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Scouting Report: Buccaneers’ Defense Won’t Make Steelers’ Turnaround Easy

As we’ve been doing for several years now, we’ll break down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ opponent each week, telling you what to expect from a scheme and individual standpoint. This year, Jonathan Heitritter and I will cover the opposing team’s defense. I will focus on scheme, Jonathan on the players.

Continuing things with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense.

ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT

Buccaneers’ RUN DEFENSE

A solid run defense that perhaps has waned a bit in recent weeks but won’t be fun to run on. On the season, they’re allowing 4.4 YPC, tied 15th in football, though they’ve only allowed three rushing TDs all season. Forcing defenses to go through the air. Not promising for a Steelers’ team with two passing scores all season long.

It’s a bit of a hybrid front that can play three or four down. They present a variety of fronts, three, four, even five-man surfaces. They can go with an old school Okie look with a head up nose tackle, a true zero-tech in Vita Vea, one of football’s strongest men, with two five techs outside the tackle. Take a look.

While Vea plays head up, he doesn’t have to play the role of Casey Hampton and eat blocks. Vea will step down slant into gaps too which really blows up and messes with blocking schemes. Jonathan will discuss him more below but he must be accounted for. On the year, the Bucs have allowed 11 runs of 10+ yards, tied 5th best in the league.

Linebacker Devin White leads the team with 40 tackles. The secondary is active with safeties Mike Edwards and Antoine Winfield Jr. having 30+. Both White and veteran LB Lavonte David have played 100% of the Bucs’ defensive snaps this season. Not too many LBs who are all-situations guys and they have two of them.

It’s hard to determine what concepts would be best to attack their run game. The Kansas City Chiefs had more success on the outside but the Atlanta Falcons were shut down. The Bucs adjusted well. But running inside on Vea and this front will be tough, too. Pittsburgh’s plan of attack will be interesting and critical. Ideally, something over the B gaps would be best. But it’s going to be tough sledding.

Some other defensive stats. The Bucs are 6th in points allowed at 16.6 per game. An impressive number but it’s even skewed upward by the Chiefs who hung 41 on them. Tampa hasn’t allowed more than 16 points in any of their other four games. Weirdly, they have been bad in situational football, 20th on 3rd down (41.9%) and an ugly 29th in red zone defense (76.9%). But it hasn’t hurt them yet. One reason their defense has been so stifling is due to their great tackling. Per PFR, they’ve missed just 13 tackles all season, tied for the fewest in football.

Buccaneers Pass Defense

Strong here as well. Allowing just 6.1 YPA, tied 5th best in the league while they’ve nearly picked off as many passes (six) as they’ve allowed touchdowns (seven). Their 19 sacks also rank third in the league. Six different Bucs have 2+ sacks led by Devin White’s three of them. Anytime an off-ball linebacker leads your group, it’s notable. Their DBs have combined for three sacks, Edwards with two, Winfield Jr. with one so they’re bringing pressure from all levels. Their blitz rate is 8th in football at 29.6% while their pressure rate is 11th, 26.2%.

All six INTs this season have come from the Bucs’ secondary. CB Jamel Dean is the only one with two.

Conceptually, it’s a zone-based defense that plays a variety of coverages. Similar to the Cleveland Browns, there’s a fair amount of Cover 6 with the field side corner clouding and playing the flat.

While they play a lot of zone, they man-up in crucial situations, especially on 4th down. So if Pittsburgh’s gotta go for it, call up your best man-beater. On 3rd and long, they’ll run 2 Man.

4th and short gets you Cover 1. Pick/rub routes would be ideal to beat them.

In short-yardage situations (1-3 yards) with the opposing offense in their territory, they’ll zone blitz the nickel corner against 2×2 sets. The safety cuts the crosser on Yankee concepts so that’s something important for the Steelers to note. And they also dial up a fair amount of sim pressure in 3rd and long with some exotic looks. I’m sure they’ll test Kenny Pickett Sunday.

Jonathan’s Individual Report

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost on the road in Buffalo last week, getting pummeled in a game where they were big underdogs and proved the line makers in Vegas to be right, losing 38-3. Now, this team prepares to face another title contender in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this coming Sunday at Acrisure Stadium. The Bucs are commonly known for having the GOAT at QB along with a dynamic offense that has several weapons that can take over games. However, when breaking down their defense, Tampa Bay has several studs along with solid role players that crate a formidable unit that Pittsburgh’s offense will face this weekend.

Defensive Line

Everything starts upfront for the Bucs who have had one of the best run defenses in the league for several years now. The man in the middle NT #50 Vita Vea is the key cog in Tampa Bay’s DL that suffocates opposing run games. While Vea tips the scales at 6’4, 347lb, he is a dancing bear, having the mobility and speed of a player nearly 100lb lighter.

He can play up-and-down the LOS and even drop into zone coverage for the Bucs, having the quickness and awareness to spy the QB on the pass rush. He is one of the strongest men in the NFL, consistently commanding double teams for fear of collapsing the pocket as a run defender and pass rusher. Vea is almost immovable off his spot, and while a stout run defender, he also offers some pass rush chops as well given his freaky athleticism.

 

Alongside Vea on the DL is veteran is #92 William Gholston who also profiles as a stout run defender. He only has 19.5 sacks in ten NFL seasons, but Gholston is strong at the point of attack and wins often at the LOS against the run. Another underrated member of the DL for the Bucs is #56 Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The 6’2, 307lb interior defender may appear undersized, but he plays with phenomenal effort, having the strength to sit down in gaps against the run and take on blocks to allow the linebackers to run free to the football. He doesn’t provide much as a pass rusher but is presence as a run defender cannot go understated.

