Each week, Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming Sunday.
In Week 12, the Colts are facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Indianapolis. To gain more insight, we caught up with Brianna Dix, a staff writer for Buccaneers.com.
Colts.com: Despite a 4-6 record through the Buccaneers' first 10 games, they are still right on the Saints' heels in the race for the NFC South title. From what you have seen, what has been the overall vibe of the team in recent weeks?
Brianna Dix: The phrase "we are in charge of our own destiny" has echoed through the facility over the course of the past two weeks by a myriad of players and coaches. Like you mentioned, the Buccaneers currently hold a 4-6 record but are just one game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South hunt. Everything is still in front of Tampa Bay in the division with a critical seven-game stretch with four intradivision matchups to go. Every team goes through peaks and valleys during an NFL season. Right now, it is no secret that the Bucs are going through a low point with missed opportunities on the field. However, this team holds itself to a high standard with the talent on the roster and there is belief in all facets that the Bucs can get back on the winning track to hopefully ignite a playoff stretch, beginning in Week 12. There is urgency within the building, but it is the antithesis of 'doom and gloom'.
Colts.com: It's never easy to replace one of the greatest of all time, but that's what Baker Mayfield has done following Tom Brady's retirement. How do you feel like he's fared in his first season in Tampa?
Brianna Dix: Baker Mayfield has rallied the offense with charisma and poise under pressure. He ranks fourth among all quarterbacks this season in passer rating, second in passing yards and is tied for third in passing touchdowns when under pressure in 2023. Mayfield's ability to extend plays outside of the pocket on bootlegs and scrambles has bolstered the unit and opened the playbook. Against the 49ers last week, Mayfield got into a great rhythm on timing routes. He quickly gained the trust of the offense when he arrived with leadership intangibles and fiery competitiveness. Mayfield has shown his improvisation skills, arm talent, quick processing and precision at all three levels of the field. His moxie has certainly energized the Bucs' offense in 2023. Whether lowering his shoulder to gain additional hard-fought yards for a first down or expediting throws from off-platform with ease, Mayfield has made a significant impact this season.
Colts.com: One of the players who I'm sure has been aiding Mayfield during his transition is Mike Evans, who looks like he's well on his way to his 10th 1,000-yard receiving season. What is it about him that has allowed him to have so much prolonged success?
Brianna Dix: Mike Evans has achieved both longevity and consistency in a Hall of Fame-worthy career. It is hard for a receiver in the NFL to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for two or three seasons in a row and Mike Evans has done it every year he has been in the league. Even more impressively, he has accomplished the feat with a revolving door at quarterback and with various offenses and offensive coordinators. As a big, tall and physical receiver, Evans routinely commands double teams when he is on the field. He has the strength to power through jams and can box out defenders in contested catch situations like a tight end. Evans' ability to highpoint the football over the top of defensive backs is second to none and he is as close as it gets to a cheat code on back-shoulder fades. Evans is adept at picking up yards after the catch and he generates subtle separation with physicality out of his breaks. He does not often get the credit he deserves but his production speaks for itself. Evans' resumé puts him in the company of Jerry Rice and Randy Moss – two of the best receivers who ever played the game – which illustrates No. 13's legacy in the modern era. Drive, work ethic and attention to detail are what separate average from elite players in the NFL and Evans puts in the effort behind closed doors to maintain his level of success.
Colts.com: Since Devin White was drafted back in 2019, he and Lavonte David have been one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the NFL. When those two are on the field, what does that do for the rest of the defense?
Brianna Dix: The Bucs' defense feeds off that dynamic tandem. They help set the tone in the middle of the unit and spearhead the charge. With career tackle No. 1,429 on the first defensive drive against the Niners, Lavonte David surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Rondé Barber (1,428) for the second-most tackles in Bucs history, trailing only Derrick Brooks (2,198). David sets the standard of excellence with elite read-and-react skills, understanding of pursuit angles/leverage and outstanding coverage skills against tight ends in both man-to-man and zone coverage. Throughout his career, he has evolved as the game has transitioned to feature more pass-heavy attacks with hybrid pass-catchers aimed at creating mismatches. With David manning the middle for Tampa Bay, it is hard for opposing teams to target the underneath-intermediate area of the field with tight ends and backs because of David's sticky coverage. Devin White, his stellar counterpart, is a prominent feature in the Bucs' blitz/pressure packages with rare play speed and burst to close. White has the lateral agility to flow from gap to gap to track bouncing backs and he quickly knifes through gaps to invade the backfield. They complement one another and have established themselves as one of the most formidable linebacker duos in the NFL.
Colts.com: This season, the Buccaneers' run game is averaging 76.9 rushing yards per game, which is the lowest in the league. As for the Colts, their defense is allowing 129.7 rushing yards per game. What has to happen in order for the Bucs to get their run game going on Sunday?
Brianna Dix: While the Bucs continue to build their run game with the mid-zone and duo concepts to stimulate play-action and bootlegs, the club has been able to accentuate the ground game by getting Rachaad White in space on screens, perimeter runs and from empty packages. That stresses the C-gap assignments with second-level blockers and stretches the opposition horizontally. White's pass-catching prowess and ability in the open field to make initial defenders miss has helped to ignite the run game. Tampa Bay will continue to place an emphasis on the run game and whether it is getting White on a bubble screen or shifty receiver Deven Thompkins on a jet sweep or an end-around, all complement the run game and keep defenses on their heels. On Sunday for the Bucs, getting push up front in the trenches and continuing to feature White in an expanded role will help kickstart the run game.