be out of reach in a hurry.
Yes, there are whispers that this could be the perfect storm for the Bears to catch to Bucs. And I might still have nightmares of that Thursday night game in Chicago. However, every week this team takes the field and reminds me they are no longer the Bucs of the past. Matching their best starts ever at 5-1 with the current roster situation is proof of that statement. The Bucs will show up Sunday and take care of business. 27- 13 Go Bucs!