Well, I’ve taken a couple of weeks off with this “Playaz 2 Watch” piece because the Bucs played the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints in Weeks 13 and 14. Since it was their second matchup with both teams, I thought it was unnecessary to do this segment on them since I felt like the Bucs needed to keep the same guys in check for each of those games. This week, they head on the road for the first time in almost a month to face the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens currently have the 12th ranked offense averaging 25 points and 370 yards per game and the 2nd ranked defense giving up just 18 points and 290 yards per game. They now sit at 7-6 and hold the 6th seed in the AFC playoff picture so they do have something to play for unlike the Buccaneers at this point. Yes, the Bucs are still “mathematically” in the playoff hunt, but it’s not realistic. Too many things have to happen for them to get into the tournament, including winning their three remaining games to finish 8-8 this season. I’m not convinced that this team has it in them to compete for a wildcard spot. They “needed” to beat the Saints last week and we all saw how that turned out. This week a win is even more important, so will this team step up or will they fold like they did in the second half last week? The choices for my “Playaz 2 Watch” on this Ravens team was a little tougher than usual. This team isn’t flashy. It’s not star studded. It’s not pretty. It’s very much a blue collar team who plays well together and is well coached. Don’t let this team fool you with their record. Five of their six losses have come by a total of 15 points. That sixth loss was by 15 to the Panthers. They’ve lost by one point twice and three points twice. A play here and a play there, and this team could easily be 11-2 instead of 7-6 so the 5-8 Bucs will need to come to play if they want to leave Baltimore with a win and keep their playoff hopes alive. To do that, they need to keep a close eye on this week’s “Playaz 2 Watch”. On offense, I’ve decided to go with the rookie QB Lamar Jackson. And on defense, I’m going withthe veteran LB “T-Sizzle”, aka Terrell Suggs. So let’s check out why I went with these two players.
OFFENSE: QB LAMAR JACKSON
The 33-year old veteran Joe Flacco has now “officially” been benched for the dual threat rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson who leads the team in rushing with 471 yards this season. His dual threat capabilities is the biggest reason why I’ve chosen him as my “Playa 2 Watch” for Baltimore’s offense. The Buccaneers defense hasn’t faced a quarterback like him this season. At 6’2″/212lbs, Gerald McCoy was quoted this week saying that he’s “Mike Vick-like” in his size, speed and playing style (Vick was 6’/215lbs). This Ravens offense has changed since Jackson took the reins 4 games ago. They have become more of a run team than before with Flacco. In fact, they’ve ran the ball 185 times (most in the league) in those 4 games and only thrown the ball 96 times (least in the league). That 2-1 run/pass ratio is unheard of in today’s NFL. This year, teams are averaging 35 passes and 26 runs per game. In those 4 games, he has gone 3-1 as the starter compiling 687 passing yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while running for 471 yards and 3 touchdowns. Although he hasn’t thrown more than 25 passes or passed for more than 178 yards in a single game so far, he is completing nearly 60% of his throws and he’s rushed for more than 67 yards in each game. The Buccaneers defense will need to be disciplined with their run gap responsibilities and keep their edge containment if they want to make this exciting young player one dimensional. If they can make him try to beat them with his arm instead of his feet, they might be able to sneak out of Baltimore with a win.
DEFENSE: LB TERRELL SUGGS
At 36-years old, Suggs (aka “T-Sizzle”) is in his 16th season all with the Ravens. He is tied with fellow outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Matt Judon for the team lead with 7 sacks this season and has a total of 132.5 sacks in his career. Only two players in NFL history have spent longer careers with one team, Darrell Green with the Redskins (20 years) and Ray Lewis with the Ravens (17 years). He’s had double-digit sacks 7 times in his career including 2017 when he had 11 sacks. He has credited Ravens strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for “rejuvenating his career”. Besides leading the team in sacks, he also has 14 QB hits, 13 tackles for loss and 6 passes defensed. Even at his age, he’s still a game wrecker. Making this guy an even better candidate for a “Playa 2 Watch” is that he’ll be matched up with left tackle Donovan Smith who’s been somewhat inconsistent this year. He’ll have to be on his game this week in order to try and neutralize the crafty, athletic vet. Although there are plenty of guys to worry about in the Ravens front seven, Suggs is the unquestionable leader of their defense. As he goes, so do they. Stop him, and the Bucs offense has a much better chance of being successful in this game.
The Buccaneers are making their first trip to Baltimore in 8 years. They have a chance to not only keep their playoff hopes alive, but also save Dirk Koetter’s job. If they could end this dreadful season on a high note winning these last 3 games and five of their last six games, that might just be enough to keep their head coach around for another season…that is if they really wanted to do that. All they have to do is beat a playoff team, with the 2nd ranked defense, on the road, in rainy 40 degree weather. Piece of cake, right? If the first half Bucs from last week show up and play all four quarters, then they could pull it off. If the second half team from last week shows up AT ALL, then this is not going to be a fun game for Bucs fans to watch. We’ll see what happens on Sunday “when the toe hits the leather” as Gene Deckerhoff would say.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!