Bucs prepare for athletic Washington edge rushing tandem

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. It’s been a long thirteen year wait for the fanbase but the time is finally here. This Saturday the Bucs will travel to D.C. to face the Washington Football Team. Washington sits at just 7-9 but that was enough for them to bring home the NFC East crown in head coach Ron Rivera’s first season. Although they’re 7-9, Washington is 5-1 with Alex Smith at QB. They’re led by the defense which sits at #2 in the NFL. The Bucs are heavy favorites and they should be but Washington’s defense could make this a good game, specifically the defensive line and their two star edge rushers.

Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs vs Chase Young and Montez Sweat

This could be the matchup that decides the game. Chase Young and Montez Sweat form a lethal edge rushing duo. Both possess elite athleticism for their size. Young is the favorite for the defensive rookie of the year award and he was elected to the Pro Bowl. Young has been disruptive on a play to play basis as he has the rare combination of freak athleticism and refined pass rushing skills. On the season he has 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 12 QB hits and 3 fumbles recoveries. He has the ability to make game changing plays so it’s important for the Bucs to keep him contained.

Since Young lines up primarily on the right side he’ll be facing Bucs left tackle Donovan Smith on most of his snaps. Smith has had his struggles at times this season but he finished the year strong. He allowed 35 pressures and 6 sacks on the season per PFF but in the last four games he only allowed three pressures and one sack. His recent streak of strong play will need to continue this weekend. Young can disrupt the Buccaneers entire game plan so this is probably the biggest individual matchup of the game. Smith has had his struggles with edge rushers with great burst so that’s something to keep an eye on.

While Young has the accolades it’s Sweat who leads the team in sacks (9) and QB hits (20). Sweat beats offensive tackles around the edge using his 4.4 speed. His 13% pressure rate ranks 9th in the league among edge rushers. The Bucs run a vertical passing scheme so Sweat and his speed pose a big threat. Those deep shots take a long time to develop. Tom Brady isn’t a mobile QB, he won’t be able to elude Sweat if he beats his guy around the edge and the offense has sputtered when the deep ball isn’t clicking. Sweat will have plenty of opportunities to pin his ears back and just rush the passer, the Bucs must be up to the task.

Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs will draw the matchup of Montez Sweat. Wirfs doesn’t run a 4.4 like Sweat but he’s a great athlete for his size. The Offensive Rookie Of The Year award never rewards offensive lineman but if it did, Wirfs would have a good case to win. He gave up one sack all season. That’s an amazing feat for a rookie. His 82.2 overall grade on PFF was second amongst all right tackles behind only Jack Conklin. Wirfs has been special as a rookie. He’s held his own against Cameron Jordan, Joey Bosa and Za’ Darius Smith this season so he’ll be up for the task. This is going to be a fun matchup if you love watching the battle in the trenches as much as I do.

The Outcome

I’m sure Bruce Arians and OC Byron Leftwich will also utilize Rob Gronkowski’s blocking skills to help chip both Young and Sweat on certain plays. They’ll also mix in more quick throws this week to keep Washington off balance and to keep Brady upright. Overall I think the Bucs are clearly the more talented team and have a lot more firepower on offense. But if there’s any way that Washington wins this game, it’ll rest on the shoulders of Sweat and Young. However, I’m leaning towards the Bucs tackles winning this matchup. I’ll say they only give up one sack combined.

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