Tampa Bay also used their top selection in the 2022 NFL Draft to add #90 Logan Hall who is built in a similar mold as Gholston, standing 6’6, 283lb and will likely be his long-term replacement. He is a athletic, yet raw defender coming out of Houston that is continuing to add strength and size to his frame to be more consistent against the run, but plays well as a gap penetrator with the pass rush upside you like to see from a base DE, having two sacks and four TFLs so far.

EDGE

The EDGE position for Tampa Bay features one of the league’s best in #58 Shaquil Barrett. The former UDFA out of Colorado State played mostly in the shadow of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in Denver before going to the Buccaneers and has since broken out, becoming a sack artist as a dangerous pass rusher. He posted 19.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2019 and has remained a steady presence off the edge since, using speed, power and various moves like the dip/rip, cross chop, and euro step counter to beat blockers into the pocket and wreak havoc on the opposing passing game.

 

Across from Barrett is second-year edge rusher #9 Joe Tryon-Shoyinka who Tampa Bay selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft to replace veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. After playing more as a rotational player his first season, Tryon has become a legit force on the edge. He has 1.5 sacks and four QB hits thus far in 2022, having the frame and length (6’5, 259lb) to make it difficult for tackles to keep off their frame. He is still developing in terms of executing pass rush moves with proper hand usage, but his athleticism alone makes him a viable threat on the edge.

 

Behind Tryon and Barrett are two long, angular edge defenders in #98 Anthony Nelson and #94 Carl Nassib. Both players project more as base 3-4 DEs given their length, but they have the big bodies to set the edge well as well as the motor to provide viable pass rush when subbed in. Nelson has impressive get off for his 6’7, 271lb frame and uses his length well to beat opposing tackles paired with the motor to finish at the QB. Nassib came back to the Bucs after spending time in Las Vegas and has also provided suitable depth as a rotational pass rusher and average run defender. Tampa Bay also recently elevated former Steeler #59 Genard Avery to have as depth.

Linebackers

The dynamic duo in the middle for Tampa Bay features #45 Devin White and #54 Lavonte David. White was drafted before Devin Bush at #4 overall in 2019 as a specimen at off-ball LB, standing 6’0, 237lb with a rocked-up frame and the speed to be a blur on the field. He constantly shoots gaps and disrupts the backfield as a run defender as well as a pass rusher, having logged nine sacks in 2020. He is a tackling machine, having the speed to run sideline-to-sideline and chase down ballcarriers with impressive closing burst. However, White is susceptible to overrunning plays, consistently getting off blocks, and tends to struggle in coverage, especially in zone where he must quickly process route breaks.

 

David isn’t as athletically gifted as his running mate at off-ball LB, but his is still a good athlete in his own right and his far more consistent in terms of tackling and coverage. David remains one of the most underrated players in the league, being only a one-time Pro Bowler despite posting numbers like that of Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner who were in his draft class. David has played 154 gams and currently stands at 1,256 tackles, 134 TFLs, 27 sacks, 26 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries, 56 pass deflections, and 12 INTs. He has three defensive TDs on his resume and remains one of the most instinctive players at his position in the league, having the awareness to break on routes quickly and sift through trash at the LOS to make tackles.

For depth at ILB, the Bucs have #52 K.J. Britt who primarily plays on special teams and profiles best as a run defender as well as #52 Olakunle Fatukasi who is a 2022 UDFA who has yet to log a defensive snap.

Cornerbacks

The Buccaneers paid big money this offseason to CB #24 Carlton Davis who has become one of the better cover corners in the league the last couple of seasons. Davis stands 6’1, 206lb, having the size and length to match up with bigger receivers on the outside as well as the competitiveness to challenge those receivers at the catch point on jump ball throws. He is physical at the LOS and does well when jamming opposing WRs, having the speed to run with them down the field. Davis does slip up against nuanced route runners, however, having some tightness in his hips where quick-twitch guys can get the best of him out of their breaks.

 

Davis is joined in the secondary by #35 Jamel Dean who has been a steady player for the Bucs defense, ranking up there in terms of pass deflections and has two INTs on the year. He is a speedy cover corner, having the ability to run with just about anyone in coverage, but also can get fooled on double moves. #23 Sean Murphy-Bunting also is a young, talented corner that battled injuries last season, but has the length (6’0, 195lb) to match up with bigger-bodied receivers as well. He’s a willing tackler in the run game, but can struggle with transitions at times in coverage, doing his best work in off-man or zone where he can read the QB’s eyes and jump routes.

Safeties

The Buccaneers lucked out when they selected #31 Antione Winfield Jr. in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, getting a Pro-Bowl player in just his second season. Winfield is a feisty defender that plays like a ball of energy, being active near the LOS in terms of flying into the backfield to make TFLs or towards the sideline in pursuit of the ballcarrier.

He is a hard hitter, meeting the ball with bad intentions, but also has the range to be a threat on the backend as well. He does his best worked when freed up and allowed to roam the secondary, having the closing speed to impact the catch point, jarring the ball out or making the INT. He has accounted for 13 turnovers in just over two NFL seasons, having a nose for the football.

 

Next to Winfield in the secondary is #32 Mike Edwards who plays his best ball on the backend as an opportunistic centerfielder/free safety. He has six INTs the last three seasons and has returned three of them to the house. He does a great job reading the QB’s eyes and either undercutting the route or making a play toward the sideline, forcing the receiver to make a tough catch, or getting hands on the ball himself. Behind Edwards and Winfield is #22 Keanu Neal who has been primarily as SS/LB hybrid player that does his best work in the box in run support. A big hitter, Neal has seen his snaps increase the last two weeks, but is someone you want to target in coverage given his limitations.

 

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