Arizona Cardinals versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Week 6 Preview

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Sep 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) hug at end of game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 18, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) hug at end of game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 40-7. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals versus the Buccaneers

The Arizona Cardinals have an air of excitement around them despite a losing record. There are not many reasons to feel excited for Arizona fans, but the team’s recent trade for running back Adrian Peterson has the state buzzing. The Cardinals are welcoming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday. A win for the Cardinals would go a long way to getting back into contention to win the division. A loss would add to the pressure already on the team. The lack of a true leader in the division means each game is a must win for Arizona; can Sunday be the start of their ascendance? Here are three keys to victory against their NFC South foe.

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Defense Needs to Stand Up

The Cardinals defense has been average at best in 2017. The losses from free agency and injuries have handcuffed the unit. Defensively, the Cardinals have struggled to play a complete game. The run defense gave up more than 100 yards last Sunday against the Eagles and nearly hit the century mark against the 49ers and Cowboys the two weeks prior. The pass defense has been spotty and has struggled to cover anyone. If not for some bad quarterback play from San Francisco and Indianapolis, the Cardinals could easily be winless on the year.

Oct 8, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) and strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) after a reception during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) is tackled by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) and strong safety Antoine Bethea (41) after a reception during the second half at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Jameis Winston led offense for Tampa Bay has lacked a run game and struggle to find a rhythm through the air, but have still managed to get yards in chunks. The Cardinals have struggled to put pressure on the quarterback this season, made more difficult after losing outside linebacker Markus Golden for the year to injury. Tampa Bay does not allow much pressure on Winston. They have given up just seven sacks on the year, a stat which is a major factor in coming in as the 13th best air attack in the NFL thus far. The receiving tandem of Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson test defenses as both men are deep threats and can operate underneath. Jackson is the speedster who made a name for himself in Philadelphia with his big play ability. Evans is a pass catcher who has a scary blend of size and speed. The former first round pick is a great jump-ball target and has become Winston’s choice in important spots.

The Cardinals will need to find ways to put pressure on Winston via the blitz or different alignment. A clean pocket, even with cornerback Patrick Peterson in the secondary, will spell trouble for Arizona. A big game by Chandler Jones will go a long way towards shutting down the Tampa Bay offense. The front seven needs to get into the backfield and cause chaos if the Cardinals are to stand a chance.

Get Adrian Peterson Going

The Cardinals made a splash earlier this week by trading for running back Adrian Peterson. The move meant Chris Johnson was out of a job, but that the Cardinals were making an attempt to make a playoff push. Cover32 covered earlier what the move means going forward, but what does the move mean on Sunday against the Buccaneers? The Cardinals are hoping for some help along the offensive line with guard Alex Boone getting some limited practice time this week. Starting Boone would be an upgrade on the line that would also be helped if tackles Jared Veldheer and D.J. Humphries are able to play. The line will need as much help as possible to get the run game going with Peterson. The Bucs have talented defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker who lead a defensive unit ranked third in the NFL for rushing yards allowed. Peterson is a hard runner and needs to find room inside. It will be key that the line trio of Boone, center A.Q. Shipley, and right guard Evan Boehm get some push against McCoy and Baker. If the line is unable to prevent consistent penetration, it will be a long day for the offense.

Oct 11, 2017; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson talks with running backs coach Freddie Kitchens during practice at the team's training facility. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK
Oct 11, 2017; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson talks with running backs coach Freddie Kitchens during practice at the team's training facility. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK

The Bucs may see a boost to their front seven with the possible return of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Both players are talented against the run but are also versatile enough to assist in the passing game. Tampa Bay does struggle in terms of passing yards allowed. The Cardinals passing offense, while struggling to score regularly, has put up good yards this season. If the Cardinals can at least afford Peterson and run game a few more attempts, this should open up some chances deep for guys like John Brown. Of course, this hinges on how well the ground game can get going and relieve some of the pressure off the passing game and allow play action to be used to help give time to Palmer.

Make Special Teams Count

The subject of missed field goals is something Tampa Bay knows all too much about. Last season saw second round pick Roberto Aguayo struggle to find his mark. A training camp competition with veteran Nick Folk opened up the door for Aguayo to be released. Folk has actually been worse than Aguayo, hitting just 54.5 percent of his kicks. By comparison Aguayo hit 71 percent of his attempts in 2016. Folk is out and on the injured reserve after missing three kicks against New England and in comes a familiar face for the Bucs, Patrick Murray. Murray was on the squad a few years ago before a knee injury forced him out. Murray recently revealed that he had been using a medium to get rid of any bad energy and help him kick. This is to say the Cardinals may have an edge in special teams against Tampa Bay. Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson has been uncharacteristically spotty this season as he has connected on just 69.2 percent of his attempts. Dawson has a career 84.1 percent conversion rate so Arizona expects a rebound from the early part of the season. Having Dawson’s veteran presence does provide some assurance that the unit will be okay.

Aug 29, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray (7) kicks an extra point against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Patrick Murray (7) kicks an extra point against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The key to making the special teams unit count against Tampa Bay has more to do with Arizona’s offense and defense. Put points on the board and force the Buccaneers to match offensive output. The Cardinals defense will also need to not allow big plays and force the offense to drive the ball down field and force long field goals. Make Tampa Bay worry about needing to do more on offense. Put the Tampa Bay field goal unit into tough situations and place doubt in the mind of the newly signed Murray. Ideally the Cardinals get a big lead and it does not come down to a field goal miss by Tampa Bay. However, Arizona needs to put the pressure on early and hope that Murray struggles, likely putting added pressure to Winston and the offense.

The Verdict

At the end of the day the Cardinals are at home and the Buccaneers have enough flaws for this to end in an Arizona victory. Peterson could be a major key in keeping Palmer clean and the offense running smoothly. The defense will be hungry after their beat down in Philadelphia. This has the potential to be the season for the Cardinals. Let us see how they respond. Cardinals 23-17.

*all stats courtesy of NFL.com

 

– Ryan Adverderada covers the Cardinals for cover32. Like and follow on