The schedule isn’t making things any easier on a struggling Cincinnati Bengals defense.
Cincinnati is coming off a 45-10 loss to Kansas City Chiefs , a game in which the NFL's highest scoring team racked up 551 yards, and next, the league's top yardage producer will be rolling into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
The Bengals (4-3) will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3), who average 449.5 yards per game and also lead the league in passing with 364.0 yards per game. Their 2,261 yards passing is the most in NFL history through six games.
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Fortunately for Cincinnati, Tampa hasn’t done a whole lot with that potent offense, as turnovers have been an issue in recent weeks. The Bucs are the eighth highest scoring team with 27.8 points per game, but they barely squeaked out an overtime win at home against the Browns last week and lost back-to-back road games before that.
Leading the Bucs’ attack is fourth-year quarterback Jameis Winston, who replaced Ryan Fitzpatrick at halftime of a Week 4 loss to the Bears after serving a three-game suspension to open the season. In his first two starts, he averaged 380.0 yards passing but didn’t throw a touchdown in a 26-23 overtime win over Cleveland on Sunday, a game in which he had three turnovers. He has lost one fumble and thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions in two and a half games since his return.
Fitzpatrick had become the first player in NFL history to throw for 400-plus yards in three consecutive games to open the season and managed to keep the starting job upon Winston’s return only to squander it away with a rough first half against Chicago. He hasn’t played since then.
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When Tampa’s offense is moving down the field, it often is going through Mike Evans, who has 591 yards and three touchdowns on 40 catches, but wide receivers Chris Goodwin (308 yards, four touchdowns), DeSean Jackson (526 yards, three touchdowns) and Adam Humphries (220 yards) and tight end O.J. Howard (351 yards, two touchdowns) all have 20 catches or more.
Despite bringing in one of the best run blockers available with the signing of former Ravens center Ryan Jensen to a four-year deal, the Bucs are among the four teams with fewer rushing yards per game than Cincinnati. They rank 29th with 85.5 rushing yards per game, behind Peyton Barber's 260 yards on 74 carries (3.51 yards per carry). He has no touchdowns.
Defensively, Tampa Bay allows a league-most 32.7 points per game, and the Bucs give up 417.5 yards per game, which ranks as the fourth worst in the league – only a little better than Kansas City, Cincinnati and Atlanta. They also just lost middle linebackers Kwon Alexander and Jack Cichy to torn ACLs on Sunday.
The Bucs have just one interception (from Justin Evans) but have recovered five fumbles, and they have registered 14.0 sacks through six games (one less than Cincinnati in one fewer game). Six of those sacks were by Jason Pierre-Paul. Lavonte David leads with 40 tackles.
Cincinnati hasn’t faced Tampa Bay since 2014, which is the year before Winston came into the league, but the Bengals won that game 14-13 on the road. The Bucs lead the all-time series 7-4, including wins in six straight prior to that 2014 meeting.
Bengals-Bucs connections: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter played together at Idaho State University from 1978-80. During the '81 season, Koetter's final season as a player and Lewis' first as a coach, ISU won an NCAA Division I-AA championship. … Bengals DE Michael Johnson played for the Buccaneers in 2014. … Buccaneers QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played for the Bengals from 2007-08. … Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mark Duffner coached for the Bengals from 1997-2002. Duffner also coached at the University of Cincinnati (1977-80) and Ohio State University from 1975-76. … Buccaneers defensive line coach Brentson Buckner played for the Bengals in 1997. … Bengals quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was with the Buccaneers from 2010-11. … Buccaneers run game coordinator/ offensive line coach George Warhop played (1981-82) and coached (1983) at the University of Cincinnati.. … Bengals HB Quinton Flowers (practice squad) played at the University of South Florida in Tampa. … Buccaneers secondary coach Jon Hoke is from Kettering.
AFC NORTH OUTLOOK
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2-1): The Steelers moved into first in the division, based on winning percentage, while on a bye last week. They carry a two-game win streak into Sunday’s home game against Cleveland, who they tied in the season opener.
Baltimore Ravens (4-3-0): The Ravens are coming off a disappointing 24-23 loss to New Orleans after Justin Tucker missed an extra point with 28 seconds left. They look to bounce back at Carolina on Sunday.
Cleveland Browns (2-4-1): The Browns lost to Tampa Bay 26-23 in overtime on a 59-yard field goal. They seek to end a two-game losing streak when they travel to play Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Buccaneers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700,, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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