In the days leading up to the contest in Tampa Bay, I had an opportunity to speak with Riley Auman, a writer for SB Nation’s Buccaneers affiliate. Riley also provides draft coverage for Breaking Football and does extensive work in the football Twitter space @junioraumanac. The following is a cobbled-together transcription of our conversation with some notes peppered in, although Riley provided all of the insight.
Bryce Rossler: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Riley. I’d like to begin by gathering your general thoughts on the state of the Buccaneers. What can you tell Lions fans about the team Tampa has this year?
Riley Auman: Most of the team’s woes are on the defensive side of the ball and that’s been a function of both coaching and personnel issues. When Jameis Winston is both healthy and given a clean pocket, he’s found targets downfield and has given the Bucs a chance to win in spite of that.
Their biggest issues are in the trenches right now, though. The entire offensive line besides Marpet and Dotson (both on IR with injuries) currently needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. And on the defensive line, the pass rush has shown flashes – largely due to another All-Pro caliber season by Gerald McCoy – but Noah Spence is being nagged by shoulder problems and players like Will Gholston and Robert Ayers haven’t been able to finish off plays in the backfield this year. That’s really hurt them up front on defense.
BR: That sounds fairly similar to the Lions situation. You touched on Jameis Winston’s health. Matthew Stafford is also dinged up. Is Winston 100% yet, or are we going to see two lame quarterbacks on Sunday?
RA: I think Jameis was as healthy in Green Bay as he’s been since he was hurt in the Arizona game [Week 6]. He looked much more comfortable and resembled the player he was his first and second years in the league. I think having a more consistent run game with Peyton Barber helped with that a lot, too.
BR: Are they still a vertical passing attack considering the potential limitations Jameis may have? If not, what have they done scheme-wise to mitigate that?
RA: I think we’ve been waiting for several years now for Winston to make strides as a deep passer and it hasn’t happened and frankly at this point I don’t know it ever will. They paid DeSean Jackson handsomely this off season and in the first month of the season they tried to utilize him on vertical routes but quickly made adjustments due to Jameis’ limitations. Since then, Jackson has had far more success this season with in-breaking routes and crossing patterns.
BR: So, what should Lions fans expect to see from the Bucs on Sunday?
RA: I think the biggest matchup will be Darius Slay vs. Mike Evans, two players who are top five at their respective positions. I think you can expect for the game to be contingent on several big matchups and if Peyton Barber can continue his hot streak in the run game from last Sunday.
BR: And going back to the defensive side of the ball, will the Buccaneers anemic pass rush be able to get pressure on Stafford? Has it really been that bad?
RA: Like I said earlier, I think it’s had flashes but it’s been the main thing that has held the team back. I’d agree with the opinion some Bucs analysts have expressed that they need to add 3-4 new guys at defensive end in the offseason and it should be priority number one.
BR: People have said that about the Lions too, you know. What does Detroit need to do to win?
RA: They must limit the Bucs tight ends, Cam Brate and OJ Howard, who have been on fire in recent weeks. Both teams have serious issues along the offensive line and have horrendous defensive line play as well, so who is able to win in the trenches will likely be another big factor.
BR: So, who do you ultimately see winning?
RA: I think it will be a Lions victory. I just don’t see Tampa’s corners being able to slow down Detroit’s receivers as well as Detroit’s corners will slow down Tampa’s receivers. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say 24-17, Lions.