The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the defending AFC Champions on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in a Week 15 showdown. There are four games left in the regular season, meaning playoff positioning hangs in the balance. The Buccaneers endured a deflating 35-7 loss to the 49ers last weekend, and they will look to bounce back against an imposing Bengals team that has won five-straight. Cincinnati has reestablished itself as a top contender, drawing comparisons to the magical year that led to a Super Bowl 56 appearance. With an explosive offense featuring several star-studded names, an opportunistic defense and an improved offensive line, the Bengals are striving for dominion, while the Buccaneers will look to get back on track. After a week of preparation, here is what Sunday's contest comes down to:
4 Stats That Matter
- Joe Burrow ranks top two in completion percentage (69.3, second), pass yards per attempt (8.4, first) and passer rating (105.5, second) since 2021.
- Since Week Nine, Burrow has taken a sack on 14.6 percentage of his pressured dropbacks, less than half as often as he did in Weeks 1-8 (29.9 percentage).
- Burrow has totaled 16 touchdowns on passes of 10-plus air yards to Ja'Marr Chase since 2021 (most among quarterback-receiver duos). Conversely, Tom Brady has totaled one touchdown and three interceptions on such passes to Mike Evans this season (13 touchdowns and three interceptions on such passes to Evans from 2020-21).
- The Buccaneers have averaged 17.2 points per game in 2022 (28th in the NFL), the fewest by a Tom Brady-led offense of his career. In the last nine games, the Bucs have scored 22 or fewer points – longest streak by any team all-time with Brady at the helm.
3 Lineup Notes
- Following Friday's practice, Todd Bowles provided clarity on player statuses for Sunday's Week 15 meeting. Jamel Dean (toe), Carl Nassib (pectoral), Vita Vea (calf) and Genard Avery (abdomen/oblique) will be out. Vea suffered a calf injury four snaps into the Bucs' matchup against the 49ers and will not suit up against the defending AFC Champs.
- In addition, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Mike Edwards and Antoine Winfield Jr. will be game-time decisions per Todd Bowles. With Shaquil Barrett already on Injured Reserve, the Bucs are thin at the outside linebacker position. Tampa Bay has two on its practice squad – Rashed Hamilcar and Charles Snowden – which means a game day elevation is possible to add depth.
- For the Bengals, Trey Hendrickson, Mike Hilton and Hayden Hurst are officially out for Sunday, as the trio did not practice at all during the week. Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample will work interchangeably to replace Hendrickson at right defensive end, and Mitchell Wilcox will continue to fill in for Hurst. Jalen Davis would be the primary replacement for Hilton at slot cornerback, but Davis is listed as doubtful. If Davis does not play, rookie Dax Hill would likely make his first NFL start. Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Trent Taylor are all questionable. Higgins and Boyd were full participants for Friday's practice, and Taylor was limited.
2 Challenges Presented by the Bengals
Cincinnati's offense relies on more than the Burrow-Chase connection that has been invariably linked to the club. Opponents began the 2022 slate by employing Cover 2 to counter the Bengals' aerial attack, attempting to mitigate vertical concepts and plays over the top by allocating more players on the back end. Cincinnati struggled to adjust despite the anticipated shift and protection issues up front contributed to the offensive woes. Cincinnati's recent ascension can be tied to the run game. The Bengals' ability to achieve success on the ground against light boxes has led to a proficient, balanced attack. Head Coach Zac Taylor utilizes a shotgun-run, RPO-centric system. Since Week Nine, Cincinnati ranks fifth in rushing success rate out of 11 personnel, which creates mismatches for defenses using nickel sub-packages. The use of run-pass-option provides Burrow with the flexibility to hand it off, or to throw based on reads. Without Chase in the lineup, the Bengals were able to exploit a two-high shell on the short-to-intermediate game featuring Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd working the middle of the field. Higgins and Boyd give the Bengals a lethal trio and running back Joe Mixon has eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Mixon has dealt with recent injuries and backup Samaje Perine has emerged as an explosive multi-faceted weapon, making splash plays out of the backfield in the passing game. However, the Bengals will continue to evaluate the health status this week of both Higgins (hamstring) and Boyd (dislocated finger), who left last weeks' win over Cleveland prematurely.
The Bengals' 11th-ranked scoring defense is led by the safety tandem of Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates III, who have combined for seven interceptions. Cincinnati lost elite edge rusher Trey Hendrickson to a broken wrist against the Browns but still has Sam Hubbard (6.5 sacks), and linebacker Logan Wilson (team-high 91 tackles). With a talent-filled nucleus at all three levels of the defense including stout nose tackle D.J. Reader, Hubbard, Wilson and Bell, the instinctive safety, the Bengals have become a force in 2022. Cincinnati forced both the Browns and Titans to become one-dimensional, containing Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry. Additionally, the Bengals defense played with tight coverage against the Browns last Sunday, blanketing receivers. Under the direction of Lou Anarumo, the unit has continued to rise. Tom Brady passed the ball 55 times against the 49ers and although the offensive line did not allow a single sack, Brady was consistently pressured. Winning the battle in the trenches and effectively creating a successful running game on first and second down will be critical in keeping the Bucs out of third-and-long situations.
1 Key Thought from Todd Bowles
On his impression of Ja'Marr Chase:
"[He has] outstanding hands, outstanding size, [he is] very good at getting off the ball, his catch radius is enormous – him and Tee Higgins, actually – as soon as the ball touches his hands, he's getting up-field right now. It's rare to see somebody get up-field that quick with that size. He has a natural knack for the game and he looks great doing it."