Paving the Way
This past Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers imposed their will on the ground. Running back Leonard Fournette recorded 21 carries for 127 yards. He eclipsed the 100-yard rushing marker for the fourth time since joining Tampa Bay and Fournette's 127 yards are the most he has compiled in a regular season game with the Bucs. During the second half, Tampa Bay shifted to a run-heavy approach to offset the Cowboys' pass rush after Micah Parsons had several splash plays to the left side of the formation. The Bucs began loading up with receiver stalk blocks, backside blocks by tight ends and pulls by offensive linemen to create lanes. Fournette took advantage. With an open crease, No. 7 quickly hit the holes and accelerated post-cut. With balance through tackles and instantaneous second-gear explosion, Fournette averaged 6.0 yards-per-carry. He is built like a linebacker with the speed of a receiver, which punished defenders at AT&T Stadium. On the club's blocking up front, Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich said, "I think we did a good by everyone, not just Ko [Kieft]. I think we did a good job of getting a hat on a hat, getting movement at the line of scrimmage. When you do those things, you tend to run the ball well."
Additionally, rookie running back Rachaad White made his debut against the Cowboys. Whether it was a chip-and-release or solely blocking, White was efficient. He drew esteem from Leftwich, a rarity for any first-year player.
"I have the ultimate confidence in him. He [did] nothing wrong in that ballgame – Rachaad [did] zero things wrong in that ballgame. I love where he's at right now and I have full confidence in him."
No "Mental Errors"
After receiving his first Pro Bowl nod in 2021, Devin White continued the productive streak in Week One against the Cowboys. He led the Buccaneers with eight tackles and 2.0 sacks, improving his career regular season sack total to 17.0. As the quarterback of the defense, White commands the unit with a captain badge on his chest. Todd Bowles unleashed pass rushers on third-and-long situations and White capitalized. Both of his sacks flipped the field, energizing the defense in Prime-Time. With rare closing speed, White collapsed the pocket through the A-gap, leaving the Cowboys' reeling. Linebackers in the modern era of the NFL are tasked with many roles including rushing the passer on blitzes/stunts, dropping back into coverage, and stopping the run. White showcased elite read-and-react skills against Dallas, drawing praise from Pass Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers Coach, Larry Foote.
"He [Devin White] was clean. Those guys didn't have any [mental errors] – knock on wood – and you don't see that often, especially playing the linebacker position. He was clean, he was communicating, and I'll just always remind him, 'When you have that type of ability, slow down. Let the game come to you.' He did that. He leans a lot on [Lavonte] David, so those guys did a good job."
Challenge of Demario Davis
Demario Davis is the centerpiece of Dennis Allen's defense. For context, Davis is the only defender in the NFL with 100-plus tackles, 10-plus tackles for loss, and three or more sacks in each of the last four seasons. He is quick off the snap and wreaks havoc on offensive game plans. He can do it all: blitz, drop into coverage, disrupt the pass, or neutralize the run. The hard hitter crashes the pocket with reckless abandon. No. 56 is a player that is becoming nearly impossible for running backs to control on chips. Davis is considered a down lineman and predominately must be contained by an offensive lineman. He is lethal on an inside blitz and Tom Brady paid his respects.
"I think when he plays everybody, he does a great job," Brady stated. "He's a great leader, just a great guy, great player. So yeah, he's…it's hard to find a lot of linebackers like him that are as athletic, as powerful, as fast, good coverage guy, very smart and aware. He obviously cares a lot; the team really rallies around him. I have a lot of respect for him."
Winning the Battle in the Trenches
The Buccaneers created synergy between the run and the pass against the Cowboys in Week One, and that will be a focal point in Sunday's NFC South rivalry game. During the Tom Brady era in Tampa Bay, several factors have consistently contributed to the team's downfall against their division foe: turnovers, penalties, and sacks. In that four-game span, the Saints' defense has 13 sacks and New Orleans holds an 11-2 turnover advantage. Winning one-on-one matchups at the line of scrimmage, maintaining balance offensively and protecting the football will be the keys to victory for Tampa Bay in the Superdome. Against a division opponent, there is a small margin for error. Brady described the team's mindset heading into the Week Two contest.
"You've got to stay really balanced against these guys. I don't think you can turn it into a pass-a-thon. Stay balanced and be really efficient in what we're doing up front and play physical and don't turn the ball over and score points in the red area and play well in the kicking game and try to get some turnovers on defense – if we can do all those things, I think we'll be pretty happy at the end of the day."