The last couple of trips to Raymond James Stadium for the Cardinals have been, well, pretty memorable. I mean, two times ago, it only happened to be the Super Bowl. No need to rehash all of that. But it was the last time the Cards visited there that really resonated for me this week.
Part of that was the fact it was Bruce Arians' first year with the Cardinals, in 2013, and this is a B.A. week, of course. Also because it came on the back half of a week spent back East in Florida following a loss to the Saints. Practice was held in a swamp (OK, not really, but the fields were a mess after constant rain) and then the Cards – clearly a better team than the struggling Bucs, who started rookie QB Mike Glennon that day – looked sluggish throughout.
The saving grace? Patrick Peterson came up with two huge interceptions of Glennon in the last quarter to allow the Cardinals first to rally and then seal a closer-than-need-be 13-10 win. It is apropos that Peterson really needs a good game again at Ray-J. The Cardinals need him to have a good game.
Peterson took the blame this week following his poor performance against the 49ers (and yes, I am well aware there are plenty out there who don't care and simply want to move on from an eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback.) He'll likely be matched up with Mike Evans, who has had a fantastic season. In two previous meetings, Peterson could be considered the winner – in 2016, Evans had just one catch, a 19-yard TD that was meaningless in a 40-7 Cardinals romp in which Peterson had an interception himself. In 2017, Peterson didn't allow a catch to Evans, even breaking up an end zone throw on fourth down. Evans did have a 41-yard catch and 37-yard TD in that game, but Peterson had left with an injury and Tramon Williams and Justin Bethel were the respective cornerback victims.
Kyler Murray will still likely be the main reason if the Cardinals have a chance to win Sunday. But Peterson wasn't far off when he said he has to play at a high level for the Cards to be successful. He certainly can't play like he did against the 49ers. The spotlight will be intense.
-- Without Tramaine Brock, Peterson's play might be even more important. I would guess a combination of Kevin Peterson and Byron Murphy will handle the slot, with the other stationed outside. Murphy might make more sense because Chris Godwin is producing as much from the slot as Evans has been outside.
-- No, I don't know how the Cardinals are going to deploy David Johnson and/with Kenyan Drake. There are a ton of options, but I do believe that the Cards are better off with both than just one. The Cardinals have done a nice job resuscitating the run game. They are averaging a hair below 5 yards a carry. While Kyler Murray is the team's leading rusher at 313 yards (injuries do not help), Johnson and Chase Edmonds and Drake have all had a big game in there running the ball.
The Bucs do have the top-ranked run defense in the league, so that might be tough to dent – but part of the reason the Bucs have good stats might be because it's so easy to hurt them through the air. And both Johnson and Drake can catch the ball too.
-- If there is a game where Larry Fitzgerald is going to get more work than he has it'd be this one, against a porous Bucs pass defense. In reverse order, Fitz has been targeted only 4, 4 and 3 times the past three games after averaging 8.7 targets in the first six games of the season.
-- The Buccaneers haven't played a home game, amazingly, since Sept. 22 – Sunday will be a 50-day stretch. The Cardinals, meanwhile, won't have a home game in November, with the Niners game on Oct. 31 and the next home game Dec. 1 against the Rams.
-- The Bucs, to battle the heat index, are wearing white at home and so the Cardinals will have the rare away red jerseys they are wearing Sunday – but they will also pair them with the red pants, a red-red look that the Cardinals last showed in a home loss to the Rams last season (although Fitz did throw a touchdown pass.)
-- From the movable-object-against-the-resistible-force department, it's no secret how much the Cardinals have struggled against tight ends this season (opposing tight ends have averaged 90 yards and a touchdown per game.) Meanwhile, the Bucs – not surprisingly under Arians – barely throw to the tight end. Arians told the Tampa media, when it was suggested a guy like O.J. Howard could feast on the Cards, that coverage dictates where the ball goes. That is not a surprise. Arians would say similar things in Arizona all the time. How that plays out Sunday will be another interesting factor to watch.
-- Interesting that in his career, Terrell Suggs has never faced Jameis Winston. Suggs has sacked 75 different QBs in his career, so there is a chance he can get to 76. Technically, Suggs is questionable with a hamstring issue, but Kingsbury said Friday his day off was normal. We will see.
-- If you know/read/hear me, I don't believe in jinxes. There's my caveat. Anyway, the Cardinals have run 344 straight plays without a turnover, the last coming in the first quarter against the Seahawks in Week 4.
-- The Cardinals still haven't lost a fumble. What's more, other than Kyler Murray (who only has two, and one was a mistimed snap), the Cardinals haven't fumbled the ball period.
-- The Bucs and Todd Bowles blitzed Russell Wilson an astonishing 76 percent of the time last game. The Bucs blitz more than 51 percent of the time this season. Pro Football Focus says Murray has completed only 55 percent of his passes (with 2 TDs and 3 of his 4 INTs) against the blitz. You have to figure Bowles brings some heat.
See you Sunday.