Sunday's contest at NRG Stadium will include two desperate teams.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost three games in a row, including a Thursday night loss to the Buffalo Bills last week in Orchard Park. The Bucs now have to get back on the plane, after the mini-bye, and head to Houston where they've never beaten the Texans. The Bucs are a proud, veteran bunch DESPERATE to end their three game losing streak.
Then, there's the Texans, a young squad with key veteran influence who let one slip through their grasp on the final play of the game, similar to what happened in Atlanta two weeks prior. The Texans are DESPERATE to get some momentum playing at home, where they'll play four of the next five games.
Like I said, two desperate teams.
Tampa Bay QB Baker Mayfield returns to NRG Stadium for the first time since 2018 when he was a rookie signal caller for the Cleveland Browns. He struggled in the first half but put on a show in the second half in a loss to the Texans that day. In 2023, he has made enough plays for the Buccaneers to stay competitive in games but he hasn't been able to carry them over the top the past three weeks. I say carry because he's really having to do it all himself through the air. He's also never won at NRG Stadium, having lost in 2016 as an Oklahoma Sooner to the University of Houston in that season's opener.
That all said, I'm all for the Bucs three game losing streak, the Texans four game winning streak over Tampa Bay and Mayfield's two game losing streak at NRG continuing after Sunday's contest.
So, before Sunday arrives, let's get to Know the Texans' Week 9 Foe - the Carolina Buccaneers
2023 Schedule (3-4)
Week 1 - W @ Minnesota Vikings 20-17
Week 2 - W Chicago Bears 27-17
Week 3 - L Philadelphia Eagles 25-11
Week 4 - W @ New Orleans Saints 26-9
Week 5 - BYE
Week 6 - L Detroit Lions 20-6
Week 7 - L Atlanta Falcons 16-13
Week 8 - L @ Buffalo Bills 24-18
Week 9 - @ Houston Texans
Week 10 - Tennessee Titans
Week 11 - @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 12 - @ Indianapolis Colts
Week 13 - Carolina Panthers
Week 14 - @ Atlanta Falcons
Week 15 - @ Green Bay Packers
Week 16 - Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 17 - New Orleans Saints
Week 18 - @ Carolina Panthers
Buccaneers OFFENSE (in 2023 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 77.9 ypg (30th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 220.4 ypg (16th)
Total offense per game - 298.3 ypg (29th)
Turnovers lost - 6 (4 INT, 2 Fumbles lost)
Expected Buccaneers starting offense for Week 9
QB - BAKER MAYFIELD
RB - Rachaad White
WR - Mike Evans
WR - Chris Godwin
WR - TREY PALMER
TE - Cade Otton
LT - Tristan Wirfs
LG - MATT FEILER or Aaron Stinnie
C - Robert Hainsey
RG - CODY MAUCH
RT - Luke Goedeke
Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - RAKIM JARRETT
WR - Deven Thompkins
RB - Ke'Shawn Vaughn
TE - Ko Kieft
OG - Nick Leverett
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023
Keys to winning v. the Buccaneers Offense
1. Big Mike - The Texans haven't run into a wide receiver this year, that's been a true problem. Atlanta's Drake London is a talented, BIG receiver and he had a decent day against the Texans, but that's really it this year. Until Sunday, when the Texans face Galveston's own Mike Evans. The future Hall of Famer/former Aggie is what basketball fiends call a bucket - he can go get his own when needed. In the only game that he's faced the Texans, back in 2015 at NRG, he had seven catches for 101 yards, but most importantly, he was targeted SEVENTEEN TIMES! His targets are more consistently in the eight to ten range these days, but after just a three catch output last week against Buffalo, I could see the Bucs going to Evans repeatedly in this matchup.
