NFL Game Scripts Week 8: Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New York Giants

Regardless of whether he is in a New England Patriots or Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, a matchup between Tom Brady and the New York Giants will always have significance. However, this Giants team is very different to the one that Brady lost to in two Super Bowls, and the Buccaneers are the far superior team. Let’s take a look at how this game will likely be decided.

Giants Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense

The Run Game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers New York Giants
Image credit: USA Today

The Giants have struggled to move the ball in the air and on the ground this season, landing in the bottom 10 in passing yards, yards per attempt, rushing yards, and yards per rush. While veteran RB Devonta Freeman was picked up after Saquon Barkley was lost to IR for the season, he hasn’t provided much difference over the past few weeks. With Freeman handling the bulk of the rushing duties, mostly staying between the tackles with little use on passing downs, Wayne Gallman is interspersed as a runner and Dion Lewis as a receiving back. The Giants will occasionally use a FB or TE as an extra blocker, but frequently find themselves playing from behind and thus forced to pass more often, reducing their opportunities to have more focus on the run.

With the dynamic Tampa Bay defense being one of the best against the run in the league, the Giants will run Freeman up the middle regularly in the first quarter but will have little success. Although he will see some power runs behind the FB or a TE to the outside at times, New York’s focus will be to soften up the interior. Later in the game, the Giants will increase their outside runs, leading to fake handoffs for RB screens and play action passes. Gallman will relieve Freeman at times but won’t change the play calling, with both used to run across the line throughout the game, with few tosses or stretch plays to the outside. 

Lewis will see some snaps as a rusher, but will primarily become an extra blocker, or be used as a check down option in the flat or on curls underneath. With Freeman and Gallman mostly used to take attention away from QB Daniel Jones, there is less complexity to their use, as they stay inside to keep the edge rushers from collapsing the pocket immediately. TE Evan Engram and the WRs will occasionally be used on end arounds and jet sweeps, but aren’t used on enough pre-snap motions to properly become deceptive blockers that result in counters.

While Tampa Bay was one of the best, if not the best, when DT Vita Vea was healthy, they remain a formidable run-stopping force. They rarely need to use an extra defender against the run, instead bringing a Safety up to the line of scrimmage against TEs and RBs as receivers, giving extra help on the outside if needed. With the interior of the DL still so dominant, it should penetrate the Giants’ OL constantly, forcing New York to attack the outside more. The Buccaneers will consequently slide their LBs slightly wider to attack around the outside of the tackles, reducing the chances for Freeman and Gallman to get into the second level.

The Passing Game

With neither the passing nor rushing game providing much of a spark this season, the Giants try to leave their most universal formation on the field, which is typically 11 or 12 personnel. The RBs will act as receivers out of the backfield, and often lined up as a receiver, while the second TE will stay in-line, with Engram moved across the line. WRs Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate will play on the outside and out of the slot at different times, with Tate mostly staying in the middle of the field inside the numbers, and Slayton as the deeper receiver, working the outside as well as the inside.

At least one of Slayton and Tate will typically run in and slant routes on each play, especially in the first half, with the other running an out or crossing route, depending on whether they line up next to each other or not. In the second half, they will increasingly run more vertical routes, although rarely both at the same time, from the outside as well as the slot. Engram will then run an intermediate curl, slant or in route as well, providing simplified reads for Jones as the different options cross paths. 

The RBs will tend to stay on shallow routes, with some screens used, but this also won’t change as the game continues. If the intermediate and deep routes are ineffective, WR screens and short out routes by Engram will be used for a few plays, drawing the Defence in before returning to passes over the middle behind the LBs. These flood and dagger concepts give Jones quicker reads by focusing on one side of the field, with his progressions working deep to short as the receivers hit the gaps or turn inside.

At the start of the season, Tampa’s secondary was largely inexperienced, although they are now emerging as a tough matchup. CB Carlton Davis is frequently having success against opponents’ top WR, while Safety Antoine Winfield Jr provides a constant presence on the backend that makes big plays harder to come by. With the Bucs able to generate a good pass rush, it makes things even easier for the secondary, as they have to cover for less time. With Safety Jordan Whitehead coming up to the line to attack the RBs, and the LBs in sink zones across the field, the Giants’ will need to use short underneath throws to Tate, or deeper out routes and comebacks to Slayton. There will be little space downfield over the middle, and Tampa Bay will keep the Offense in front of them at all times.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

With space only available on the outside, the Giants will need to attack there with both the pass and run. The Giants will get Engram targets up the middle early on, before trying to find Slayton on the outside, with fewer runs coming in the second half. Although there will be short completions open to the RBs in the flat, and Tate underneath, New York will struggle to push the ball downfield. Tampa Bay will rely on their front seven all game to not only close down the run, but also pressure Daniel Jones constantly and give him no time to throw.

