WR Mike Evans vs CB Terence Newman
Mike Evans is good. We've talked about that. A lot. It's no surprise. And if the Bucs are going to win, if they're going to score more than 13 points, they're going to need him to be productive once again on Sunday.
The good news is that he'll likely face Terence Newman, who mostly covers receivers like Evans who primarily line up on the left side. A solid cornerback, certainly, but not quite as good as Leon Hall opposite him. And he doesn't have the size to hang with Evans: at 5'11", he'll be facing a receiver towering over him, who should have little problem grabbing a few high passes over Newman's head.
On the other hand, the Bengals have actually been very good at stopping both number one and number two receivers this year. Football Outsiders ranks them third against number one receivers, and second against number two receivers -- eighth in overall pass defense. All of that with a bit of a limited pass rush. That's certainly a concern for the Bucs' turnover-prone offense.
T Anthony Collins vs DE Wallace Gilberry
Two years ago, Wallace Gilberry looked like a solid offseason pickup for the Bucs. A versatile pass-rusher who showed up throughout the preseason and looked to be a lock to make the Bucs' pass-rush-anemic roster.
Instead, they kept Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. Oops.
Gilberry's turned into a solid pass-rusher with the Bengals, though. He notched 14 sacks in 2012 and 2013 combined, despite being just a part-time player. While he's a full-time starter this year, he only has 1.5 sacks, having replaced Michael Johnson. But the Bengals as a whole have just 14 sacks and have not managed to produce the consistent pass rush they had in previous years.
Now, though, they face the one thing that will help any pass rusher perform: the Bucs offensive line. And specifically, former Bengal Anthony Collins. Cincinnati let him go in free agency, which appears to have been the right decision. Collins has been a massive disappointment in Tampa. He simply hasn't been able to consistently stop any defensive end. And if he can't do it against the 1.5-sack Wallace Gilberry, the Bucs are in for yet another rough day.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins vs. LB Emmanuel Lamur
If you want to be successful in the running, you need to block linebackers. And that's what Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been doing with varying levels of success this season. The big tight end has played around 90% of the snaps for which he's been healthy, which means the offense has relied a great deal on him -- despite the fact that he hasn't been overly productive in the passing game.
That's going to be even more the case now that Luke Stocker and Brandon Myers are struggling with injuries, and likely to sit out tomorrow's game. If Seferian-Jenkins is going to show up this year, the time is now.
And that means he needs to have an impact in both the passing game and the running game. He has the size and speed to be an impact player in both areas of the game, but he hasn't had that kind of impact this season. He's looked a little sluggish and uncertain on film, not uncommon for rookie tight ends, and with only 221 receiving yards, he's not been overly impactful as a receiver.
But the entire offense will rely on his performance tomorrow. He's likely to be the only healthy tight end with any kind of playing experience, and he'll probably play every snap. If he can't perform, the offense is doomed.
To buy tickets, visit the NFL Ticket Exchange.