Sunday the Bucs kick-off the second half of their season against the lowly Washington Football Team (WFT) in a 2021 Wild-Card rematch. What was hyped to be one of the best defenses in the league and rival the Buccaneers championship defense is now the worst pass defense in the NFL. A defense that Tom Brady looks to pick clean on Sunday and add fuel to his MVP efforts of which he is currently tied with the highest odds.
Sunday also starts a 4-game stretch for the Bucs that also includes the Giants, Colts, and Falcons. In all games the Bucs will be favored to win. With the Bucs sitting at 3rd in the NFC playoff race and matchups against the Bills and Saints this will be a stretch as important as the 2 games following. Although the Bucs are still battling injury, Sunday should be a chance for the Buccaneers to start the second half of their season off on the right foot.
Here’s what we know: Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski will be out Sunday. Chris Godwin suffered a foot injury on a tackle in week 8 and is a game-time decision. Sean Murphy-Bunting and Scotty Miller have yet to be activated from the IR. The team will have until 4 PM Saturday to activate either player if they will play on Sunday. New addition Darren Fells will play Sunday, as for Breshad Perriman his status is up in the air. If the Bucs were to activate Scotty Miller, they would be forced to make a corresponding roster move. That is not the case if the team were to elevate Perriman. For added flexibility to the roster, I believe Perriman suits up this week.
Coming out of the bye week the Buccaneers rank 2nd in total offense and 7th in total defense, for a team that has battled injuries the way the Buccaneers have those numbers should surprise some people, at least on defense. On the other side of the ball this week the WFT ranks 16th in total offense and 29th in total defense. All signs point in the right direction for the Buccaneers to handle the WFT Sunday.
The Other Side Of The Ball
It’s no secret that the Bucs are liable to the pass. However, the downfield pass attack for the WFT is nearly nonexistent and often comes after a wing and a prayer from Taylor Heinicke. The passing offense for the WFT has a narrow target tree and largely consists of screens and underneath routes. The Washington Football team schemes these routes by making their wide receivers “clear-out” to open the space underneath. This style forces defenders to come to the ball carrier and make a tackle. Something a fast Bucs defense is more than capable of doing. If this rings true on Sunday it will be difficult for the WFT to move the ball with any consistency.
Antonio Gibson Jr. is worth mentioning here. However, he has also been dealing with a fracture in his shin nearly the entire season. The injury has limited his effectiveness and his snap counts have diminished as he’s continued to play with the injury. Gibson is still a talented player, great in open space, and someone the WFT will look to get involved. With the Bucs being the elite run defense they are and Gibson averaging 2.1 catches a game, I see it being difficult for him to generate an impact that can dramatically change the game.
On offense the Bucs should have their way, with or without Chris Godwin. The Bucs have the personnel to do anything they want on offense. This ability to be multiple will allow the Bucs to coast on offense. For what it’s worth the WFT has been good against the run ranking just outside the top 10 and this is where Chase Young has been most effective but stopping the run isn’t how you beat the Bucs.
Generating pressure with 4 rushers is where you start to beat the Bucs. The WFT has failed to do so with any consistency this year. Even if the WFT were to find success rushing the passer on Sunday, Brady has the 2nd fastest time to throw in the NFL at 2.5 seconds on average. The WFT would have to be successful in showing Brady different looks pre and post-snap. This could delay Brady’s decision-making enough so that he isn’t automatic with the Football.
With Mike Evans in the lineup, Brady will have a target that he has excellent chemistry with on the field. In retrospect that’s all the Bucs should need to beat a team like the Washington Football Team. Brady’s ability to read the field pre-snap and get the Bucs into the right play is unmatched. That edge alone would likely be enough in a matchup like this one. I like the Bucs chances to move the ball consistently on the WFT, helping the defense out.
What Sunday Means
This doesn’t have to be a blowout, it’s not like this is college football where style points matter. The only thing that matters Sunday is getting to 8-2. We’re closing in on crunch time for the Buccaneers. Not that the Bucs are in a bad spot but there are things that need to be addressed like penalties. If the Bucs were to play a clean game and win by a score I’d be satisfied. More so than if the Bucs were to win by 10 or more and surrender 5 or more penalties. If the Bucs want to win important games, they simply can’t happen at the current rate.
The Second Act
Much has been made of the run this team went on last year after their bye week. I remember leaving Raymond James after seeing my second loss in 6 days thinking the season was heading for the dumps. This year the Bucs go into the bye-week off a loss as well, but the feel is much different. There is legitimate confidence the Buccaneers can go on a run that could secure them a top seed in the NFC playoffs. The Bucs aren’t making up ground this year. They’re fighting to stay ahead of the pack while attempting to match the Packers and Cardinals. The Bucs will need help from those teams. Both will likely finish with a stronger strength of schedule than the Buccaneers giving them the tie-breaker.
It feels like it’s been a month since the last time we’ve seen the Buccaneers and it’s exciting to see them take the field again on Sunday. I’ll be looking for few penalties, a dominant pass rush, and an offense that shows many different looks whether Godwin plays or not. More importantly, though I’ll be looking for a Buccaneer victory!