2. Eliminate the Run - One of the reasons that the Bucs will likely go to Evans more often than not is due to the fact that the Bucs can't run the ball with any real effectiveness. RB Rachaad White is more of a pass receiving threat and the Bucs don't have really anyone to pound the rock behind an OL that has struggled to find consistency. The Bucs are third to last in the league with under 78 yards rushing per game. So, the Texans MUST completely eliminate the run early and make the Bucs one dimensional. If the Bucs can't run, the Texans' defense will put the game entirely on the broad shoulders of one man.
3. Baker's Dozen - That man is Tampa Bay QB Baker Mayfield. After three years of bouncing around from team to team, Mayfield has seemingly found a home in Tampa. He's not lighting up the skies with footballs, but he's giving a one dimensional offense, with a young, growing OL, a chance to put points on the board. As such, keeping Mayfield from creating and making plays out of the pocket is paramount for the Texans this week. Anything that he gets through the air must be from the pocket. In doing so, the Texans can control the big play aspect of the game and won't get beat by giving up cheap ones on scramble drills and off-schedule Mayfield creations.
Buccaneers DEFENSE (in 2023 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 98.6 ypg (10th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 256.0 ypg (28th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 354.6 ypg (25th)
Turnovers generated - 14 (7 INT, 7 Fumble recoveries - Buccaneers are +8 in TO margin)
Expected Buccaneers starting defense for Week 9
OLB - Shaq Barrett
DE - Logan Hall
NT - Vita Vea (missed last week, fully participating this week)
DE - CALIJAH KANCEY
OLB - Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
LB - Devin White
LB - Lavonte David
CB - Carlton Davis
S - Antoine Winfield Jr.
S - Ryan Neal
CB - Jamel Dean
**Nickel - CHRISTIAN IZIEN
Other Key Defensive pieces
OLB - Anthony Nelson
DE - William Gholston
NT - GREG GAINES
OLB - YaYa DIABY
CB - Zyon McCollum
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023
Keys to winning v. the Buccaneers' Defense
1. Houston Homeboy heads home - In the lead up to the 2020 NFL Draft, I was hopeful that the Texans would bring home a Minnesota Golden Gopher. Antoine Winfield Jr. played his HS ball in The Woodlands and I felt as if the Texans needed a young safety to either play next to, or eventually replace, Justin Reid. Winfield Jr. was one of my draft crushes that year because he could do it all at safety. Alas, the Texans went in a different direction and the Bucs wisely snapped up Winfield Jr. who's turned into one of the best defensive players in the league (one Pro Bowl, starter since day one). For the same reasons that I loved Jalen Pitre, I loved Winfield Jr. Think of all that Pitre impacts for the Texans defense and Winfield Jr. does the same for Tampa. So, if I were to prepare an offense to face Pitre, I'd need to know where he is at all times, need to get a body on him in the run game at all times and limit his big play impact at all times, which juices up his sideline and defense. Now, just remember Winfield's # is 31 and not #5.
2. Big V - Last week it was Panthers star DL Derrick Brown. This week it's arguably the most athletic BIG man in the NFL not named Dexter Lawrence. Bucs NT Vita Vea missed last week's game in Buffalo but he should be back over the nose in Houston against a new center, potentially Michael Deiter. This might be THE key matchup in this battle with the Bucs. In 2019, down in Tampa, the Texans couldn't run the ball at all due to Vea's presence in the middle. On 19 carries, the Texans running backs ran for 31 yards. THIRTY. ONE. Vea tossed Texans interior blockers around like throw pillows and if he's tossing OL pillows around again, proverbially speaking, the Texans offense is in HUGE trouble.
3. Dynamic Duo - I'm having trouble trying to reconcile two statements. The first one is that the Bucs have one of the best, young CB duos in the league - Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis. The second statement is that the Bucs have one of the five worst pass defenses in the league. Now, a secondary's performance isn't just about its two cornerbacks, but it is a dog-head-turning situation to look at 256 yards per game for the Bucs and then see Dean and Davis are healthy and playing. So, I'm a bit perplexed as to why teams have been peppering the Bucs with the aerial attack, but I'm all for it, especially if the Texans can't find any success on the ground in the run game.