The Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to bounce back against the Carolina Panthers. This will be the first matchup of the season between the two NFC South teams. Let’s take a look at some things to watch for Sunday.
As has been the story all season for the Buccaneers, they will be playing without key players. This week however will be a different challenge as they will be without six starters. The breakdown of that is even, three on offense and three on defense. This includes team captains in wideout Mike Evans and linebacker Lavonte David.
The players needed to step up are talented NFL-caliber players but do not have proven track records aside from wideout Antonio Brown, who is returning from his three-game suspension. With Chris Godwin out, the team will be without its two leading receivers. Stepping up alongside Antonio Brown will be a second-year wideout, Tyler Johnson.
If Johnson can prove to be a viable option for quarterback Tom Brady, he will help keep the Buccaneers playoff hopes alive. However, he will be facing a former defensive player of the year in Stephon Gilmore. That level of talent will be hard to overcome for a seasoned veteran and former all-pro like Brown, so if Johnson wants to be counted on he will be facing a huge challenge on Sunday.
Next Man Up
The “next man up” mindset will be embraced on the defensive side of the ball as well. This week, without the defensive leader David, will be a showcase for Devin White. The linebacker has been a solid tackler but a lack of splash plays has left the team wanting more. He will be counted on to patrol the center of the defense like David but hasn’t been as consistent against the pass. The team hopes he can lead his team to another dominant performance like the one they showcased last Sunday night.
On the defensive line, Jason Pierre-Paul will miss Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury and rookie linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will step up and start in his place. The rookie has flashed in his playing time and this will be a great chance for him to show how far he has progressed. The Panthers are coming into the game averaging 112 yards rushing, so if he can keep the edge that will help the speedy linebackers and defensive backs make the play.
Last Chance for RoJo?
This week the team will count on Ronald Jones II to start and take the bulk of the backfield duties. Jones has played well in his chances this season but this week he needs to do it all. Leonard Fournette has been a great pass catcher for Brady and the offense all season. Jones on the other hand has had his struggles with the pass blocking duties as well as struggling to catch passes thrown his way.
The key this week is for him to not be needed to come off the field on passing downs. If he plays as often as Fournette did, the offense is that much less predictable. He will be counted on protecting Brady as a pseudo sixth lineman and will need to make plays when he is the crackdown option. The consistent 5-yard gains are keys to this offense moving the chains.
Jones won’t have many chances left to show he can be the main guy for an offense. He is still only 24 years old, the team just needs to see what happens when he is truly needed to produce.
This week will be one of the biggest challenges yet for the defending champs. Not only are they short-handed they are facing a tough divisional rival. The Buccaneers will have to rely on players that haven’t played much this season. The holes left behind because of injuries are from star players on both sides of the ball. With young players like Devin White, Tryon-Shoyinka, and Ronald Jones II, they will have talented players stepping up. We will have to see if they can produce like the veteran stars they are replacing.