clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Opponent Scout: Buccaneers’ defense is full of dangerous playmakers

This season’s best NFL defense gets the job done by getting the best out of its most talented players.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: SEP 18 Buccaneers at Saints Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In our weekly Opponent Scout series, I break down the Kansas City Chiefs’ upcoming opponent by examining their strengths, weaknesses and tendencies — and how those things affect the matchup.

In Week 4, the Chiefs are traveling for a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which will now be played on the Buccaneers’ home field. Here’s what you need to know about Kansas City’s next opponent:


The Buccaneers are in the first season under head coach Todd Bowles, who replaced Bruce Arians after being the Arians’ defensive coordinator for three seasons. It is also the third season with Tom Brady serving as the team’s starting quarterback.

Through three weeks, Tampa Bay’s offense has been inefficient: the unit ranks 31st in points per drive and 30th in yards per drive. It owns the fourth-lowest rate of yards per rush, which has impacted its third-down conversion percentage. That ranks 28th in the league. The Buccaneers rank 27th in offensive DVOA.

On the flip side, the Tampa Bay defense has allowed the league’s fewest points and the fourth-fewest yards. Its eight turnovers lead the league. It is a top-10 run defense and has earned the third-highest sack total (11) over three games. The unit ranks sixth in third-down conversion percentage and ranks first in defensive DVOA.


In neutral situations this season, the Buccaneers have leaned on their running game on first and second downs — which is a changeup from previous seasons, in which they tended to pass on early downs. The explanation might be as simple as the injuries and absences with which they’ve dealt in 2022.

Those begin with the offensive line: Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen suffered a severe knee injury during preseason. Then left tackle Donovan Smith was injured in Week 1 and hasn’t played since.

Wide receiver Chris Godwin has also been missing since tweaking his hamstring in Week 1. Wide receivers Julio Jones, Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman have all been in and out of the lineup. All are working through these issues to play in Week 4.

So there will be plenty of runs by running back Leonard Fournette, who has taken 88% of the team’s handoffs to running backs. To match his powerful running style, the Buccaneers lean on a downhill running game featuring strong double-teams and pulling linemen to attack a defensive front. They’ll primarily run behind the right side, where guard Shaq Mason and tackle Tristan Wirfs are one of the league’s best people-moving duos.

To take full advantage of the downhill running game, the Tampa Bay offense mixes in some effective play-action on first downs; to really sell the idea of a run, the team will pass from heavy personnel. That’s when the offense will bank on getting chunk gains through the air — because on straight dropbacks, it gets much harder for them.

This year, Brady has the league’s lowest rate of pressure per dropback — but those pressures are turning into sacks at a high rate. To counter the holes in pass protection, Brady has gotten rid of the ball as quickly as ever. In fact, he has this season’s lowest average time from snap to throw (2.22 seconds).

But due to an ejection and suspension, wideout Mike Evans has missed the last five quarters of game action. He’ll be back on Sunday — and his presence will help the downfield passing game. Slot receiver Cole Beasley was signed prior to Week 3. His further development will help strengthen the Buccaneers’ options on quick passes.


The Tampa Bay defense is based on a 3-4 foundation, utilizing nose tackle Vita Vea’s strengths as a two-gap monster — which allows the playmakers at linebacker to fly around. On the outside, Shaquil Barrett is the leading man. Since moving over from the Denver Broncos in 2019, he has been instrumental to the Buccaneers’ pass-rushing plan.

The defense is mostly the same unit that suffocated the Chiefs offense in Super Bowl LV. In that game, the Buccaneers used a five-man pressure look before the snap to mess with Kansas City’s pass protection — then let Barrett tee off in a variety of ways. He earned 10 pressures in that game, including a sack and three other quarterback hits.

Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White will be all over the field on nearly every play; neither go to the sideline in any situation. Both can cover a lot of ground in pass coverage at the second level — but David will be the one who will be trusted to shadow Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce situationally. White will be utilized more often as a blitzer — and sometimes, as a quarterback spy.

In the back end, the young Buccaneers secondary that executed the Super Bowl game plan is now an experienced group with a good feel for Bowles’ coverage schemes. The staff prefers to run man coverage — primarily playing with only one deep safety — but Super Bowl LV showed they can also execute from two-high shells. The unit’s experience gives them the flexibility to avoid predictability.

The bottom line

Tampa Bay’s offense has not played up to their ceiling this season — but it’s getting healthier, so don’t underrate how much more effective their passing attack could become. Either way, the unit will still lean on the ground game, testing a Chiefs defense that has defended against the run very well this year.

Expect the Buccaneers’ defense to use a game plan similar to what we saw in Super Bowl LV: creative pass-rushing sets on third downs and weaponizing their two off-ball linebackers to make plays on passes to tight ends and running backs. There’s a chance we’ll see more man coverage from the unit, echoing what the Chiefs’ other opponents have done this season.

Arrowhead Pride Premiere

Sign up now for a 7-day free trial of Arrowhead Pride Premier, with exclusive updates from Pete Sweeney on the ground at Arrowhead, instant reactions after each game, and in-depth Chiefs analysis from film expert Jon Ledyard.