The Spy: Buccaneers & Bills: The Herd Meets the Fleet
A Bills team on the brink collapse now faces its most notorious enemy. This enemy is a harbinger of destruction that has devastated Buffalo and the Bills for two decades. Yes, the Buccaneers are a complete team, but their beating heart is none other than Tom Brady. In the words of BF’s own Rico Belony, it’s “gut check time” for the Bills. If they lose this game, making the playoffs may very well be out of the question entirely for a team that, just one year ago, melted off the field in an AFC championship game.
The Bills face a myriad of threats comprising an elite Buccaneers team. Moreover, one could say (at this point) that the Bills even face a substantial number of internal threats, born of their own inconsistency and instability. The Bills are, in fact, the most inconsistent football team in the NFL, in 2021. Worse still, the Bills are the most inconsistent team since the statistic was first tracked in 1983, with a base variance of 45% (per ESPN & Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders).
On the other side of the coin, the Buccaneers themselves sat at 7-5 at this very point last season. Yes, the teams are far different from one another, yet the sentiment is the same. The rally can be completed. It is possible. Before that, however, the game must be won. To achieve that end, the Bills will need to vanquish most or all the threats they will face in Tampa. What are these threats and how can they be overcome (if at all)?
SPY 1: TB Timeless
Whether you like it or not, Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. With each passing year, a new layer to the onion is peeled back. At 44 years of age, Brady is on pace for nearly 6,000 passing yards, throwing for more than 350 per game. Brady has never had more freedom or control than he does now in Tampa Bay. With subject-matter-expert and QB guru Bruce Arians as Head Coach, an open-minded and intelligent Offensive Coordinator in Byron Leftwich, and the freedom to quarterback with virtually no restrictions, no quarterback (arguably) is in a better position than Brady.
Brady’s mental acuity and football IQ has sustained itself and been allowed to run free. Case and point, the Bucs passed the ball at will (over forty times consecutively) against Atlanta last week. While the Bucs have a stout run game, they don’t need to rely on it, given their passing efficiency. Brady can still hit on passes at every level of the field, even in the deep passing game.
There is one quality that Tom Brady has shown more of in 2021 than in any season prior. It is fluidity. Brady has achieved a career best in yards gained per game (314 Y/GP) by a huge margin. This is a purer indicator of passing efficiency paired with productivity than, say, passing yardage by itself. One other reason this is remarkable is that Brady has done this while massively increasing the volume of passing. He is going to shatter his career best attempt total in a season. Currently, he is 73 attempts short of that record with a handful of games left in the season. The Buccaneers deploy the passing game at will, with violence of action, and without mercy. Tom Brady is the greatest threat that the Bills will face this season by a wide margin.
The Bills come into this matchup with a significantly weaker secondary due to the season-ending injury for Tre White. The Bucs will try to simply overwhelm the Bills with an onslaught of passing. The secondary will be under incredible pressure. Meanwhile, the Bills defensive line will struggle to get pressure as Tom Brady is the least sacked and pressured quarterback in the entire NFL by a margin of 2%.
Unless Bills Head Coach Sean McDermott finds his lost touch of aggression, and empowers the team instead of handicapping it, there is an astronomically low chance that the Bills win this game. Failure to fight fire with fire in this game will be catastrophic.
SPY 2: Receiver Raid
The Bucs will be missing superstar WR Antonio Brown due to injury and suspension. That said, make no mistake, this is little if any reprieve from the Bucs’ passing game. Their offense still has a bevy of weapons with which to raid. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are, arguably, the most dynamic receiving duo in the NFL at present. Depth man and prolific slot target Scotty Miller is a threat all his own. The biggest problem presented by the Bucs’ deep receiving corps is that all of their receivers are unique and unlike one another. They all threaten in diverse ways thereby making defending them exponentially more difficult.
On top of all that, the Bucs feature the greatest TE to ever play the position: Buffalo native Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski is more of a threat than ever before having refreshed himself prior to last season with a year off doing Gronk things. Gronk still is an unsolvable matchup issue, especially in the red zone. The Bucs’ weapons thrive in the red zone, in stark contrast to their opponent. The Bills are one of the best teams in the league at reaching the red zone, but are only a middling team in terms of turning those trips into points.
SPY 3: Run & Gun
Do I even need to talk about the run game? We must go through this torture again, Bills Mafia. I am sorry. Normally, the Bills defense is stout, disciplined, and tactically proficient. There is a problem however, all of that diffuses into a mess when playing bulky, physical teams. The Bucs are one of those teams and can finesse the game as well. The Bucs can pick their own poison in this battle. Starting RB Leonard Fournette is having a career year, currently running at a 4.4 yard per carry clip. Additionally, Fournette is on pace to break his career-best receptions mark, currently sitting at 58. Most of these are short and intermediate targets which effectively translate into a run of sorts, when you consider it from a yardage gained standpoint.
SPY 4: Trench Tactics
As stated previously, the Buccaneers are a physical and hefty team. This is especially evident in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. On offense, getting to Tom Brady in the pocket has never been more difficult. Worse still, smaller, more agile, dynamic defenses such as the Bills are the least equipped against this type of offensive line; a line comparable to that of New England and Indianapolis, teams that dominated the Bills this season. On defense, the Bucs possess one of the heaviest defensive lines in the league, a veritable anchor of sorts. The Bills’ running game has a low likelihood of being even marginally effective against the number one-ranked run defense in the league.
DARK-HORSE BONUS POINT
- ELITE weapons
- ELITE running game
- Run defense
- Poor secondary
- Inability to effectively defend against TEs
- Difficulty defending dynamic QBs
Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. On this scale, the higher the number = The greater the threat to the Bills.
Buccaneers Threat Rating = 10
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