3 Bucs to Watch vs. Colts
The Bucs are on their first win streak of the season and enter an interesting match-up with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Both teams exhibit promise but have generally lacked the consistency to be legit contenders in their division.
Key to Tampa Bay's late-season surge is the improved play of the defense. The talent in all three phases seems to have finally emerged in play on the field. The Bucs run defense will need to remain stout against Colts rush attack that has proven potent regardless of the ball carrier.
On offense, the Bucs still struggle to find balance between the run and the pass, mostly because the run has been ineffective and the pass puts the ball in Jameis Winston's, often followed by an opposing defender's, hands. Getting more from the running back position could position Winston for a less volatile performance.
Here are three Bucs to watch against Indianapolis:
DL Vita Vea
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We will find out when we see the 2018 first-round draft pick that was, defensive tackle Vita Vea, lines up across the 2018 first-round pick that might have been, guard Quenton Nelson.
With the Bucs moving Vea all over defensive front, it's only a matter of time before these two titans square up. Nelson is playing at an All-Pro level this year and is not only the Colts' best offensive lineman but a major reason the Colts have the league's fourth-best rush attack (139 yards/game).
Conversely, Vea is emerging as one of the best young defensive tackles in the league, and is himself a key factor to the league's second-best rush defense (76.2 yards/game). When he isn't collapsing pockets or stonewalling run blocks, Vea keeps the lanes clear for linebackers and safeties to make tackles.
But the most important reason to watch Vea and Nelson? Both serve as his team's goal-line fullback and scored touchdowns this season. Though their ball-carrying duties are minimal, Vea and Nelson are proving their talent translates beyond their primary skill set.
RB Ronald Jones II
Missing from most of the Bucs' Week 13 victory over Jacksonville was running back Ronald Jones, arguably Tampa Bay's most dynamic tailback. The second-year back carried the ball just six times for eight yards and played just 21 total snaps.
Bruce Arians explained Jones' absence after the game, citing a missed blitz pick-up led to his benching (via the Athletic's Greg Auman):
While a third-quarter mistake does not really explain why Jones didn't have much of a role in the first half, it is clear that the Bucs coaching staff has little compulsion in taking snaps away from Jones. This may be a questionable tactic as Jones has been by far the most dynamic running back in a less than productive group, averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 10.4 yards per reception.
The Colts enter the game with the 9th-best rush defense in the league. If the Bucs hope to maintain the run-pass balance that Bruce Arians has preached all season, Ronald Jones needs to have a bigger role in the offensive gameplan.
CB Carlton Davis III
Over the course of this season, the Bucs young secondary has transformed into a formidable unit, led by the impressive play of second-year cornerback Carlton Davis. Week by week, he is making the case for being one of the best young corners in the NFL. Quarterbacks are struggling to get the ball past him, completing barely 50 percent of passes going his direction (via NFL Network's Ben Fennell):
Davis' play is only getting better. In the past five weeks, Davis has 12 pass breakups and an interception.
Indianapolis' pass offense would be wise to avoid Davis. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett has only thrown six interceptions this season, but he looked shaky last week against the Titans and failed to throw for more than 150 yards the two weeks prior. With the Colts receiving corps banged up, Davis could be in line for a big game against a struggling Brissett and back-up receivers.