While the season is still in its infancy, the Bucs are tied with the New Orleans Saints as the division leaders, which is always good news. Now, they’re on to Denver to play the Broncos, a squad who have dealt with a myriad of injuries to key players.
Prior to the season start, the Broncos lost star pass rusher Von Miller and now, they’ve lost much more than that. In addition to Miller, the Broncos have also lost Drew Lock, Phillip Lindsay, A.J. Bouye, and their up-and-coming receiver, Courtland Sutton. While Drew Lock, A.J. Bouye, and Phillip Lindsay are not out for the season, they will be out against Tampa Bay in week three.
Despite their injury-riddled start to the season, the Buccaneers will not be writing the Broncos off. According to head coach Bruce Arians, the Bucs are “nobody to look past anybody,” which is always a good mentality to have when playing a team that many think will be an easy win.
No matter who shows up for the Broncos this Sunday, the game will have to be played. So, let’s look at what the Bucs can do in week three to put themselves in a better position to take the division lead.
Attack the Broncos young secondary
We are five years separated from Denver’s no fly zone, and with Chris Harris Jr. leaving, we are even further from that. Now with A.J. Bouye out as well, they’re going to have to rely on very young talent to get the job done.
In week two versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, Michael Ojemudia and fellow rookie Essang Bassey played the majority of the snaps on defense, with Ojemudia playing the outside, and Bassey coming in to play the slot.
The lone veteran in the cornerback room for this team is Bryce Callahan who also plays outside, opposite from Ojemudia.
So far through two weeks, Ryan Tannehill and Ben Roethlisberger have racked up 560 yards passing with four touchdowns, and only one interception against this secondary. While these aren’t record numbers by any means, the Broncos are still allowing the 8th most pass yards per game, which can be partially attributed to these young corners.
Ojemudia over two weeks has allowed 207 of these 560 yards on his own in addition to two touchdowns, giving up 14 receptions on 21 total targets.* Bassey, who didn’t see too many snaps before Bouye’s injury, has given up 52 yards, allowing 7 catches on only 10 targets.*
Even though Callahan is more of a veteran presence, he has still given up 99 yards on 13 receptions, with 18 total targets against him.*
One thing the Steelers did really well was isolating their receivers in space in one on one situations against the Broncos corners. The Broncos often had had their corners playing 8-10 yards off the ball and the Steelers picked them apart underneath.
Whether the Broncos were in Cover 3 Cloud, Cover 4, Cover 2 Man, or Cover 1, the corners still lined up quite far off the ball and it made it really easy to complete 10 yard curls and outs. Roethlisberger completed the majority of his non-screen passes around 5-10 yards downfield, showing that a high amount of short-intermediate routes worked.
Based on the tape, I wouldn’t expect a lot of deep passes to be given up, however, clearing space by sending Mike Evans deep and having Chris Godwin or Scotty Miller run underneath should allow the Bucs to have a lot of success.
Take advantage of play action
One of the biggest things I noticed from watching the Broncos linebackers was that they bite very hard on play action. Whenever the Steelers or Titans ran play action against them, their linebackers would leave wide open gaps between them and the deep safeties.
I was quite disappointed to see the Steelers not take advantage of this more. To be fair, their strategy worked and they ended up winning the game, however, it looks like it was something they definitely could’ve taken advantage of.
On the other hand, the Titans did use play action quite often and went 9/13 for 93 yards and two touchdowns.** While the two touchdowns came at the one yard line, the additional seven completions for 91 yards demonstrate how effective it was for them. Their total EPA (expected points added) for such plays was 7.3, which translates to about .56 EPA/att which is phenomenal.**
While the call to run may fall on deaf ears seeing as the Buccaneers are 30th in the league so far in such attempts,** it is definitely something they could work into their scheme.
No matter what the Bucs have done so far this season, the Broncos will leave a lot of space over the middle when seeing play action, and it would be very beneficial if Arians and Co. slipped some tight ends behind those linebackers. Heck, it would even get the highest paid tight end group in the league some catches.
Pressure Jeff Driskel
While many may think that the Broncos would rely solely on their run game now that their starting QB Drew Lock is out, this just isn’t true.
It seems as if the Broncos trust Driskel to run their offense as it was designed, especially seeing as he attempted 34 passes upon entering the game in week 2. This is by no accident either as Driskel showed that he was a very capable backup, throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Lock.
While his completion percentage was only 53%, he definitely showed that he can make all the throws that the Broncos could ask of him. However, this really only occurred when he wasn’t pressured.
When watching the tape, it was apparent that Driskel would often freeze up when he had any kind of pressure in his face. His feet would stop, his eyes would drop to the rush, and he would either be sacked, or throw an ugly pass.
Driskel’s completion percentage dropped to 38.5% when he was pressured, with a 30.8% on target percentage, 3rd worst in the NFL (2nd worst if you take out Andy Dalton’s single throw under pressure).**
One thing to look out for is letting Driskel get into a rhythm. In the 4th quarter against the Steelers, Driskel was 8th in the NFL in completion percentage (min 5 att), completing 66.7% of his passes. This was due to the Steelers pass rush getting tired and only pressuring Driskel 1 time.**
Something else to think about too is that this rhythm came after Courtland Sutton was injured, meaning that no matter who Driskel has to throw the ball to, he has the ability to get it done.
This means that the Bucs will really have to get after Driskel in the 4th quarter, which they have shown is possible, as they had two sacks on Teddy Bridgewater in week two, with a total of six hurries.**
With Shaq Barrett coming back and playing against his former team, I expect to see a bit of a chip on his shoulder after they let him walk at the end of 2018. Hopefully he can record his first sack of the season, and potentially get back to the way he played in 2019.
If they’re able to get interior pressure from Suh and Vea, this would be an added bonus. Suh racked up two sacks against the Panthers, showing everyone that he still has it. While Vea didn’t record a sack, he still pushes the pocket which is something that made Driskel very nervous against Pittsburgh.
With the Bucs continuing in their stellar rush defense, the Broncos will truly have to rely on Driskel to pull the win out for them and if he’s not pressured, he’ll definitely have a chance.
The number one priority going into week three will be getting this offense going. Since the Broncos will be using primarily rookie corners on the outside, this should be a good game to start a hot streak.
Additionally, they could really use play action to draw these linebackers and get their tight ends free over the middle. I’m sure O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski would appreciate this as much as we would.
On the other side of the ball, Pressuring Jeff Driskel into bad throws and potential mistakes is one of the most important things they can do to prove that they belong in the top 10. On top of this, the Bucs have struggled in recent years against backup quarterbacks. This would be a good time to lift this curse and put this secondary into the national conversation.
What do you think the Bucs can do to take out the Broncos in week 3? Do you think the Broncos even have a chance? Tell us what you think!
* Per Playerprofiler.com
** Per Sports Info Solutions