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Buccaneers X-Factor: S, Jordan Whitehead

In Week 3, the Bucs will need another strong defensive showing against another of the NFL’s top running backs.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody would be surprised to see Saquon Barkley leading the New York Giants in rushing yards, and Evan Engram leading the team in receiving yards. Heading down to Florida for their contest against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, it’s clear these two are the main contributors to their offense.

Stopping this offensive duo isn’t going to be an easy task, but the Bucs defense doesn’t need to stop them, they just need to contain them. Call it ‘bend, don't break’ defense or whatever you want to call it, but if Tampa Bay keeps Barkley and Engram from doing big things against them then it’ll give the team a solid chance at winning the game and improving to 2-1.

The key to keeping the two playmakers in check, is going to be Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead. Which is why he’s our Week 3 ‘X-Factor’ for Tampa Bay.

Like Trevor Sikkema pointed out in a recent edition of his popular ‘Cover 3’ column for Pewter Report, Whitehead has taken a very active role in the Bucs defense helping to get the defense in the right position and being a vocal leader despite being in the second-year of his pro career after being a fourth-round draft selection in 2018.

I’m not going to lie, when I read Sikkema’s writing about Whitehead being in his second-year, it felt off to me. The way he’s catapulted up the list of invaluable defenders for this Todd Bowles led unit gives him a veteran feel. Like he’s someone who can be relied on, because of course he can be relied on.

This isn’t the case though. Which is even more exciting, especially if he can continue his own performance and production throughout the remainder of the 2019 NFL Season.

Having a successful remainder of the 2019 season starts in Week 3 of course, with the Giants bringing in the league’s second-leading rusher and receptions leader among NFL tight ends (3rd in yards).

Thanks to the efforts of Whitehead and his defensive teammates up to this point, tight end George Kittle is in the Top-10 tight end conversation instead of the top, and Christian McCaffrey is the league’s sixth-leading rusher despite the fact he left Week 1 in second place on the same list.

Tampa Bay has been shutting down some top shelf talent, but they haven’t faced a duo who are both at the top of their position groups until this week. Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had a better Week 2 against the Bucs than he did Week 1 against the Rams, but is still only just inside the Top-10 conversation among his position peers.

So, despite their 0-2 start and despite rolling out a rookie quarterback making his first start, the Giants offense offers a match-up problem this unit hasn’t seen just yet. Of course, New York hasn’t faced a defense firing off like this one has yet either.

Whitehead’s critical role in this defense has been magnified just a bit by the absence of rookie inside linebacker Devin White, although Kevin Minter filled in well last week after White left with his knee injury. Given a full week of practice in White’s starting position, Minter should be even more comfortable for Week 3, and he and Whitehead have gotten some time to work together making reads and signals are understood and consistent.

Good news for the Bucs, and good signs for Bucs fans, many of whom are expecting a big performance this week in a match-up which looks lopsided ‘on paper’.

Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones is known for his quick decision making, solid ability to read the field, and ability to put the ball where his receivers need it to be successful.

Whitehead and company will need to be sharp and continue their strong tackling among other things, so the young quarterback doesn’t get comfortable early. Forcing Jones into some uncomfortable throws opens the doors to opportunities for the Bucs defense, and means a heavier dose of Barkley, who the team has identified as their primary player to stop in Week 3.

Another strong performance by our Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor this week, will give the team a critical opportunity to win the game and head to Los Angeles with a winning record as the face Rams team looking to get their chance at Super Bowl redemption.