The Giants narrowly edged out the Buccaneers in Florida last year in what was Daniel Jones’ first career start.
But the Buccaneers are arguably the most changed team from last year, and they’re now a favorite in the NFC.
Key losses: QB Jameis Winston, RB Peyton Barber, WR Breshad Perriman, DE Carl Nassib
Key free agent signings: QB Tom Brady, OL Joe Haeg, LB Kevin Minter
Draft picks: OL Tristan Wirfs, S Antoine Winfield Jr., RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, WR Tyler Johnson, DT Khalil Davis, OLB Chapelle Russell, RB Raymond Calais
In case you missed any of the media coverage, social media buzz or trademarks for “Tompa Bay,” the Buccaneers landed the biggest fish in the free agency pool, Tom Brady. Brady at quarterback is a far cry from a year ago when the consistently reckless Jameis Winston threw for 5,109 yards, 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
And while there’s no doubt Brady brings a certain level of gravitas to the Bucs, it’s fair to question how much he has left in the tank.
A year ago, Brady finished with a passer rating of 88, which was his lowest mark since 2013. He also only tossed 24 touchdowns, which was his fewest amount since 2006. Stats aside, Brady simply didn’t look like his dominant self.
But with that being said, it’s never wise to doubt Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion has proven himself time and time again.
Joining Brady on his migration from New England is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski retired following the Patriots’ Super Bowl win over the Rams in February of 2019. Like Brady, it’s worth questioning how much Gronkowski has left to offer. But when Gronkowski was healthy, there was no tight end better. Taking a year off from the NFL will likely provide Gronk with fresh legs and a renewed enjoyment of the game.
Tampa Bay’s offensive weapons outside of Gronk are substantially better than what he was operating with last year in New England, too.
Mike Evans and Chris Godwin make up what’s arguably the best wide receiver duo in the entire NFL. Evans has established himself as one of the league’s most dominant receivers, while Godwin has seriously emerged over the past two years. They combined for 153 catches, 2,490 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Cornerback James Bradberry, who was the Giants’ biggest addition in free agency, played against Evans twice last year. Against Bradberry, Evans caught 12 of 20 passes for 157 yards.
Rounding out Tampa Bay’s arsenal on offense is running back Ronald Jones and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
The Buccaneers offense has the pedigree and talent, and should cause some issues for the Giants on defense.
The book on how to beat Brady is the same as it’s been since 2007: You need to apply pressure to get him out of his rhythm.
Unfortunately, that’s where the trouble lies for the Giants.
Currently, the Giants have no player on the roster who finished with more than five sacks a year ago. They lack a true alpha pass-rusher, and unless the team makes a drastic move, it’s going to remain that way for the season.
The Giants will likely have to dial up a fair amount of blitzes to generate pressure. The obvious drawback to sending linebackers and safeties to blitz is it takes men out of coverage. New York doesn’t match up that favorably against Tampa Bay’s group of pass-catchers, so seeing how much defensive coordinator Patrick Graham values pressuring Brady against covering Evans, Godwin and Gronkowski will be of the utmost interest.
Additionally, Tampa Bay retained its two top pass-rushers by placing the franchise tag on OLB Shaq Barrett, and re-signing former Giant Jason Pierre-Paul. When the Giants faced the Buccaneers last year, Barrett racked up four sacks. Quite simply, the Giants have to keep Barrett and Pierre-Paul at bay if they want to find a rhythm on offense.
It could be a big night for Daniel Jones and the passing offense. While Tampa Bay was the NFL’s best run defense a year ago, surrendering merely 73.8 yards per game, they were the third-worst team against the pass. The Buccaneers did little to remedy that deficiency.
Another key storyline is the Giants in prime-time action. The week before facing the Buccaneers, the Giants face the Eagles on Thursday night. If they lose to Philadelphia, it’ll be compelling to see how Joe Judge’s crew bounces back. And if they beat the Eagles, all eyes will be on how the Giants fare on a big stage against a big opponent.