-It's the matchup of the week and perhaps the matchup of the season: the Bucs' stifling run defense against the perhaps the best running back in league right now. Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor has been on an absolute tear in 2021, racking up eight straight games with over 100 yards from scrimmage.
Last week against the Bills, Taylor had 204 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns. Yeah, he's one of only four running backs since the NFL-AFL merger to do that. This season, he has 322 rushing yards over expectation, according to Next Gen Stats, with a league-leading total of 1,122 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. His 1.70 rushing yards over expectation per carry are the second-highest in the RYOE era, according to NGS, averaging a total of 5.8 yards per carry.
To give you some perspective, the Bucs' league-leading rushing defense is allowing just 3.8 yards per carry and have let up just six rushing touchdowns all season.
More than that, is the threat he presents in the screen and receiving game. In Week Five against Baltimore, the Ravens limited him to 53 rushing yards on 15 carries BUT he torched them through the air, amassing 116 yards on just three receptions.
Therefore (and obviously), much of the onus falls on the defense to stop Taylor, not just on the ground but as a receiving threat.
"He is great in the screen game, but he can go out and run routes," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "He had a lot of David Johnson in him when we worked him out. He could be a wide receiver if he wanted to be – he's got the size and speed. [He is a] tremendous athlete. He is dangerous anywhere in space."
And while the defense is undoubtedly prepared for the challenges Taylor presents as public enemy number one this weekend, the offense understands their role to play, as well.
If the Colts want to make the game physical by having their offense go through the run game – what's Arians' answer to that?
"Do the same thing to them," he said. "That's what we do defensively, so it should be a good matchup. I think the other key is for us to get a lead and make them play from behind."
Indeed, that could be the key against the Colts' offense. After averaging 244.2 passing yards per game and scoring 17 touchdowns in the first nine weeks of the season, Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz has only had one passing touchdown in the last two games and has and average of just 143.0 passing yards with an average quarterback rating of 81.3 in that span. He's regressed in the last two games and doesn't seem to be able to be super productive on his own through the air. If the Bucs do manage a lead, that could force the Colts to play catch up and the most efficient way to do that is to pass the ball. See where I'm going here? If you force them to have to throw it, Wentz may just not be able to do that. Especially if the defense holds up their end of the bargain when it comes to Taylor, the Bucs' offense should have no trouble living up to their top-scoring reputation and their average of 30.9 points per game should be more than enough to secure a victory.
We'll just have to wait and see.
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