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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Titans-Buccaneers: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week 10

The Buccaneers will be facing another highly-touted rookie quarterback when the Tennessee Titans come to town on Sunday, with both teams looking to get back to their winning ways from the first month of the season

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face an AFC opponent for the third straight game in Week 10, but at this point the Buccaneers need a win against any team, any way they can get it. With the Tennessee Titans coming to town for a Sunday, November 12 date, the 3-5 Buccaneers will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak that has dropped them from first place in the NFC South to 1.5 games behind the New Orleans Saints.

After a 2-2 start that included impressive wins over the Chargers (27-24) and the Bengals (27-3), the Titans have also lost three of their last four. The exception was a Week Eight home win over Atlanta that doubled as rookie quarterback Will Levis's first NFL start. The 3-5 Titans will be well-rested following the 'mini-bye' that followed their Thursday night loss to Pittsburgh in Week Nine.

On Tuesday, Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel confirmed what seemed inevitable: Levis, the 33rd overall pick in this year's draft, will remain the starting quarterback going forward, even as veteran Ryan Tannehill nears his return from an ankle injury. More on that below. He takes over a Titans offense that ranks 24th in the league with an average of 18.5 points per game. With massive running back Derrick Henry continuing to thrive in a power rushing attack, the Titans are 12th in rushing yards per game (114.5) but fifth in passing yards per game (26th). Former Cardinal wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has proven to be an impactful addition and he leads the team with 35 receptions for 564 yards, but no other Titans wideout has more than 18 catches on the season. Most notably, the Titans' offensive front has allowed 29 sacks in eight games, in part due to some injuries and illnesses to various linemen.

Tennessee's defense is led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons up front and rangy linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair in the middle. Simmons is among the league leaders in quarterback pressures among interior linemen, and he demonstrated the impact he can have on a game in Tennessee's most recent win, racking up six quarterback pressures and 2.0 sacks against Atlanta. Al-Shaair leads the Titans with 83 tackles, ranking sixth in the NFL overall. The Titans rank 20th in yards allowed per game (337.8) but 11th in points allowed per game (20.0) and like the Buccaneers have been extremely stingy in the red zone. However, Tennessee's defense has only generated six takeaways in eight games, with former Buccaneer cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Amani Hooker recording the team's only two interceptions so far.

The Buccaneers hope they can get back in the win column by continuing to improve on offense and fixing what has recently become a leaky secondary. Tampa Bay scored a season-high 37 points in its two-point defeat in Houston last weekend and second-year back Rachaad White started to show a spark in the run game that has been missing. Quarterback Baker Mayfield continues to play well, particularly when facing pressure, and the only turnover the Bucs have committed in the last two weeks was the inevitable fumble at the end of a desperation pitch-around play with time expiring. The Bucs couldn't hold their lead in Houston because the defense gave up a season-worst 496 yards, most of it through the air.

The Buccaneers and Titans kick off at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, with each team trying to get back to its early-season winning ways. Tennessee will be seeking its first road win in 2023 after four losses, while Tampa Bay hopes to improve on a 1-3 record at home. Only one team will be closer to .500 when it's over.


Another Rookie Passer – Before their Week Nine game in Houston, the Buccaneers were on an unpleasant run against rookie quarterbacks. Most notably there was Brock Purdy's first NFL start for the 49ers last December in which Purdy seamlessly guided the offense in a 35-7 decision. Tampa Bay also lost to Atlanta's Desmond Ridder in his fourth career start in last year's season finale, though the Bucs were admittedly playing almost all reserves with no playoff seeding at stake. The Buccaneers also lost to the Steelers' Kenny Pickett in his second start, though Mitchell Trubisky did most of the damage after Pickett was injured. Nothing compared to the C.J. Stroud experience in Houston, however. Stroud threw for 470 yards and five touchdowns in one of the best rookie quarterback performances ever, and he calmly led Houston on the game-winning drive in the game's final seconds. The Buccaneers will try to end this little mini-streak of struggles against opposing rookies this Sunday with Will Levis getting his third start. Levis had a debut almost as good as Stroud's Week Nine effort, throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions in the aforementioned win over Atlanta. He didn't throw a touchdown against Pittsburgh in his second start and did throw his first interception, but he still amassed 262 passing yards and generally looked poised and sharp. With its struggles the last two weeks, Tampa Bay's pass defensed has dropped to 31st in the league, giving up 279.4 yards, but still has talented players in the secondary with a track record of success who could get things turned around quickly.

