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Lions mailbag: How much have the Buccaneers changed since Week 6?

The Detroit Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-6 back in October. But how much have the Bucs changed in three months? We discuss in our NFC Divisional Round Midweek Mailbag.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off back in Week 6 down in Florida. Detroit walked away with a 20-6 road victory, but the game was a bit closer than that score suggests. It was a one-score game for nearly the entirety of the first three quarters, until a 49-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams broke the game open a bit.

Many in Detroit have already pointed out how much more healthy the Lions are than they were three months ago. In that game, the Lions were missing Jonah Jackson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Brian Branch, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and early in the second quarter, they lost David Montgomery, as well.

But how different are the Buccaneers now from when they were back then? Health-wise, not much is different. Mike Evans was battling a hamstring injury back in Week 6, but he played through it. That’s about it.

After the Lions game, the Buccaneers went through a pretty rough patch, losing five of their next six games. But since then, they have won six of their last seven. So, what has changed? Is there anything they’re doing schematically that is different, or are they simply executing better?

Myself and Erik Schlitt discussed this in this week’s Midweek Mailbag podcast. Here’s some of that conversation.

Both Erik and I agree that you won’t see many differences in the Buccaneers’ defense. Not only has it been consistently good all year—particularly against the run—but with Todd Bowles being the defensive play-caller in Tampa for five years running, they have a pretty established identity.

Detroit could mix things up this week, though, considering they’ll have some of those key offensive contributors back that they didn’t have in the first time around.

“You have a different set of personnel available to you,” Schlitt said. “So from an offensive standpoint, I think you can change things up tremendously. You know what their approach is against certain positions, certain guys, and you can alter your approach to that. You can show them looks that they hadn’t seen before (or) would’ve seen only on tape.”

For Detroit’s defense, however, there may be more need for adjustment. While the Lions were able to hold the Bucs to just six points back in October, they also happened to catch Baker Mayfield in his worst game all season—missing a couple of wide-open deep shots that would have changed the dynamic of the game.

Right now, Mayfield is playing at a much higher level. In fact, since Week 12, Mayfield ranks 13th in PFF grade (77.8), compared to ranking 20th in Weeks 1-11 (70.4).

“There’s a certain level of comfort with Mayfield now,” I remarked. “It’s not surprising that he caught it right around the midway point of the season, right? Because when did Jared Goff start playing better (in Detroit)? Once he had developed some chemistry with his receivers. Remember, this is Baker Mayfield’s first year in Tampa, so there is a certain amount of acclimation period where he has to get used to the offense, get used to his receivers, get used to the cadence, get used to the route running of everyone around him. So that has almost certainly improved since Week 6, when he only had four regular seasons with his teammates.”

That conversation kicks off our second segment of the podcast, and you can listen to that entire discussion around the 24:15 mark.

Other topics on this week’s show (with the corresponding timestamp)

  • 3:00 — Which team has the advantage in the red zone on both sides of the ball?
  • 7:20 — How concerned should we be about the Lions’ running game being just mediocre lately?
  • 10:40 — James Houston: Is his injury tougher to come back from, or do the Lions not value him as much as the public?
  • 17:25 — Will the Bucs scale back the blitzing against the Lions, considering Jared Goff’s recent success vs. it?
  • 31:10 — Who will be the main contributors that will help the Lions win on Sunday?
  • 37:00 — Why weren’t the Lions able to create turnovers vs. LA? Will they be able to vs. the Buccaneers?
  • 40:30 — Which potential NFC Championship matchup is better: vs. Packers or 49ers?

Listen to our entire discussion below.

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