In the second act of the NFC Wildcard round the Green Bay Packers take on the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins.
Taking the field will be some playoff regulars like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, and some who are not so familiar with the playoffs, like Kirk Cousins and Mason Foster.
Two of the players on the field could help the Buccaneers address some needs left over from the 2015 season as they look to take the leap from playoff hopeful to playoff contender in 2016.
Green Bay Packers:
CB, Casey Hayward – Hayward is a fourth year defensive back out of Vanderbilt who started 11 games this season for the Packers in a season where the team needed to lean on their defense more than usual as the offense has been obliterated by injuries to several key players.
In his first year as a starter, Hayward is the team’s fifth leading tackler and ranks third for passes defended. Since replacing Tramon Williams as the Packers starting defender opposite of Sam Shields, he’s played consistently and helped take the Packers from a defense which allowed 26 passing touchdowns in 2014 to just 20 in 2015.
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In contrast to the Packers pass defense, the Buccaneers gave up 31 passing touchdowns in 2015, a higher number than the 28 allowed in 2014. If Hayward’s presence can be a catalyst to lowering that amount, it would help the Buccaneers take a step towards dethroning the Carolina Panthers as NFC South Champions.
Reasonably speaking, there are no current Buccaneers corners who are necessarily shoe-ins for roster spots in 2016. Bringing in a young contributor coming from a franchise which instills a winning spirit and maximum effort could be just what the Buccaneers need in free-agency this season.
Despite the apparent lack of on field experience, were Hayward to be added to this year’s roster of Buccaneers’ defenders, he would rank third on the team with 9 career interceptions.
In his first career playoff start, Hayward will face off against a Redskins receiving corps with speed and deep play aspirations. Several touchdown attempts will be made against Hayward, and its his turn to show the league what he can do in the bright lights of playoff football.
C, Josh LeRibeus – The center is the brains of the offensive line. A good center will produce pro bowl caliber quarterbacks who benefit from a seemingly endless supply of time to sit in the pocket and pick apart a defense. A bad center will lead to quarterback spending more of the game as a running back than a quarterback.
In 2015, the Buccaneers gave up just 27 sacks, good enough to tie them at fourth in the league for fewest sacks allowed. However, among the teams tied with them in fourth (Giants, Cardinals, and Redskins), the Buccaneers was worst of the group by allowing their quarterback to get hit 109 times. The Redskins offensive line allowed their quarterbacks to get hit just 81 times during the season, a dramatic difference.
While more than just the offensive line contributes to these hits – we all know Jameis Winston extended plays too long sometimes – they have a big part of it, and a difference of more than 20 hits is significant. The Buccaneers featured two rookie linemen and were forced to start a rotation at right tackle for much of the season. Left guard Logan Mankins is on his way out of the league, and center Joe Hawley is coming off of his first season as a Buccaneer with its share of ups and downs.
What makes LeRibeus so attractive is his experience on a line which successfully protected their quarterback, and also his versatility. He’s played both guard and center positions during his short career until being installed as the starting center since veteran Kory Lichtensteiger went out with an injury.
Even if he doesn’t overtake Hawley as the starter, he could potentially replace Mankins should he retire, or at the very least provide much needed depth on a line which played inconsistently for the Buccaneers this season.
Going against a Packers defense who will be looking to get to his quarterback who is starting in his own first playoff game, LeRibeus will be a crucial piece to whatever success the Redskins find.
Both of these players have shown potential in limited career action, but bringing young guys in who are looking to prove their early potential is real life proficiency means their price tags could be lower than bringing in proven veterans looking for a payday. The Buccaneers will have a long list of names on their free-agency board, and these are just two of the names Buccaneers fans may become familiar with very soon.