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Giants vs. Bucs: What to expect when Tampa Bay has the ball

How can the Giants slow Tom Brady and the Buccaneers?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The New York Giants face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football for the second straight season. The Super Bowl champions have lost their last two games, but still sit atop the AFC South with a 6-3 record. Quarterback tom Brady has recently said he takes the most pride in defeating the New York Giants, and he now has the opportunity to beat the Giants for a third straight season.

The Giants catch the Buccaneers at a vulnerable time. They lost to the Football Team 29-19, where their defense surrendered a 19-play, 85-yard drive with a fourth-down touchdown run by Antonio Gibson. Tampa Bay has injuries throughout their secondary, and star defensive lineman Vita Vea exited the last game with a knee injury.

The offense has been without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and star slot receiver Chris Godwin is playing through an ankle/foot injury. Saying that Tom Brady is upset may be an understatement, and here is his brief postgame interview with Buccaneers’ reporters.

The offense has made a lot of mistakes through the last two games, and it’s an infrequent experience to see Tom Brady lose a game after a bye week. Four of Brady’s seven interceptions were in the last two games. Brady has a 67.4 percent completion rate with 2,870 yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 27-7. He’s not physically slowing down despite being 44 years old, but he’s not playing his best football at the moment.

Those are Brady’s four interceptions. The third one shouldn’t go against his statistics at all - that’s on the rookie Jalen Darden. However, the other three interceptions are all similar - they’re targeting the middle of the field where safeties roam.

Brady will be aware of those three turnovers by the seam, but so will Patrick Graham. Graham already uses Logan Ryan and Xavier McKinney in a unique and disguised fashion in that area of the field. It will be a test for Graham and the Giants’ safety to try and fool Brady or catch him in a mistake, but I expect some trap coverages with Ryan robbing the inside breaking routes near the seam.

Brady is currently third in passing yards, second in intended air yards, second in yards after the catch, and has the most on-target throws, according to Pro Football Reference. If the season were to end today, his completion percentage would be the third-highest of his career. He also ranks second, only behind Patrick Mahomes, in passing attempts.

Opposing defenses have sacked Brady 12 times this season, which ranks 30th in the NFL. His pressure rate on drop backs is 11.9 percent, ranking 34th in the NFL. Brady’s quick-release, combined with one of the best offensive lines in the league, allows him to stay upright.

Blitzing Tom Brady may be a dangerous proposition. The Giants didn’t blitz Patrick Mahomes too much in the 20-17 loss. They occasionally only sent three, dropping eight into coverage as well against the Chiefs. I expect a similar approach against Brady.

The Giants will run a lot of zone with more double safety high concepts (Cover-2, Cover-4, Cover-6, etc.) than middle of the field closed (Cover-1, Cover-), but I expect a mixture. Graham will likely surrender flat coverage and force check downs to running backs Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard. They will bend and give up some yardage, but can they prevent breaking? That could be the determining factor as to who wins on Monday Night Football.

Rushing attack

Leonard Fournette is the primary running back for the Buccaneers. He has more than doubled any other running backs snaps on the team, and he’s versatile. He has 439 yards on the ground and 284 receiving yards on 38 catches. Fournette averages 7.5 yards per catch and 4.3 yards per carry. He’s their goal-line back as well.

Fournette ranks 15th in the NFL in yards after contact per rush with an average of 2.1 yards. He also has the 18th-most broken tackles, according to Pro Football Reference. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he has 336 yards after contact.

Giovani Bernard was signed in free agency after a long stint with the Cincinnati Bengals. Bernard’s dealt with his fair share of injuries this season. He has played 123 snaps, mainly in a third-down back role. He’s still a quick shifty back who is dangerous when given the football in space.

Ronald Jones’ incessant mistakes have landed him firmly behind Fournette on the depth chart. He’ll still see a handful of carries every game, and his explosiveness is evident when he touches the ball. He’s just too mistake-prone for Bruce Arians to rely on consistently. Jones had played in 105 snaps and has never eclipsed a 20 percent snap share in a single game; that includes games where Giovani Bernard wasn’t available.

Receiving threats

There are plenty of them! The Buccaneers are gluttonous with the number of high-quality targets they provide to their future hall of fame quarterback. Many of these targets have dealt with several ailments that have either limited their production or kept them from dressing on game day.

