The Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into their bye week with a 2-4 record and a third-place spot in the NFC South. There are 12 teams ahead of the Buccaneers in the overall conference standings, but the majority of the season still lies ahead. Despite taking a two-game losing skid into the bye, the Buccaneers are still eyeing a playoff run.
When the Buccaneers come out of their midseason break they will have 10 games remaining, against nine different opponents. They will likely need to win at least seven of those games to have a shot at the playoffs. Now that a third of the season has been played and teams around the league have revealed some of their strengths and weaknesses, let's take a look at how Tampa Bay matches up with each of its upcoming opponents, beginning with the Tennessee Titans in Week Eight.
Opponent: Tennessee Titans
Date, Location: Week Eight, October 27, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Top Offensive Performer: RB Derrick Henry…416 rushing yards (12th in the NFL), 102 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns (t-9th in the NFL)
Top Defensive Performer: CB Logan Ryan…35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions (t-4th in the NFL), 6 passes defensed (t-4th in the NFL), 4 quarterback hits, 1 forced fumble
Notable Strength: Tennessee's offense hasn't been particularly prolific, especially coming off last week's shutout loss to Denver, but the Titans haven't hurt themselves with turnovers. In fact, Tennessee's four giveaways are tied for the lowest total in the league (with Chicago and Arizona) and they have led to only six points scored for opposing teams. Combine that with the Titans' eighth-ranked defense and their extremely good work on third downs (27.63% conversion rate allowed) and it's clear why they have allowed the fifth-lowest points-per-game average in the NFL (15.3).
Notable Weakness: Tennessee quarterbacks have been taking sacks at an alarming rate. The Titans have allowed 29 sacks through six games, and their sacks-per-pass-play rate of 16.57% is the worst in the NFL. We say quarterbacks in plural because the Titans decided to pull starter Marcus Mariota in the third quarter of last week's loss to the Broncos in favor of former Dolphin Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill didn't find the going much easier, taking four sacks over the final 21 minutes of game time. On Wednesday, Tennessee Head Coach Mike Vrabel said that Tannehill would be the starter in Week Seven.
How the Bucs Match Up:
This is the first of five games on the Bucs' remaining schedule against teams that had two or fewer wins through the first six weeks. The Titans have lost four of their last five, and their only victory in that span was against the one-win Falcons. On paper, this looks like an opportunity to get another win out of the Buccaneers' six-week, five-game journey away from their home stadium, but of course no game is even remotely easy in the NFL.
The Titans like to establish a power running game with Henry but that's not easy to do against Tampa Bay's stout defensive front. The Buccaneers rank first in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed per game (68.0) and yards allowed per carry (2.89) and that's despite facing a murderer's row of backs including Christian McCaffrey (twice), Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara and Todd Gurley. With Vita Vea, Will Gholston and Ndamukong Suh, the Buccaneers are particularly stingy up the middle, allowing only 2.00 yards per carry on such plays.
Obviously, the Buccaneers would like to take advantage of the Titans' pass protection problems, as well. Tampa Bay's sacks-per-pass-attempt rate of 5.20% is only 25th in the NFL, but they have some talented pass-rushers in Shaq Barrett and Carl Nassib, plus the big bodies in the middle who can occupy blockers and create one-on-one matchups on the outside.
Tampa Bay's offense will probably find things more challenging in Nashville. The Buccaneers are putting up 269.5 passing yards per game and 7.35 yards per pass play, both in the league's top 10, but the Titans have the NFL's sixth-ranked pass defense. They've also had a top-10 pass rush (tied for 9th with 8.61% sacks per pass play), which is a concern for a Bucs' offense that allowed seven sacks of Jameis Winston in the last game and is dealing with a couple of significant injuries on the right side of the line.
Individually, the best thing the Buccaneers' offense has going for it right now is the receiving duo of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Those two combined for 247 receiving yards in the last game, and Godwin is the NFL's leader in receiving yards. However, the Titans have a strong pair of starting cornerbacks to match up with those two in Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler.
Tennessee has only scored more than 20 points in two of their six games, while the Buccaneers are averaging 28.8 points per contest. However, the Titans defense has only allowed one team to reach 20 points so far this season. The Buccaneers would prefer a high-scoring game but it may be difficult to achieve in Nashville in Week Eight.