Welcome back to 'List with a Twist,' within whose confines we have already studied such Tampa Bay Buccaneers-related topics as which players could set specific career highs this year and which might be dark horse Pro Bowl candidates in 2022. Today, we're going to take a turn toward the more fantastical.
First off, here's the premise of the series: We are creating a series of lists regarding the Buccaneers and the upcoming season – because it's the internet and therefore, you know, lists – but the person making the list doesn't get to choose his or her own topic. In a shocking twist, Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are taking turns coming up with questions and making the other one answer it with their own top-five rundown.
And the reason I say my second challenge to Brianna is a bit fantastical is that it would essentially require her to have superpowers or some kind of mastery over the universe. Here, why don't I just get right to it?
Today's Topic: If you had the power to peacefully neutralize any five specific players from the Buccaneers list of 2022 opponents – in other words, simply guarantee that those players would not have big games against Tampa Bay when they meet this season – who would you choose?
I thought the word 'neutralize' sounded a little aggressive, which is why I modified it with 'peacefully.' We obviously don't wish any harm on any of the Bucs' opponents. There is no implied injury or misfortune here – Brianna simply has the theoretical power to pick a player and guarantee that he won't come up big against the Bucs this year.
Now Brianna, just in case you're thinking about gaming the system and picking players from NFC South foes, and therefore getting this benefit twice during the season instead of once, be aware that this only will work one time. If you wanted to ensure Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan would get nowhere near Tom Brady when they play the Bucs, you can only do so for one of the two games between them.
Choose wisely, Brianna. The fate of the 2022 Buccaneers may rest on your shoulders.
Brianna: No pressure here, Scott. I'll gladly conjure up my theoretical power, as you so wonderfully stated above. This is a difficult challenge, but I am up for the task. The Buccaneers have the fourth toughest first half of the season (described as the first eight games), with a strength-of-schedule number of .555. Things ease up for Tampa Bay during the latter half, but they face a plethora of All-Pro-caliber players sprinkled in throughout the year. In 2022, opponents will aim to dethrone Tom Brady and company. The Bucs are loaded with talent and are the favorites to win the NFC South, but with notoriety comes the desire by other clubs across the league to usurp the Buccaneers place among the NFL's elite.
In full transparency, this topic took much deliberation as I analyzed and re-analyzed the Bucs' 2022 opponents, focusing on individuals with game-changing ability. Who, in the mix of players the Bucs will face this season have the capability of wrecking a gameplan with pure talent? There are many players that could land on that distinguished list among the Bucs' 2022 opponents, including T.J. Watt, Cooper Kupp, Myles Garrett, Patrick Mahomes, Ja'Marr Chase and Micah Parsons. But after much deliberation in my way-too-early scouting report, I narrowed my grand search to five players that must be contained. Players that quite, frankly, need no introduction.
5. QB Lamar Jackson
With his elusiveness and physicality as a runner, quarterback Lamar Jackson has forced the NFL to evolve. Defenses must plan to defend him in an unprecedented way. He is on his way to becoming the greatest rushing quarterback of all time and when it becomes the scenario with Jackson against a defender in open space, he wins the battle 9/10. When Jackson faces pressure and is forced to tuck and run, he creates outside of the pocket, resulting in the difference between a stalled drive or loss of yardage and potential points on the scoreboard. Then there are the designed runs and option reads, using Jackson's rare agility and acceleration to flash past tackles. He is mesmerizing when he breaks containment, and effectively setting the edge is critical for any team going against Jackson and his big-play speed.
Jackson became the first player in NFL history to throw for over 1,500 yards and rush for over 300 yards in a five-game span to begin the 2021 season. In that same span, he averaged 68.2 yards on the ground. In the current hierarchy of dual-threat quarterbacks, Jackson is in a class all his own. Having the power to neutralize Jackson and take him out of the equation for the Bucs Week Eight matchup against the Ravens was a no brainer. Additionally, Tampa Bay will face Baltimore on a short week for their sole Thursday Night Football contest in 2022. The club will have fewer days to prepare for the dynamic speedster, so he becomes the first player on my list in the countdown. Jackson may wear No. 8, but I have summoned the Magic 8 Ball to minimize his destruction on the ground.
