TIME: 4:05 PM EST
LOCATION: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
BETTING LINE: DEN -3.5
BRONCOS PLAYER TO WATCH
Second-year quarterback Trevor Siemian has held his own through his first three NFL starts. After stepping into the starting role that was expected to be passed down from future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning to Brock Osweiler, a drop-off in the Broncos’ quarterback play was expected. However last Sunday in Cincinnati, Siemian threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions. His quarterback rating of 132.1 was the highest in the league, and also higher than any rating posted by either Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler last season.
This week, Siemian will try to repeat his performance against a weaker defensive backfield. Cornerback Brent Grimes has had a decent start to the season, but the Buccaneers other corner Vernon Hargreaves III, along with safeties Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald have struggled. This weak secondary, combined with an inconsistent pass rush could could result in another big day for Trevor Siemian.
BUCCANEERS PLAYER TO WATCH
Jameis Winston, the number one overall pick in the 2015 draft, needs to find success against Denver’s pass rush and secondary if the Buccaneers want to have a chance in this game. Winston performed well in Tampa Bay’s lone win this season, a seven-point victory over the Falcons in Week One, but threw four interceptions against the Cardinals and couldn’t complete a comeback in the last two minutes against the Rams last week. Due to Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin’s hamstring injury early in Week Two, Winston has been asked to carry the team.
Winston comes into Sunday’s game having attempted 142 passes, the most in the NFL. After only throwing the ball only 32 times in the opener, the lack of a running game has forced Winston to throw the ball 110 times in the last two games. Martin will miss the matchup against the Broncos, leaving most of the offense’s production in the hands of Jameis Winston, unless running back Charles Sims has a breakout performance.
BRONCOS POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
Tampa Bay has a weak front seven. Outside of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and outside linebacker Lavonte David, the Buccaneers lack significant talent. Denver’s offensive line should have no trouble in pass protection, but after a disappointing showing in the run game against the Bengals, the group needs to get back on track in Tampa.
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders each had over 100 yards and a touchdown last week. The duo must take advantage against an even more favorable matchup this week. Denver has only scored touchdowns on 44% of their red zone drives. It is up to Thomas and Sanders to make plays close to the end zone.
Denver’s secondary is the best in the NFL, but they will be tested constantly by Tampa Bay’s pass-heavy offense. The Buccaneers have thrown the ball on twice as many plays as they have ran it, so the Broncos’ secondary needs to stay alert, and avoid taking plays off.
GAME PREVIEW ANALYSIS
Sunday’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be just the ninth time the two teams have met. Denver has six of the eight previous games, including a 31-23 victory in 2012, they two teams last meeting.
Tampa Bay will host the Broncos, having lost two of they’re first three games. A hamstring injury to running back Doug Martin has made running the ball nearly impossible for the team. As a result, the Buccaneers lead the league in passing plays. Second-year quarterback James Winston has been inconsistent so far, holding a quarterback rating of 81.0, despite completing just 27 of his 52 pass attempts and throwing four interceptions against the Cardinals in Week 2.
“He’s just a tremendous talent,” Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said of Winston. “I think they’re averaging throwing 45-46 times a game. That’s a lot of throws, but yet you notice he’s not going down a bunch. That’s a credit to him. He’s getting rid of the ball. When you do get there, he’s hard to tackle and hard to handle. He can make plays off schedule. Obviously he’s a big time talent. He’s put up some really big numbers. It’s another big challenge for us.”
Denver prides themselves on their pass rush. Super Bowl MVP is off to a quick start this year, racking up five sacks in three games, and applying pressure ad drawing double-teams consistently. All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware will miss a second consecutive game due to an elbow fracture, with Shane Ray taking over the starting job. Ray had three sacks in his first professional start last week.
The Broncos secondary, like their linebackers, is one of the strongest position groups in the league. A crucial part of this group is Aqib Talib, who returned his ninth interception for a touchdown against the Colts. Talib began his career in Tampa, and is looking forward to going back.
“You’ve fallen in love with the city,” Talib said. “I remember being on the big ol’ billboard. I’d come down there and see myself on the big billboard. There are a lot of good memories going back to that place.”
With Denver’s defensive strength in the passing game, the Buccaneers’ best chance to beat the Broncos is on the ground. Since Doug Martin’s injury, Tampa Bay hasn’t been able to run the ball effectively, relying on Jameis Winston and the passing attack.
“As far as Jameis handling volume, heck, I’m sure he’d throw every time, if he could,” Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said. “But for our team to be successful, we can’t be throwing in the 50s and we can’t be running in the 20s.”
Broncos running back C.J. Anderson was playing spectacularly, prior to last week. Anderson compiled 232 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games of the season, but only put up 41 yards against the Bengals. He will be looking to rebound this week, with a healthier offensive line.
Despite receiving very little production from the offensive line, the Broncos’ offense was effective against Cincinnati. Siemian played the best game of his short career, totaling 317 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
“We can win either way,” C.J. Anderson said. “Run, pass, fullback dive, we can win. It’s just wonderful. You can’t stack the box; you can’t play six in the box and stop our pass. You can’t stack the box eight and nine against us to stop the run. We’re just going to find ways. At the end of the day, we’re going to find a way to put the ball in the box. That was our whole goal this week, to put the ball in the box—points, points, points, and we did that.”
Siemian has two elite weapons on the outside in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both receivers had big games against the Bengals, and will be looking for more of the same this week.
“It’s the best duo I’ve had, having two of them like that,” Kubiak said of the receivers. “I’ve had some great ones. We’re very balanced on each side of the field. They complement each other. One is a big player, one is small, getting in and out of breaks and speed-type player. They both have their strengths as players. The thing I’m really impressed with is, they are tremendous in their effort in the blocking game. They are every down players, not just when the ball is coming to them. They work hard and they play hard.”
Tampa Bay has played poorly on the defensive side of the ball, but the inability to create turnovers makes winning nearly impossible. Through three weeks, the Buccaneers have averaged a turnover margin of negative-two per game and have allowed a league-worst 33.3 points per game. This has to improve against the Broncos.
“You have to realize that of whatever the number is, 101 points or whatever it is, our offense has contributed way, way too much for that,” Koetter said. “We moved up one spot in turnover margin, from 32nd to 31st.”
BUCCANEERS POSITION GROUP PREVIEW
Pass protection is crucial against the Broncos’ pass rush. Von Miller leads the NFL in sacks with five, and Shane Ray had three sacks just last week. Tampa Bay needs to keep Jameis Winston upright. The left side of the line also needs to get a better push in the running game.
The Buccaneers need to stop the run and force Trevor Siemian to throw the ball, and that starts with the linebackers. Lavonte David has been playing the run well, but Kwon Alexander and Daryl Smith could stand to improve.
Roberto Aguayo has been horrible. After being drafted in the second round this year, Aguayo has missed two of his three field goal attempts and one of his extra point attempts. In a defensive battle, missed field goals could be the difference between aa win and a loss.