Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds previews the upcoming Bucks game with six quick-hit topics. What’s at stake for the Bucs and their opponents, what could lead to a win or loss for Tampa Bay, and some key matchups to watch each week.
The Bucks, who are 3-4, have lost three straight to the Lions, Falcons and Bills, and the team continues to struggle to earn points. The 3-4 Texans lost 15-13 to the Panthers on the road last week and have lost two of their last three games.
What’s at stake for the Bucks?
Tampa Bay desperately needs a win to end a three-game losing streak. The Bucks are a half-game out of first place in the NFC South and cannot risk falling further behind in the division. Tampa Bay’s offense hasn’t made much progress when it comes to running the ball and scoring, especially touchdowns. The Bucks ranked tied for 27th in the league with Atlanta, averaging just 17.3 points per game.
That’s just shy of the 18.2 points per game Tampa Bay scored last year with offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterback Tom Brady. The ground game, or lack thereof, remains an issue in Tampa Bay. The team’s rushing attack ranks 30th in the league, averaging 77.9 yards per game. In 2022, he ranked last in the NFL with an average of 75.6 yards per game. As a result, the Bucs became a pass-first team that leveraged their offensive strengths in pass protection and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
The only problem is that it puts even more pressure on Baker Mayfield to play great, but he struggles to do so and as a result, he struggles to put points on the board. is. Tampa Bay has only scored 6 points, 13 points, and 18 points in the three games he’s played here, and his scoring is on a slight upward trend, but it’s not enough. The biggest problem has been in the red zone, where the Bucs have scored just three touchdowns in three games.
Tampa Bay’s defense is having a hard time putting pressure on quarterbacks and targeting them. Over the last three games, the Bucs have only recorded six sacks and one interception by defensive lineman Will Golston. This is not enough. Especially when the offense on the other side of the ball struggles to score touchdowns.
What’s at stake for the Texans?
The Texans suddenly appeared to have hit a home run by selecting quarterback C.J. Stroud and defensive end Will Anderson Jr. with the second and third overall picks in the 2023 NFL Draft. Stroud had the best play of any quarterback drafted this year, with nine touchdowns and just one interception through his first seven games. The only problem is that the Texans are 3-4 on the year, including two close losses to Atlanta (21-19) and Carolina (15-13). Stroud and Anderson both need to play their ‘A’ game on Sunday.
Dameon Pierce and Devin Singletary will need to get the Texans’ ground game going. The Texans have yet to record a run of more than 20 yards, and the lack of a strong run game puts too much pressure on Stroud to win games. The Texans and Bucs are similar in many ways in that both teams struggle to score points on offense and rely on their defense to keep their opponents out of the end zone. Houston and Tampa Bay are both tied for sixth in scoring defense, allowing 18.3 points per game.
The AFC is a much stronger conference than the NFC as it currently features nine teams with winning records compared to the NFC’s five teams above .500. Both the Texans and Bucks view this Sunday’s game as a winnable game. A return to .500 would give Houston a chance to make the playoffs later in the season. If Houston loses to Tampa Bay, it could plummet to 3-5.
If the Bucks win…
Somehow, somehow, the Bucs have to get the ball in the end zone. Tampa Bay hasn’t won a game since Week 4. The offense scored a season-high 26 points and three touchdowns, all of which came in the red zone. The Bucks’ offense is averaging just 12.3 points per game, and points have been at a premium since the bye week. The Texans’ offense hasn’t been playing well either. So expect a 16-13 game like the one the Bucks had against Atlanta a week ago, or a 15-13 game like the one the Texans had against Carolina last week. No matter the score, Tampa Bay needs more points than Houston.
Defensively, the Bucs need to stop the run and get after rookie quarterback CJ Stroud. The Texans aren’t great at running the ball, ranking 23rd in the league with an average of 91.9 yards per game. That puts more pressure on Stroud. Stroud hasn’t passed for 200 yards in a game since he had 249 yards against Atlanta in Week 5. Stroud has been sacked 19 times, and the Bucks need to put more pressure on him in the form of sacks and passes. A hit that forces the QB to make an errant pass.
The Bucks also need to play smarter football. Tampa Bay, which started the season playing more disciplined football, is currently in the top five in terms of penalties. Too many false starts, holding penalties, and illegal formation penalties will stop your drive before it even begins. Head coach Todd Bowles needs to beg his team to stop beating themselves up if they’re going to have any chance of winning.
