The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rolled into their bye week with a pair of rousing victories over the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, in the process regaining command of the NFC South and getting their record back to .500. To pull out of a tailspin that saw them lose five games in six weeks, the Buccaneers had to overcome a number of issues that were central to their struggles: third-down troubles on offense and defense, a league-worst rushing attack, second-half defensive lapses and a lack of explosive plays.
If the Bucs' improvements in those areas prove to be lasting, they will have a chance to regain their status as prime championship contenders. However, there are sure to be more challenges along the way, either created internally or provided by the next seven opponents. And that is the focus of today's Point-Counterpoint article, the second in a series of three pitting me against Staff Writer Brianna Dix. The premise here is simple: We choose a topic, one of us provides an answer and then the other offers a counterargument. We started the series on Wednesday by debating what was the biggest surprise of the season to this point.
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. We're not bad at math; we just needed a gimmick.
Our second topic is:
What is the toughest challenge the Buccaneers will face in the second half of the season?
Scott: The 49ers' Offense
I might have to do some gymnastics with the stats to make this one credible. San Francisco's offense currently ranks ninth in yards, 18th in points, 14th in passing and 10th in rushing. Those numbers are fine but they don't exactly paint the picture of a terrifying menace. So bear with me, because I really want to beat Bri in this debate.
I think the best days are ahead for this 49ers' offense, which has the most versatile set of skill-position players in the league. That might even have been true when the season started, before San Francisco traded for former Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. Jimmy Garoppolo may not be the scariest quarterback to face in the NFL, but what he does best is operate in structure, so if Kyle Shanahan can scheme these guys open, Garoppolo will make it work.
And, yes, Shanahan can scheme guys open with the best of them. Think of the struggles the Buccaneers had with the Rams during the 2020-21 season, during which they were beat almost everyone except Los Angeles and New Orleans. Sean McVay was finding ways to get wideouts like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods wide open against a very good Buccaneers' defense.
Now think of what Shanahan can do with the likes of McCaffrey, hybrid WR/RB Deebo Samuel, athletic marvel Brandon Aiyuk and YAC-master George Kittle. The Rams also just got running back Elijah Mitchell back from injured reserve and he looked great in Week 10, so the backfield is now a two-headed monster. I don't think the 49ers are going to be an unstoppable offensive force every game going forward, but I think they are capable of putting together a masterpiece any given Sunday. Keeping that from happening on December 11 will be the Bucs' biggest challenge of 2022.
Brianna: Falcons' Offense
Scott, you practically just contradicted yourself and diminished your own argument in that first paragraph. Sure, the 49ers have Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey, however, they are not in the Bucs' division. Wining every remaining battle against NFC South opponents takes priority over a team that has star-studded names. Guess what? It is the NFL, and every team does as well. With a win over the Seattle Seahawks in Munich, Tampa Bay took sole possession of the NFC South with a 5-5 record. The Bucs are only one game ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, a team that has found their true philosophy: running the football.
The Buccaneers defense predominately held Seattle in check and only allowed 57 yards in the first half during the Week 10 clash – the fewest allowed in a half during the 2022 slate. The Seahawks were predicated on running the ball, featuring sensational rookie Kenneth Walker III; however, the Bucs were able to mitigate their efficiency on the ground. It is no secret that the Bucs defense has overall had an up and down season in that regard – albeit uncharacteristically – with coaches harping on missed assignments and unsuccessful run fits contributing to the woes. In Week Five, the first of two meetings in 2022 with the Falcons, the Buccaneers did not face Cordarrelle Patterson. During the aforementioned clash, the Bucs' defense pitched a shutout during the first half and halted the Falcons' late comeback bid, but Atlanta is a different team. In seven of nine games in 2022, the Falcons have rushed for over 150 yards. With an average of 162.9 rushing yards per game, the club is on pace to have their best rushing offense since 2016. With Marcus Mariota on designed runs and impromptu scrambles, along with the production of Patterson, Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley on the ground, the Falcons will not be a team to easily bypass. As the last game on the Bucs' 2022 schedule (Jan. 8), this game will likely hold playoff implications and determine standings.
In an RPO-based attack with zone reads, multiple personnel groupings and quarterback runs as an extension of the ground game, the Falcons stay true to pounding the rock. Patterson can quickly get north post-cut with game-breaking speed. He is electric with the ball in his hands and is a rare specimen, with an uncommon combination of size, speed and agility. Once Patterson puts his foot in the ground and explodes upfield, he is nearly impossible to bring down in the open field. He is also adept as a pass-catcher, eating up cushion with long strides and possesses good body control to adjust to passes. The do-it-all player presents a unique challenge for the Buccaneers, as he can exploit a defense in a verity of ways.
Friday's Topic: Who will be the MVP of the second half of the Buccaneers' season?