Consistent pressure and aggressive play-calling have come to characterize the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. With a deep well of pass-rushing talent and one of the top defensive coordinators in the NFL, the Bucs have the means to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
However, to accomplish that goal, the Buccaneers will need a top-level performance from its defensive front. More specifically, they will most likely require another standout performance from their star nose tackle, Vita Vea. The Bucs lost 27-24 to the Chiefs back in Week 12 in large part because Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill connected for a ridiculous 13 completions for 269 yards and three scores. Vea was unable to play that week, and while he can’t reverse that outcome on his own, he could prove critical to the Bucs chances of containing the Chiefs explosive offense.
The Buccaneers defense without Vita Vea
Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles calls one of the league’s most aggressive defenses. In order to make that approach work at its optimal level, Bowles needs someone to disrupt opposing offenses from the interior. Vea has served that purpose the last two seasons, freeing speedy linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White while also creating more advantageous matchups for pass rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Looking less granularly, the numbers bear out the defensive impact of Vea’s absence. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, offenses average more than a full yard more on a per-carry basis against the Bucs without Vea clogging up the middle. Expected points added also reflect his impact, as Tampa allows 0.15 EPA per rush more without Vea on the field.
But Vea also materially affects the pass rush even if he doesn’t rack up sacks individually. When he plays, the Buccaneers have a pressure rate of 32.7%, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That figure drops to 26% in his absence.
The Buccaneers defense with Vita Vea
In defenses that utilize a true nose tackle, that player plays a significant role in defending the run. That impact became apparent during the NFC Championship Game when the Green Bay Packers, one of the league’s most productive and efficient rushing teams, struggled on the ground. The trio of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, and A.J. Dillon produced just 67 yards at a clip of 4.2 per carry. Vea played on roughly half of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps, primarily those in possible or obvious run situations.
With another two weeks of recovery, Vea could see his workload increase. That would concern an opposing offense in any context, but the Chiefs will play without multiple starters along the offensive line, including both starting tackles. While those tackles would not have matched up with Vea, the depleted interior will have a harder time containing the massive defensive linemen.