After facing a star-studded 49ers team last week – and lost 35-7 — the Bucs don’t have it any easier in Week 15. The 9-4 Bengals come to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon, led by two of the NFL’s biggest young stars.
At the forefront of Cincinnati’s turnaround over the past few years has been third-year quarterback Joe Burrow. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 after his Heisman season ended in a national championship for LSU. His NFL career has also taken off quickly, despite tearing his ACL as a rookie.
After coming back from his knee injury to begin the 2021 season, Burrow led the Bengals to a 10–7 record. He then took them to victories over Las Vegas, Tennessee and Kansas City en route to Cincinnati’s first Super Bowl appearance since the 1988 season. The Bengals eventually fell to the Rams, who defeated the Bucs in the NFC Divisional Round. But Burrow, the 2021 Comeback Player of the Year, has his team in the mix again in 2022.
Bucs head coach Todd Bowles had high praise for the 26-year-old quarterback on Wednesday, pointing out just about every part of his game.
“I don’t have all the adjectives everyone said about him,” Bowles said. “He’s great, he’s ready in the pocket, he throws a great ball down the field, he can throw from any angle, he can make any pitch, he’s got some great receivers to throw to, he’s got a good understanding of the attack.” and the game, he can take advantage of what you try to give him, he can run the ball when he needs to run the ball, he can throw people open, he can use his feet.
“He understands the game. Certain guys already have a talent for the game when they come out of college, he has it.
Burrow is sure to wreak havoc on the Bucs defense on Sunday, especially if the secondary is without cornerback Jamel Dean. The Status of Tampa Bay’s Launch Safeguards – Antoine Winfield Jr. and Mike Edwards – is also up for debate.
Cincinnati’s signal caller, who is in the MVP race with 3,685 passing yards and 27 passing touchdowns to go along with his 234 yards and five scores on the ground, will look to exploit that weakened back of the Bucs defense. And he’ll have plenty of help if he seems to.
Bucs have more than just digging to deal with
Burrow may have been the face of LSU’s 2019 National Championship Team, but that team is considered one of the greatest of all time for a reason. It has produced some of the game’s best young players and, aside from Burrow, Cincinnati has another of those former Tigers who are going to cause the Bucs some serious trouble this Sunday.
Of course, that would be the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase. Teammates at LSU and now teammates with the Bengals, Burrow and Chase are one of the top quarterback receiver duos in the league right now.
Chase’s 2021 season has been one filled with broken records. He finished with 1,455 receiving yards, which was the most by a rookie in NFL history. He also set a new rookie record for receiving yards in a game (266 against the Chiefs) and receiving yards in a postseason (368). And this year, despite missing time with a hip injury, he has 64 catches for 821 yards and seven touchdowns.
“[He has] excellent hands, excellent size, [he is] very good for getting off the ball,” said Bowles. “His catch radius is huge – him and Tee Higgins actually – as soon as the ball hits his hands, he now goes onto the pitch. It’s rare to see someone go onto the pitch at that size so quickly. He has a natural talent for game and he looks great doing it.”
The Bucs’ passing defense ranks sixth in the NFL, with just 195.3 passing yards per game. But with the potential for some key absences in secondary, Tampa Bay will have to get creative in trying to slow down the Bengals’ offense. Cincinnati averages 268.1 passing yards per game, ranking fourth in the league.
Sunday’s game is an important one for Tampa Bay as the team looks set to get to 7-7 before Christmas. Given the state of the Bucs’ offense right now, Bowles’ team can’t afford for this Week 15 game to turn into a shootout. And with Burrow and Chase spearheading Cincinnati’s offensive offense, the head coach’s defense faces a big task.
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