Thursday night games are weird. Everyone is beat up, no one’s had enough time to prepare and the whole experience on Prime Video is just odd. The Ravens enter as 1.5-point road favorites against Tampa.
That might come as a surprise for those who haven’t watched much Bucs football. After all, any team with Tom Brady is bound to be good, right? For the past two decades, yes. This season, maybe not. This is only the second-ever Tom Brady-led Bucs team to enter a game with a losing record. And no, it’s not because they’ve had a bad defense. In fact, their defense is fifth in points allowed, holding teams to under 18 points a game. So if it’s not the defense, whose fault is it?
In short, it’s the offensive line. Their pass protection has been awful as Brady has had the least amount of time in the pocket per PFR. Their run blocking hasn’t been much better, as Leonard Fournette is getting hit the fourth earliest of any rusher this season. They’ve only managed to score 17.7 points per game this season and they limp into this one with five offensive starters on the injury report.
All of the forces working against Tampa in combination with Baltimore’s defense playing some solid football makes me confident Tommy and the gang will be held in check. Assuming Mike Evans’ ankle doesn’t keep him out of this one, his battle with Marlon Humphrey should be exciting. Evans is a huge receiver, but Marlon’s physicality is real. If Humphrey can erase him, defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald should be able to get creative and make life tough for Brady. The Goat has been a little skittish in the pocket this season, for all the reasons we’ve mentioned, so look for the cunning Marcus Peters to sense that and nab his second pick of the season.
Baltimore’s passing offense is currently in a slump. The blame shouldn’t fall totally on Lamar or Roman, but the offense has chilled since its red-hot start. Teams aren’t giving up much of anything over the top, forcing Lamar to take checkdowns, which has frustrated him. So, to counter the defense’s conservative approach, Roman is running it down defenses’ throats.
That recipe could produce again this week after Carolina just exploited Tampa’s front for over 6 yards per carry. If Tampa’s DC Todd Bowles’ get-right plan is to put more players in the box and be aggressive, he’ll be playing into Lamar’s strengths as a passer. But Bowles is an awesome defensive mind whose team almost always has a respectable run defense, so he might find creative ways to muddle Baltimore’s rushing attack without selling out on the back end. Speaking of Tampa’s back end, the secondary is depleted. They’re without their starting perimeter and nickel corner as well as strong safety. Lucky for them, they’re playing the 26th best passing offense in the league.
The Bucs could trot out a Pop Warner team to play defense and I wouldn’t trust the Ravens to make plays in the passing game. If Mark Andrews’ knee injury keeps him sidelined, Baltimore might not even try to throw. Whatever approach they take, I don’t see them scoring a ton of points. Tampa’s defense is good, and the speed they have at linebacker might negate the effect of Lamar’s legs.
It might be yucky
If you’re looking forward to some offensive fireworks this Thursday night, throw on your finest bib and prepare for a nice hot plate of disappointment. This game will be a close, defensive showdown that will be decided by one team’s late mistake. Both of these teams’ defenses are stuck playing the role of sherpa, carrying their team to competitiveness while behind them their rich, spoiled offenses are awarded all the credit for doing just enough to win.
Points will be hard to come by and I don’t know that I trust Lamar to be comfortable with that. He’s always looking to go for the kill and win the game himself, and in a game like this, that’s not how you get the job done. Whoever wins this game will be talked about as having “escaped with the win,” and I trust the patience and savvy of Tom Brady to embrace his role and manage the game.
Buccaneers 20, Ravens 17