Taylor Made Battle – As noted above, Taylor is the hottest defender in the NFL – especially with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry on the shelf – and he is starting to gain traction in the MVP race after his five-goal performance last Sunday at Buffalo. Taylor has reached 100 yards from soccer practice and had at least one touchdown rush in eight games in a row, which is a great result. Only two other people in NFL history – LaDainian Tomlinson and Lydell Mitchell – have equaled that record, and if Taylor made it nine times in a row against the Bucs, he would be the first to do so. Taylor’s combination of size, power and pace makes him a burden to deal with between tackles and home runs threats as he enters open court. Like any team heading to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the Colts, the Bucs knew slowing down Taylor would be a challenge. However, the Buccaneers are also very well equipped for such a challenge. After leading the NFL in a defensive rush in 2019 and 2020, the Buccaneers are back at the top in that category, allowing just 78.4 yards per game. While some of that has to do with Tampa Bay’s huge number of home advantages, the Bucs are also second in yards per carry, with 3.81. The Bucs limited talented Giants defender Saquon Barkley to just 25 yards on Monday night, and that was without a tackle from their star Vita Vea, who is out with a knee injury. That run defense could be more solid this weekend if Vea returns to action, and there is optimism he will be able to do so.
How the Colts’ Defended Brady – Surprisingly very little, the Giants faced Brady (talking about the MVP candidate) and the Buccaneers offense with a hefty dose of a two-high security display, ostensibly to prevent the Bucs from scoring quickly with a big game. Tampa Bay took what the Giants gave and, despite producing two season lows with 20 yards or more, still hit a net 308 yards of passing, almost exactly their league-leading per-game average (314.8) in 2021. Brady threw a high percentage of short throws and the Bucs made nearly all of them successful, opening the game with 17 consecutive “play successes.” Although his average time to throw 2.75 seconds on a Monday night is longer than in most games this year, he still hasn’t been sacked, and he’s been pressured on a 16.1% league drop this season. What approach will the Colts defense take on Sunday, given the evidence that Brady and company have the ability to succeed against any approach? Well, much like the Bucs’ running defense suited Taylor, the Colts’ defense has been successful against short passes this season. Brady is tied to lead the NFL by 15 goals on “quick passes,” according to NFL Next Gen Stats, but the Colts defense also leads the league with an allowed passer rating of 79.9 on such throws. In fact, five of Indy’s 13 picks came from such play. Interestingly, the Colts have no be one of the best teams at defending longer passes, with a passer rating allowed of 100.5 on balls thrown 10 yards or more down the field in the air.
Reinforcements on the Road? – The Buccaneers defense got a key starter back on Week 11 when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting played for the first time since suffering an elbow injury the opening night and was on the pitch for all but one defensive snap. On Wednesday, Carlton Davis, one of the Bucs’ season-opening starters at cornerback, started training again while on the bench with a calf problem. Bruce Arians says he doubts Davis will return to the lineup on Sunday but is more optimistic about Vita Vea, who may only miss a game after suffering an MCL injury in Washington on Sunday 10. Bucs fouls also got a central figure back in Week 11 when Rob Gronkowski returned. from a back injury and immediately contributed six catches for 71 yards. Now the offense could be closer to full strength with wide receiver Scotty Miller getting his activation from the injured reserve on Tuesday. While there are some recent injuries to deal with, such as Devin White’s quad and Ali Marpet’s oblique, neither is considered a long-term problem and the Buccaneers are able to stretch healthily as they have had since the first half of Week One. game against Dallas.
Remote Communication – The aforementioned Buccaneer struggles – relatively speaking – on the road are the result of a number of factors. On Wednesday, both Murphy-Bunting and Chris Godwin suggested that the biggest problem was a lack of proper energy levels early in the game. They believe that has led to a slow start and created a situation that allowed the home team crowd to become a problem. That may be true, and it also relates to a problem that players and coaches have mentioned on several occasions after disappointing road performances: unsatisfactory communication between players, especially in defence. Buccaneer’ kind of crowd noise violation to be faced on Sunday inside the Colts’ dome is an impediment to good communication but shouldn’t be a problem when the Tampa Bay defense is on the pitch. On that side of the ball, the problem may be at least partly rooted in the ever-changing line-up that the Bucs have had to deploy in the face of a rash of injuries, mostly in the secondary. As the team gets closer to having its lineup of choice, will they be able to resolve those communication issues and get hot on the road like they did in 2020? On Wednesday, Bruce Arians said there was “no doubt” that the Bucs defense was capable of returning to the level of play it showed last season, and getting Murphy-Bunting back was a “huge” move. in that direction.
Key Takeaways – Both the Colts and Buccaneers rank in the NFL’s top seven in turnover margins, with the Indy occupying the top spot and the Bucs at number seven. So the two teams are pretty close even in that department, right? No. The +5 Bucs turnover ratio is good, but that pales in comparison to the +15 Colts. No other team in the NFL is better than +2 and only two (Collts and Bills) are better than +8. Indianapolis have turned their 25 takeaways into 91 points from the league’s highest turnover while their 10 prizes have yielded just 26 points, tied for the sixth lowest in the NFL. The 65-point difference in scoring and allowing for a points change looks very similar to the Colts’ overall score difference of 64 points this year. It’s really been an advantage for Indianapolis so far in 2021. “Defensively, they lead the league with 25 takeaways, and then a plus-15, that’s huge,” said Bruce Arians. “So they did a good job in those areas taking the ball off the team and organizing themselves.” As for the Buccaneers, they likened their recent losses in New Orleans and Washington to the five turnovers they made in that game, which resulted in 27 points total for their opponents. The Tampa Bay defense had just one takeaway in those two games combined, too, but bounced back with three against the Giants in Monday night’s win. If the Buccaneers let the Colts continue to win the turnover battle, they will have a much harder time escaping Lucas Oil Stadium with a win.
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