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Tampa Bay Super Bowl? Will the Buccaneers’ defense prevent them from contending

Tom Brady and Co. have now won three consecutive games after a season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Vincent Frank

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding high after last week’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Tom Brady and Co. have now won three consecutive games after a season-opening loss to the New Orleans Saints.

There’s been a lot of talk about Brady’s early-season performance during his debut campaign under Bruce Arians with Tampa Bay. Brady has thrown, not one, but two pick-sixes in four games. However, he’s also coming off a five-touchdown performance against Los Angeles and has played at a high level during this three-game winning streak.

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The question here is whether Tampa Bay’s surprisingly good defense can hold up throughout the duration of the 2020 campaign. The team did enough during the offseason to provide Brady with weapons on offense, adding the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette to the mix. General manager Jason Licht did not necessarily focus on the other side of the ball. Remember, this is a Buccaneers defense that gave up the fourth-most points in the NFL a season ago.

Will the Buccaneers’ defense impact their Super Bowl odds?

Former Pro Bowler Brandon Flowers spoke with Sportsnaut recently, and touched on this. A star defensive back with both the Chiefs and Chargers during his playing days, Flowers knows a thing or two about secondary play. While he did rightfully note that Tampa Bay’s front seven is playing well, it’s an unproven secondary that has people concerned.

This is not a wrong take. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is relying on youngsters Sean Murphy-Bunting and Carlton Davis at cornerback. Rookie second-round pick Antoine Winfield Jr. (feel old yet?) and Jordan Whitehead are manning the safety positions. Prior to this season, the foursome had a combined 64 career NFL starts.

The holdovers in that of Murphy-Bunting, Davis and Whitehead were among the group of Buccaneers defensive backs that yielded a resounding 30 touchdown passes a season ago.

Davis was torched by Keenan Allen last week to the tune of eight catches on 12 targets. It led to some wondering why Murphy-Bunting, one of the best slot corners in the NFL, did not follow Allen around the field. After an impressive performance last season Jamel Dean has not taken on a larger role. He seems to be Tampa Bay’s best boundary corner right now.

Buccaneers’ defensive performance through four weeks

Tampa Bay Super Bowl
Sep 20, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble against the Carolina Panthers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As it stands, it has been a mixed bag as it relates to pass defense for the Buccaneers through the quarter pole of the 2020 NFL season.

  • Week 1: Drew Brees (18-of-30, 160 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions)
  • Week 2: Teddy Bridgewater (33-of-42, 367 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions)
  • Week 3: Jeff Driskel (17-of-30, 176 yards, one touchdown, one interception)
  • Week 4: Justin Herbert (20-of-25, 290 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions)

It’s important to look at the competition here. Brees has struggled to an extent throwing the ball down the field. We actually saw that against a lesser Las Vegas Raiders defense during the Saints’ Week 2 “Monday Night Football loss.” Meanwhile, Driskel was benched in favor of Brett Rypien during the Broncos’ Week 3 loss to Tampa Bay.

Related: Ranking NFL defenses

Most recently, rookie Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert put up the best performance of his young career. He was super impressive against Tampa Bay, only to see Tom Brady lead the Buccaneers back from behind.

The Buccaneers will have to take on Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan (twice) and Matthew Stafford over the course of their final 12 games. How this unit holds up will tell us a lot about Tampa Bay heading into January.

Of course, that’s dependent on the team making the playoffs in the first place.