The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the road again to take on the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Both teams are trying to keep pace in perhaps the two most competitive divisions in the NFL; Tampa Bay got back to .500 with a win over the other Ohio team last week while Cincinnati has dropped two straight to high-powered teams, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, after a 4-1 start.
Throughout the week, Buccaneers players and coaches have discussed this upcoming matchup with Cincinnati and other relevant issues. Here's some of what they've had to say:
1. Head Coach Dirk Koetter on the season-ending knee injury suffered by starting middle linebacker and team captain Kwon Alexander:
"Kwon was playing so well and he's the heart and soul of our defense. What the players love about Kwon and everyone that is around him is just his passion for playing football. Kwon goes hard every play and he wears his emotion on his sleeve. He's a terrific competitor and he brings energy to our defense. We would always like guys to communicate more, but Kwon's a talker out there. He's the guy that's trying to amp everybody up."
2. Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner on how fortunate the team is to still have Lavonte David in the linebacking corps after the loss of Kwon Alexander, and how much David will be relied on the rest of the way:
"Lavone David's been a staple here and a stable, if you will – strong, if you will – person and has contributed to this program for a long time. Yes, we are very blessed to have him in that capacity versus a person certainly who's a ball player. Being a captain of the team and one before – his leadership, his example, his knowledge is going to be counted on heavily and it is every week. At this point, we've got some new roles being determined during the course of the week and his contribution as a leader and as a player is just as strong as ever."
3. DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who has six sacks through his first six games as a Buccaneer, on if this is a better start than usual for him:
"I won't necessarily [say] it's a better start. I've always been the same player. It's probably hard for people to see, but I've always been the same player that I always was, it's just hard for people to see. There's nothing I've changed in my game to make me boost up the energy or go even harder – it's just me as a player. It's a want-to. Any time [there's] a want-to in what you're doing, you don't care what it is."
4. QB Jameis Winston on why the Buccaneers' offense is on pace to put up historic passing numbers:
"I think we just have a good vertical passing game and that's what [Koetter] does well. We mix it up with the play action and we also have guys like Mike Evans, Cam Brate and O.J. Howard. He's had Cam and Mike since he's been here. They're making plays. Dirk's offense has always been successful for the most part for what I know and my prior knowledge. We just have to go out there and continue to execute it."
5. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken on why WR Mike Evans has started to put up 100-yard games on a regular basis this season:
"Well, I think he had a great offseason, a great offseason. [Wide Receivers Coach] Skyler [Fulton] has done a great job with him. He's playing at a very high level, playing fast. Really is concentrating on yards after catch. He's doing a better job there, his releases. So, that part of it makes it easy. We try to move him around a little bit, but there's such comfort in him in the positions we put him. Having the weapons that we have on the outside, we never look at it like it's a mismatch for us. It's an advantage for us and it should be."
6. G Ali Marpet on how effective Jameis Winston is as a runner:
"I love it when he runs. Jameis is efficient and he makes plays when he needs to as far as running. When he needs to get it done with his legs, he does. There have been a lot of times he's bailed us out as an offensive line. I don't care how someone looks when they run. I care how efficient they are when they're running. Jameis gets first downs and he's got a good feel."
7. RB Ronald Jones on if he is prepared for a potentially bigger role in Cincinnati and how he's improved since training camp:
"I'm very prepared. That's part of what we've been doing here. Just a lot of studying, game-planning with coaches after practice, all that stuff, trying to get ready for the season. I think I've improved a lot, working with Monk after practice, throwing with Jameis after practice, on the Jugs so my hands are there. Pass protection – I've been identifying who the blitzes are, where the blitz is coming from. You can get a feel from pre-snap. All that stuff is working and it's helping me play faster."
8. Monken on Jones progressing towards a larger role:
"He continues to get better. Again, he needs to practice and he's getting that – he's getting more and more reps. We're gaining more and more confidence with him. He's got to dial in some of the little things that come up when you're playing the best in the world and I think he's doing a better job of that. He's only going to get better because he does have talent."
9. TE Cam Brate on the Bucs' offense being ranked first in yards but eighth in points:
"The best way to [fix] that is to turn the ball over less. Yeah, we have gotten a lot of yards but we definitely haven't played our best yet. Hopefully we can kind of put it all together and make those yards count a little bit more. Stats are cool and everything, but if it's not translating into wins it doesn't mean anything. It's more of a side story, I guess.
10. Koetter on the approaching trade deadline and if General Manager Jason Licht has spoken to him about potential trade targets:
"Jason and his staff are working on that. Jason has talked to me about a couple guys, but I personally am not involved in that right now other than to listen to whatever they want to tell me because we're busy doing our other thing. I can assure you that Jason's looking into all avenues and it's his job to make decisions that are best for the Bucs. I trust him to make those decisions because he's good at that."