Throughout the 2020 season, we will be dipping into the NFL's Next Gen Stats database to provide you with more insight into the performances of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and the team as a whole. This week, as an appetizer, we're using some of last season's Next Gen Stats to preview the 16 opponents the Buccaneers will face during the regular season. This is the last of our five installments as we approach the Fourth of July weekend.
You can check out the previous four here:
Our last group of contests comes after the Bucs' Week 13 bye and includes a bonus, as we'll be covering four opponents in this installment.
Week 14: vs. Minnesota
What You Need to Know: Do NOT let Dalvin Cook get around the corner
After two injury-marred seasons in which he played in just 15 games, Cook nearly matched that in 2019 by seeing action in 14 contests, and in the process he emerged as a star in the Vikings' backfield. Cook rang up 1,135 rushing yards, 13 rushing touchdowns and 1,654 yards from scrimmage, averaging just over 118 yards from scrimmage per outing. It was just a matter of opportunity – his 4.5 yards per carry, while quite good, was actually his lowest season mark yet.
In our last Next Gen installment we learned that Carolina's do-everything back, Christian McCaffrey, was actually one of the most effective inside rushers in all of football. Here, we have a running back who ranked as one of the league's most dangerous around the edge in 2019.
Last year, Cook recorded 10 touchdown runs on carries he took outside the tackles. That matched the total put up by Tennessee's Derrick Henry as the two led the NFL in that category.
What make both Cook and Henry so dangerous on those outside-the-tackle runs are that they can accelerate to incredible speeds if they make it around the edge. Cook exceeded 15 miles per hour on 73 of his 250 carries in 2019, which was the most times by any running back in the NFL. In fact, those 15 runs in which he reached 15 MPH were more than nine other NFL teams posted last year.
View pictures of QB Tom Brady in the new Buccaneers uniforms.
Week 15: at Atlanta
What You Need to Know: Tight coverage may not be enough to slow down Julio Jones
The Buccaneers know what Julio Jones is capable of doing to a defense. In 16 career games against Tampa Bay, Jones has averaged 115.1 receiving yards per outing. It was a minor revelation last year when the Bucs limited the Falcons star to five catches for 68 yards in the first meeting and seven for 78 in the second. Both of those matchups came during the second half of the season, when the Bucs' defense was performing at a much higher level and the team's trio of young cornerbacks was providing very tight coverage.
That's encouraging for the upcoming meetings with Atlanta and Jones in 2020. Perhaps Sean Murphy-Bunting, Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean can again keep Jones at least somewhat in check. Unfortunately, they may not be able to do that even if they are still playing at a very high level, because Jones can still produce big numbers even when well-covered.
According to Next Gen Stats, Jones has caught 74 passes on what are considered "tight window targets" over the last four seasons combined. That's the most by any player in the NFL. He is also the only player in the league to have racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards on such tight-window targets in that span.
View photos of wide receiver Mike Evans in the new Buccaneers uniforms.
Week 16: at Detroit
What You Need to Know: A full season of Matthew Stafford plus Kenny Golladay could mean bombs away
The Buccaneers selected wide receiver Chris Godwin in the third round in 2017, with the 84th-overall selection. Twelve spots later in that same round, the Lions nabbed wide receiver Kenny Golladay. Both Godwin and Golladay had promising 2017 and 2018 campaigns before emerging as Pro Bowlers last fall.
Godwin had 1,333 receiving yards in 14 games to Golladay's 1,190 in 16 games, but the Lions' big-play target had the edge in touchdowns, 11 to nine. Golladay supporters might also point out that their man only got to play half of last season with his team's best quarterback, as Matthew Stafford missed the last eight outings with a back injury.
The Lions hope to get a full 16 games out of their Stafford-Golladay connection in 2020, and if they do the results could be explosive. In particular, Stafford could be throwing a lot of deep balls in Golladay's direction, and that's an area in which the receiver excelled in 2019.
Golladay's 546 yards on deep targets were second most in the NFL in 2019. He was often far downfield before passes were thrown in his direction; the football traveled an average of 15.4 yards in the air on his targets, which was the third-highest mark in the league with those who had at least 75 targets.
Meanwhile, before his injury Stafford was airing the ball out like he hadn't been in recent years. From 2016-18, the Lions quarterback attempted a deep pass on 10% of his throws, but last year that figure jumped to 17%. That was the highest rate of deep pass attempts in the NFL. His average of 10.7 air yards per attempt (the highest in the NFL) was in stark contrast to his average of 7.7 air yards per attempt over the previous three seasons.
View photos of tight end Rob Gronkowski in the new Buccaneers uniforms.
Week 17: vs. Atlanta
What You Need to Know: This could be an important game for Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea
As we reach the final game on the schedule, we're going to take a slightly different approach with this last Next Gen Nugget. While we've mostly used these Next Gen insights to highlight top performers on the Bucs' upcoming foes, this one points to what could be a good opportunity for a portion of the Buccaneers' defense.
Specifically, Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh and all of the Buccaneers' down linemen on the defensive front could be set up for a big day if Atlanta's offensive line experiences the same issue it did in 2019. Atlanta's offense was particularly susceptible to the pass rush up the middle last year. The Falcons allowed a 16% pressure rate to opposing interior pass-rushers in 2019, which was the fifth-highest in the NFL.
This is reflected in the output of the Buccaneers' interior linemen in their two meetings with the Falcons last year. Vea had 3.0 sacks in his sophomore campaign, and two of those came against the Falcons. Suh added three quarterback hits across those two contests. Even Will Gholston, a strong run stopper who had just seven quarterback hits in 2019, was better against the Falcons. Two of those seven hits came in games against Atlanta.