As we turn the page from the evaluation portion of the year and are finished discussing which players will make the team and which will be cut, it is time to start looking at the Titans' first opponent of the regular season--the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In what will be a weekly post, we will examine favorable matchups and unfavorable matchups for the Titans' next opponent. While there are always a lot of surprises in week 1, there are already some clues as far as where the Buccaneers are strong and where they can be had.
Reasons For Confidence: Buccaneers' Offensive line, Dick Lebeau vs. Jameis Winston, Buccaneers' Defensive Backs.
- Offensive Line: Giving up 52 sacks last season, the Buccaneers were extremely weak along the offensive line in 2014. If the pre-season was any indication, it is a problem that is nowhere near solved. The team drafted left tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State, who was raw coming out of school, and has been battling an ankle inury--he just got out of a walking boot this week. He will see veteran edge rusher Brian Orakpo, who should give him fits. On the other side of the offensive line, the Buccaneers are missing arguably their best offensive lineman, Demar Dotson. While the Titans have the advantage on the outside, the Buccaneers' inside is a little more secure, featuring guards Logan Mankins and Ali Marpet. Luckily for the Titans, their best player on the defense, Jurrell Casey plays on the inside, and is a matchup nightmare for almost all offensive guards in the league. Not only do the Titans have an overall advantage from a player-to-player matchup standpoint, but Jameis Winston also has a tendency to hang onto the ball longer than he should, as he looks to make plays down the field. The Titans absolutely must win this matchup if they want to be successful on Sunday.
- Dick Lebeau Factor: For years, we have heard about Dick Lebeau's defenses causing trouble for rookie quarterbacks, and quarterbacks making their first starts. Jameis Winston, of course, is a combination of both. In college, Winston had trouble recognizing underneath defenders, which led to a good chunk of his (18) interceptions in 2014. Lebeau should be ready to cause all sorts of confusion for Winston on Sunday. Winston, labeled a "gunslinger," has been known to turn the ball over, so there is a possibility for the defense to make some plays, which is something we did not see nearly enough in 2014.
- Defensive Backs: While on the outside, the Buccaneers have a solid duo in Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks, there is not much else as far as the defensive backs go. Inside, the team will rely on shaky veteran Mike Jenkins, and possibly Tim Jennings, who was recently cut by the defensive back needy Chicago Bears. Tampa Bay is also shaky as far as safety play goes too with Major Wright and Bradley McDougald. Another safety that will be rotated in by Lovie Smith at times is DJ Swearinger. He will make some highlight hits and is a solid run defender, but he can definitely be exploited in the passing game. Delanie Walker, one of the league's best tight ends, could have a big day in the middle of the field.
Reasons For Concern: Buccaneers' Wide Receivers, Doug Martin, Gerald Mccoy.
- Wide Receivers: On offense, Tampa Bay has two trees on the outside. Mike Evans is an emerging star in the NFL, after being borderline dominant in the second half of the 2014 season. Vincent Jackson is still a very good wide receiver in his own right. He racked up 1000 yards last year with Josh McCown throwing him the football. With Jameis Winston looking to make plays downfield, Evans and Jackson could potentially be an extremely dangerous combination. This is bad news for the Titans, who are missing their best cornerback in Jason McCourty. A lot may be placed on Blidi Wreh-Wilson, which is something no Titans fan wants to hear after last season. To make things worse, Wreh-Wilson will be rusty after missing the entire pre-season with a high ankle sprain. There's a chance he may even still be hobbled, as high ankle sprains linger for a very long time. The Titans may luck out and not have to see Mike Evans--he missed his second straight practice on Wednesday--but there is still a lot of reason to be concerned with the cornerbacks.
- Doug Martin: While he has struggled recently, Doug Martin looks to be back in his rookie form, if pre-season is any indication. He looked decisive and ran hard. While the Titans looked improved against the run in August, any formidable running back will be a threat until they prove otherwise in real games. The Titans inside linebackers have not looked great so far this year as well, and they are not deep at the position, so there is definite reason for concern.
- Gerald McCoy: Outside of J.J. Watt, I could not think of a much scarier first matchup for Byron Bell at left guard. McCoy is one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL, and pressure from the inside gives all quarterbacks a lot of trouble. The coaching staff definitely needs to have Taylor Lewan work with Bell on McCoy, because he is a player that can completely change the game.
Considering the fact that both teams went 2-14 last year and still have a lot of problems all over their respective rosters, neither fanbase should be feeling overly confident going into Sunday. Mike Evans' status could be a big factor, but regardless, the Titans are going to have some trouble. Like the Titans, the Buccaneers have some very talented players, with roster holes around them. Sunday's game will be all about who exploits them.