The Detroit Lions head down to Florida this week for a battle between two division leaders. The Lions are 4-1 and coming off three straight double-digit wins, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a big NFC South win over the Saints before heading into their early Week 4 bye.
While there isn’t much doubt in the validity of this Lions teams—seeing as they’ve now won 12 of their last 15 games—there are still some serious questions about whether the Buccaneers are true NFC contenders.
Let’s take a closer look in our Week 6 scouting report.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- 9-8 record (1st in NFC South, bounced in Wild Card round)
- 25th in points scored, 13th in points allowed
- Overall DVOA: 14th (18th on offense, 11th on defense)
Last year, the Buccaneers were the one team to come out of the not-so-good NFC South. No one really viewed them as legitimate contenders, and the Cowboys proved that to be true with a 31-14 whooping in the Wild Card round.
It was a whimper of an ending to Tom Brady’s career, but the truth of the matter was it was time to move on. Considering the age of the roster, it felt like the end of an era and the Buccaneers would enter 2023 in the midst of a rebuild.
Key additions: QB Baker Mayfield, LG Matt Feiler, DT Greg Gaines, S Ryan Neal
Key losses: QB Tom Brady, RB Leonard Fournette, LT Donovan Smith, DT Akiem Hicks, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
With a fairly restrictive salary cap situation, the Buccaneers had a modest free agency period. Of course, their most notable move was adding Baker Mayfield after the retirement of Tom Brady.
Though they lost their starting left tackle, they replaced him by moving first-round pick Tristan Wirfs from right to left—a move that he has made seamlessly thus far. While right tackle is now occupied by 2022 second-round pick Luke Goedeke. In other words, the Bucs prepared for this transition well.
2023 NFL Draft picks
Round 1: DT Calijah Kancey
Round 2: RG Cody Mauch
Round 3: DE YaYa Diaby
Round 5: LB SirVocea Dennis
Round 5: TE Payne Durham
Round 6: CB Josh Hayes
Round 6: WR Trey Palmer
Round 6: DE Jose Ramirez
Despite offensive struggles last year, the Bucs seemingly focused most of their offseason resources to keep their defense respectable. That said, they were likely hoping getting Mike Evans and Chris Godwin healthy would carry the offense enough, as both reached 1,000 receiving yards last year.
2023 season thus far (3-1)
Week 1: Beat Vikings, 20-17
Week 2: Beat Bears, 27-17
Week 3: Loss to Eagles, 11-25
Week 4: Beat Saints, 26-9
Week 5: Bye
- 20th in points scored, 8th in points allowed
- 14th in DVOA — 18th on offense, 6th on defense, 27th on special teams
Essentially, this team isn’t all that different than it was last year. So-so offense with a defense that will keep them in games. That said, their 3-1 start may be a little misleading. They’ve faced two NFC North teams in shambles, got manhandled by the Eagles, and—to their credit—handled a 3-2 Saints team who is also likely not as good as their record (New Orleans has had the easiest schedule by DVOA).
Tampa is getting by with their passing game (18th in DVOA) but their interior offensive line isn’t very good and it’s led to a very bad rushing game (28th in DVOA and dead last with just 3.0 yards per carry).
Defensively, though, they’re off to a great start. They’re currently second in DVOA against the pass, but just 21st against the run.
Against the pass, it appears to be the surprising performance of their secondary that has helped the team. Despite only playing four games, the Bucs have already tallied six interceptions (two via linebackers) and 17 pass breakups. Pass rush is not all that bad either, as Shaq Barrett, Vita Vea, and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka have all tallied at least 10 pressures, per PFF.
While the DVOA statistics suggest a bad run defense, the Bucs haven’t exactly been destroyed on the ground. They rank 18th in yards per carry allowed (4.1), and they’ve only given up over 100 rushing yards in a single game—against the best offensive line in football (Eagles). That said, Tampa also has the lowest team run defense grade per PFF, so maybe they’ve just faced mostly bad run offenses thus far.
The most notable performance, though, is that of Baker Mayfield. It’s an extremely small sample size, but Mayfield is actually giving the Buccaneers more offense production than Brady did last year:
Mayfield (through 4 games): 69.6 completion percentage, 7.1 Y/A, 7 TDs, 2 INTs, 101.5 passer rating
Brady 2022 season: 66.8 completion percentage, 6.4 Y/A, 25 TDs, 9 INTs, 90.7 passer rating
Even some of the advanced statistics point to an amazingly hot start for Mayfield. He has a solid 76.7 PFF grade (12th), the third highest completion percentage over expected (+5.8%), and sixth in ESPN’s QBR (70.1).
Now context is extremely important with a sample size this low. So it’s important to point out that outside of the Saints (7th in pass defense DVOA), the Bucs have faced bad pass defenses (Eagles, 19th; Vikings, 21st; Bears 31st). Still, it’s an impressive and unexpected start for Mayfield.
On IR: RB Chase Edmonds, WR Russell Gage, C Ryan Jensen
Players dealing with injury: WR Mike Evans (hamstring), DT Calijah Kancey (calf), LB SirVocea Dennis (hamstring), CB Jamel Dean (shoulder/neck), S Ryan Neal (concussion)
The Buccaneers practiced on Monday out of their bye week, and every player listed above but one returned to practice from their injury, suggesting the team will be coming out of their week-long rest relatively healthy.
The one exception is Mike Evans, who was working with a trainer on the side. Evans has been a huge part of their offense, leading the team in receiving yards (337) and touchdowns (3) through four games.
Biggest strength: Receivers
If Evans plays this week, this will be the best set of receivers the Lions have gone up against since Week 2 against the Seahawks—and we know how that went. While Evans is the leader of the pack, Chris Godwin is as good of a No. 2 as you’ll see in this league.
That said, the drop-off after those two is pretty significant with Gage on IR. Their next leading receiver is Deven Thompkins, who has just 61 yards on eight catches thus far.
Biggest weakness: Run offense
Second-year running back Rachaad White has struggled in his first year as the team’s primary back. Through four games, he has just 206 rushing yards at 3.3 YPC, and his longest run is just 13 yards.
He hasn’t exactly been helped by an interior offensive line that is arguably the worst run blockers in the league. Tampa ranks 32nd in run block win percentage and 25th in PFF’s team run blocking grade.