The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their 2016 season opener in Atlanta last Sunday behind a prolific outing from quarterback Jameis Winston, strong third-down defense and just enough plays in the fourth quarter to hold off a Falcons comeback.
Now the Buccaneers are in Arizona trying to record their first 2-0 start since 2010 and double up on the road victories. Another strong game from Winston would help, as would keeping an explosive Cardinals offense from extending drives. Chances are, however, that a Buccaneer victory wouldn't come as a result of the exact same formula as a week ago.
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"You play them as they bring them up, and that's the goal, right?" said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "That's the goal every week, to do what you have to do that week to get a 'W.' It's never going to be the same as it was the week before and we've got to try to find a way to get it done today."
Adding some takeaways to the equation would be particularly helpful. The Bucs' defense didn't force a turnover in the opener, marking just the 10th time in team history that it has won without a single takeaway. Tampa Bay's offense would surely like to improve upon its rushing numbers from the Atlanta game, when they were held to 90 yards and 3.2 yards per carry despite some tackle-breaking runs by Doug Martin. That said, there was much from the opener that the Bucs would like to duplicate in Week Two, and throughout the season.
"There is tons to build on," said Koetter. "There were a lot of positives. We held a good running team to under three yards a carry rushing – we'd take that any week; 20-something percent on third down – we'd take that every week; and we did an excellent job in the red zone. Every games' going to present a new set of problems, and our D did what they had to do. Of course we'd love [to be better]. How often are you minus-one on turnovers and still win the game? But we did a lot of good things."
Winston threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. He misfired on a few passes early and was intercepted on his seventh toss but was nearly flawless the rest of the way. Now he and the Buccaneers' offense face a Cardinals defense that ranked eighth in 2015 and has star caliber players rushing the quarterback and covering the pass-catchers.
"There was definitely adversity [for Winston]," said Koetter. "Just to set the record straight, on the interception, that wasn't Jameis's fault. The receiver ran the wrong route and left Jameis hanging out to dry on that. Jameis, he had an excellent game against Atlanta, he did. But that's one game, and to be great in this league you have to be consistent."
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Arizona's defense didn't treat first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo as harshly as many expected in its Week One loss to New England. Tom Brady's untested stand-in completed nearly 73% of his passes, threw for 264 yards and a touchdown and wasn't intercepted. The Cardinals will surely be primed for a more successful attack on Winston this week.
"They added Chandler Jones, who comes over with 12 and a half sacks from New England last year," said Koetter. "Patrick Peterson [is]of the best cover corners in our league. And I think the guy that's very underrated, been a good player for a long time in this league, is Calais Campbell on the inside. [He's] a good run-stopping defensive end in the 3-4, blocks a lot of passes with those long arms.
"They're a very well-coached team and a team that's used to winning. They've won a lot of games over the last few years. They lost a heartbreaker. They really lost it on the last play. They could have easily won that. The snap and hold weren't quite right or they would have won that game. They did a good job of coming from behind to put themselves in position to win the game. You just see a team that's used to winning, they play in a tough division, they play hard-nosed football, they can run it right at you, they can throw it vertically and they've got a very stout defense and a team that puts pressure on you."
The Buccaneers hope to put pressure on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, too, though they'll have to do it without defensive end Jacquies Smith, who landed on injured reserve earlier in the week. They will not be missing defensive end Robert Ayers, however, despite a practice-field leg injury on Thursday. Ayers has been cleared to play and the Buccaneers' 53-man roster is almost completely healthy.
Tampa Bay did deactivate seven players in order to get to the game-day limit of 46. Just like last week, that inactive list is comprised of third quarterback Ryan Griffin and six rookies: RB Peyton Barber, G Caleb Benenoch, LB Devante Bond, S Ryan Smith, DE Channing Ward and T Leonard Wester. Bond and Smith were on the team's injury report during the week but were able to practice without limitations.
Arizona will be without defensive tackles Frostee Rucker and Robert Nkemdiche, the latter after sustaining an injury during the week of practice. In addition to those two, the Cardinals deactivated WR J.J. Nelson, S Marqui Christian, G Cole Toner, DT Olsen Pierre and LB Kareem Martin.
The Buccaneers take on the Cardinals in the 2016 regular season opener on Sunday afternoon, with kickoff scheduled for 4:05 p.m. ET in the Georgia Dome. The game will be broadcast locally by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.