The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has seen a boost over the last three thanks to the presence of nose tackle Vita Vea.
The dominant big man has been a big reason why the team has recorded 10.0 combined sacks over the last three games. Three of those belong to Vea, himself, and he was working on his fourth consecutive game with at least 1.0 sack before the Seattle Seahawks kept him from taking Geno Smith down in the backfield.
There’s a chance Vea hurt his foot against the Seahawks and it factored into why he went sack-less. It hasn’t been confirmed, but the fifth-year pro played a season-low 32 snaps in Week 10.
Regardless, Vea hasn’t practiced all week. Unless he gets a limited session in on Friday, it would be smart to start planning on life without Vea against the Cleveland Browns.
Which is not a good thing, at all.
The Browns have one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL and they are not scared of sticking with the run, either. If the game script calls for it, of course.
The Browns run a very effective wide zone scheme, which is a good scheme to run against the Buccaneers defense due to the fact that you’re making big guys like Vea and Akiem Hicks run instead of running at them.
It doesn’t make a lot of sense to run at a big man, but it makes sense to run around them.
“It’s going to be tough, you know,” Todd Bowles told reporters on Wednesday. “They’ve got two good runners, they’ve got a great offensive line, their tight ends and receivers block as well. They’ve been in the top five the last couple of years and it’s going to be a challenge for our guys – gap control, understanding where we’ve got to be.
“But when you do that, they have play action passes and throw the ball – they have a great screen game [and] they’ve got some good receivers outside. All the way around, we’re going to have to be disciplined.”
That doesn’t render a healthy Vea useless, however. He can still take on blockers and disrupt the zone flow in order to free up Lavonte David and the resurgent Devin White.
And, of course, there’s the pass rush advantages that come with Vea’s presence. He takes on those double-teams -and can win them- in order to free up the other pass rushers to where they typically have a 1-v-1 matchup.
Friday’s status will obviously lend a major clue as to whether or not Vea plays on Sunday, but right now, it doesn’t look good based solely off the facts that the Buccaneers are coming off a bye week and he hasn’t practiced, at all. It’d be different if the Buccaneers played in Week 11. But the facts they were on bye and he hasn’t practiced creates the reasonable hypothesis that he wouldn’t played in Week 11 if the Buccaneers actually did have a game.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches is a solid backup and rookie Logan Hall has flashed. Hicks has looked good over the last couple weeks, but none are Vea. The Buccaneers are going to need him Sunday and it’s going to have a big impact on the game if he doesn’t play.
Featured image via Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports