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Can the Giants defense stop the Buccaneers’ big play ability?

Tampa Bay is pass-happy, with good reason

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mike Evans
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into MetLife Stadium on Sunday, it will pit one of the biggest shot offenses with a defense that has played bend and only slightly break for most of the season. From Mike Evans to DeSean Jackson to O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, there are a number of players the Giants will need to focus on stopping Sunday afternoon.

Numbers that matter

Better safe …

On Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers, the Giants ran a defensive personnel they haven’t thrown out much this season — three safeties. Landon Collins and Curtis Riley have played virtually every defensive snap this season (100 percent for Collins, 98.8 percent for Riley), but on Monday they were joined by Michael Thomas, who played 53.4 percent of the snaps on defense.

The addition of a third safety allowed the Giants to accomplish a few things. One, it let the Giants run a two-deep look with Collins still lined up closer to the line of scrimmage. Against the 49ers, Collins played more of a linebacker than he had in previous games and was often in the box next to Alec Ogletree. When that happened and Thomas was on the field, the Giants could still go two-deep instead of single-high with Riley, which the Giants have done often this season to underwhelming results.

It also allowed the Giants to go three-deep on key plays to prevent potential big plays. On the below third-and-7 on San Francisco’s first drive of the game, the Giants had all three safeties on the field. At the snap, Collins dropped back to cover the middle of the field while Riley and Thomas dropped deep to the outside. That took away the deep routes and forced the 49ers to go short, which allowed the Giants to prevent a first down after the catch.

Preventing big plays

Preventing big plays is going to be key against the Buccaneers, who have the seventh-highest big play rate in the league. Tampa Bay has nine touchdowns of 20 or more yards this season and only three teams have more.

The Buccaneer offense is based around the deep pass, regardless of who is throwing the ball. Per Next Gen Stats, Ryan Fitzpatrick has the second longest average pass among qualified quarterbacks (10.4) yards past the line of scrimmage. Jameis Winston (10.9) is first.

So far this season, the Giants rank 23rd in big play rate allowed on defense, though the unit has been able to keep those plays from ending up in the end zone. The Giants have allowed only six touchdowns of 20 or more yards, which is tied for the 12th-fewest in the league.

What makes preventing the big plays more important — especially ones that end in a score — is how well the Giants defense has played inside the red zone this season. Through 10 weeks they rank sixth in points allowed per red zone trip, third in touchdowns allowed per red zone trip, and first overall in touchdowns per field goal. Now the Giants struggle at the other 80 yards of the field and studies have shown the performance there is more predictive than what happens in the red zone, but that defense could hold up against a Tampa Bay offense that has struggled inside the 20 — 26th in points per red zone trip and 21st in touchdowns per red zone trip.

Forcing mistakes

While big plays are part of the 2018 Tampa Bay DNA no matter who is playing quarterback, so are interceptions and turnovers. The Buccaneers rank 32nd in interceptions per drive and turnovers per drive. Fumbles aren’t as big of a problem as the picks, but Tampa still ranks 24th in fumbles per drive.

The Giants, though, haven’t been a team able to force turnovers at any rate at all, let alone a high or consistent one. The defense ranks 22nd in turnovers per drive and 21st in interceptions per drive. In the Giants’ nine games, they have three games with two turnovers forced, three with one, and three with none. Janoris Jenkins was the only member of the Giants with multiple interceptions before B.J. Goodson’s two-interception night on Monday. Jenkins also leads the team with seven passes defensed, so he has been around the ball. No Giant defender has multiple forced fumbles this season and only five have one, two of whom are no longer on the roster.

Creating pressure

Part of that is going to come from getting pressure on the quarterback, something the Giants have struggled to do consistently this season. Per Football Outsiders, the Giants are 20th in defensive pressure rate but 32nd in adjusted sack rate. Tampa Bay is about average — 17th — in offensive pressure rate allowed, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has been much better at avoiding sacks (5.5 percent sack rate) than Jameis Winston was (8.1 percent).

Still, Fitzpatrick becomes a vastly different quarterback when there’s a defender in his face. That is typically true for all quarterbacks under pressure but with Tampa Bay this season, it’s the difference between a home run threat on every play and an average to below average quarterback.

Ryan Fitzpatrick 2018

2018 Attempts Completions Comp% aDOT Yards YPA TD INT
2018 Attempts Completions Comp% aDOT Yards YPA TD INT
QB Hit 31 19 61.30% 8.5 220 7.1 2 1
Clean Pocket 194 132 68.00% 10.9 2037 10.5 15 8

Three Giants — Lorenzo Carter, Kareem Martin, and Olivier Vernon — are tied for the team lead with six quarterback hits. If that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, you’d be correct. That is just tied for 86th among all NFL defenders this season.