clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Buccaneers vs. Cardinals preview: Three key matchups on Tampa Bay's defense

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled on defense last season, and are now facing one of the better and more explosive offenses in the league. The Arizona Cardinals didn't have a great start to the season, losing to the New England Patriots and will be looking to avenge that opening loss.

The Bucs did a lot of work to upgrade their struggling defense, most notably by replacing almost the entire defensive coaching staff and signing a few veteran starters. Those changes will have to make a difference against the Cardinals for Tampa Bay to come away with their second win of the season.

That means winning matchups. And specifically, these three key matchups that could decide the winner of today's game.

WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. CB Brent Grimes

Top receiver vs. top cornerback is always an important matchup. For the Cardinals, the top receiver is still Larry Fitzgerald. He may be contemplating retirement, he still racked up eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns last week. He's still as physical as ever, and as dominant on contested catches as any receiver in the league.

I'd talk about Grimes' long history against Larry Fitzgerald, but the two haven't faced each other since 2010. Fitzgerald had seven catches for 83 yards at the time, though he was catching passes from Derek Anderson, so that may not be a good indication of, well, anything.

This will be a matchup of two very experienced veterans, neither of whom is at the height of their career anymore, but both of whom still have the skills and athletic ability to make this a very intriguing matchup.

RB David Johnson vs. LB Kwon Alexander

Kwon Alexander has displaced Lavonte David as the team's leading tackler, though David is still the best at producing splash plays. David and Alexander are a dynamic combination, but they'll have their work cut out against David Johnson.

The second-year back had 132 combined yards and a touchdown in his first game of the seasons, after racking up over 1,000 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. Johnson's fast, physical and tough to stop -- and in some ways, he's the foundation of the Cardinals offense.

Alexander is going to be key in stopping him, as is generally true for any middle linebacker. Last season, Alexander had a tendency to overrun plays and miss a few too many tackles. This year, it feels like he's gotten better at both aspects -- which would go a long way toward stopping Johnson.

G Evan Mathis/ Earl Watford vs. DT Gerald McCoy

The Bucs pass rush starts with Gerald McCoy. He's the guy who makes everything else go, and the team has finally give him some adequate help in the form of Noah Spence and Robert Ayers -- though the latter's participation today is still a bit up in the air.

The same is true for Evan Mathis, though, which is why I listed Earl Watford there, who's likely to start in Mathis' place. Mathis, of course, is one of the better guards in the league, though he hasn't been able to stop McCoy when he's faced him in the past.

Making this matchup more important is the fact that Carson Palmer is a highly static quarterback. The veteran has pocket presence and won't panic under pressure, but he can't really adjust very well to pressure, especially pressure up the middle. If Mathis and/or Watford can't hold up against McCoy, this could be a very long day for the Arizona quarterback.