On Christmas night in Arizona, the Bucs again face a quarterback making his first career start in the NFL. With Kyler Murray set for the season due to a torn ACL and Colt McCoy ruled out with a concussion, former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley will be under center for the Cardinals.
Of course, over the years Tampa Bay has had its share of battles with unheralded quarterbacks – even under Todd Bowles. Whether it’s a debuting quarterback, a rookie, or a backup, there’s been something about those situations that has been hard to fix. Just two weeks ago, the Bucs faced a similar situation in San Francisco. Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant from the 2022 Draft, made his first career start and led the 49ers to a 35-7 victory while scoring a total of three touchdowns along the way.
What Purdy actually did wasn’t too surprising, at least considering the Bucs’ track record in such matchups. In fact, history is on McSorley’s side this Sunday as Tampa Bay has lost five straight games to debuting quarterbacks (with Greg Auman).
For the defense, winning this Sunday starts with making sure no one overlooks the man under center on the other side of the ball.
“Regardless of the quarterback and who he is, they’re in the NFL. And they have a game plan and they get paid like us, so we can’t underestimate anyone,” Bucs cornerback Carlton Davis III said Wednesday. and [undermanned] therefore. I think every week, regardless of who’s awake, we have a job to do. And this week we have to do our job and get a dub.
Purdy wasn’t even the first rookie or backup quarterback to beat the Bucs this season. When Tampa Bay lost to Pittsburgh in Week 6, rookie Kenny Pickett and backup Mitch Trubisky teamed up to clinch the 20-18 win for the Steelers. The following week, Carolina’s reserve PJ Walker led the Panthers to a 21-3 victory over the Bucs. Then, of course, there was Purdy who led the 49ers to an even more lopsided victory over Bowles’ team on December 11.
However they have to do it, the Bucs must avoid history repeating itself when they face McSorley and the Cardinals this Sunday night. They still maintain a slim one-game lead atop the NFC South, and a Christmas win would give them a chance to clinch the division with a win over the Panthers in Week 17.
Bucs plans to prepare for Arizona’s plan – not the quarterback
Bowles said ahead of the team’s meeting with Purdy and the 49ers two weeks ago that what a defense can do when they face a new quarterback is to prepare for the plan rather than the quarterback himself. On Wednesday, he echoed a similar sentiment as Tampa Bay is ready for another game against a debuting signal caller.
“As for the quarterback, whether it was Kyler [Murray]be it Colt [McCoy] or that it is [Trace] McSorley — they sort of manage their system,” Bowles said. “All three can play football – Kyler may be faster than everyone else because he had elite speed, but everyone else can run the ball too. They throw it away anyway, so we have to prepare for everything.”
That’s a philosophy Bowles instilled in his players, with linebacker and captain Devin White saying much the same thing when he spoke to the media on Wednesday.
“It makes no difference [who’s playing quarterback]’ said White. “We just have to get into what they’re doing and the details they’re giving us in the movie. Whoever is behind it at quarterback, we know it’s going to be the same offense because that’s what they’ve been working on in training camp and all season, so they’re not really going to change anything.
There’s no question that a big part of the Bucs’ preparation will have to do with Arizona’s plan. But much of their work will also be focused on the Cardinals’ skill talent, which Bowles gave high praise for this week.
“They have very good skills guys – they are very fast,” he said. “Evidently, [DeAndre] Hopkins has been doing it for a long time – [he’s] one of the best in the league, he has excellent hands and he competes. They have ‘Hollywood’ [Marquise] Brown, they’ve got Robbie [Anderson] so they have tons of speed outside. [James] Connor does a great job for them – blocking, catching and running the football – so he’s sort of a triple threat, so to speak. They have [Trey] McBride they just drafted – we loved that he came from college – he was a great player there. They have a huge offensive line.”
Despite appearing in only eight games, Hopkins leads Arizona with 63 catches for 713 yards and three touchdowns. Brown has 57 catches for 584 yards and three scores, while Connor has 624 rushing yards, 228 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns. So there will be plenty of guys for the Bucs to capitalize on when they take the field on Sunday.
The Tampa Bay defense allows 20.6 points per game, which is tied for 10th in the league. Meanwhile, Arizona averages 20.9 points per game, which ranks 18th in the NFL. Whether the Bucs can keep the Cardinals below that average could be decisive for this Christmas Eve primetime game. especially given their own offensive struggles. But of course, to do that, they’re going to have to finally work out their issues with unsung quarterbacks.
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