Sunday, July 15, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Raiders-Buccaneers: Five things to watch in Sunday's game

The Bucs open a three-game homestand today against a team that leads the NFL in road wins. Can they win their third straight? They haven't been above .500 this late in a season since 2012, when they were 6-4. Here are five things to watch versus the Raiders:

1. Tough test for an improving Bucs pass defense: Last season the Bucs allowed opponents to complete 70 percent of their passes, setting a franchise record and finishing last in the 32-team league. They are much, much better in that area in 2016. Opponents are completing 58 percent, the fourth-lowest mark in the NFL. Keep in mind, aside from the Falcons' Matt Ryan, the Bucs haven't faced anyone higher than 20th in quarterback rating. The Raiders' Derek Carr is completing 65.9 percent, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. Can the Bucs force him into turnovers? The defense had two takeaways in the first four games; it has five in the past two. Add two special teams turnovers and Tampa Bay has more takeaways in the past two games than any team in the NFL. But turnover margin might be Oakland's strength (plus-8).

2. Lots of scoring, potentially: The Raiders are actually 3-1 when allowing 27 points or more. The Bucs, since the start of 2011, are 3-36 when they give up 27-plus.

The Raiders have been able to overcome a bad defense in their 5-2 start. They've faced some prolific offenses and have given up nine plays of 40 yards or more, matching the most in the league. The Bucs defense had a similar problem early this season, but it has buckled down. The 49ers' longest play last week was 24 yards.

Seven of the 40-yard pass plays the Raiders have given up have come in the second half, when defenses have tired legs. So though the Bucs will work early to establish a run game, they might also take advantage of a Raiders defense that is the league's worst in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

3. Another opportunity for Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers: With Doug Martin still sidelined by his hamstring injury, the bulk of the carries again will go to Rodgers, who gained 101 yards against Carolina two games ago and 154 against San Francisco last week.

Oakland's run defense is fifth worst in the league, allowing an average of 128 yards per game. Baltimore's Terrance West (113) and Kansas City's Spencer Ware (131) had their only 100-yard games this season against the Raiders. If Rodgers can top 100 for the third game in a row, he will do something Martin has done once in five seasons.

4. Bucs pass rush drawing penalties: Oakland has given up a league-low seven sacks. Its weakness, however, is penalties. The Raiders lead the league with 20 accepted holding penalties and 13 false starts. That includes three holds each for guards Vadal Alexander and Kelechi Osemele. Bucs DT Gerald McCoy can be disruptive just by drawing holding penalties.

Oakland leads the league in penalties and is second in penalty yards, so there's an opportunity for the Bucs to pile up hidden yards.

5. Watch out for the fourth quarter: The Raiders rank fifth in fourth-quarter scoring (9.6 points). They scored 22 points to beat the Saints after trailing 24-10 in the third, and they had 14 points in fourth quarters against the Falcons and Ravens. The Raiders' Derek Carr ranks fifth in fourth-quarter QB rating (five touchdowns, one interception). The Bucs' Jameis Winston has two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. The Bucs rank 31st in fourth-quarter scoring (3.7 points).

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