The 6-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Glendale to take on the 4-10 Arizona Cardinals. In the first-ever Christmas Day triple-header, Tampa Bay will strive to cement their role in the NFC South standings. The Bucs are a game ahead of the other three teams in the division and a win at Arizona could catapult them atop the hierarchy with a two-game lead. After two discouraging losses to the 49ers and the Bengals, the Bucs will look for redemption on the 25th. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have lost four in a row, including six of their last seven. During that timeframe, Arizona lost starting quarterback Kyler Murray to a season-ending knee injury. Colt McCoy was then thrust into the driver's seat but left last weekend's game prematurely with a concussion. Trace McSorley will make his first NFL start against the Bucs. Despite an embattled season filled with an exorbitant number of injuries, the Cardinals still boast a star-studded cast. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Cardinals holiday clash in Week 16. Here is an in-depth look at five Buccaneers to observe on Sunday.
Rookie running back Rachaad White has emerged in 2022, playing an integral role in the Buccaneers' offense. White leads all rookie running backs with 41 catches, which has materialized into 247 yards. He possesses the power to run between the tackles and agility to bounce runs outside. White is patient with his run tempo, setting up blockers before quickly accelerating through the hole. Known as one of the shiftiest backs in the Pac-12, White has stellar burst in getting north. As a pass-catcher, the first-year player has showcased the ability to adjust to the ball out of the backfield with excellent body control. With his blend of size, athleticism and willingness to block, he can remain on the field for all three downs. The Cardinals' defense has struggled throughout the 2022 season with setting the edge and opponents have exploited with perimeter-based attacks with linemen/tight ends pulling to clear the way for receivers and running backs around the edge. Sunday could potentially be an opportunity for White to be unleashed, whether through screens, reverses or swing passes. In the Christmas contest, he will have to contend with Budda Baker – one of the NFL's best in the secondary. The Cardinals' Pro Bowl safety leads the team with 102 tackles and has amassed six quarterback pressures this season, fifth among all NFL defensive backs. With elite closing speed, Baker covers ground in a hurry. He can do it all at a high-level: blitz from the edge, rush from the A-gap or B-gap and cover running backs and tight ends in man-to-man. White will likely face the instinctual playmaker whether on a chip or running a route out of the flat.
Trace McSorley, a sixth-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2019, will make his starting NFL debut on Sunday. The former Penn State star does not have the blazing speed of Kyler Murray, but he can still contribute using his legs to evade pressure. With quick footwork and throwing motion, along with the ability to escape the pocket, Kliff Kingsbury's offense will not be forced to shift with a new man under center. Todd Bowles will certainly have disguises and blitz/stunt packages dialed up for the young quarterback. If he is forced into throwing under duress, Mike Edwards could be the one to reap the benefit. Edwards returned from a hamstring injury in Week 15 but had a limited snap count. He is expected to play more against the Cardinals to help solidify the back end. Edwards is known for his "ball hawk" skills, resulting from instincts and ball-tracking ability. He has been used as a rotational safety and as a slot corner in nickel packages. Edwards can blitz, cover slot receivers and outpace rushers to the perimeter. Whether coming downhill if McSorley breaks for a run or lining up deep to disrupt the passing game, Edwards will have a crucial role on Christmas.
On Sunday, the Bucs will face one of the most lethal defensive linemen in the league – J.J. Watt. The Cardinals move Watt around the defensive front to create disadvantageous matchups for the opposition. He has logged 40 quarterback pressures in 2022 to go along with 9.5 sacks. Offensive coordinators game plan around his ability by sliding protections to his side, however, he still manages to find success against double and triple teams. With a diverse arsenal of moves to gain leverage, combined with his ability to stop-and-start instantaneously, Watt is a disruptive force. He is a game wrecker, and Nick Leverett will likely see several matchups against Watt when he rushes inside. Leverett has bolstered the ground game since assuming the starting role at left guard. Following injuries to both Aaron Stinnie and rookie Luke Goedeke, Leverett has taken advantage of the increased role in the trenches. In 546 snaps in 2022, Leverett has not allowed a single sack on Tom Brady per Pro Football Focus. On Christmas, he will need a stout performance at the point of attack going up against one of the NFL's premier stars.
With a third-string quarterback making his first NFL start on Sunday in Trace McSorley, along with a banged up offensive line that has had nine different combinations this season, the Cardinals will strive to take pressure off both by putting the ball in the hands of battering-ram style runner, James Conner. Conner leads Arizona in both rushing yards (624) and touchdowns (six). The power back punishes tacklers with a demoralizing stiff-arm that embodies his physical prowess as a rusher. He is a complete back, stout in pass protection and as a pass-catcher, working out of the backfield on swing passes. On Sunday, Bucs inside linebacker Lavonte David will see a heavy dose of Conner. David, Tampa's Bay's longtime cornerstone defender, has superb read-and-react skills. With hip fluidity and route recognition, David is effective in coverage out of the backfield on tight ends/running backs. His understanding of angles and leveraging himself when taking on blocks allows him to be productive. David can pursue against the run to the boundary, and he uses instincts to meet players where they will end up, rarely missing the tackle.
The Cardinals have struggled to contain tight ends throughout the duration of the 2022 season and Sunday could pose a breakout game for Cade Otton. In his first year, Otton has gained the trust of Tom Brady and continues to help the Bucs move the chains in critical game-time situations with physical catches down the boundary or over the middle of the field. Otton can put coverage on notice at all three levels and can adjust to the ball in flight without breaking stride. He is a threat underneath after moving into patterns and is adept at opening up his body to secure the catch window against zone coverage. Otton has shown up under pressure in recent weeks and as the Bucs' postseason aspirations hang in the balance with three games to go in the regular season, this could mark another momentous moment for Otton to shine.