A Full Team Effort – The Buccaneers' most complete game of the 2023 season was a 26-9 thrashing of the Saints in Week Four, which included a balanced offense (114 yards rushing, 239 passing), three Baker Mayfield touchdown passes and 197 yards allowed by a defense that collected three turnovers and three sacks. Since then, however, the Buccaneers have not been able to put together a winning effort on both sides of the ball in the same game. Losses to Detroit, Atlanta and Buffalo included mostly good results on defense but only 12.3 points per game on offense. Then, in Houston, the offense found its footing and got better results in the red zone and in clutch situations to rack up a season-high 37 points but the defense couldn't slow down Stroud and the Texans' passing attack. After the stinging last second loss in Houston, the Buccaneers started Week 10 by looking in the mirror, searching for answers as to how to translate what seem like very productive and encouraging practices to the field on game day. "You've got to carry it to the game," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "We practice hard all week, we practice [well] all week, and in the game, we've got to make plays. We've got to make plays, we haven't made them. It's been a struggle. It's been a struggle. We didn't play well [in Houston] at all – giving up too many big plays – I think there were nine big pass plays over coverages we have been doing since day one. It's not a communication thing. Sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror – as a player, as a coach, as a team – and we're doing that. We're doing that today and we'll make sure it gets done."

Rush to Judgment – With the Titans trying not to put too much on an inexperienced quarterback and the Buccaneers continuing to seek balance on offense, the results each team gets on the ground Sunday could be the difference in the outcome. The Titans have the powerful Henry at the head of a rushing attack that has produced 114.5 yards per game, 12th most in the league. However, stopping the run has been a strength for the Buccaneers this season, with titanic defensive lineman Vita Vea mucking up the middle and linebacker Lavonte David seemingly plugging every gap. Tampa Bay's defense is only allowing 92.9 rushing yards per game this season, ninth best in the league, and just 3.81 yards per carry. Henry is still running strong in his eighth season, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, nearly identical to his averages from the last two seasons. The Buccaneers' rushing attack has only produced 78.3 yards per game so far, 30th in the league, but has shown signs of life in the last two games, such as the runs of 16, 11 and 11 yards by Rachaad White in Houston. Under first-year Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales, the Buccaneers have certainly made an effort to get that part of their scheme working, averaging a little more than 25 carries per game after having the fewest carries in the NFL in 2022. The Bucs might find some room to run against a Tennessee team that is giving up 114.8 rushing yards per game and 4.1 yards per carry.

Dialing Up the Pressure – The Buccaneers' most glaring and obvious shortcoming in the loss to Houston was in the secondary, which gave up nine pass plays of 20 or more yards, but as always it wasn't just a matter of some "busts" among the DBs. Despite getting three sacks of Stroud, the Buccaneers' front didn't put consistent pressure on the quarterback to force him into mistakes that the defensive backs could take advantage of. While the team will be working this week to improve its vision in the secondary, they will also be trying to invigorate a pass rush that so far ranks 22nd in the NFL in sacks per pass play. "I don't think it's been there consistently," said Bowles. "The pass rush helps the coverage, the coverage helps the pass rush – they go hand in hand. It's all 11 guys and all the coaches involved on that side of the ball." The Bucs would particularly like to get more off the edges, as nose tackle Vita Vea continues to lead the team with 3.5 sacks. Veteran edge rusher Shaq Barrett, who had 37.5 sacks from 2019-21 before an injury shortened 2022, did record a strip-sack against Stroud for his third sack of the season and may be heating up, but overall the Bucs' outside linebackers have combined for 10 sacks through eight games. This weekend's game could be an opportunity for that group to heat up, as the Titans have allowed 29 sacks and rank 30th in sacks allowed per pass play, at 12.45%. Tennessee will also be doing some shuffling an the offensive line with right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere suffering an apparent season-ending shoulder injury last week.


