The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has taken some hits over the first two weeks of the season and it's not going to get any easier this week when it faces off against a potent Los Angeles Rams offense.
There are a couple of key defensive players that will miss this game in Jason Pierre-Paul and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Being down two starters is never ideal, but the good news is the Bucs defense still has playmakers at every level.
And said playmakers will obviously have a hand in determining the outcome of this game, but which ones should you keep a close eye on once the toe hits the leather?
3. OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
The Bucs' first-rounder has been on the field throughout the last two weeks, but he's going to see a dramatic increase in playing time this week thanks to Jason Pierre-Paul's shoulder injury.
Tryon-Shoyinka looked really, really good during training camp/preseason and he's flashed on more than a few occasions during the regular season. The 22-year-old has everything you want in an outside linebacker/edge rusher: length, size, speed, bend, and power.
He can defend the run adequately, as well. The key with Tryon-Shoyinka in this game is where the Bucs line him up. For starters, we've seen Todd Bowles line him up all over the place, but the Rams also have to very good tackles in left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Rob Havenstein. Whitworth is a two-time All-Pro, so it will be interesting to see how often the rookie is matched up with the grizzled vet. Pierre-Paul is usually on the defensive right and since Tryon-Shoyinka is replacing him, one would think that's where he lines up most often. As long as that's in the Bucs' game plan, of course.
A big game on a big stage against a big opponent that could have big RAMifications later in the year. What else could a rookie ask for in their first NFL start?
2. CB Carlton Davis III
The Bucs secondary has a lot to prove after the last two games. Yes, Mike Edwards returned two interceptions for touchdowns to close out the Falcons game, but Matt Ryan was 32/41 for 286 yards with two touchdowns and one interception before Edwards' first pick. And, the interception came courtesy of a Vita Vea-tipped pass that landed into Shaquil Barrett's arms. The secondary closed out the game, but they were only average beforehand. Can they pick up where they left off or will Matthew Stafford pick them apart? Or will it be somewhere in-between?
This all starts with CDIII, the Bucs No. 1 corner. Davis is easily a top-12 corner -who can play at a top-10 level- in this league and he can play both inside and out, which will be valuable against this Rams offense. Both Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp rotate in and out the slot and on the outside. Davis matches up well with both receivers and if he can take either away on any given play, it'll be huge in terms of slowing down the Rams offense.
1. LB Devin White
White is a good player in an all-around sense, but he plays fast, loose, and aggressive on nearly every snap, which is crutch at the end of the day.
The Rams abused White when these two teams faced off against one another last year. Per Pro Football Focus, White not only finished with his second-lowest overall defensive grade of the year, but he also finished with the second-highest missed tackle rate (18.2%) and the Rams completed all seven targets for 70 yards.
His aggressiveness often leads to over-pursuit and missed tackles in space. If you aren't familiar with the Rams offense, then just know this: The unit feasts on aggressive defenses and defenders by using play-action, jet sweeps, misdirection, and counter plays on a consistent basis. They love to attack the middle of the field, as well, which is White's home away from home.
You never want to tell your players to play against their best instincts, but White is going to have rein in his aggressiveness to a certain degree this week. If he doesn't it could be another long day at the office. But if he does, it will go a long way in helping the Buccaneers win this game.
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