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Looking for a get-right game, Sean Murphy-Bunting is the Buccaneers’ X-Factor for Week 16

Will a trip home help SMB recover from what has been a poor sophomore showing?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When I sat down to think about who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ X-Factor might be this weekend against the Detroit Lions the obvious answer was Sean Murphy-Bunting.

He’s from Michigan, played college football in Michigan, and the Bucs are playing the Lions - you guessed it - in Michigan.

And if there’s ever been a player who could use a trip home, it’s Murphy-Bunting.

2020 has not been kind to the second-year NFL cornerback. Still flashing moments of the talent and athleticism which led the Bucs to draft him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft in the first place, it seems more and more lowlights of SMB getting beat by opposing receivers have replaced them all too often.

Everybody loves a good film study and player evaluation, and Jon Ledyard of Pewter Report really did a good job of breaking down what’s been plaguing the young cornerback, what he can do to right the ship, and what the Buccaneers might be forced to do if he can’t ‘get right’ as they say.

With the great work Jon did over there, I thought I’d focus more on numbers here as they combine with the visuals to paint a full picture of what’s been going on with this young Buccaneers defender.

Of all the defensive backs in the NFL, Murphy-Bunting has played on 497 coverage snaps in 2020, good for 55th most in the league. It might not sound significant, but remember, each NFL squad starts four defensive backs, and the coveted third cornerback has basically become a starter in the modern era of professional football.

He’s also been targeted 55th-most and has allowed the 23rd most completions against him with quarterbacks having successfully connected with wide receivers 36 times this year.

Even higher has been the number of yards SMB has surrendered, coming in with 513 of them ranking him 17th among NFL defensive backs allowing the most.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

He’s also allowed five touchdown passes, tied for second-most, and has just one interception. 69 NFL defensive backs currently have two or more interceptions this season, including Bucs safety Mike Edwards, who has played 350 fewer coverage snaps than SMB has.

Perhaps most disturbing is that Murphy-Bunting has zero passes defensed as well. He’s one of just two defensive backs in the Top-100 in targets against with no passes defended. The other is Washington Football Team’s, Jimmy Moreland.

All of this, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Those are ugly numbers and paint a rather clear picture of why many are beginning to call for more of Ross Cockrell in Todd Bowles’ defense.

However, with Carlton Davis III leaving against the Atlanta Falcons and being a game-time decision against the Detroit Lions, the Buccaneers may have no choice but to play Murphy-Bunting in an increased role rather than a decreased one.

From the way Bowles spoke about his cornerback this week, I don’t expect those pining for more Cockrell to get their wish anytime soon. At least not without CDIII sitting out in Week 16.

The numbers are bad, however, and so is the tape. Matthew Stafford is one of the best in the league, even if his team results don’t display it. And he’s going to know what we all know, and what Murphy-Bunting himself knows.

Sean Murphy-Bunting has been the soft spot on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense in 2020. If the Detroit Lions are going to beat the Bucs they’ll have to do it by exploiting this fact. This is why he’s our X-Factor, for Week 16.

Check out Jon Ledyard’s film study and breakdown, here.