With the Indianapolis Colts facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson talked with Bucs Nation's Sander Philipse about the Buccaneers and this Sunday's matchup. The questions are in bold and then Sander's responses follow.
1. It seems as if Jameis Winston keeps getting better every week and is at a point now where he's a dangerous threat. What have you noticed about Winston as the season has gone on? How has he continued to develop? How good is he already?
Jameis Winston's definitely gotten better as the season wore on. A lot of the early perception of his play was shaped by his disastrous week one showing, and his four-interception game in week four against the Panthers, but those weren't really representative of his performance. Generally speaking, Winston's looked like a future franchise quarterback. He consistently makes big throws, has shown remarkable calm in the pocket and has done a very good job of managing the offense, especially over the past six games. He's still too inconsistent to be considered a genuinely good quarterback right now, but he displays all the attributes necessary to become one.
2. Doug Martin has had a nice bounce back year. How important is he to the offense? Is this offense run-oriented or pass-oriented (or a balance of both)?
The Bucs definitely have a run-oriented offense. They're third in the league in rushing attempts, second in rushing yards, and 26th in pass attempts. Dirk Koetter has tried to make the running game the foundation of the offense, and he's largely succeeded. Martin has bounced back from two disappointing seasons and been a very reliable back this year, despite some inconsistent blocking from the offensive line. They also frequently keep in a sixth lineman and line up with very tight-end heavy formations to help the run game, and to protect Winston.
Of course, no NFL offense these days can survive without a quality passing game, and Winston frequently has to make drive-sustaining throws to keep the Bucs in the game. They've also struggled to score in the red zone on the back of the running game, and Winston's five touchdown throws last week were a big step forward in turning yards into points.
3. This defense seems to have had their struggles, but like the rest of the team improved as the year has gone on. Is that a fair assessment? What are the unit's strengths and weaknesses?
That's fair, though it may understate just how terrible the Tampa Bay defense was over the first half of the season. The Bucs defense really only started to play well against the Dallas Cowboys, when Sterling Moore and undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah stepped in at cornerback. The Bucs have a really weak secondary in terms of talent, and they went through a lot of different combinations of cornerbacks to get to a combination they liked, but they seem to have found it now.
In terms of weaknesses, the Bucs lack talent in pass defense, both in terms of pass rush and in pass coverage. Aside from Gerald McCoy, none of the players are difference makers, and many of them are decidedly below-average. That showed up again and again for the first eight games of the year, but Lovie Smith has gotten his players to play with more discipline in recent games and that has really helped the pass defense. You can still complete a lot of passes on them, but the blown coverages and defenders leaving holes by overextending themselves elsewhere are a thing of the past.
In terms of strengths, the Bucs have one of the very best run defenses in the NFL. They run a one-gap defense where Gerald McCoy's quickness wreaks havoc on blocking schemes, and Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander's sideline speed track down running backs before they can get going. It's tough to base your offense on the run against the Bucs.
4. The Buccaneers have won four of their last six games and are competing for a playoff spot after a 1-3 start. Has anything major changed or is it simply them playing better?
Aside from some shuffles in the secondary, it's mostly that they're playing better and seeing a few close calls flip their way, rather than the opponent's way. The Bucs have been recovering fumbles, catching interceptions instead of dropping them and seeing quarterbacks just miss on those occasions where a receiver's open for a big play. Meanwhile, they've been doing the opposite on offense: making tough catches, recovering their own fumbles, and seeing defenders drop a few interceptions. The difference in terms of quality of play probably isn't as dramatic as it seems -- though the Bucs have undeniably also played better football in recent weeks, especially on defense.
5. Knowing what you do of the Buccaneers, how would you attack them if you were the Colts' offensive and defensive coordinator?
On offense, I'd try to focus on quick passes, including some quick run/play-action -- Kwon Alexander has a tendency to bite hard when an offensive line is showing run, vacating the middle of the field. You can beat the Bucs with quick slants and quick seam routes to the tight end, but it's hard to consistently keep drives going that way. And that's what they count on.
As for defense, I'd blitz. A lot. While Winston has been calm in the pocket and is generally good at handling pressure, his mechanics can break down when he's forced to hurry his throws leading to inaccurate and sometimes ill-advised throws. The Bucs keep in extra blockers a lot to help keep the pocket clean, but the line isn't dominant and you can still overwhelm the blocking by sending six rushers. That means playing man coverage on the Bucs' big receivers, and it may cost you a few big plays, but it's also going to result in a lot of opportunities for turnovers.
Thanks again to Sander for taking the time to answer these questions, and be sure to check out Bucs Nation for complete coverage from the Buccaneers side of things!