Antonio Brown has played in only five games this season, yet he has 418 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 29 receptions. His presence as the safety valve who is also capable of destroying defenses at all three levels of the field is missed by Brady. Brown could potentially be available on Monday Night Football. He made a cryptic social media post that suggests fireworks are a coming!

Since the Fourth of July already happened this year, one may surmise that Brown could be healthy for this prime time game against the Giants. Time will tell, but him dressing would significantly help the passing attack of the Buccaneers, especially with Chris Godwin playing through ankle and foot injuries.

Godwin is one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. He has 57 catches for 717-yards and four touchdowns. He’s not small like most slot receivers; Godwin is 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, and he’ll likely see a lot of rookie Aaron Robinson (6-1, 193 pounds) and Darnay Holmes (5-10, 200 pounds).

Holmes is 5-10 with Timberlands on, and the size discrepancy may lead to more snaps for Robinson, who will be more acclimated to being on the field after the bye week. Robinson missed most of the season with his core muscle injury. He’s only played 15 defensive snaps but was used strategically and not in garbage time. It should be fun to see how Graham focuses on Godwin.

James Bradberry will likely see a lot of Mike Evans. This will give Bradberry flashbacks to his days in Carolina, where he had to focus on Evans twice every year.

Evans got the best of Bradberry on this play late in the fourth quarter last season. These fade balls to Evans are difficult to defend, and there wasn’t too much Bradberry could do once Evans had leverage outside and contact was initiated. I’m not afraid of this matchup, but I believe Evans can have a similar five-catch for 55 yards and one TD stat-line like we saw last year against the Giants.

According to Next Gen Stats, Brown creates the most consistent separation with an average of 3.5 yards per route. Godwin averages 3.2 yards of separation, and Evans averages 3.0 yards.

Starting tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered multiple rib fractures and a punctured lung in Week 3. He’s attempted to come back but hasn’t been able to play with the injury. A failed goal-line fade against the Saints was some of his only action since the injury. He’s no certainty to dress on Monday, and he’s also very missed.

Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are fine depth tight ends, but they don’t replace Gronkowski’s dynamic ability to win over the middle of the field, and neither of them are as good at blocking as Gronkowski. They also don’t share a brain with Tom Brady, which is a benefit that Gronkowski gets to enjoy.

Howard’s behind Brate on the depth chart, but not by a whole lot. Both now play a solid complement of snaps, but Brate more than Howard. The latter had a devastating achilles injury last season. He had a good performance against the Eagles in primetime earlier this season but has been relatively quiet from a statistical standpoint.

Brate caught a touchdown against Washington last week. He has 14 catches for 131-yards and a touchdown. Howard has 13 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay aligns in 12 personnel around 19 percent of the time, while only using 13 personnel 4 percent of the time. It’s reasonable to suspect that 13 personnel percentage would be higher if Gronkowski were healthy, but not by much. It’s hard to leave the trio of Evans, Godwin, and Brown on the bench.

Tampa Bay really only uses two different personnel packages. They’re predominantly an 11 personnel team, using the personnel package around 71% of the time. Behind 11 and 12 personnel is 13 (counting!), but then 10 personnel which the Buccaneers have ran at a 3 percent clip.

Offensive line

Tampa Bay has one of the meanest interior offensive lines in the league. Alex Cappa plays right guard next to center Ryan Jenson, with Ali Marpet on the left side. These three linemen are very physical at the point of attack, incredibly nasty, and they do an excellent job displacing defensive linemen in the run game. Here are their Pro Football Focus grades as a unit.

The grades are collectively solid among the starters up front. Second-year star tackle Tristan Wirfs carried his dominating rookie play into this season. Donovan Smith has been more than capable at left tackle. The Giants have applied pressure at times this season.

It’s going to be challenging to win one-on-one matchups against some of these linemen; expect a lot of slanting, stunting, and movement upfront to generate pressure with four men. It’s not impossible for Azeez Ojulari or possibly Quincy Roche to win reps against these tackles on occasion. Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence are no slouches in the middle either, and they can also win on occasion. I’m sure it can happen, but will it be consistent enough to harass Tom Brady? The Giants have applied solid pressure over the last three games. However, this offensive line is better than the Panthers, Chiefs, and Raiders. This matchup in the trenches should be exciting to watch.