Today, the future meets the past. Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray bring their resurgent offense to Tampa Bay (2-6) at 11:00am Arizona time, to face a plethora of past coaches, including Bruce Arians and Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles. While this game pits two teams that are considered average at best, several intriguing storylines should become evident throughout the game. Let's break it down.
First, Tampa Bay sits at a palsy 2-6 on the year. While their offense has shown flashes of the BA brilliance for which he is well known, TB quarterback Jameis Winston has been turnover-prone, having thrown 12 interceptions on the year thus far. While it's a statistic that seems to highly favor the Cardinals, keep in mind, Arizona went 3-4 in the first 7 games under Arians before putting it together at the end of the season. Ironically, that's right around this point in the season. The Cardinals cannot let up on their pass defense, they must keep Winston uncomfortable and flush him out of the pocket whenever possible. To do this, the secondary, including much-maligned Patrick Peterson, but play heavy man coverage today and stay on their men. This will allow the Safeties and linebackers to play their gaps and stay up on the line. Chandler Jones can feast today, as long as he can focus on the task at hand. Should Peterson have a sub-par game today, and play as he did against San Francisco, it could allow the No Risk It, No Biscuit offense to get rolling, and that could spell doom for the Birdgang.
On the other side of the ball, Kyler Murray has been protective of the ball in a manner that eludes most rookie quarterbacks. He has thrown 4 interceptions on the year, but not a single one since the fourth game of the year. He is currently on pace to set a rookie record for consecutive passes without an interception, with 177 so far, and only needing 5 more for the record. We will have to see what Todd Bowles dials up today for defensive pressure, as his secondary simply isn't good enough to contain 4 or 5 receivers at a time. We all know that Bowles is in love with the blitz, and Murray has not seen the blitz too often this year so far. It will be interesting to see how he performs against a blitz-heavy defense. Murray has the innate ability to escape pressure, even outside the pocket, but he will have to maintain forward momentum today, and not get caught running backward against an extra safety or linebacker in his face. If he can do accomplish this feat, I believe the Cardinals will be fine.
Finally, let's discuss the running game. As bad as the Bucs' pass defense has been, their rush defense has been that good. They are only allowing 3.4 yards per carry, good for 2nd in the NFL. Kenyon Drake showed in the last game that he is more than capable of carrying the load, which should bode well if David Johnson is not at 100 percent. DJ claims that he is ready to go, but anything can happen within the game. My opinion here is to run Drake between the 20s, and plug DJ in for red-zone offense. I am sure they will utilize Johnson more than this, but I do think this two-headed monster if used correctly, will create problems for Tampa Bay. Kingsbury has to be smart here, and not get too caught up in the passing game. Despite their defensive woes on the passing side, the Bucs will gain momentum if the Cardinals cannot establish the run early and often. This is up to the coaching staff to call the correct balance of plays. This game could boil down entirely to coaching when it's all said and done. The better coach today will most likely win this game.
The Cardinals are underdogs in this game. They are on the road, playing another early game. They have shown incredible acumen in playing the East Coast time zone so far on the year, and hopefully, they can carry that momentum over to this game. Of course I'm picking the Cardinals in a high scoring game, 31-26. As long as the coaching is solid, and the team does not get caught looking ahead to their rematch against the Niners next week, they should be fine in this game.