The 2-9 Buccaneers are trying to capture their first win at home against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, who are 7-3-1. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Where: Raymond James Stadium – Tampa, Fla.
When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX
Last meeting: 24-21 win over Bengals in 2010
Series notes: Bucs have a 7-3 advantage over Bengals all-time
1. BUCS “D” MUST GANG UP ON GIO
The Bengals have the league’s eighth-best rushing attack, averaging 125.6 yards per game. Leading the charge has been second-year halfback Giovani Bernard, who has rushed for 491 yards and five touchdowns despite missing three games due to injury. Bernard is a three-down threat and excels at catching the ball out of the backfield with 24 receptions for 201 yards.
Tampa Bay’s defense has improved mightily since the bye week. After allowing an average of 422.8 yards per game in the first six games of the season, including three contests where opponents have amassed at least 475 yards. In the past five games since the bye week, Tampa Bay’s defense has surrendered only 302 yards per game. The Bucs have fared better against the pass rather the run, but have made improvements in stopping the rush. The Bucs defense, which should have linebacker Lavonte David back from a hamstring injury, needs to commit to stopping Bernard with eight-man fronts and force hot-and-cold quarterback Andy Dalton to beat them. That could prove to be problematic.
2. KEEP CRANKING UP THE HEAT IN NOVEMBER
Tampa Bay’s pass rush has enjoyed its best month of the year in November, recording 13 of the team’s 23 sacks over the past four games. It’s no coincidence that five (two interceptions by Brian Hoyer, two interceptions by Robert Griffin III, one fumble by quarterback Jay Cutler) of the team’s 17 takeaways have come as a result of increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks over the past four games.
When Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is pressured he has proven to crumble this season. The Bucs defensive line has been red hot lately, recording six sacks against Washington and three sacks against Chicago in the past two weeks. Nose tackle Clinton McDonald, who is battling a hamstring injury, has a sack in each of the last three games, while defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Jacquies Smith each have three sacks in the past two weeks. Those three need to show up again versus a Cincinnati offensive line that has been banged up this season.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF BENGALS POROUS RUN “D”
Tampa Bay has struggled running the ball this season, and enters Week 13 without a running back that has at least 400 yards rushing. The Bucs offensive line has been a huge disappointment in 2014 and has not been physical enough at the point of attack. Tampa Bay only has one running back averaging over 4.0 yards per carry (Bobby Rainey, 4.3 avg.), but for some reason the coaches continue to start running backs Doug Martin (2.8 avg.) and rookie Charles Sims (3.0 avg.).
Cincinnati’s run defense ranks 27th in the league this year, allowing an average of 129.6 yards per game. Part of the reason for the struggle is the knee injury to weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who is out for Sunday’s game. The last time the Buccaneers faced a bad rushing defense was against the Falcons and Tampa Bay fared well, running for 92 yards. But the Bucs had even more success running the ball the previous week at Cleveland, which has a bad run defense, too, rushing for 113 yards. If the Bucs continue to start Martin, they likely won’t have the success they’ll need to have.
4. RIDE THE ROOKIE IN THE PASSING GAME
Tampa Bay’s offense is playing its best football over the past month, evidenced by four straight performances in which the Bucs have surpassed 320 total yards. With the team struggling to run the ball, Tampa Bay has thrown the ball effectively and rookie wide receiver Mike Evans has been the catalyst. Evans has scored at least one touchdown in the past four games, and has compiled 24 catches for 505 yards over that span.
Evans’ emergence as the primary option on offense has opened up things for the team’s other wide receivers, Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy, both of whom surpassed 100 yards last Sunday in Chicago. Leon Hall and Terence Newsome are aging, veteran cornerbacks, but might have a difficult time keeping up with Evans, who has sneaky deep speed. If Evans is double-covered, which the Bears did last week in holding him to three catches for 47 yards, Jackson and Murphy should have the advantage against Cincinnati’s suspect pass defense, which ranks 18th in the NFL, allowing an average of 243.5 yards per contest.
5. TIME TO ELIMINATE THE TURNOVERS
Tampa Bay isn’t talented enough to beat a playoff-caliber team like Cincinnati without playing mistake-free football. The Bucs have screwed up in recent weeks on defense by allowing opponents to score right before halftime (four out of the last five games) or put touchdowns on the board instead of holding teams to field goals (three times last week at Chicago). The offensive line has done a poor job of pass protection in recent weeks in allowing the Bucs’ quarterback to be pressured and sacked too much.
Tampa Bay has struggled all season long with penalties, most of which have extended drives for the opponent or killed drives for the Bucs offense. But the most egregious wound the Buccaneers self-inflict on themselves is turnovers on offense. Last week in Chicago, Bucs quarterback Josh McCown threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in the team’s loss to the Bears. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson also lost a fumble in the Bears’ red zone. The Bucs offense was turnover-free the previous week in a 27-7 win at Washington. That’s how Tampa Bay’s offense has to play in order to have a chance to win.
6. RAINEY THE RETURNER TO THE RESCUE?
With the Buccaneers parting ways with Marcus Thigpen, who fumbled a punt return in each of the last two games, Tampa Bay is on its fourth return specialist this season. The next man up is backup running back Bobby Rainey, who handled punt and kick returns in college at Western Kentucky, for Cleveland last year and for the Tampa Bay this preseason.
Holding on to the football will be paramount for Rainey, who fumbled three times in the first three weeks of the season on offense (once against Carolina, twice against Atlanta), but he has shown some elusive ability in the open field if he make the first would-be tackler miss. The Bucs’ special teams have struggled all season, and it’s not just the return specialist. It’s been penalties on special teams and missed blocks that have contributed to a sub-par showing all year for Tampa Bay. Even if Rainey fields punts and kicks well, he will need the other 10 Buccaneers to block cleanly and without penalties to have success.
SR’s Prediction: Bengals 26, Buccaneers 20
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Not seeing a win here. Bengals aren’t concerned about us; just about do we really have to play the whole game. This team is better than us. Our best chances for a win is in the mighty and powerful NFC south; we might be able to beat Pathers or Saints.
Bengals and Dalton little inconsistent. Wouldn’t shock me if we win or lose but should be close unless bunch of turn overs or something.
The Bengals don’t come here often and the team is pretty good as compared to their history of mediocre teams. So I suspect an influx of transplants from Ohio infesting Ray Jay with the sounds of “Who Dey?” Once, just once this season I’d like us to have a “home game”. No chance the remainder of the season as “Go Pack Go” and “Who Dat?” are the next two house guests who overstay their welcome. Always a less than gracious host, Scubog will dig up a few retorts for them. One of my favorites is that some teams like to draft players from the SEC, others prefer the ACC but the Bengals seem to target players involved with the DOC. Who Dey? Check the rap sheet.
I’m going with the law of averages. They have to win a home game sometime right? Law 20, Bengals 17.
26-20 Bucs win Let’s Go Bucs
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