Key matchup: Bucs pass rush vs. Broncos pass protection

Dan Parr
Pro Football Weekly
Key matchup: Bucs pass rush vs. Broncos pass protection

In today’s Key matchup, we look into the Bucs’ pass rush ahead of its meeting with Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Key matchup: Bucs pass rush vs. Broncos pass protection

The Bucs are in contention for a wild-card spot despite ranking 30th in the league in QB sack percentage because they have done other things well on defense — they play physically, tackle well and force the timely turnover. Having a high-powered offense certainly helps a bunch, too.

That pass rush is going to have to make its presence felt Sunday in Denver, though, for the Bucs to give themselves a chance against Peyton Manning’s Broncos. No defense has completely shut down Manning this season — he has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game — but the defenses that have created pressure against Denver have fared the best against him.

In games when Manning has been sacked two or more times this season, the Broncos have been an average team — they are 3-3 in those games. When he has been sacked once or not at all, Denver is 5-0.

Tampa Bay has very capable pass rushers in DT Gerald McCoy and DEs Michael Bennett and Da’Quan Bowers. The Bucs can’t afford for them not to win their one-on-one battles Sunday. Manning might be the best in the league at avoiding sacks — he knows when to get rid of the ball, gets rid of it quickly and at times this season has shown escapability. The key for Tampa Bay — which is ranked last in the league in pass defense — will be making him focus on avoiding pass rushers and settling for checkdowns rather than sitting back in the pocket and picking on a Bucs secondary that is down to E.J. Biggers, Leonard Johnson and LeQuan Lewis as its top three corners.

On paper, this is a matchup that favors the Broncos, and it’s not really a close call.

Only three teams — the Giants (14), Patriots (15) and Texans (15) — have allowed fewer sacks than the Broncos (16) and only three teams — the Jaguars (13), Raiders (13) and Jets (17) — have recorded fewer sacks than the Bucs (18).

According to STATS LLC., the players that Bennett, Bowers and Daniel Te’o Neshiem (the Bucs’ starting right end) will line up across from have allowed only 4½ sacks all season. OLT Ryan Clady — a former All-Pro — has allowed only one sack all season, per STATS, and ORT Orlando Franklin has given up only 3½. The Bucs have been able to make some big plays this season off corner blitzes, including last week vs. Atlanta, when Biggers recorded a strip-sack (the Bucs’ only sack of the game) of Matt Ryan, who didn’t realize the blitz was coming until it was too late. The Bucs could gamble that they will be able to do the same to Manning, but mostly they are going to have to rely on their front four to make Manning sweat and take some of the pressure off a vulnerable secondary.

If the Bucs don’t do that, their playoff hopes could take another hit.