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Bucs at Bengals: Five keys to victory

Tampa Bay should try to take advantage of one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Will Winston have less than four turnovers on Sunday?
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally ended a three game slide in an overtime win over the Cleveland Browns a week ago. Now, they travel to Cincinnati to play a Bengals team that has lost two straight games.

Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense will look to get back on track after four more turnovers against the Browns. Cincinnati enters the game with the No. 31 defense in the NFL.

A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon will be the main players to watch on the Bengals offense. It’ll be imperative for a defense that has struggled all year to attempt to limit Cincinnati's possessions.

1. Passing offense

Cincinnati is one of the worst team in the NFL in terms of passing yards per game. The Bengals are currently ranked No. 29 in the league, allowing 300.7 yards through the air per game.

Winston has thrown for 395 yards and 365 yards in his first two starts after his return from suspension. Tampa Bay should once again focus on the pass and creating big plays against a bad defense.

Mike Evans, OJ Howard, and DeSean Jackson should be able to make plays against a defense that has struggled and comes into this game banged up. The Bengals surrendered 358 yards through the air a week ago in a 45-10 loss to Kansas City.

2. Offensive line

Winston has been sacked eight times in roughly two and a half games since his return. While some of that is due to the quarterback’s tendency to hold onto the ball and make plays, it’s hard to argue that the offensive line has deteriorated since allowing just two sacks over the first two weeks.

Right guard Caleb Benenoch has struggled in recent games and Evan Smith has seen more snaps during the second half. It’ll be interesting to see if this rotation continues and if Smith overtakes Benenoch in snap count.

3. Limiting Cincinnati’s play-makers

The Bengals aren’t particularly good on offense, averaging just 336 total yards which is good for No. 25 in the NFL. However, they do have some good play makers who can break open a game if given the chance.

It’ll be vital for Tampa Bay’s defense to hold them to as little production as possible. AJ Green and Tyler Boyd have scored nine of the 15 touchdowns by the Bengals wide receiver unit. Green has amassed 611 yards on 40 catches while Boyd has 40 catches of his own for 482 yards. They’ll be the main guys to watch through the air.

On the ground, Joe Mixon will be a handful for a short-handed Buccaneers defense. Missing Gerald McCoy, Kwon Alexander, and Vinny Curry, reserves such as Carl Nassib a week ago will need to step up and perform.

4. Getting off the field

Sounds simple right? By getting off the field, I mean holding Cincinnati to short drives rather than letting them chew up the clock and tire out the defense. This unit is only in its second game under a new defensive coordinator and two of its best players are injured.

The Bengals offense has plenty of areas it can try to take advantage of. Tampa Bay will need to have the kind of success on defense that it did a week ago. The Buccaneers were able to force Cleveland into six three and outs while also holding the Browns to just 3/14 on third down.

Cincinnati had three three and outs in its loss to Kansas City last Sunday. The Bengals have converted 41.6% of their third downs over the season, ranked No. 12 in the NFL.

5. Having a pulse in the running game

While Tampa Bay should be able to have success throwing the ball downfield, it’ll also be important for the Bucs to keep Cincinnati honest in the run game.

Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones haven’t been very effective was a one-two punch so far. However, the offensive line also has struggled as mentioned above. Both units will need to get back on track against a Cincinnati defense that allows 128.7 yards per game on the ground (No. 26 in NFL).