If the Texans win…
Quarterback CJ Stroud needs to continue protecting the football. He had just one interception and he did a great job in that area as a rookie. Just as important, the Texans’ receivers need to step up and win his one-on-ones on the outside and make big plays down the field. It’s been four weeks since Stroud passed for over 250 yards, and Houston’s offense needs big plays to score early touchdowns and force a comeback against Tampa Bay, where the team usually struggles. It is said that
Houston’s pass rush needs to have a big game and force Baker Mayfield into sacks and turnovers. When the Bucs lose the turnover battle, they usually lose the game. The only problem is that the Texans have only had four interceptions this season, with right cornerback Steven Nelson having three and linebacker Blake Cashman having the other. Nelson will need to contain Mike Evans, who typically lines up on the left side away from the tight end as a split end.
This is a game between two teams that rarely give the ball back. The Bucs are tied for second-fewest turnovers with six in seven games, while the Texans have the fewest in the NFL with four. Houston head coach DeMeco Ryans said the Texans lost last week because they had one turnover, and the Panthers couldn’t do it.
Turnovers will be hard to come by on Sunday against the Bucs and Texans. Impressively, Houston (despite a rookie QB) has committed the fewest turnovers in the NFL all season with four, while Tampa Bay is tied for second-fewest with six in seven games. The Bucks have the best turnover margin in the league at +8, while the Texans have a +5.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) October 31, 2023
Key matchups for the Bucks’ offense
Bucks LT Tristan Wirfs vs. Texans DE Jonathan Greenard
Tristan Wirfs seamlessly transitioned from right tackle to left tackle this season while maintaining his Pro Bowl-caliber play. The only problem with Wirfs is that he’s not at his 100%. He suffered a deep thigh contusion in the first quarter of the team’s loss to Buffalo last Thursday night, and he likely won’t be at full strength if he plays Sunday. It will be interesting to see if Wirfs practices this week and if he does, how limited he will be.
Jonathan Greenard had eight sacks with Houston two years ago, but injuries limited him to just eight games last year, with only 1.5 sacks and a pick-six.This year, he’s back with a vengeance. He leads the Texans with six sacks, including 2.5 in last week’s 15-13 loss to Carolina. This was Greenard’s second multi-sack game of the year, and he also had two QB captures against Pittsburgh.
Greenard plays hard and physical on every down. He has limited athleticism, but his 6-foot-3, 263-pound height makes up for it with power and aggressive play. That could create problems for an injured Wirfs, or left tackle Justin Skule if Wirfs is unavailable.
When Greenard isn’t sacking quarterbacks, he’s putting pressure on them. He has 25 QB pressures on the year, second on the team behind first-round draft pick Will Anderson Jr., and has 27 pressures and one sack. Greenard plays almost exclusively on the right side, opposing left tackles, while Anderson faces right tackles on almost every down as Houston’s left defensive end.
Key matchups for the Bucks’ defense
Bucs CBs Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III vs. Texans WRs Nico Collins and Tank Dell
The Texans’ starting wide receiver duo features two players with contrasting styles of play. Veteran Nico Collins is a big receiver at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds who wins with physicality and power. Rookie Tank Dell is one of the smaller receivers in the league at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but he plays with lightning speed in an instant.
Collins leads Houston with 33 catches for 577 yards (17.5 average) and three touchdowns. Dell ranks second on the team with 32 receptions, 340 yards (15.5 average), and two TDs. Both have one catch of 50 yards or more, and Dell, who is roughly the same size as Tampa Bay’s Deven Tompkins, has a difficult time playing against taller cornerbacks.
Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean have not recorded an interception through the first seven games of the season and often do not play tight man coverage or zone coverage. Instead, Davis and Dean provide a fair amount of cushion in zone coverage and limit big plays down the field, but the result is a total of six pass breakups, which isn’t nearly enough.
Dean and Davis will need to play tougher coverage in Houston and need to trust their skills to match Collins and Dell. Bucs defensive tackle Will Golston has one interception this season, more than any of the team’s starting defensive backs. That’s embarrassing, and it’s time for Dean or Davis, or both, to generate points against the Texans.