Tampa Bay Buccaneers Here are a few key players to watch as the Bucs head into Indianapolis in what may end up being one the best matchups of their season. Carmen Vitali
1. QB Tom Brady
As a former long-time member of the AFC, Brady knows a thing or two about the Colts. And the Colts know a thing or two about him. Though the staff and players are completely changed over, and some coaches who faced off against Brady in years past are even on staff at the Bucs now, Brady still manages to play well every time he goes against Indianapolis. He has a 15-4 record against them and averages 252.1 yards per game. He's thrown for a total of 38 touchdowns against the Colts and averages a 98.0 quarterback rating across the 19 times he's played them in the regular and postseason.
Brady actually hasn't lost to the Colts since 2010, going a perfect 8-0 in that span, including the playoffs, which is his most wins without a loss against any opponent since that year. He also has an average passer rating of 105.2 since then. Aaaand that's enough jinxing him. Though the league's current leader in passing yards who has the second-most touchdowns of any player at 44 years old might be immune from jinxes, to be honest.
2. TE Rob Gronkowski
Speaking of long-time members of the AFC, tight end Rob Gronkowski has entered the chat. In seven career games against Indy, Gronk has 29 receptions for 450 yards and seven touchdowns. That gives him a 15.5 yards per reception average and judging from last week, Gronk looks as though he's back to full strength.
The Bucs will need Gronk, along with the rest of their offensive weapons to score some points against the Colts. Tampa Bay owns the highest-scoring offense in the league, averaging 30.9 points per game, but Indianapolis isn't far behind. They rank fifth in points scored, averaging 28.1 themselves. They also take care of the ball, giving the ball away just 10 times while on offense, which is among the best in the league. They also rank first in turnover margin at +15.
3. DT Ndamukong Suh
Suh has played three games against Indy and in them, he's recorded 2.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and even two passes defensed. Against the league's fourth-best rushing attack and perhaps best running back, Tampa Bay is going to need to live up to their reputation as a run-stopping powerhouse. That starts in the middle with guys like Suh and nose tackle Vita Vea, who is questionable entering into Sunday's game.
The unit got the job done, especially between the tackles last game, allowing the Giants just 66 yards on the ground total. Running back Saquon Barkley, who made his return from injury against the Bucs on Monday night, had just 25 rushing yards, with which he led the team.
It also won't hurt if Suh is able to generate that pass rush he seems able to do against the Colts. Quarterback Carson Wentz has been able to take care of the football this season, with a touchdown to interception ratio of 18-3, which is good for the second-best in the league. It's a big reason why Indy has the aforementioned best turnover margin in the NFL. But Wentz's production has completely dropped off in the last two games. He has just one passing touchdown in that span and an 81.3 passer rating. He averaged just 143 yards in each of the last two games and gains just an average of 5.3 yards per pass attempt. That's a start contrast from the first nine weeks in which he averaged 244.2 passing yards per game with 17 touchdowns and 100.1 rating. If the defense can limit him like he's been limited the last couple games, that should go a long way in stifling the Colts' offense so that the Bucs' offense can do their thing.
4. WR Chris Godwin
The last time Chris Godwin played against the Colts in 2019, he very much helped the offense do its thing by grabbing seven receptions for 91 yards. This season, Godwin leads all Bucs receivers with 63 receptions and 782 receiving yards. Both those numbers are good for a top 10 ranking league-wide this season.
Against the Giants Monday night, Godwin was a workhorse, nabbing all six of the targets thrown his way for 65 yards and a touchdown. The Bucs actually had four receivers with six catches on the night and three receivers that got 65 yards or more on the night. Tampa Bay would do well to have a repeat performance of that on the road, where they haven't been as efficient this season.
5. ILBs Devin White & Lavonte David
Neither side of the ball has been as efficient on the road as they have at home. Brady himself has a 9-5 touchdown to interception ratio on the road vs. a 20-3 ratio when at home. But the defense has also had its woes on the road, letting up an average of 27.6 points per game while only allowing 16.8 at home. They've had only four takeaways on the road as compared to 14 at home and again, with the Colts as careful with the ball as they are, any forced turnovers will be hard to come by.
They have maintained their stinginess against the run wherever they are, which is the good news. The bad news? The one area that could stand to be improved in their ground defense happens to be what Taylor and the Colts' run game is one of the best at. That's rushes outside the tackles. Taylor averages 7.5 rushing yards per carry outside the tackles, which not only leads the league but is the most of any running back in the Next Gen Stats era. The Bucs are letting up 4.8 yards per carry outside the tackles as compared to 2.6 inside the tackles. They've allowed just one rushing touchdown up the middle as compared to five on outside runs. Five touchdowns is how many Taylor had just last week against Buffalo while managing over 200 yards from scrimmage.
Even more than that, Taylor leads the NFL in several stats against light boxes (those with six or less defenders), including his 581 rushing yards, 7.6 yards per rush, four rushing touchdowns and 199 rush yards over expectation, according to NGS. But the good news there is that the Bucs play a light box on only 31.6% of rushes, which is the fifth-fewest in the NFL. That should be their best chance of stopping Taylor and to bring this back to David and White, they should be the difference makers here. Not only can they help stack the box against Taylor, but they'll likely be the ones to go sideline to sideline to try and stop him outside the tackles. White is questionable leading into Sunday's game but the Bucs may need him more than ever in Indy. It'll definitely give the defense a big boost if he's in there alongside his big brother.