The Tampa Bay Buccaneers received some awful news on Friday, as linebackers Devin White and Shaquil Barrett were placed on the club’s COVID-19 list ahead of Week 17’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.
With the NFC Wild Card Round to follow the next week, indications are that Barrett should be back in time for the postseason, whereas White is less certain to be.
Buccaneers news: Devin White and Shaquil Barrett can’t play in Tampa Bay’s regular-season finale
One silver lining to this adverse situation is that Barrett in fact tested negative for COVID-19. NFL protocols dictate players must be placed on the COVID-19 list if they’re deemed a high-risk close contact to someone who has tested positive. It’s at least possible Barrett will be back for the Wild Card Round.
But while that’s still to be determined, there has to be a fair amount of apprehension around the Bucs locker room in light of this news, because White could well be out for the first round of the playoffs. Barrett is a dynamic pass-rusher, while White is a heat-seeking missile of an inside linebacker who’s afforded the chance to take risks in coordinator Todd Bowles’ aggressive system, with nine sacks of his own in 2020.
Buccaneers news: Tampa Bay’s outlook sans Devin White, Shaquil Barrett
Missing two playmakers who are so capable of rushing the opposing passer is a big deal for Tampa Bay, especially against an immobile Week 17 opposing quarterback in Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Barrett has eight sacks this season after racking up 19.5 in 2019.
Bowles is schematically creative in terms of how he brings pressure in the passing game, hence White’s effectiveness as a sack artist to go along with 140 total tackles for the year. The Bucs do have additional firepower on the edge thanks to the presence of Jason Pierre-Paul (9.5 sacks). They can also push the pocket from the inside with the likes of Ndamukong Suh.
Beyond the pass-rushing element to Tampa Bay’s defense, it’s also true that White is a liability in coverage. This could push Bowles to at least for now blend more zone concepts and rely more on his front to generate a pass rush, rather than manufacturing it with designed blitzes.
Finally, before Bucs fans hit the panic button too much, there’s the presence of Lavonte David to consider. In three of the last four seasons including this one, David graded in the top five in Pro Football Focus’ linebacker grades. He’s capable in coverage, versus the run, and can be deployed as a blitzer to emulate some of White’s production that’ll be missing for a time.
If Tampa Bay takes care of business on Sunday, the team will face the NFC East champion on Wild Card Weekend. Even if White isn’t in action for that one, an opponent with a losing record shouldn’t be insurmountable, and the Bucs should advance.