1. RB Ronald Jones II
Running back Peyton Barber was limited in practice this week, though he participated fully on Friday. Jones has gotten an increasing number of carries since making his debut in Week Four. Jones even had his first NFL touchdown against Cleveland at home last week on a two-yard run into the end zone. Additionally, he got 31 percent of the offensive carries during the game as well. Given that Barber is a little banged up, there's probably a good chance Jones shoulders a little more of the load along with veteran Jacquizz Rodgers. Jones has also been working on his receiving game and Coach Koetter noted this week that he thinks Jones has improved steadily on his pass catching ability along with his pass protection.
Jones and the rest of the running backs will also have a good opportunity against the Bengals' 26th-ranked rushing defense. They're allowing an average of 128.7 rushing yards per game. The Bucs will look to have the same result in the run game as they had against the Falcons in Week Six when facing the league's 25th-ranked rushing defense at the time. Atlanta was giving up an average of 121.4 rushing yards per game going into their matchup with the Bucs, which is exactly what they gave up as Tampa Bay had 121 yards on the ground.
2. DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has been the picture of consistency for the Bucs' defense. He's recorded sacks in five straight games. Should he notch another one in Cincinnati, it will be just the third time a Bucs player has had a sack in six straight outing. The last player to do it was defensive end Simeon Rice in 2004. Pierre-Paul's six sacks on the season tie him for eighth in the league currently and he's tied for ninth in the league in quarterback hits with 11. What's even more encouraging is that Pierre-Paul was effective even in the absence of two of his veteran linemates. Both defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Vinny Curry were out against the Browns and will be out again this week at Cincinnati as they battle injuries. It didn't seem to phase Pierre-Paul, who started the Bucs' best pressure performance of the year against Cleveland with his first quarter sack of quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Bucs went on to have five sacks in the game, the most since Week 10 of 2017 when they had six against the New York Jets. The Bengals rank 12th in sacks allowed so far this season with 14.0 and they likely have a solid offensive line to thank for it.
3. WR Chris Godwin
Did you know that the Bucs' leader in receiving touchdowns is not, in fact, Mike Evans or one of the tight ends? It's second-year receiver Chris Godwin with four so far on the year. He started the season with a touchdown reception in each of the first three games and again had a touchdown that pulled the Bucs within two of Atlanta in Week Six to open up the fourth quarter. Godwin seems to com ein clutch on a regular basis and has rapidly become one of the Bucs' most reliable targets. He's averaging 11.8 yards per reception this year and had an 83.3% catch percentage against the Browns last week. He'll be facing the league's 29th-ranked passing defense in Cincinnati, which should give him and the other receivers the opportunity to do some damage this weekend.
4. LB Adarius Taylor
Ok, we obviously weren't going to get through 5 Bucs to Watch without referencing the linebacker situation now that both Kwon Alexander and rookie Jack Cichy are were lost for the season with ACL tears in the Browns game. It's still hard to come to grips with that but as Coach Koetter pointed out this week, no one is going to feel sorry for them. Just like no one is going to feel sorry for the Bengals who have six players listed as out for this weekend. Either way, now it's 'next man up' and Adarius Taylor is that man. Coach Koetter and Coach Duffner have both said that Taylor will start at middle linebacker in place of Kwon Alexander with Lavonte David staying at his spot on the weak side (more on him later). Taylor was one of those others that recorded sacks last weekend against Cleveland, grabbing his first one of the season. He had a combined six tackles in the game that he started at strong side linebacker. Taylor is no stranger to the middle, or any of the linebacker positions, really. Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner said that Taylor has been trained at all three positions and Duffner is confident in him wherever he plays. The Bucs also signed veteran linebacker Kevin Minter who should be in the mix with Devante Bond and Cameron Lynch to now start on the strong side. There is no replacing a player like Alexander but Taylor and the rest of the linebacker room still has all they need to be effective and Cincinnati will be the first opportunity to prove it.
5. LB Lavonte David
Told you we weren't getting through this without talking about the linebackers. Look, David could be a guy to watch every week. He consistently makes plays, splashy or not. He happened to have a great splash play on fourth down against Cleveland when he forced Mayfield to fumble the ball backwards negating the forward progress Mayfield had made in picking up the first down. There are so many things that go into a play like that. Obviously, you have to physically have the right angle and opportunity to force the ball out but mentally, you have to not only go after the ball, but know the rules enough in that split second to know the ball has to go backwards. It was no coincidence. David is that good. It's that football IQ that will see him take over green-dot responsibilities now that Alexander is out. As in David will call the defense from the field. It's something he's done previously, teams just mostly elect the middle linebacker for such a role. David knows this defense inside and out and has a great relationship with Coach Duffner, who is not only the acting defensive coordinator, but is still coaching the linebacker group. David will have to emerge even more as the leader of the defense with not only Alexander out, but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on the sidelines with a calf injury. Something tells me though that David is up for the task.