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Buccaneers Week 7 X-Factor: Covering the Raiders top to bottom essential to winning in Las Vegas

The best option for covering Las Vegas’ biggest weapon, may not be a starting option for Tampa Bay

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Riding high on a Week 6 win over the Green Bay Packers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to stack another win with a positive trip to face the Las Vegas Raiders.

If they’re going to come home with a win, they’ll have to minimize the impact made by rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III which goes way beyond his seemingly modest six catch, 177-yards and one touchdown stat line.

Relying on just stat-scouting you might think the rookie first-round pick isn’t having a very solid year. Granted, he’s missed two games thus far, but in the three games he’s played he’s averaging just two catches and 59-yards per game. If those numbers lead you to believe Ruggs isn’t an impact player for the Raiders, you’re looking at the wrong numbers.

For starters, half of his receptions have resulted in big plays including a longest reception this year of 72-yards. On top of those numbers, 66% of his receptions have resulted in Raiders first downs. When they get Ruggs involved, good things happen, even when his catch numbers aren't all that high.

Now, we’ll talk more about Ruggs later this week. For now, we’re looking at how the Buccaneers plan to minimize his impact on Sunday. Starting with defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles.

“They’ve got speed and power,” Bowles said about the Las Vegas offense on Thursday. “They’ve got a huge offensive line – I think the running back is outstanding. [Josh] Jacobs is one of the best in the league. He’s got great footwork, he’s always falling forward on tackles, he can catch out of the backfield [and] he’s a complete back. Then they’ve got [Darren] Waller at tight end. Obviously, [Jason] Witten’s been playing a long time, but Waller does a lot of things for them. He’s an ‘X’, he’s a ‘Z’, he’s a slot [receiver], he’s a fullback [and] he’s a tight end. They’ve got a huge offensive line – they play a great power game and that’s without even bringing up [Henry] Ruggs [III], [Nelson] Agholor and everybody else on that team. I think [Derek] Carr is playing very good football. They’ve got a heck of a team. It’s going to be a good challenge.”

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s interesting to me just how far down the list of players named by Bowles Ruggs is in this quote. Yes, all of those other players are valuable for what the Raiders have been able to do this season, but given the potential for getting beat deep in this Buccaneers secondary this season, the rookie might be the key to the whole thing.

Ruggs is the Raiders’ top receiver, so we obviously expect Carlton Davis III to get a lot of coverage time against him. But is CDIII really the best man for the job? Part of me wonders if it’s a guy Bucs fans love, but the defense uses in limited capacity.

“A guy like Mike, a guy like [Jamel] Dean – they play limited time, but their production on the field when they get on the field is high. They’re playmakers – they find the ball. If you find the ball, you make a lot of money.” - Cornerbacks Coach, Kevin Ross

I’m talking about Jamel Dean, of course. People say sub-packages are starting packages these days and for Las Vegas, they line up with three receivers on the field 48% of the time. this means Dean should be on the field for at least 48% of the defensive snaps as far as I’m concerned, and should be seeking out the Raiders’ rookie playmaker.

There are those who believe Dean to be the best defensive back on the Buccaneers roster today. An assertion I would argue is a little short-sighted given the usage rates and typical receivers he’s defending against. Although, his pick-six against Aaron Rodgers did come while defending star wideout Davante Adams.

Thus far, Dean has been in on 68.1% of the Bucs’ defensive snaps while Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have been on the field for 99.7% and 88% respectively.

A defense who loves aggressive man-to-man coverage like this Tampa Bay unit does, needs to win individual match-ups. While Davis is CB1 I’m looking at Dean to contribute greatly in making sure Ruggs doesn’t get one of those game changing deep-ball connections with Derek Carr, this Sunday afternoon.

Which is why Jamel Dean is our Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor for Week 7 against Henry Ruggs III and the Las Vegas Raiders.