4. DE Cameron Jordan
From your statement above, I am aware that Cameron Jordan's selection here only accounts for one of the matchups between the two NFC South foes. However, taking him out of one game is worth the pick on this fanciful compilation. For the purposes of this 'List With a Twist,' I am opting to neutralize Jordan in the Week Two showdown. The Bucs have two road games to open the 2022 regular season, and then have to face two 2021 division winners in back-to-back weeks as the Packers (Week Three) and Chiefs (Week 4) roll into town. With that hellacious start to the year, being able to have Jordan as a non-factor in the noisy Caesars Superdome would be a spectacular gift. The Saints have had the Buccaneers' number in recent years, and during OTAs tight end Cameron Brate argued that the Bucs' inability to run the football has been a factor in their losses against the division nemesis.
A big reason for the lack of balance is Jordan – one of the most dominant defenders of the past decade. He is disruptive in the run game, setting the edge against the run versus tight ends and tackles. There are plenty of defensive ends in the league who focus on sack numbers and have little interest in playing the run. Jordan is an exception in every sense. He is stout against the pass as well, with a rare speed-to-power conversion and his famous swim and cross chop move. Jordan is difficult to block, and the Bucs offensive line will undergo a transition period entering the 2022 season. Both starting guards from a year ago are gone and the Bucs will have to replace their contributions with the acquisitions of Shaq Mason via trade and second-round selection Luke Goedeke. However, there will be a battle for the left guard spot between Goedeke and Aaron Stinnie. Who starts come fall between the two is a mystery. As they continue to gain continuity up front early on in the season, being able to contain Jordan and guarantee he will not be in Tom Brady's face would take pressure off the revamped O-line and provide more opportunities for Leonard Fournette on the ground.
3. WR Deebo Samuel
Deebo Samuel is heralded by many as the most versatile athlete in the NFL. Dubbed a "wide-back," he can attack defenses from a variety of ways and breaks the conventional mold of what a player in the modern era of the league can do. The multi-positional superstar predominately lines up as an X receiver and No. 2 running back for the 49ers with the ball skills of a receiver and body type of a running back. Whether it is a dig route, bubble screen, wheel route, jet sweep, skinny post, run between the tackles or wide zone run, Samuel is efficient at ALL of the above.
In summation, Samuel is a NIGHTMARE for defensive coordinators. He is nearly impossible to tackle in the open field and causes havoc on the edge with his acceleration and speed. One of the main reasons for San Francisco's offensive success with their perimeter-based attack and run-first philosophy is the second level blocking by either the tackle, tight end or fullback that stretches the opponent's C-gap assignments; They all get involved to block downfield, creating a lane for Samuel. Samuel running full speed against a cornerback is an absolute mismatch, maximizing his leverage. If there was any kind of supernatural power I could conjure up to guarantee that Deebo Samuel would be a non-factor in Week 14, I would take it. The NFC West is loaded with talent and the Niners clinched a playoff berth last year and beat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Wild Card Weekend. They will be a team, like many, looking to dismantle the Bucs late in the 2022 season, landing Samuel at No. 3 on my list.
2. QB Aaron Rodgers
As I mentioned above, the Buccaneers have a rough start to the 2022 season, facing three division winners from the 2021 season in the Cowboys, Packers and Chiefs. The Green Bay Packers are consistently atop the 'contender' conversation with Aaron Rodgers under center, especially given his late-game heroics. Green Bay poses one of the greatest threat in the NFC of bypassing the Bucs in the pecking order. When it comes to pinpoint precision and tight window throws, Rodgers is one of the best. Under challenging circumstances with the game on the line, Rodgers (other than a man named Tom Brady), is who you want standing in the pocket slinging it around the field.