1. Titans RB Derrick Henry vs. Buccaneers LB Lavonte David

There aren't many running backs in the NFL, and rarely have been, quite like Derrick Henry, who is listed at 6-3 and 247 pounds but must look like a steam engine to a defender in his path. What makes him potentially so lethal to opposing defenses is that, when he does break out to the second level he can accelerate very quickly to a surprising top speed. Three times during Tennessee's first seven games, Henry reached a top speed over 20 miles per hour, and he actually has done that more than any other NFL back (24 times) since 2018. Henry often has to do all of this against unfavorable defensive fronts. Through Week Eight, he had faced a loaded box (eight or more defenders) on 51.7% of his carries. Only Cleveland's Nick Chubb faced more frequent loaded boxes this season before he suffered his season-ending injury. Lavonte David won't be shying away from this enormous (literally) challenge; in his 12th season and at the age of 33, David seems to be channeling the best days of his younger years. He is on a streak of four straight games with at least 11 tackles and has a team-leading 36 stops on rushing plays. He frequently gets to ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage and has a team-leading nine tackles for loss, including six in the last four games combined. As he recently noted, David's 12 years of experience are allowing him to continue to thrive without having to expend as much overall energy as he did earlier in his career. Henry and David are two seasoned veterans still playing at a high level beyond the point that most players at their respective positions have begun to decline.

2. Buccaneers TE Cade Otton vs. Titans LB Azeez Al-Shaair

It hasn't taken second-year tight end Cade Otton long to become a very important part of the Buccaneers' offense, which is evidenced by how infrequently he leaves the field. Twice already this season, Otton has played every single offensive snap in a game, something that superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't do once in his two seasons with the team. One of those two games for Otton came last week, when he had career-best production with six receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns. Two of Otton's catches were straight go routes from the right end of the line and down the seam, one for 24 yards on the Bucs' first play and one for a go-ahead 14-yard touchdown in the final minute. Otton tracks the ball well on those passes, has sure hands and can pluck the pass out of the air over a defender. The Titans plucked linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair off San Francisco's loaded defense in the offseason and made him an every-down player, and they've definitely enjoyed the results. Al-Shaair ranks sixth in the NFL with a team-leading 83 tackles and has been able to both invade the backfield (one sack, four quarterback hits) and effectively drop into coverage (three passes defensed).

3. Titans T Chris Hubbard* vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett

(* or Andre Dillard, or Dillon Radunz, or Jaelyn Duncan)

Tenth-year lineman Chris Hubbard started the first seven games of the season for the Titans but missed the most recent game with a concussion. With another 10 days to recover after that Thursday night contest, Hubbard has a good chance to return on Sunday against the Buccaneers. That would be good timing for the Titans, since Hubbard's replacement against Pittsburgh, Nicholas Petit-Frere, suffered a shoulder injury that is expected to require surgery. Hubbard had only started six games over the previous three seasons in Cleveland but he does have plenty of experience with 56 career starts. If he doesn't return, the Titans would likely be choosing between Andre Dillard, Dillon Radunz and rookie sixth-rounder Jaelyn Duncan, with one of the other two playing left tackle. Barrett has lined up on both sides of the line this season so at some point he should have some one-on-one opportunities with Hubbard or his potential replacement. Barrett's strip-sack against Houston's C.J. Stroud last week did not result in a turnover because Texans tackle George Fant fell on the loose ball, but Barrett's 16 turnovers caused by pressure since 2019 are the most in the NFL. Barrett leads all Bucs pass-rushers with 26 quarterback pressures, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, as does his pressure rate of 14.1%.

4. Buccaneers G Cody Mauch vs. Titans DT Jeffery Simmons

The Titans have lined star defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons all over the place along their defensive front, with his NGS pre-snap location heat map basically a solid red line from one hash mark to the other. That means that all of the Bucs' interior offensive linemen are going to get some piece of the Simmons action on Sunday, but of those three only Mauch is a rookie. Mauch has started every game for the Buccaneers at right guard and his transition to that from playing left tackle at North Dakota State has included the ups and downs that would be expected of any rookie in that position. He has displayed the athleticism and fight-to-the-whistle attitude that prompted the Bucs to draft him in the second round in April. Simmons can invade a backfield with alarming quickness; according to NGS he has generated 15 "quick pressures" this season, tied for the third most among NFL defensive tackles. The 6-4, 305-pound Simmons, a 2019 first-round pick, went to his first Pro Bowl after an 8.5-sack campaign in 2021, then did so again last year after recording 7.5 more sacks. He had 43 quarterback pressures in 2022 but also ranked as one of the better run-stopping defensive tackles in the league, with a 4.7% run stuff rate, 11th best among NFL defensive tackles.

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