The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Tennessee Titans, and the main storyline is all about Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. That's understandable, but these two players aren't lining up against each other: they're competing against the opposing defenses. Ultimately, it's a team vs. team game, no matter how important quarterbacks are. So if it isn't about Winston outperforming Mariota, what do the Bucs need to do on offense to beat the Titans?
Here are four key matchups the Bucs must win.
Jameis Winston vs. Dick LeBeau
Dick LeBeau has a reputation as a mad blitzer, but that's not quite accurate. LeBeau is certainly renowned for his blitzes, but mostly his zone blitzes. That is, he's not sending the house very often -- usually he'll send four or five rushers, dropping a few front four players into coverage to compensate for the back seven players he's sending. That tactic was revolutionary when he first did it, but it's fairly normal now.
That said, it's a tough tactic to consistently adjust to and it can easily lead to turnovers if your offense isn't entirely on the right page. Think James Harrison 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLII against Kurt Warner. Winston's big challenge against the Titans will be setting the protection to account for all of the actual rushers, and finding his hot receivers if a blitzers comes unblocked. The Bucs didn't use hot reads in the preseason and didn't gameplan for specific blitzes, so we don't really know how well he can do that.
Receivers vs. Blidi Wreh-Wilson
With Jason McCourty out and Perrish Cox not guaranteed to suit up tomorrow, the Titans have zero depth at cornerback. That means that the Bucs' top two receivers will have a fairly easy day, and that could very well determine the outcome of this game. The Bucs are best on offense when they isolate Jackson and Evans and cornerbacks and allow them to go up and make contested catches -- and that should be easy against the opposition they're facing on Sunday.
Doug Martin vs. his rookie form
Doug Martin was a dominant back in his rookie season, but has looked (like a) pedestrian over the past two seasons. But this preseason he's shown not just flashes of his rookie form, but consistency as well. He looks more explosive than he has since 2012, is making people miss and actually finding ways to squirt through the tiny holes in the offensive line that he was consistently finding as a rookie. The Bucs need him to lead the offense to slow down LeBeau's zone blitzes, and that will only happen if Martin's apparent form is not a mirage.
Ali Marpet and Logan Mankins vs. Jurrell Casey
Ali Marpet is often seen as the weak link on the offensive line, but Logan Mankins hasn't exactly been the stalwart he used to be in New England either. And both players struggle with the same kinds of defensive tackles: the quick, agile ones -- they're both a little better at handling power rushers. Unfortunately for them, Casey's the top defensive lineman for the Titans and a disruptive speed rusher who had 10.5 sacks back in 2013 when he was still playing in a 4-3. He's getting fewer opportunities to just straight-up rush in this defense, but he'll still be a disruptive presence that could break the Bucs' passing game even if all of the protection calls and adjustments do work.