NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are back in action Sunday at 1:00 pm when they face the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
For all the parallels between Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, this will not be the second meeting between the top two draft picks of 2015. Mariota was benched two games ago in a shutout loss to the Denver Broncos and the backup Ryan Tannehill has a win under his belt.
The Bucs last game was a nightmare defeat in London at the hands of division rival Carolina. The bye week came at a needed time and now the reputation of Bruce Arians coached teams performing well after the break gets put to the test.
Here are three things to watch today:
Which Jameis will Bucs get?
Six of the Bucs seven turnovers two weeks ago came out of the hands of quarterback Jameis Winston. No elaborate explanation was required by head coach Bruce Arians who urged Jameis to stop being “Superman” and thought his decisions cost the offense on the majority of the seven quarterback sacks allowed against the Panthers.
Bucs fans have seen this movie before and must wonder what comes next. Forget long term for now, the Bucs need wins and Winston is the one who has to deliver them. The brilliance of that sunny day in Los Angeles is there on film, just as the chilly, doom-filled day in London.
The Bucs passing attack still holds its own near the top of the NFL averaging more than 269 yards per game. And the Bucs boast the fourth best average in points per game at 28.8.
Winston will be helped with the return of speedy receiver Breshad Perriman but will be without injured tight end OJ Howard, who was seeking ways to get more involved before hurting his hamstring.
The run game can only help but the Titans defense, which won last week’s game over the Chargers on a goal line stand, will dare the Bucs to pass. Points are not easy against Tennessee either, with the Titans allowing just 16 points per game, fourth best in the league.
The JPP factor
The Bucs activated linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul on Saturday, making him eligible to play in today’s game. Just the mere presence of Pierre-Paul is menacing for an offense and uplifting for the Bucs defense.
The question becomes, how much can/will Pierre-Paul play? How effective will he be when that first hard contact with an opponent happens? One would presume that the Bucs medical staff is completely confident in Pierre-Paul’s condition and ability to play. The other interesting thing to watch is how much playing time linebacker Shaquil Barrett plays and whether or not defensive coordinator Todd Bowles comes up with a crafty way to get all of the pass rushers on the field, including Carl Nassib, at the same time.
Regardless of how the Bucs attack the Titans offense, they must get to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who engineered Tennessee to a 23-20 win last week against the Chargers. The changing of the guard from Marcus Mariota to Tannehill was a move to spark wins. The Bucs defense, dead last in the NFL against the pass (304.5 yards per game) needs the rush to help a suddenly vulnerable looking secondary that has been picked apart in its past three games (Rams, Saints and Panthers).
Will the road warriors return?
The Bucs set out on their five-game journey away from Raymond James Stadium with a huge win in Los Angeles over the Rams, then followed with struggles in New Orleans and London. Broken up by a much needed bye week, the next two games are critical if they are to recover from a 2-4 start.
A fast start on offense could go a long way, restoring the confidence and formula that head coach Bruce Arians wants to use to stack wins. The “run first” approach only works if the Bucs have the lead or the game is close.
After today’s game, the Bucs will zero in on another long trip to face a dominating NFC West opponent, then come home for a stretch that, at least on paper, appear to be very manageable. Arians said this week that a split wasn’t necessarily a must but wins are needed if the heavier home schedule in the second half of the season is to put the Bucs into the playoff conversation.