Written by Cody Manning, @CodyTalksNFL
Tampa is coming off a loss where they went toe to toe with the Seattle Seahawks and took them to overtime where they were unable to stop Russell Wilson from marching down the field to score the walkaway touchdown to get the win. Sitting at a 2-6 record, it would take a magical run and some things to fall in place for the Bucs to make the playoffs. At this point, they should be looking to finish the season strong and build something towards the 2020 season. Jameis Winston has an 8 game stretch to try to earn an opportunity to return to the team. The young secondary will need to start to show some growth, otherwise, the front office could look at some potential replacements in the offseason. The team will be looking to end their 4-game losing streak this Sunday, so here are my Top 5 things I want to see from Tampa against the Cardinals:
1. Will they utilize OJ Howard after refusing to trade him before the deadline?
After not getting used much in the first half of the season, the Bucs still refused to deal their young talented tight end at the trade deadline when teams were calling. After missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, Howard is set to return the lineup on Sunday. The Cardinals are the worst team in the NFL when defending the tight end position. Against six quality tight ends (Hockenson, Andrews, Olsen, Dissly, Hooper, Kittle), Arizona allowed an average of 6.8 receptions, 95.2 yards, and a touchdown on 7-9 targets. Bryon Leftwich should have a gameplan to help feature Howard and if he does, then we might finally see that breakout game that Bucs fans have been waiting on in 2019.
2. Can JPP and Shaq Barrett get in Kyler Murray’s face all afternoon?
Since JPP has returned, the Bucs have formed one of the better pass rush duos in the league. Arizona has one of the worst offensive lines and that has led to Murray scrambling to help extend plays for their offense. While JPP and Barrett have the talent to beat the weaker lineman of the Cardinals, they have to have the discipline to make sure they don’t overcommit to the sack because Murray is so elusive he can easily make one move to get around a pass rusher to either scramble for some yards or buy time to find an open man. If the two can get their hands on him all afternoon then it will help get the defensive unit off the field. Let’s see if they can bottle up the rookie on Sunday.
3. Will Ronald Jones seize the opportunity?
Jones is coming off a game where he saw his highest percentage of snaps this season, 55%. With that time on the field, he ran the ball 18 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, while grabbing 2 receptions for 15 yards. Bruce Arians officially named Jones the starting running back this week and praised his explosiveness. Jones now has the opportunity to secure that lead spot in the backfield, not only for this season but for in 2020. If he can ball out to end the 2019 season then that will lift the pressure from the front office to go find another running back in the offseason so they can focus on other areas on the roster. He has shown his flashes of potential, but can he put together a dominating effort and be the reason why Tampa wins a game? We will see if that happens against Arizona.
4. Is Kyler Murray going to continue his non-turnover streak?
When it comes to rookie quarterbacks, it is pretty common that turnovers will happen and it is something the team just has to deal with while the rookie works on it throughout the season. Murray has quietly gone on a 5-game streak without committing a turnover which has helped the Cardinals win some games and be competitive against teams like the San Francisco 49ers. Whether it is from JPP & Barrett, David & White, or one of the young guys in the secondary, Tampa needs someone to get their hands on the ball to give their offense a chance to succeed on Sunday.
5. Does Bruce Arians have his team ready to compete to finish strong?
The Bucs of the past would typically back their bags with a 2-6 record and finish the season on a weak note. But, knowing how BA is as a coach, I don’t expect to see the Tampa team fold like we are used to seeing when they are on the outside looking in on the NFL Playoffs. Typically, if a team can finish their season strong, even when missing the playoffs, that can help provide some momentum heading into the following season. This team will be looking to retool the roster for 2020, so if any players want to secure their spot, then they better come to compete to finish these last 8 games. That starts on Sunday, I expect a competitive team at Raymond James Stadium against the Cardinals.