The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense was good for the first three quarters of the 2020 season, right up to the team's bye week. It was nearly unstoppable after the break.
The Buccaneers scored 26 points in a Week 14 win over the Vikings and then topped 30 in each of the next seven outings, right up through Super Bowl LV. Over their last eight games, including the postseason, the Bucs averaged 33.9 points per game, scored on 54% of their possessions, averaged 3.04 points per drive and had nearly seven times as many touchdowns (33) as turnovers (five). Tom Brady had a 22-4 touchdown-interception ratio and a 112.4 passer rating in that span.
Now, virtually the entire offense is returning intact for 2021 and Brady and his offensive teammates have a full year under their belt to form a connection and absorb the playbook. Will NFL defenses find a way to slow down the maglev train that was the Tampa Bay offense over those last two months of 2020? Well, that is essentially our topic as we reach Day Four of Roundtable Week here on Buccaneers.com.
All week, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali, Team Reporter Casey Phillips and I are discussing issues regarding the Buccaneers' recently-released 2021 schedule. On Wednesday we searched for the biggest challenge on that schedule for Tampa Bay's defense; now, we're looking for the same thing for the Bucs' offense. If some team, some scheme, some player or some unit is going to give Brady and company problems this fall, who or what is it going to be?
Here are the other topics we've been debating this week:
Monday, May 17: What is your most anticipated game on the Bucs' 2021 schedule?
Tuesday, May 18: Who is the top rookie opponent on the Bucs' schedule?
Wednesday, May 19: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's defense?
Thursday, May 20: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's offense?
Friday, May 21: What is the toughest stretch of games on this year's schedule?
To make sure we have variety in our answers, we have instituted a no-duplicating rule for our picks, and as such we've been rotating the order of our selections throughout the week. For this one, Casey is back in the first spot, followed by Carmen and then me. Casey, tell us, who is stopping Brady and his pals in 2021?
Casey Phillips: LA Rams
Can that be my whole answer?
But really though, you've all heard the praise Donald gets. "Once in a generation talent." "Game wrecker." Etc, etc. He deserves all of it.
The Rams defense led by Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and Jalen Ramsey last year ranked first in passing yards allowed, opposing offenses were held to a league low 18.5 points a game, and they finished with the top defensive efficiency in the league. Now in 2021 they will be led by Raheem Morris as their defensive coordinator, a guy rather familiar with the Buccaneers.
A different coordinator won't be the only change to the Rams defense. They lost four starters from last year and then used five of their nine draft picks on defensive players, so there will still be some unknowns on that side of the ball. But their star power coupled with Raheem Morris at the helm and retaining much of the 3-4 scheme that served them well in 2020 should make for a heck of a battle in the opening weeks of the season.
Carmen Vitali: The Washington Football Team
The Washington defense put up a fight in the Wildcard Round of this past postseason and with four first-round picks on the defensive line alone, that's not going to change. Ryan Kerrigan, their long-time pass rushing staple is gone (onto literally greener pastures), though still within the NFC East but the team added a couple defensive backs in William Jackson III and Darryl Roberts, along with linebacker David Mayo in free agency. The former two will give Kendall Fuller and Co. some help on the back end while Mayo is joined by the team's first round draft pick this year in Jamin Davis from Kentucky to help along the middle level with Jon Bostic.
And again, there's that line. Chase Young won Defensive Rookie of the Year and nabbed a Pro Bowl selection after a 2020 campaign that saw him tally 7.5 sacks and force four fumbles while recovering three, one of which he took in for a touchdown. Second-year player Montez Sweat broke out for 9.0 sacks in 2020, totaling 45 tackles, 12 of which were for loss while hitting the quarterback 20 times. Then you have the interior guys in Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen for one of the most stifling defensive lines in the league. Notice I said one of because I'd take our guys here on the Bucs any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
But Washington's defense did give the Bucs' offense problems to start their postseason run, sacking Brady 3.0 times (though none by Young despite his comments leading up to the game). It wasn't anything the Bucs didn't end up overcoming, obviously, but it was pretty tense there for a stretch. The team overall should be improved going into 2021 so it's likely they'll again present another challenge for the Bucs behind those Rams Casey just talked about.
Scott Smith: Weeks 7-10
To answer your question, Casey, yes. You could have simply written Aaron Donald and added a period and we would have gotten the point. This is another case in which picking first would have been nice.
Anyway, I'm not sure what is going to stop the Buccaneers' offense in 2021 if it plays like it did over the last eight games of 2020 (including playoffs). Okay, injuries could slow them down and are always a possibility, but let's think positively right now. Otherwise, I think the main thing the Buccaneers' offense has to avoid is pressure on Tom Brady, and this stretch of the schedule represents the most challenging part of the season for Tampa Bay's offensive front.
It's only three games because that stretch includes the bye week, and I'm kind of borrowing a bit from Carmen's answer since it ends with the game in Washington. For an idea of what that means, see above. But before that the Buccaneers also have to face Khalil Mack and the Bears followed by Cameron Jordan in New Orleans. Neither Mack (9.0 sacks) nor Jordan (7.5 sacks) had their most productive seasons in 2020 on paper, but don't let that fool you. These are still two of the most fearsome edge rushers in the NFL and I fully expect both to be back in double-digit sacks in 2021.
After Week 10, the schedule eases up a bit in terms of elite pass rushers. Other than another meeting with New Orleans in Week 15, I don't think there's another defensive front as imposing as the ones the Bucs will face in succession from October 24 to November 14.