Monday night's victory somewhat-represented a "get well game" for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3), which means this week's contest against the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) should represent a "reestablish dominance game".
That's because the Bucs are on the road during a short week that also has a holiday tossed in. Couple that with big-time injuries to big-time players and it's easy to see why Week 12's matchup is a great way for the Bucs to show the league that they are in fact back on track.
- All-time series: Indy leads the all-time series, 8-6.
- Longest win streak: The Colts won three in a row from 1985-1988.
- Largest margin of victory: The Baltimore Colts wrecked the Bucs, 42-17, all the way back in 1976.
- 2021 offensive and defensive rankings: The Bucs average the second-most yards per game on offense (1st pass, 26th run) and the eighth-ranked defense (17th pass, 1st run). Tampa Bay averages 30.9 points per game on offense (1st) and has allowed 22.2 points per game on defense (t-9th). The Colts currently own the NFL's 11th-ranked offense (23rd pass, 4th run) and the 17th-ranked defense (18th pass, 15th run). They average 28.1 points per game (5th) on offense, while allowing 22.3 points per game on defense (11th).
What To Watch For
- The Bucs run defense vs. the Colts running game: This is about as obvious as it gets, but this preview would be remiss if it didn't mention this heavyweight bout. Everyone and their mom knows the Colts love to run the ball and that the Bucs are one of the top teams when it comes to stopping the run. The Colts' scheme is so varied and effective and they have not just Jonathan Taylor, but two other running backs in Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack that provide matchup problems for opposing defenses. The Bucs defense held Colts running backs to just 40-yards on 18 carries back in 2019, but they didn't have a back like Taylor then. Tampa Bay has to corral the Indy run game if it wants any shot at winning this game.
- The trenches: The reason why the Colts are so effective at running the ball and why the Bucs are so effective at stopping the run is because of their offensive and defensive lines, respectively. Indy fields one of the top starting front fives and the Bucs defense boasts an excellent defensive line/front seven. Led by Quenton Nelson and Vita Vea, both are physical, athletic lines that don't stop until the whistle sounds. But it's the same when you reverse the situation. The Bucs have a very good offensive line and the Colts have a very good defensive line/front seven. This game will be decided up front, which makes this matchup one of the week's best.
- Mistakes (or the lack thereof): The Colts rarely make mistakes. They are tied for the fifth-fewest amount of giveaways, haven't committed a turnover in three weeks, and lead the NFL with a +15 turnover margin. Oh, and they have scored the most points off turnovers. They have also incurred the third-fewest number of penalties in the NFL. Tampa Bay, well, they haven't been exactly mistake-free lately outside of the Giants game, especially on the road. The Bucs cannot be the "dumb team" they were back in Week 11 or else they're going to get blown out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
- No risk it, no biscuit Colts-style: Bruce Arians is well-known for his life motto, but Colts head coach Frank Reich is of the same mindset. But he's way more aggressive than Arians. The Bucs can't get too hyped when they get a third down stop, because Reich will have no issue going for it on fourth down. Even if it's not the most ideal situation for the Colts. Reich believes in his players and trusts them, which will play a big part in this week's game.
- The Colts corners vs. the Bucs receivers: Per Sports Info Solutions, the Colts corners have given up 13 passing touchdowns to receivers this year, which leads the NFL. They also give up the 12th-most yards per game and have allowed the sixth-highest positive play rate to the position. But at the same time, they are tied for the fourth-most interceptions (5) and are tied for the eighth-lowest EPA/attempt allowed when targeted. And, they have drawn just four defensive pass interference penalties on the year. There's room to take advantage of this secondary, but the Bucs also better make sure they don't go too crazy, because the Colts can eventually make them pay.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- QB Tom Brady: He played well against the Giants, but the offense left points on the field. That can't happen this week.
- G Aaron Stinnie: Can the undrafted free agent rekindle the playoff magic that surrounded his play in 2020? He'll face a major test in the likes of DeForest Buckner and Co. on Sunday.
- WR Mike Evans: As previously discussed, the Colts corners can be taken advantage of. This should lead to a nice day for Evans and the rest of the Bucs receivers.
- LB Devin White: White has stepped it up since the Bye Week and will need to continue that play this week against Taylor and the Colts offense.
- CB Sean Murphy-Bunting: SMB's return in Week 11 was a major boost and now he gets to go up against Michael Pittman Jr., who is developing into one of the league's better receivers.
- S Jordan Whitehead: The fourth-year safety is the secondary's best run defender and his box presence is vastly underrated. His abilities in run defense will be very valuable this week.
- QB Carson Wentz: Wentz's reunion with Frank Reich has clearly resuscitated his career, as he's playing close to the MVP level we saw in 2017.
- RB Jonathan Taylor: What else is there to say about Taylor right now than he's the best (healthy) running back in the NFL and that he must be stopped at all costs?
- WR Michael Pittman Jr.: The second-year receiver is very underrated and is blossoming into one of the league's better wideouts.
- DT DeForest Buckner: This is guy is already tough enough to handle, but Ali Marpet's absence is going to make him even tougher.
- DE Kwity Paye: The rookie has a sack in back-to-back weeks and should see plenty of 1-on-1s due to Buckner's presence. The Bucs need to make sure he doesn't record a sack in three straight weeks.
- WLB Darious Leonard: Arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the league, Leonard's speed, intelligence, aggressiveness, and athleticism make him a threat on every single play.
- The Bucs lead the NFL in points scored per game with 30.9, but average 38.4 points per game in Raymond James Stadium. That obviously won't help them this week since they're on the road, but it's an impressive stat, nonetheless.
- Chris Godwin joined current teammates Cameron Brate and Evans among the top five in team history with 29 career receiving touchdowns, while also moving into the top five in both receptions and receiving yards.
- The Bucs' 309 points scored are the most in team history through 10 games.
- Godwin needs five receiving yards to surpass Vincent Jackson for the fourth-most receiving yards in team history.
*Stats provided by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Communications Department
This week does not represent a good situation for the Bucs. Not only do they hit the road on a short week with a holiday, but they're also facing a Colts team that is 6-2 over their last eight games. Indy dismantled Buffalo -who is still considered one of the league's best teams- last week and have figured themselves out over the last two months.
The Bucs, on the other hand, are still working through their issues. Yes, they handled the Giants on Monday night, but let's be honest: it was the Giants. The Colts represent a much, much tougher task and as I mentioned, the Bucs are on the road, whereas they played the Giants at home.
Indy is simply a bad matchup and it all starts up front on both sides of the ball. Marpet's absence will be major, even if Stinnie played well in Alex Cappa's stead last year. The Bucs will also be without Antonio Brown for the fifth straight game and as of the time of this publication, Vea is questionable. It also remains to be seen how much he actually plays if he does in fact step on the field. The loss of Brown/Marpet and potential loss of Vea automatically take the Bucs down a peg.
And then there's Reich, one of the league's best and most fearless play callers. He knows how to take advantage of a Todd Bowles defense (see 2019) and will certainly have an effective game plan in place.
Don't be mistaken: The Bucs can definitely win this game. But it's going to take complementary football and no dumb mistakes in order to do so. The problem is that hasn't been the case with Tampa Bay when it comes to playing good teams on the road.
A win in Week 12 would be a major statement that the Bucs are officially back on track. I just don't think that's going to happen, however. The Bucs will head back to Tampa with a 7-4 record and the questions will continue to linger after this week.
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