Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Cardinals: What to watch

TAMPA — As the Bucs go to Arizona as seven-point underdogs, trying to improve to 2-0 with another road win, here are five things to keep an eye on for Tampa Bay.

1 Third downs are pivotal. Arizona had the second-worst third-down defense in the league last week, allowing New England to go 10-for-16 (63 percent) on conversions. The Bucs held Atlanta to 3-for-13 on third downs (23 percent) for the league's fourth-best third-down defense.

This would be a marked improvement for Tampa Bay from last season, when opponents converted on 46 percent of their third downs, putting the Bucs 30th in the league. Arizona's offense last year ranked eighth on third downs with a 36 percent conversion rate.

The Bucs did well to get off the field on third and long against Atlanta, which went 1-for-8 on third downs needing 7 yards or more, the conversion coming midway through the fourth quarter.

2 Is Arizona's offensive line vulnerable? The Cardinals' pass protection was nearly identical to the Bucs last season — a low number of sacks (27 each) and a high number of QB hits, with both allowing more than 100.

Arizona is breaking in a new starter at right tackle in D.J. Humphries, a 2015 first-round pick from Florida who didn't play a snap last year and gave up a sack in his debut last week. Center A.Q. Shipley started three games last year for Arizona as a top backup, and right guard Evan Mathis has been limited by a foot injury this week.

That, combined with the Bucs getting three sacks last week and facing 36-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer, means the pass rush can make a major difference.

3 Uncertainty in the kicking game. While the Bucs went 5-for-5 on kicks with rookie Roberto Aguayo last week, the Cardinals missed a late 47-yard field goal from 25-year-old Chandler Catanzaro that could have beaten the Patriots.

Catanzaro missed only seven field goals in his first two seasons, but Arizona has a rookie long snapper. The snap on the missed kick was low, but coach Bruce Arians said Catanzaro "still should make the kick."

Last year Arizona went 2-1 in games decided by a field goal or less, with Catanzaro making every kick in those games.

4 Stopping the run. The Bucs have the league's No. 2 run defense after limiting Atlanta to 52 rushing yards. They're also third in holding opponents to a 2.4-yard average.

Arizona's David Johnson, however, is an emerging young back who had 16 carries for 89 yards in the opener against New England. His 5.6-yard average is second-best for running backs in the league with 10-plus carries. Keeping him in check helps set up third and long and predictable play-calling.

5 Getting takeaways. The Bucs beat the Falcons without forcing any turnovers. That won't be easy to repeat, especially against an Arizona team that forced 33 takeaways last season, second most in the league. The Cardinals went 13-0 last season when they forced a turnover — even just one — and 11-0 when their offense had two turnovers or fewer.

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