The future Hall of Famer has perfectly crafted the no-look pass. Rodgers is a wizard with many accolades under his belt including the last two AP NFL MVP awards and 10 Pro Bowl appearances. He is a four-time All-Pro, four-time APMVP, four-time PFWA MVP and Super Bowl Champion (XLV). He is deemed one of the greatest to have ever played the position, with rare poise in the pocket. In a no-brainer selection, Rodgers makes the top five opponent list of players I would neutralize. He is a master at reading defenses and therefore cracks my mystical compilation.
1. DT Aaron Donald
The Rams-Bucs rematch in 2022 is one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season as the two recent Super Bowl champions will meet again at the location of their exhilarating Divisional Round showdown in January. As the elite teams face off in Week Nine, this game could come down to the wire again, like it did last January. Like the Saints, the Rams have had the Bucs' number in recent years, becoming the club's greatest rival outside the division. With the addition of Bobby Wagner, Allen Robinson, and the return of Aaron Donald in the all-star cast, I elect to take Donald out of the game. Every offensive coordinator around the league knows who No. 99 is. Donald is circled and the center of game prep, a testament to the standard of excellence he sets and the fear he evokes.
Donald routinely commands double teams with his explosiveness and in the league today, there is not a player that is more dominant at their respective position than Donald. Many peers have stated that he is the greatest defender this league has ever seen. That is quite the complement, as he follows in the footsteps of players like Lawrence Taylor. Donald manhandles offensive linemen and is nearly impossible to block one-on-one. He has the disruptive characteristics of an edge rusher; however, he brings that power from the interior. The fact that what he does on the football field could be described as mythical warrants the top spot on my compilation. He is the consensus favorite for DPOY every year and will one day be immortalized in the Hall of Fame for his contributions on the gridiron. As an interior pass rusher, Donald does not have the same timing and spacing to beat the man in front and reach the quarterback as his edge counterparts, but he imposes his will at a higher rate in a more confined area. In addition to his prowess at collapsing the pocket, he is also one of the best run defenders in the NFL. With flawless technique, hand-placement and quick footwork, Donald punishes the opposition. The Rams' cornerstone superstar takes over games, garnering his selection on my esteemed list. Frankly, this category was initiated to contain players of Donald's caliber.
Scott's Thoughts: Okay, I have to start off by pointing out that this is list of players Brianna did not pick for this list: T.J. Watt, Cooper Kupp, Myles Garrett, Patrick Mahomes, Ja'Marr Chase and Micah Parsons. My goodness. I wouldn't have argued if that was the list (though I would have argued that it was six players and not five). That's how difficult these decisions were.
I really should have made a rule that this couldn't be a list of just five quarterbacks. I mean, neutralizing the opposing quarterback is pretty obviously the single best way to increase your chances of winning. In reality, this list should have probably been Jackson, Rodgers, Mahomes, Stafford and Dak Prescott. (Or Joe Burrow.) But that would have been a boring approach to this question and I'm glad Brianna showed restraint on the matter even though I forgot to make it a rule.
One strategy I might have taken if this had been my list (but it's not because this is a List with a Twist, don't ya know?), would have been to double up on one or two teams. The Bucs have lost a total of 10 games, playoffs included, since Tom Brady arrived and, incredibly, seven of them have been against the Rams and Saints. So maybe we should hypothetically neutralize Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp and Jalen Ramsey. Then we could use the other two spots on Cameron Jordan and Alvin Kamara. Or something like that. The Bucs would have an enhanced chance to take out their two most confounding rivals, then we'll let Tom Brady and Shaq Barrett take care of the rest of the schedule without supernatural assistance.
All that said, I can't argue with a single selection in Brianna's top five. I really want to take Kupp off the board, but if we're only picking one Ram, Donald probably makes the most sense. And, as for the Ravens, it was abundantly clear last season how different that team was with and without Lamar Jackson.