The 6-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the 9-4 Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon in the Week 15 clash. The Bucs will host the defending AFC Champions at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay will look to bounce back after suffering a deflating 35-7 defeat at Levi's Stadium versus the 49ers. In contrast, Cincinnati has won five-straight games, including a 23-10 victory over the Browns in Week 14 and a 27-24 win over Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Bengals are positioned second in the AFC North trailing the Baltimore Ravens due to tiebreakers. Riding a five-game win streak, Cincinnati has seemingly captured the magic that led to its title game a year ago. With an explosive offensive featuring Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon, along with an ascending defense, the Bengals have proven to be legitimate contenders. On Sunday, the Bucs will seek revitalization on their home turf. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe in the Week 15 showdown.
Carlton Davis III
On Sunday, the Buccaneers will face one of the best receivers in the game: Ja'Marr Chase. He currently leads the Bengals in receptions (64) and receiving touchdowns (seventh, tied for sixth in the NFL). With blazing speed that surprises due to his size, he is consistently able to win on vertical routes due to body control and ball-tracking ability. With acceleration off the line, Chase is a threat to take it to the house on slants and over routes. He has a good feel for space and possesses route-fluidity on intermediate in-breaking routes. With Jamel Dean a question mark for Sunday's matchup with a toe injury, Carlton Davis III will be the one tasked with shadowing Chase. When asked about Chase, Todd Bowles' response was telling on the young receiver. "Outstanding hands, outstanding size, very good at getting off the ball, his catch radius is enormous. As soon as the ball touches his hands, he's getting upfield right now. It's rare to see somebody get upfield that quick with that size. He has a natural knack for the game, and he looks great doing it." Davis, Tampa Bay's lockdown corner, uses his size and length to gain leverage to win the battle when the ball is in the air. He effectively blankets and jams receivers, causing disruption. Davis attacks throws with timing and physicality, gaining leverage on either the high or low side of routes. This will be a marquee chess match garnering attention on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
D.J. Reader, a tone-setter on the Bengals' defensive line, is a key in the unit's successful run defense. He is as stout as it gets for an interior lineman, able to out-leverage blockers and displace them. Reader is a technician at the point of attack and can generate push on passing downs, and he can make tackles in space on rushing downs in pursuit. Despite not having a sack in 2022, Reader creates pressure with a lethal bull rush and consistently creates pass rush opportunities for teammates. On Sunday, center Robert Hainsey will face one of the best nose tackles in the game. In place of injured Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen, Hainsey has stepped up in an increased role. Tom Brady dropped back 55 times in Week 14 against the 49ers and was not sacked once, with Hainsey as the anchor. Hainsey has short-area quickness, elite processing to diagnose stunts/blitzes, efficient handwork and understanding of how to manipulate leverage.
Chris Godwin is still on the road back to peak form following December's ACL/MCL tear and subsequent surgery, but with each passing game, he distances himself and gains confidence. Godwin has once again established himself as a go-to target for Tom Brady out of the slot on short-to-intermediate routes, taking advantage of soft zones underneath. He is also a willing blocker, adept at crack/stalk blocks against linebackers and safeties to open up rush lanes for teammates. He is physical at the catch point, using his frame to box out defensive backs. Godwin is an integral piece in the Bucs' aerial attack and on Sunday, he will face an elite, versatile slot corner in Mike Hilton. Hilton has not practiced this week with a knee injury but if he does play, he will receive a heavy dose of Godwin – one of the league's best YAC threats. In 2022, Hilton has amassed 52 tackles, four passes defensed, three tackles for loss and four quarterback hits. He is proficient at closing on the quarterback via blitzes, tackling and at setting the edge against the run/blowing up screens. Hilton is an instinctive underneath defender, effective in working the flat or as a robber, utilizing short area quickness to make plays on the ball to disrupt passing windows – which could hinder the Brady-Godwin connection. This is will be a key one-on-one battle.
The Bengals' defense has had success in limiting ball carriers between the tackles, including containment of Both Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry, however, the unit has struggled at times during the season with perimeter attacks. If the Buccaneers can have success on the edge by way of screens or outside zone runs, that would elevate the offense and open up play action. Rookie running back Rachaad White has entrenched himself as a catalyst in the Bucs' offense during his first year. As one of the shiftiest backs in the Pac-12, White has continued the stellar trend in the NFL. He is able to set up his blockers before quickly bursting through the hole. With solid balance and patience in run tempo, White provides an added dimension to the Bucs' offense and has garnered Brady's trust. If Tampa Bay can stress C-gap assignments on Sunday with White's dynamic skillset on the perimeter, the Bucs would be one step closer to achieving a balanced attack, fostering synergy.
After allowing Christian McCaffrey to rush for 119 yards (8.5 average) in Week 14 and no Vita Vea against the Bengals to help occupy blockers, the Bucs will need a stout performance by Akiem Hicks this Sunday. A contributing factor to the Bengals' win-streak is their effectiveness out of a shotgun-run, RPO-based system. The Bengals have had success running the ball from 11 personnel, which often creates mismatches for defenses using a nickel personnel. Hicks will play a pivotal role in trying to mitigate Joe Mixon in the Week 15 clash. Mixon keeps Cincinnati's offense from getting behind the chains with tough, short-yardage runs that do not wow on the stat sheet but are critical to sustaining drives. He can quickly get north, transitioning from the first to third level. Mixon can jump cut around defenders for chunk yardage, and clogging holes at the line for the Bucs' defense will be pivotal.