Until last week Ali Marpet hadn’t missed a single start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since moving to left guard. Playing next to left tackle Donovan Smith, one could argue he not only played his position well, but helped his left-side line-mate look better than he had in the years before the switch.
While his sacks allowed total has stayed in the same relative ballpark Smith’s numbers in hits and pressures are what have improved since Marpet moved to his left side in 2018.
Ahead of 2018, Smith had allowed 26 or more hurries in each of his first three seasons including a career high 41 in 2016. Since then, his numbers have dropped for the most part and he hit career lows in hurries and pressures allowed in 2019, and was on pace to do even better through eight games in 2020 before Marpet suffered his concussion.
Through eight games, Smith was on pace to allow eight sacks, twelve hits on quarterback Tom Brady, 16 hurries, and 36 pressures. The sacks allowed would have actually matched his career high while the hits and hurries would have set career bests, and the pressures would place second-best to just 2019’s numbers.
Now, with the one game playing next to replacement left guard, Joe Haeg, Smith is on pace for roughly the same amount of sacks and hits, while allowing 23 hurries, and 42 pressures. This stats according to Pro Football Focus.
Its unlikely Smith will have to play without Marpet for the remainder of 2020 of course, so it’s not time to panic, but he will be playing without his running mate for at least one more week.
So LG Ali Marpet will not be making the trip to Charlotte. He’s been downgraded to out for Sunday’s game against the Panthers.— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) November 14, 2020
This news, makes Joe Haeg the X-Factor for Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers.
Usually, we reserve the X-Factor column to identify a player who could make an impact in a positive way - meaning, by giving something to the team. Sometimes it’s scoring plays, yards usually, and other things they can contribute to a win for Tampa Bay.
In this case, and earlier this season when we profiled Donovan Smith, it’s because of what Haeg might take away from the team if he can’t perform up to snuff.
It’s unfortunate, but as the cliche goes, we don’t talk about offensive linemen for positive reasons. If their names are spoken, it’s probably for negative reasons. Such is the life for an NFL offensive lineman.
Fair or not, in Week 1 against the Saints, Smith and Marpet combined to allow one sack, one hit on Tom Brady, two hurries and four pressures. All of those came from the left tackle, and most - if not all - of them came by way of Trey Hendrickson.
In Week 9, the left side of the Bucs offensive line combined to surrender zero sacks - again, according to PFF - but were credited with allowing four hits on Brady, nine hurries, and thirteen pressures. Considering Brady dropped back to pass 41 times last Sunday night, this means he was pressured from the Smith/Haeg side of his offensive line on 32% of those.
To kill the comparison horse a bit further, Brady also dropped back to pass 41 times against the Saints in Week 1. His left time surrendered pressure on him on 10% of those. Huge difference, and a definite contributing factor to why the Bucs struggled so much in their second match-up against the Saints.
A lot of people were excited to see the Bucs adding depth when they signed Haeg in the 2020 off-season, and I was one of them. One game doesn’t make a career for certain, and it doesn’t even dictate the course of one year even. However, the one big shot Haeg had at contributing to this team with such high aspirations fell flat. Big.
In fact, it honestly wouldn’t shock me if the Bucs rolled out a different starting left guard because of it, or if Haeg was at least on a really short leash. After going 6-2 in the first half of the season an 0-2 start to the back eight would likely kill all hopes of winning the NFC South without a dramatic turn in fortune for the Saints. This is just how it goes when you’re competing for a top spot in the playoffs.
Many Bucs fans have started wondering if playoff talks about this year’s squad was premature and overinflated. Time will tell. For now though, the Bucs certainly feel they are a playoff caliber team, and those teams find ways to win games against feisty three-win teams like Carolina. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs.
Back-up or no, Joe Haeg (expected to start in place of Marpet at the time of this writing) has a job to do. He knows how to do it, now he just has to put the know-how into the execution to help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeat the Carolina Panthers in Week 10. If he doesn’t, Brady is going to be in for a long afternoon of pressure from his blindside, which is why Joe Haeg is our Week 10 X-Factor.