The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa:
Meshing David Johnson And Kenyan Drake, All Against No. 1
It’s a one-game sample size, but what a sample it was. Kenyan Drake rushes for 110 yards on only 15 carries – against a pretty good 49ers defense – and now the Cardinals are poised to add Johnson back to the lineup after he missed the last two games (and most of a third) with an ankle injury. That can only be a positive. Then again, there figures to be some tinkering with how Kliff Kingsbury will want to use the duo, in terms of the amount of snaps they could be deployed together and how the other snaps might be distributed. Will Johnson be slowly worked back in? Add in the fact the Buccaneers have the top-ranked run defense in the league, and that could also play a factor. Then again, both Johnson and Drake have shown they can catch the football. However it plays out, Kingsbury has to be elated to have two chess pieces like these guys with which to work.
Not Passing Judgment, But There Are Defensive Issues
No way to sugarcoat it – the Cardinals have had a rough time defending the pass this season. With 24 touchdown passes allowed and only two interceptions, it manifested itself in the last game when the Cards three times had a chance to stop the 49ers on third down while trailing by three points – and couldn’t do it. Now come the Bucs, who have two of the most productive receivers in the NFL with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Cardinals have to find a way to bother Jameis Winston, who has tied for the most interceptions thrown this season with 12. In two previous meetings against Winston, the Cardinals have made his life miserable, but this defense has to prove it. Having cornerback Patrick Peterson – who figures to shadow Evans – bounce back from a rough game is crucial.
Cool Uncle Versus Cool Kliff
It’s Bruce Arians reunion week, and that will garner attention. Makes sense. Arians was the winningest coach the franchise has had, and he was a memorable personality to boot – the self-described “Cool Uncle” who left his imprint in Arizona. But he retired, the Cardinals moved on after him, and now – after the Steve Wilks pause – there is Kliff Kingsbury, who walked in with his own reputation of cool and that has held up as well. Of course, cool doesn’t matter on game day. The offensive wisdom each man holds is what counts. Arians is trying to rehab QB Jameis Winston, and we’ve gotten to that point in the season where the Bucs’ offense should be right about on track in assimilating B.A.’s plans. Kingsbury, meanwhile, continues to move the Cardinals in the right direction on that side of the ball. This game, given defensive struggles for both teams, could end up as a shootout – which would be apropos for a Arians-Kingsbury matchup.