Buccaneers Offense vs.Giants Defense

The Run Game

Tampa Bay do not do many complex things in the run game, preferring to have RBs Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette mostly run blasts, dives and stretch plays. Although the TEs will at times be extra blockers, the Buccaneers mostly use a singleback formation and zone running scheme. Fournette’s physicality makes him more suited to run through the middle with some outside runs, whereas Jones is more balanced in the direction of his runs. Jones will also stay on the field more often for passing downs than Fournette, with RB LeSean McCoy almost exclusively used on passing plays for his blocking and receiving skills.

Jones and Fournette will each be given drives and a sizeable workload, with Jones usually seeing more touches than Fournette. The Buccaneers will generally avoid running at DL Dexter Lawrence depending on where he lines up, but will send Fournette his way at times inside the tackles to prevent the Giants stacking the other side of the field. Into the second half, the Buccaneers will also use more counters and toss plays to get Jones to the outside, once the defense starts wearing down. Although much of the run game will be to set up play action and run out the clock in the second half, Tampa Bay will run regularly on first and/or second down to create third and short situations as much as possible to keep the whole playbook available.

The Giants will have LB Will Fackrell coming off one edge to play contain on Jones especially, with DL Lawrence and Leonard Williams mostly attacking the B gaps. LB Blake Martinez will stack over the center or one of the A gaps, and read the RB to close up whichever hole emerges. Their remaining LBs are then shifted around to provide extra coverage across the line, with Safeties Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers each spending time closer to the line to negate TEs as extra blockers. This strategy has allowed the Giants to have the fifth-best run Defence in terms of yards per carry (3.7), and they will continue to tighten up runs through the middle in this game, so that they can increasingly use their Safeties to defend the flats for shorter gains.

The Passing Game

Tampa Bay are starting to get their full WR room healthy again, which allows them to attack all areas of the field. While Mike Evans provides a vertical outside threat, he hasn’t been targeted much, but once Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller (if both are healthy – otherwise Tyler Johnson will be the replacement) draw extra attention over the middle, primarily as slot receivers, it could give Evans more one-on-one matchups and thus targets. TE Rob Gronkowski is mostly running short and intermediate curls, outs and option routes, whereas fellow TE Cameron Brate attacks towards the outside and downfield more often. RBs McCoy and Jones are used on screens and underneath passes as release options when Tom Brady is pressured.

The first half will see a few shots to Evans running a go route as he gets behind the defense, opening up extra space on intermediate throws. Godwin will run deeper slants and in routes behind the LBs, with Gronkowski drawing one LB in too to give Godwin extra space. Miller will be sent to the outside and inside at different times to spread the Defence out, allowing Brate, Evans and Godwin to continue seeing targets downfield. By the second half though, the Buccaneers will start to take safer options on underneath passes, with the bigger-bodied TEs used to box out defenders. Once they have established a lead, there will be fewer passes downfield, with Miller and Godwin seeing an increase in workload with slants into the fourth quarter as the Bucs keep the ball in play and the clock moving.

Unlike their run defense, the Giants have been one of the worst teams in the league against the pass. CB James Bradberry has been able to break up passes and will mostly be forced to play inside against either Godwin or Miller, instead of his usual spot on the outside. But with a lack of depth at CB, it will still leave two WRs somewhat uncovered, as the Safeties will need to be focused on the RBs and TEs. Although Fackrell and Martinez can reduce space over the middle, it will still leave space on 7-routes for Brate, Gronkowski, Godwin and Miller. New York will likely start the game playing zone coverage, but against Tom Brady that will leave plenty of space between defenders for pass completions. New York will try to adjust to man coverage, but that will then result in the more talented Bucs’ receivers winning their matchups and getting open.

What should we expect to see on Sunday?

Tampa Bay will mostly attack the middle of the field through the air, with a few shots deep to Evans throughout the game, although it won’t be the focus of their offense. Running plays through the middle and to the outside will bring the LBs up to the line of scrimmage, creating space behind for the slot receivers. In the fourth quarter, Tampa Bay will close the game out with rushes and short completions to underneath receivers, with few riskier passes deep. The Giants will close up the middle of the DL, forcing the Bucs to run to the outside more often. Although they will want to use a zone scheme to keep the coverage easier for their defenders, it will create too many holes for Tampa Bay to exploit.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst