Keys to Victory: How the Bucs Can Beat the Colts

J. Kanno

For the first time this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on a winning streak and have a chance to keep it rolling over the Indianapolis Colts. With the defense on the rise, Tampa Bay is in prime position to take advantage of an ailing Colts offense.

Last week, the Bucs all but steamrolled the Jacksonville Jaguars with standout defensive play at all three levels that forced four turnovers including a fumble return for a touchdown. A similar performance would easily sink a Colts offense without its chief playmaker TY Hilton.

The Bucs offense has a similarly favorable matchup as the Indianapolis is coming to Tampa with a hobbled secondary. Nickel corner Kenny Moore will not play and defensive backs Malik Hooker and Rock Ya-Sin are listed as questionable:

From a personnel standpoint, Tampa Bay has the advantage. It really just comes down to execution. Here are the three keys to a Bucs victory over the Colts:

Key 1: Shut down Jack Doyle

Injuries have not been kind to the Colts receiving corps this year. TY Hilton has missed five games this season already and receivers Devin Funchess, Chester Rogers and tight end Eric Ebron are on injured reserve. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is down to TE Jack Doyle and a handful of young receivers.

Doyle can be dangerous, as he demonstrated last week against the Titans:

With Hilton out, Doyle is the focal point of the pass offense. The Bucs are likely to deploy man coverage against the inexperienced remainder of the Colts wide receiver corps. What they cannot afford is coverage lapses on Doyle, who is averaging 7.1 yards per target at a 67.9 catch rate—not elite, but indicative of Doyle's reliability and central role in the pass offense.

Key 2: Forget the run, attack the Colts' secondary

There really isn't any question that the Bucs have the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are ranked second and third in the league for receiving yards and have combined for 16 touchdowns. The offense does and should flow through them.

With the Colts arriving in Tampa Bay short CB Kenny Young and possibly CB Rock Ya-Sin and S Malik Hooker, the obvious strategy will be to get the ball in the air as much as possible. Even the available defensive backs have proven vulnerable. Pierre Desir is allowing 66.7 percent of his targets to be completed and 8.2 yards per target.

The Bucs run game has been mediocre at best this season. The rotation between Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones is averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry. It makes little sense to push a false sense of balance when there is a clear advantage in the pass game. 

Key 3: Get the running backs out in space

While the Bucs run game should not be the offensive focal point against Indianapolis, that doesn't mean the running backs can't be productive. The key is using them to exploit the defense's weakness: open field stops.

The Colts defensive line is one of the best at stopping the run, stopping running backs at or before the line of scrimmage on 23 percent of run attempts per Football Outsiders, which is the fifth best rate in the league. 

Where the Colts are vulnerable is at the second level and in space, where they allow 1.82 and 0.82 yards per rush attempt, both putting them among the bottom half of the league (from Football Outsiders). 

While this does not necessarily encourage the Bucs to run the ball more, it does indicate the Colts are not particularly good at stopping runners behind the defensive line. The Bucs can exploit this weakness by deploying screens and tailback slants. 

Ronald Jones could be particularly effective in this role as he's averaging 9.8 yards after the catch this season. While this places more burden on the pass game, it should help circumvent the effectiveness of the Colts defensive line.