Scouting the Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In week 10 of the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1) face their previous head coach Bruce Arians and the 2-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For Bruce and the Bucs who have had the league’s most difficult first-half schedule, they are looking forward to the Cardinals game. Not because it’s the Cardinals – Arians has said he “doesn’t like going against friends,” rather it’s because they are hoping to rack up some wins with the fourth-easiest second half schedule in the NFL.
Despite having a difficult schedule, Tampa Bay has been a contender in each game. That is, until the 4th quarter. In each of their losses, Tampa Bay has simply run out of gas on defense allowing their opponent to add up the points and take away the game. While the Bucs are 31st in the league in giving up points, they find themselves the top ranked defense against the run thanks to former Cardinals defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles.
The defensive front seven has played extremely well this year, averaging only 78.1 yards per game on the ground. If you caught their game against Seattle last week, you didn’t witness it because that top defense didn’t show up to that game. The Bucs allowed Seattle to get 6.6 yards per carry, and 145 rushing yards – 105 of those to running back Chris Carson.
Like the Cardinals, the Buccaneers have a young defensive secondary. Second year safety Jordan Whitehead has managed to break up 8 passes this year, putting him second amongst safeties in the league. Rookie linebacker Devin White made two big plays last week when he was able to knock the ball away from the aforementioned Chris Carson twice last week. Cardinals offensive line will be keeping their eyes out for linebacker Shaquil Barrett as he leads the NFL for the most sacks with 10.5. His speed and agility can make a big impact on a quarterback’s time to throw.
Speaking of the highest number of sacks in the league, Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston has been hit and sacked more than any other QB in the league at 27 and 31, respectively. To make matters worse, he’s also tied for the most interceptions in the league (12). It’s not all bad news for the Bucs though. They have upgraded their offense since last year under Arians and another former Cardinals coaching staff, Byron Leftwich. They are currently fourth in the NFL for points per game with 28.8. A 4-point improvement since last year. Their total number of points so far this year (230) is the most in franchise history. Winston has the fifth most touchdowns amongst league passers and the Bucs are in the top 10 through the air with over 16 touchdowns and 2,400 yards passing.
Arians was glad to see tight end O.J. Howard return to practice after missing the past two games due to injury. Although that position has been a challenge for the Cardinals this season, the defensive focus will likely be on Winston’s two favorite targets – wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The pair is the top receiving duo in the league with a combined 1,608 yards. Godwin is the second highest WR in the league, behind Michael Thomas of the Saints with a score of 88.2, according to Pro Football Focus.
Although having a slightly lower score at 86.9, Evans has breaking a lot of records this season. He scored 36 points against Seattle last week, bringing him to be only the 2nd wide receiver to have three games with 35 or more points in the first half of a season.
Evans is a playmaker, but Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has stated that he’s ready for the challenge. Given that he’s just coming off what was likely his worst game performance, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has said that he will develop several schemes to cover the Bucs receiver duo.
If the Cardinals want the W after this reunion with Arians and 13 previous Cardinals coaches and staff, they will need to capitalize on turnovers. After all, the Bucs are second in the league with 18.