1. OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
In his first game – no, first snap – back in action, JPP recorded a sack in Tennessee. He totaled three tackles for loss against the Titans, in fact. Not bad for a guy that hadn't played football in 10 months. Coming off another week of practice in which he's had the chance to catch up to his teammates as far as ingesting his new defense from a practical standpoint – I'd look for JPP to be even more of a menace in Seattle.
He already said he's ready to chase Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson around. Wilson, who Coach Arians called 'as good a dual-threat as anyone' this week, will be Pierre-Paul's main focus. The only thing about Wilson is that he may be at his best when a play breaks down and he has to make a play from outside the pocket. So more than chasing him, Pierre-Paul will look to contain him and get pressure from the outside in concert with the interior getting penetration and collapsing the pocket.
2. DT Vita Vea
Speaking of collapsing the pocket, Vea will be part of the effort to do just that. Keeping Wilson contained while applying pressure up the middle is key. Plus, Vea will have to guard against the run – which Seattle does a lot of. They take the fourth-most rushing snaps in the league and they have the sixth-most rushing yards of any team with 1,040. Their ground game is led by running back Chris Carson whose 659 yards on the ground rank fifth among all qualified rushers. Wilson adds in 182 rushing yards from under center and both players have three rushing touchdowns apiece.
The good news is that the Bucs, aided by Vea, have been stout against the run all season, leading the way in allowing just 68.6 yards per game and 2.96 yards per attempt. With a team like Seattle that rushes over 47% of the time, Tampa Bay has the opportunity to shut down a huge part of their offense – and it starts with Vea.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 9 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
3. TE Tanner Hudson
Hudson was active for his first regular season game last weekend in his home state of Tennessee but didn't end up seeing a lot of work. He's been taking reps with the first team all week as tight end O.J. Howard remains sidelined. Fellow tight end Cameron Brate also sat out on Wednesday and was limited in practice on Thursday, so if the Bucs want any contribution from their tight ends – Hudson will need to step up.
After leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns in preseason, Hudson will be looking to get back in the same sort of groove midway through the regular season. Now that he's shaken off the first-game jitters, he should settle in as he gets an increasing rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston.
4. WR Chris Godwin
Well, Mike Evans went off last week in Tennessee for 198 yards and two touchdowns, so it's only fair that Godwin has the big game this week, right? I think that's how it works. Godwin and Evans are tied for the league lead with six receiving touchdowns apiece and against a Seattle defense that's letting up 273.3 yards per game (ranking them 27th in the NFL), there's a big opportunity for Bucs' receivers. The Seahawks also rank 20th in points allowed, giving up an average of 24.5 per game. The Bucs are scoring the fifth-most points per game, averaging 28.0 this season, proving the matchup even more favorable.
The Seahawks are allowing a 64.6% completion rate as a team, which is about middle of the pack. And while the Legion of Boom is no more, they have the ninth-most passes defensed. But given the amount of yards they're giving up on a per game basis, it seems they're susceptible to giving up chunk yardage – which is where Godwin can help out, while helping himself to more receiving yards.
5. S Jordan Whitehead
It was alluded to before, but quarterback Russell Wilson is really good at making plays after they break down. He can scramble and use his legs to buy himself time, or just run it himself. As such, there will be a definite effort to contain him and a hard-hitting strong safety can certainly help do that. Whitehead may find himself paying more attention to the quarterback this game and therefore, could get a few more opportunities for big plays. Whitehead's also one of the best at his position in coverage. He's tied for second among all safeties in the league with six passes defensed behind only Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos.
Even if he doesn't get his hands on Wilson, or his hand on a pass, he'll have to help combat Carson, who will surely attempt to bounce to the outside. Let's face it, running on guys like Vea and Suh up the middle isn't going to go so well. But Carson has speed and can get to the outside on a handoff or quick screen, which is where Whitehead can be of help.