3TFO: Buccaneers @ Broncos, Week 13
Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos are playing good football and, while the surging Broncos are in the driver’s seat in the AFC West, there’s little margin for error if Tampa Bay hopes to land a wild card spot in the NFC.
Denver looks like they’ll be a dangerous team come playoff time with quarterback Peyton Manning back to his MVP-like form and a defense that has continued to improve throughout the season. At 8-3, they still have an outside shot to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
Tampa Bay’s youth movement is in full swing as three rookies are seeing significant snaps on defense, while running back Doug Martin is making a run for Rookie of the Year. While they appear to have some important pieces in place to compete over the next few years, they’re right in the playoff mix this season and this will be a great test going up against one of the best teams the AFC has to offer.
Here are the key matchups to watch.
Peyton Manning vs. Buccaneers Pass Defense
The yardage numbers for the Tampa Bay pass defense are downright ugly. They’re giving up a league-worst 316 yards per game. Part of the reason for the gaudy numbers is that teams have pretty much given up on trying to run against the Bucs’ stout run defense. Combine that with some moving parts in the secondary and we can expect a lot of pass attempts from Manning this weekend. The Bucs will be without starting cornerback Eric Wright who is in the middle of a four-game suspension, so rookie CB Leonard Johnson will take his snaps once again. After a strong start to his career, Johnson has fallen to 111th out of 113 qualifiers surrendering 2.10 Yards/Cover Snap. Rookie safety Mark Barron has done some nice things against the run, but his tackling efficiency of 3.7 in the passing game is worst in the league at the position. The sloppy play is a big reason why he’s grading at -8.2 in coverage.
Manning’s 100.35 PFF QB Rating is best in the league as he’s helped turn Denver into a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Perhaps most impressive has been his efficiency on the deep ball. His 54.9% Accuracy Percentage is second in the league and he’s helped make the offensive line look good by taking a league best 2.50 seconds to get rid of the ball. Expect him to feature his usual mix of quick hitting and deep passes to take advantage of the weak Tampa Bay secondary.
Gerald McCoy vs. Broncos Interior Offensive Line
One way to slow down Manning is quick pressure from the interior, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of the best in the league in that department. He’s Tampa Bay’s most consistent pass rusher and he ranks ninth among defensive tackles in Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) at 6.4. After two injury-shortened seasons, McCoy has played 88.8% of the snaps this year and he’s finally living up to his status as the No. 3 overall pick in 2010.
McCoy will match up with a stout Denver offensive line that leads the league in Pass Blocking Efficiency as a unit at 88.1. Manning’s quick release has certainly helped those numbers, but the line has shown great improvement since last season. Right guard Manuel Ramirez is 10th at the position with a 97.7 PBE, while LG Zane Beadles is 16th at 97.4. Denver has even gotten strong play from veteran center Dan Koppen who has filled in for injured starter J.D. Walton since Week 4. Koppen’s 98.3 PBE ranks 10th among centers, so this will be a good battle between McCoy and the Denver interior line.
Vincent Jackson vs. Broncos Cornerbacks
Tampa Bay has gotten their money’s worth to this point from free agent wide receiver Vincent Jackson. He’s averaging 20.4 yards per reception while ranking second in the league with 14 receptions on passes of 20 yards or more. His 2.60 Yards/Route Run ranks third in the league while he’s dropped only two of the 49 catchable passes thrown his way, good for a Drop Rate of 4.08% (fifth in the league). By all accounts, it’s been a Pro Bowl caliber season for Jackson.
On the other side, the Broncos are still getting stellar play from cornerback Champ Bailey, but it’s CB Tony Carter whose play has turned heads and helped solidify the Denver secondary. He’s currently seventh in the league with only 0.89 Yards/Cover Snap while splitting his time at both left and right cornerback. Carter ranks right behind fellow teammate Chris Harris whose 0.88 Yards per cover snap is fifth in the league. He will see Jackson at times in Denver’s base package but they’ll also match up on the handful of snaps where Jackson lines up in the slot. Regardless of where Jackson is on the field, he’ll be matched up with a formidable cornerback as this looks to be one of the best matchups of the entire week.
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