TAMPA — Five things to watch in today's Bucs-Broncos game:
1. The Young QB Factor: It's difficult, jumping into the NFL as a young quarterback, so you would think the chance to face an inexperienced passer would be welcomed by a defense.
Not so for the Bucs.
Broncos rookie Trevor Siemian comes to town for his fifth NFL game to face a team that has struggled against young quarterbacks. Since the start of the 2012 season, quarterbacks playing in their first five NFL games are 6-0 against the Bucs. In that span, no other team has more than three such losses.
The young quarterbacks who have beaten the Bucs: the Titans' Marcus Mariota last year, the Vikings' Teddy Bridgewater and the Rams' Austin Davis in 2014, and the Jets' Geno Smith, the Eagles' Nick Foles and the Redskins' Robert Griffin III in 2012. They combined for eight touchdown passes and just one interception in 210 pass attempts.
Across the league, quarterbacks playing in their first five NFL games have won just 28 percent of the time since 2012. They're 0-6 against the Eagles, 0-4 against the Chargers and Titans, and 1-5 against the Colts.
Before 2012, when the Bucs' defense was better, young quarterbacks had practically no chance of beating them. From 1998-2011, quarterbacks playing in their first five NFL games went 2-16 against the Bucs. Their teams were held to 10 points or fewer in 12 of those losses. Those quarterbacks combined for 12 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
2. Passing against the big dime: Instead of a nickel defense — with five defensive backs — the Broncos go to a dime, with three cornerbacks and three safeties, sending a variety of quick blitzes as a quarterback tries to figure out the seams in coverage. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is creative in using safety T.J. Ward like a linebacker in blitzes. the Bucs may opt to run more no-huddle on offense to make it harder for the Broncos to prepare and adjust defensively.
3. Holding off the Broncos' sack specialists late: The Broncos have 12 sacks, second in the NFL, and thrive in late-game situations, when offensive lines are tired and trailing teams pass more. Six of their sacks — and four of linebacker Von Miller's NFL-high five — have come in the final 2:15 of games. The Broncos have only two sacks in first halves this season.
4. Broncos' long passes versus Bucs secondary: Tampa Bay has allowed an NFL-high six pass plays of 40 yards or longer — three for touchdowns — and Denver's offense has three, including two scores.
5. Bucs' defense getting off the field on third and long: The Bucs' defense has to take better advantage of third-and-long situations. On the Rams' opening drive last week, they converted a pair of third and 7s, the second with a 44-yard touchdown. They ran on third and 17 and got a first down. A pass interference penalty against Alterraun Verner in the fourth quarter gave the Rams a fresh set of downs on third and 17. Denver has the NFL's fifth-best third-down offense, converting 48.5 percent.