The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in their bye week, which means the players can take time to relax, recover and get away from football a little bit. That doesn't mean the rest of us can just stop thinking about football for a whole week. Not in mid-November. That's not how it works.
So to satisfy our football lizard brains, Staff Writer Brianna Dix and I are going to kick around a trio of Buccaneers-related topics this week in a series of what we are calling Point-Counterpoint articles. It's exactly what it sounds like: We choose a topic, one of us provides an answer and then the other offers a counterargument. It might get a little bit sassy.
For all three discussions we are going to treat the bye week as a dividing point between the first and second "halves" of the season, even though we're 10 games into the season with seven to go. It's close enough; don't give us any trouble.
Our first topic is:
What has been the biggest surprise of the first half of the Buccaneers' season?
Brianna: Vita Vea Sack Leader
Scott, if you told me at the outset of the 2022 season that nose tackle Vita Vea would lead the Buccaneers in sacks, I would not have believed you. That is not to diminish Vea's ability but to express the rarity of that accomplishment for the position. Historically, nose tackles are viewed as the men in the middle that command double teams and stuff the run. While those remain true in Vea's case, above-average quickness to penetrate gaps as a pass rusher is also true. Too often viewed as a two-gap player, Vea possesses the athleticism to stay on the field for passing downs, which he has taken advantage of this season.
Against the defending Super Bowl champions in Week Nine, Vea spearheaded the defensive unit, accumulating two of the team's four sacks. Vea's disruption solidified the Bucs' defensive front and put the Rams in unfavorable down-and-distance situations. That production brought his season total to 6.5, leading the club and surpassing his former career-high of 4.0 in a single season. Vea has consistently pushed the pocket, using explosiveness and power to shed blockers. He routinely wreaks havoc at the line of scrimmage, making timely plays in critical moments for Tampa Bay. When isolated against a center or guard, Vea overwhelms. With a lethal bull rush and relentless motor, Vea continues to fortify the Buccaneers' defensive line and has been a bright spot in 2022.
Scott: The Vanishing Takeaway
I love when Bri gets excited about a player because I end up with a gorgeous scouting profile that paints such a good picture of how Vea is "wreaking havoc." So while I enjoyed your answer, Bri, I have to go all Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtain on you and tell you (in a much tamer manner than Aykroyd did because I have far more respect for Bri than Dan's character had for Jane) that you are dead wrong.
Vea's sack total has been a mildly pleasant surprise. It's a tasty but forgettable appetizer on the menu of the dishes that have produced a Buccaneers season that hasn't unfolded anything like what everyone expected. If you told me in August that Vea would lead the team in sacks 10 games into the season, I would have been sort of interested. I might have glanced up from my laptop for a moment and said, "Huh, that's pretty cool. What does he have, 10 sacks? Oh, 6.5? Well, good for him. Bless his soul."
Now, if you had told me in August that the Buccaneers' season would have a stretch of five straight games in which the defense did not produce even one single, tiny, little, isolated takeaway, I might have gone full Aykroyd on you. "That's impossible," August Me would have sputtered. "I refuse to believe it. Now leave me alone and go write some elegant and illuminating piece on Chris Godwin's journey back from a devastating injury." That's what I would have said.
You know why? It is an absolutely unprecedented event in the entire history of the NFL's 27th franchise, which is closing in on a half-century of playing games and occasionally picking off passes and forcing fumbles. There's no reason why such a thing should occur now. Todd Bowles' defenses are excellent at forcing turnovers. Shaq Barrett is a strip-sack master. Lavonte David is sure to pry a few footballs loose; he's done that as well as anybody in the league during his career. Antoine Winfield is a burgeoning star who can pick off passes and rush the passer with equal aplomb. Also, the football is kind of ovoid and thus it tends to take funny bounces. Over five games, some of those bounces have to go the Bucs' way.
Nope. Five games, no turnovers. It's confounding. It's dang near impossible. And yet it happened. At this point, "surprising" is an inadequate descriptor.
Thursday's Topic: What is the toughest challenge the Buccaneers will face in the second half of the season?