I hope you got your fill of Joe Burrow vs. Tom Brady content for the week, because you won’t find that matchup here.
The Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face one another Sunday afternoon as two division-leading teams that seem to be trending in opposite directions. Cincinnati has won five straight games. Tampa Bay has dropped two of their last three.
Differences exist philosophically as well. The Bengals try to balance their offense depending on the opponent, opting to air it out or pound the rock when it suits them. The Bucs will drop back 50 times a game with no remorse regardless of anything. While the Bengals typically adapt on a weekly basis defensively, there’s not much scheme diversity with the Buccaneers.
Contrasts colliding should lead to an interesting outcome. Here are the matchups we’ll be watching for.
Dax Hill vs. Chris Godwin
We might be jumping the gun a bit since Jalen Davis hasn’t officially been declared out, but the odds point towards Hill making his first start for the Bengals at slot cornerback.
Hill was drafted by the Bengals to eventually play safety full-time, and even left high school as one of the best safeties in the country, but Michigan found him a home in the slot. This isn’t anything brand new to him, but any adaption period will have to be quick come game time. When focusing specifically on coverage, nine of Hill’s 38 snaps this year have come from defending the slot, second to free safety (14). That number will likely quadruple in size at the conclusion of facing the Bucs’ pass-heavy offense.
It will not be an easy first start for Hill, not necessarily because of the quarterback he’s facing, but the receiver. Godwin is one of the best slot pass-catchers in the NFL and has been for years. Only Christian Kirk has been targeted more from that alignment this season, and he leads all slots in contested catches made with nine.
There won’t be any tricks come Sunday; Tom Brady will look to exploit the rookie with one of his primary weapons.
Joseph Ossai vs. Donovan Smith
You think Brady remembers being sacked in a preseason game last year? Maybe, considering his competitiveness won’t allow him to forget. You can be damn sure Ossai remembers taking down the G.O.A.T. in his first NFL game of any kind back in 2021. He’ll have ample more opportunities on Sunday with Trey Hendrickson sidelined due to a wrist injury. The Bengals can’t afford to align Ossai anywhere else other than right defensive end for much of the game because of Hendrickson’s absence.
Standing in his way of another sack on Brady is Smith, who’s been penalized 11 times this year and shares a five-way tie for the lead among tackles. In pass protection, Smith has had a couple bad weeks against elite competition, but has been stout otherwise. Such is the nature of being a non-elite left tackle nowadays.
The total time Hendrickson will miss is unknown, but if Ossai can put together similar production in an expanded role, the need for Hendrickson to rush back out there won’t be as dire.
Alex Cappa vs. Akiem Hicks
Offensive lineman returning to their old stomping grounds doesn’t get the publicity quarterbacks get when they do the same. There won’t be a red carpet for Cappa to walk down when he enters Raymond James Stadium for the first time since he was a Buccaneer himself. He’s the enemy now, especially after leaving Brady on read before he officially signed on to be Joe Burrow’s protector instead.
We haven’t talked much Cappa this year, but he’s graded out above 80 five times this year according to Pro Football Focus. He wasn’t at his best last week against the Cleveland Browns, but he’s yet to underperform two weeks in a row as a Bengal.
Tampa Bay’s interior defensive line will be without its best player in Vita Vea. That will lead to guys like Deadrin Senat and Rakeem Nunez-Roches playing next to Hicks, which should make Hicks’ job a bit tougher. The former long-time Chicago Bears disrupter has only played 257 snaps for his new team this year and has largely been a non-factor against the pass.
Joe Burrow vs. Devin White
Before Burrow became an LSU legend, he was a transfer quarterback earning respect of the best the Tigers had to offer. White was permanent team captain the year Burrow entered the equation in 2018. One practice, not too long after White stood up for Burrow in a team-meeting to support his case as the starting quarterback, the star linebacker was chipping at Burrow between plays, and the future Heisman winner didn’t back down. Burrow responded back, saying, “Hey, Devin, shut up or else I’m going to come over there and beat the f—k out of you!”
One of these two better be mic’d up on Sunday.
Burrow not only hasn’t thrown an interception against a non-divisional opponent this season, he hasn’t had a turnover worthy throw against a team outside the AFC North since Week 3. Burrow won’t give Smith many chances over the middle, but you can bet Smith will be craving to intercept his former QB like Patrick Queen did back in Week 5.