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How rookie Cody Mauch could make the difference for Bucs vs. Falcons

Mauch has helped Tampa Bay get its run game going, which could be a huge X-factor in Sunday’s NFC South showdown.
 
Bucs rookie guard Cody Mauch is excited for the rematch with Atlanta now that he has more reps under his belt.
Bucs rookie guard Cody Mauch is excited for the rematch with Atlanta now that he has more reps under his belt. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 8, 2023|Updated Dec. 9, 2023

TAMPA — With his bright red hair flowing out of his helmet and over his shoulders, the two-tooth gap in the huge smile he flashes often, and the fact that he’s 6-foot-6 and 303 pounds, it’s hard to imagine Cody Mauch being any kind of secret weapon.

The Bucs’ rookie right guard, however, could be a surprise to the Falcons on Sunday when Tampa Bay heads into Atlanta with playoff hopes on the line.

The Falcons didn’t see this version of Mauch back in October when they beat the Bucs. Atlanta saw a rookie just wondering what was going to hit him next.

“I would say (my) head is not as much like a chicken with its head cut off,” Mauch said. “Those first couple games, everything is so fast, it’s like, ‘What do I do? Where do I go?’ I think it’s just really (that) I’ve calmed down a lot in there. That’s really helped me play a lot faster.”

It’s shown in Mauch’s statistics and on the offense as a whole.

According to Pro Football Focus, in seven of the Bucs’ first eight games, Mauch had a failing grade in run blocking. In three of the past five weeks, he has been over that 50.0 mark. Going against one of his toughest opponents, San Francisco’s Arik Armstead, Mauch graded at a 64.9.

Lanes have opened up for running back Rachaad White in recent weeks, in large part thanks to the blocking of Cody Mauch.
Lanes have opened up for running back Rachaad White in recent weeks, in large part thanks to the blocking of Cody Mauch. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

It’s shown in the boxscore, too. As Mauch’s blocking numbers have improved so have running back Rachaad White’s and the Bucs’ overall ground game. White scored a touchdown behind Mauch against the 49ers. He also had a 100-yard rushing day against the Colts, followed by an 84-yard outing versus the Panthers; and much of that came behind Mauch as well.

“The last few weeks have definitely felt like ... not that it’s slowing down, but maybe it’s slowing down a little bit,” Mauch said.

Mauch, a second-round pick out of North Dakota State, has transitioned from left tackle to right guard in the NFL. He was thrown on the starting offensive line and his linemates have noticed Mauch’s maturation.

“Him coming in as a rookie playing how he has played, he went through a gauntlet of three (techniques). I mean, Arik Armstead and (the Colts’) DeForest Buckner in back-to-back weeks, and he did fine. That’s not an easy thing to do by any means. Cody’s been balling,” tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “It’s really good to see that. I don’t think his confidence has ever wavered, and he’s pretty even keel. He just comes out every day knowing what he has to do and tries to get better. Cody is awesome.”

Coaches certainly have appreciated Mauch’s ability to anchor the run game.

“First and foremost, just his fundamentals — his footwork and his hand placement, where he puts his helmet at. I saw him really take a leap in that (49ers) game,” offensive coordinator Dave Canales said. “For him to have success against a great player like Armstead will do a lot for your confidence.

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“We’ve had similar situations in Seattle with J.R. Sweezy going from defense to offense and his first career start against Darnell Dockett from the Arizona Cardinals in his prime — just a monster three-technique. Again, the same type of character with Cody, was being able to work through those things, stay on the course and just keep improving weekly, to the point where (Sweezy) became a really good player in an offensive line that took us to the championship the following year. I love the fact that Cody is able to do that.”

That is definitely not the Mauch the Falcons saw in Week 7, when they came into Raymond James Stadium and beat the Bucs 16-13. Tampa Bay managed only 73 yards rushing, with White accounting for only 34 yards on 13 carries.

This is also the first time Mauch will face a division opponent a second time, and he said that going over the film of that loss has been different now that he has experience against the Falcons’ defense.

“Not only the way their defense is, but the specific guys you’re going to be going against. You actually have reps against them now,” Mauch said. “Film study is always one thing, but you can actually go back and look at, ‘How did I block these guys? And what kind of improvements can you make?’ ”

For the Bucs, Mauch’s growth is one of the biggest improvements they made ahead of Sunday.

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