Bengals vs. Buccaneers: Previewing Tampa Bay's Preseason Week 2 Matchup
Tampa Bay fell to the Minnesota Vikings 26-16 last week, with Winston turning in an up-and-down performance that lead to plenty of overreactions. This will be the second preseason game in a row for the Bucs against an opponent they faced in the regular season last year. The Bengals squeaked out a 14-13 victory over the Bucs on the road in 2014.
The Bucs will be without starting right tackle Demar Dotson, who suffered a knee injury in last week's loss and won't be back in the starting lineup for quite a while. It'll be an even greater challenge for an offensive line that was already lacking in quality depth, especially since they'll be facing a team with plenty of pass-rushing talent.
Before the Bucs get the Monday Night Football treatment, here's everything you need to know heading into the game.
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Time: 8 p.m. ET
News and Notes
New Man in the Middle
Most expected free agent Bruce Carter to lock down the starting middle linebacker spot after signing a fairly sizable contract this offseason, but it looks like one of Tampa Bay's mid-round draft picks has other plans.
Fourth-round pick Kwon Alexander has been taking the majority of the first-team reps at practice this week, and head coach Lovie Smith had plenty of praise for the LSU product, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud and Greg Auman:
What happens when you make plays? You get an opportunity to make more plays. We are looking at different combinations. … We wanted to see (Alexander) working with the different groups (Monday). That's what we got.
We are pleased with what he has done as a rookie. Rookies, though, have a long way to go still. He's doing some things to make us notice.
Carter signed a four-year, $20.5 million deal with the Bucs, but he won't be owed any more guaranteed money after this season, per Spotrac. This makes Carter's deal essentially a one-year accord if the Bucs want it to be. Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com points out the Bucs have already moved Carter to the strong side, where he'll try to beat out Danny Lansanah for that starting role.
Alexander has flashed playmaking ability all throughout training camp, putting his speed, instincts and explosiveness to good use as a perfect fit in the Tampa 2. Don't expect him to loosen his grip on the middle linebacker job anytime soon.
The Bucs were already thin on the offensive line before losing right tackle Demar Dotson to a knee injury, but they quickly brought in veteran Gosder Cherilus to give them a stop-gap solution.
Head coach Lovie Smith acknowledged they expect Cherilus to contribute early, per Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune: "You don’t bring a player in like that unless you plan on him helping you out in some kind of way fairly soon. Again, after one practice we’ll kind of see, but we wouldn’t bring him in here if we didn’t feel like he could help us this year."
Cherilus was released by the Indianapolis Colts after a disappointing 2014 season, despite signing a huge free-agent deal the year before. But the former first-round pick does have 100 NFL starts under his belt, and his experience could be extremely valuable to the Bucs on one of their weakest units.
Winston to Fans: "Don't Panic"
Quarterback Jameis Winston had his share of struggles—as did the entire team—in the team's preseason loss to the Vikings last week.
But the No. 1 overall draft pick is stressing patience to his new fanbase, per JoeBucsFan.com: "Fans, please don’t panic about one half of football. Please, there’s no reason to. We did some great things and we’re going to build on the positives. Stay with us. Come witness a chance for us to win a game."
The Bucs looked like a 2-14 team with a rookie starting quarterback, so fans should have tempered expectations for a first preseason game anyway. But the overreactions were all over the place in the wake of Saturday's loss, despite plenty of positive moments.
Things aren't likely to turn around overnight for Tampa Bay, but they're moving in the right direction. Fans would do well to take a deep breath and settle in for the ride.
Latest Injury News
NFL teams don't have to release official injury reports for preseason games, but here are a few players who may end up missing Monday night's game:
*Injury information courtesy of BucsNation.com.
Dotson's injury is the most concerning, as it's still unclear how much time the starting right tackle will miss. Spence had back surgery in July and should be out of commission until October, at the earliest, while Conte continues to struggle to get over a hamstring injury he suffered at the beginning of training camp.
The rest of the players on this list are dealing with minor bumps and bruises, none of which should keep them out of the lineup Monday night.
Bucs Secondary vs. Bengals Receivers
Tampa Bay's secondary struggled the entire game against the Vikings last week, regardless of which unit was on the field and who the opposing quarterback was. Minnesota's passers completed 27 of their 33 pass attempts for nearly 300 yards, rarely being disturbed by the pass rush and distributing the ball nearly at will.
The unit will have their hands full again this week with the likes of A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and the rest of a talented group of receivers. Tampa Bay needs particular improvement from the nickel corner spot, where Leonard Johnson and Isaiah Frey simply haven't gotten the job done.
Jameis Winston vs. Bengals Defense
Winston had a rocky start to his preseason NFL debut last week against the Vikings, but he eventually settled into a rhythm, becoming more comfortable in the pocket and making better decisions and throws.
This week, the rookie will face another stout defense that has plenty of talent in the secondary, but also the bodies up front to put consistent pressure on his work-in-progress offensive line. Winston may draw some comfort from playing at home for the first time, but he'll have to lock in early if he wants to have success against Cincinnati's defense.
Bucs X-Factor of the Week: Rookie Offensive Linemen
Even before Demar Dotson went down with a knee injury, the Bucs were expected to lean heavily on two rookies to man a pair of starting spots up front.
But now with Dotson out for quite a while, it'll become even more imperative that Donovan Smith develop to the point where he can start at left tackle. Kevin Pamphile and the newly acquired Gosder Cherilus can handle the duties on the right side in Dotson's absence.
Tampa Bay has also had a gaping hole at right guard for the last few years, but they hope to have filled that with small-school standout Ali Marpet. Despite hailing from tiny Hobart College in New Jersey, the Bucs traded up into the late-second round to secure Marpet, who had an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl and a strong showing at the combine.
Marpet is already showing flashes of brilliance, including handling three-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy during practice. The starting right guard job should be his to lose, but he'll have his hands full with the Bengals' destructive interior defenders.
Both Smith and Marpet will be key in keeping the Bucs quarterbacks safe, and they'll have to hasten their transition to the NFL level.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Bucs 13
The fact that Tampa Bay's reserves fared as well as their starters—if not better—in last week's loss to the Vikings could mean the team is building stronger depth, but they still have a long way to go in some key areas.
Demar Dotson's injury certainly won't help matters, and the Bengals are a much deeper team across the board than Tampa Bay. Keeping Cincy's talented pass-rushers off the quarterback will be a challenge all night for Tampa Bay's struggling offensive line, which could easily force their passers into bad decisions and turnovers.
The growing pains of understanding and executing the Tampa 2 defense are still in progress for the Bucs, and the Bengals have enough talent on offense to exploit that. Don't be surprised to see the visitors take this one fairly easily.
Final Prediction: Bengals 27, Bucs 13