As Buffalo Bills fans know all to well, one weak link on the offensive line can make or break a team and Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith could cause the game to break in the Bills favor.
Smith was a second-round selection (No. 34 overall) out of Penn State in 2015. Since his rookie year, Smith has played in and started every game to this point (37 in all). Just because he is playing in every game, however, doesn’t mean that he is a top of the line starter.
Smith can be effective, as evidenced by his PFF grade of 83 out of 100 against the Giants in Week 6. Overall, he is not effective as a run blocker. (PFF ranking of 35.6 heading into last week’s matchup against Arizona.) What Smith struggles with is his movement, particularly in space. I can’t tell you how many times on screen plays or tosses where he has to get to the second level to seal off a backer or safety, he simply can’t make the block. He has sluggish feet and that also leads to problems in pass protection.
Pass blocking isn’t much better for Smith. Tampa Bay is coming off a game against the Arizona Cardinals in which Chandler Jones made the third-year tackle look flat-out silly. Jones had 10 total pressures against the Bucs, 7 of which came against Smith. As usual, the numbers don’t tell the entire story.
Having watched that game (on a smaller TV next to the Bills on the 70-inch of course), Jones essentially negated any plays on the left side of the offense. Things won’t get any better for the former Nittany Lion as Jerry Hughes has been playing at an extremely high level this year against the run and pass. Hughes’ combination of size, speed and power could spell another nightmare day for Smith and the Tampa Bay offense. When Smith does struggle it is against players with the skill set of Hughes and Jones.
To protect Smith, and their star quarterback Jameis Winston who will be playing despite a sprained AC joint, the Bucs should employ a quick passing attack. That isn’t what the Bucs do, however, and if they stubbornly stick to an aerial game that requires deep drops and time, Hughes should be a solid contender for AFC Defensive Player of the Week.