After two-consecutive road games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back on their home turf in a Thursday Night Football prime-time showdown against the Baltimore Ravens. The Buccaneers have lost four of their last five games, the most recent being a humbling loss to the Panthers in Charlotte, garnering disillusionment. Throughout walk-throughs this week on a quick turnaround, it has been back to the drawing board for Tampa Bay in preparation for Thursday night. Under the national spotlight, the Bucs will strive to propel themselves forward. Both Week Eight contestants are in similar situations. At a 3-4 record, the Bucs are tied for first place in the NFC South with the Falcons and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Ravens, at a 4-3 record, are also tied for first place in the AFC North with the Bengals and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with Cincinnati. Both will seek to strengthen their grip on their respective divisions. Tampa Bay has not played a consistent game during the 2022 slate and will look to do so against the unabashed, run-centric Ravens at Raymond James Stadium. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Ravens clash in Week Eight. Here is a closer look at five Buccaneers to observe on Thursday.
The biggest key for the Buccaneers on Thursday will be maintaining gaps to try and limit speed-threat quarterback, Lamar Jackson. No opponent can replicate the elusiveness of Jackson during practice through scout team simulations and when it comes time for gameday, Jackson's quickness is unpredictable. Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to record two, 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The dynamic playmaker is fifth in the NFL in rush yards (510) and sixth in the NFL in rushing since entering the league in 2018 (4,813) regardless of position. He is the only non-running back among the top 20 in each span. He possesses rare mobility that allows him to break contain and extend plays. Jackson consistently evades defenders in the open field and makes sensational, highlight-reel plays on a regular basis. He is a threat to break for a long run on any carry and has developed as a passer. Jackson can make off-platform throws and beat coverage with placement. With no Antoine Winfield Jr. this week (concussion) for the Bucs, Mike Edwards will have a diversified role. He will split time in the slot according to Todd Bowles and will have a crucial role in containing Jackson on Sunday. In the Ravens' run-centric approach, Baltimore utilizes a lot of RPO's, where Jackson has the opportunity to tuck and run, handoff the ball to a running back, or throw it. The Ravens use motions to draw defenders' eyes, while unleashing playmakers to the opposite side of the formation. Edwards will have to diagnose whether Jackson will run, handoff, or throw. If it is a run, he will shoot downhill to join the mix on tackling. If Jackson lobs a deep ball, Edwards could be the safety help over the top/last line of defense. If Jackson breaks past the second level off a lethal jump-cut, Edwards could be the only body keeping Jackson out of the end zone.
In Week Four against the Chiefs, the Bucs' defense has no answers for Patrick Mahomes and his go-to target over the middle of the field, Travis Kelce. Kelce made significant contributions on third down for Kansas City to extend drives by boxing out defenders on underneath/intermediate routes. This week, another top-tier tight end headlines the clash: Mark Andrews. The Browns held Andrews in check last week – a rarity in the league – but he still remains one of best in the game and Lamar Jackson's favorite weapon downfield. Andrews was listed on the injury report as questionable and if he does play, Lavonte David will need a stellar outing in coverage. Andrews leads the Ravens in receptions (39), receiving yards (455) and is tied for fourth in the league with five receiving touchdowns. The mismatch threat possesses quickness down the seam, excellent body control, is a fluid route-runner and finds the soft spots in zone coverage to gain run-after-catch. Bucs' inside linebacker, Lavonte David, is touted as one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL. He is adept at neutralizing tight ends and running backs in man coverage with fluid hip movement in a compact-space over the middle of the field. He will face a tall task on Thursday night and so will, Andrews. Let the chess match commence.
Luke Goedeke was ruled out of Thursday night's game with a foot injury and Nick Leverett will make his starting debut against the Ravens at left guard. Initially an undrafted free against out of Rice in 2020, Leverett spent a year on the Buccaneers' practice squad before earning a spot on the 53-man roster. At the outset of the 2022 season, Leverett was in the battle with Goedeke for the vacant left guard position and the staff officially gave the starting gig to the rookie from Central Michigan, albeit the competition was close. Leverett made significant contributions to the line last year against the Colts, stepping in after injuries sidelined Ali Marpet and Aaron Stinnie. Leverett will likely see a heavy dose of Brent Urban. Calais Campbell has been ruled out with an unspecified illness and it will be Urban's time to take advantage of the opportunity. Urban signed a one-year deal with the Ravens in May, returning to the place where his NFL career began. He was initially drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and established himself as a productive rotational player over his first four seasons in the league (52 tackles, 3.5 sacks). After the 2018 season, he spent stints with the Bears – where he accumulated a career-high 36 tackles and 2.5 sacks in eight game starts – the Titans and Cowboys before a reunion in Baltimore. Urban has a quick first-step and provides pressure from the interior. He is a solid run stuffer and Leverett will need a productive showing to bolster the offensive line around Tom Brady.
In 2022, Shaquil Barrett has registered 2.0 sacks to the surprise of many, both of which came against the Saints in Week Two. Granted, stats are not always indicative of play. Opposing teams have generally operated out of a quick passing game to mitigate pressure. Despite winning his matchup and shedding blockers, Barrett often cannot get home for a sack because the ball has already left the quarterback's hands – as coaches have alluded to this week. Todd Bowles likes to create multiple looks up front by moving players along the line to create advantageous matchups, but Barrett predominately rushes from the left end of the line, meaning he will encounter Baltimore right tackle Moses Morgan. If he rushes from the opposite, he will meet Ravens' left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Stanley, a first-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2019, was listed on the injury report with a questionable status but did participate in Wednesday's walk-through. He has missed three games in 2022 with an ankle injury, an ailment that has hindered his progress in recent years. Stanley is a fluid mover, able to quickly get to the second level, which optimizes the Ravens' run game. He is a technician with great hand placement and surprising agility. A lot of the Ravens' runs come around the tackles behind pulls/counters, and Barrett will be a key component in controlling the edge.
The Buccaneers are still searching for continuity on offense. However the offense gets back on track, wide receiver Chris Godwin will be a focal point. Godwin is a versatile slot weapon over the middle of the field. As Godwin continues to work his way back to full strength following a December ACL tear and ensuing surgery, his production will rise with repetition as games are stacked. Against the Panthers, Godwin was targeted 13 times by Brady, which culminated in seven receptions for 43 yards. Last season for the Buccaneers, Godwin led the NFL in catches and yards gained on screens. He beats defenders physically at the catch point and Godwin's presence poses a problem for Ravens cornerback Damarion Williams, who plays in sub packages for Baltimore alongside secondary mates Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens selected Williams in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft and his workload has increased for Baltimore in his rookie campaign with Kyle Fuller on Injured Reserve. Williams played a variety of roles at Houston, but his most natural fit came at slot corner. He possesses speed, pattern-matching skills in man coverage out of the slot and anticipation in zone coverage. Williams will have a challenging task on Thursday of going against one of the NFL's best YAC-threats.