DE Michael Johnson vs. LT Andrew Whitworth
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers want to play good defense, they need a good pass rush. That's true for any defense, but it's doubly true for the blitz-light Tampa 2-style defense the Bucs practice. That means Gerald McCoy need to beat Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling. It means Akeem Spence needs to at least provide some impact, assuming Clinton McDonald can't play.
But more than anything, it means the Bucs need Michael Johnson to finally just show up. The former Bengal has been hobbled by injuries, but he simply hasn't had the impact he can have. His speed rush is completely ineffectual, and he rarely uses his power to go through an offensive tackle. When he does, the results are still pretty good.
So that's what he needs to do against his former teammate. Just rush, with power, and push him back. Make Andy Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket, force him to get rid of the ball early, and prevent him from finding A.J. Green down the field. It's Johnson's time. Can he finally wake up?
CB Alterraun Verner vs. WR A.J. Green
A.J. Green is, arguably, the best wide receiver in the NFL. Ironically, he's less productive than Mike Evans this season, mostly due to injuries. Those injuries shouldn't limit him on Sunday, though, which is bad news for the Buccaneers.
What makes Green special is effortless speed combined with great size. One problem the Bucs have had this season has been dealing down-field speed. With mediocre safety play, receivers have found it easy to get behind cornerbacks and make a few big plays. Alterraun Verner is the only player who's been able to keep up with receivers down the field, but he's been beaten repeatedly on double moves, too.
That needs to change this week. The Bucs cannot beat the Bengals if A.J. Green can run free. And it will be Verner's task to limit him. Oh boy.
LB Lavonte David vs. RB Giovani Bernard
The Bucs were surprisingly solid on defense without Lavonte David last week. Danny Lansanah played well in his place, and Orie Lemon held down the fort admirably at the strongside spot. But David returns this week, which means we can all rest easy.
David's main challenge will likely be to limit Giovani Bernard. He's been splitting carries with Jeremy Hill, a solid but not explosive back. Bernard is the player who can take any single carry to the house, although he's less consistent than Hill. Stopping Hill will be important, of course, but that won't matter if Bernard is allowed to have even one explosive play.
Bernard is also a threat in the passing game, which will present some extra challenges for David, who will usually be in position to stop Bernard on routes of the backfield. David is fast and a very good tackler, but he's not infallible -- and there have been multiple occasions this season where he was beaten in exactly this situation. That can't happen if the Bucs want to win tomorrow.
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