Opposition Research: Auman On the Bucs

Buccaneers beat reporter Greg Auman talks key match-ups, injuries and who will win the game Sunday.

Jameis Winston. (USA Today Sports)

Jameis Winston. (USA Today Sports)

In this installment of Opposition Research, we spoke with Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times about what the Eagles should expect Sunday against the Buccaneers.

What are Tampa Bay’s strengths and weaknesses?

“If I had to pick a strength for the Bucs, I’d start with their run game. Doug Martin has been among the league’s top five rushers and Charles Sims complements him well. Injuries at WR and TE have allowed defenses to stack against the run in last two games — when the Bucs are able to establish the run, they’re at their best, opening up the pass game for Jameis Winston.

“I’d say their weakness right now is the pass rush — it was a concern before the season and now is more of one with Jacquies Smith and George Johnson nursing injuries. They need to get to QBs to avoid getting seams in their pass coverage exploited. Stout against the run, but Bucs need more of a pass rush.”

What injuries are the Buccaneers battling that could impact the game?

“Lots of injuries. They’re likely without two of their top three targets for Jameis Winston in WR Vincent Jackson and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Big dropoff from those two and it’s put a big burden on Mike Evans. Guard Ali Marpet may be out as well, but center Evan Smith has stepped in well there. They might get Jacquies Smith back from his ankle injury.”

How has Jameis played so far and how does he match-up against the Eagles?

“After a rough debut, I think Jameis Winston has taken big steps forward. He went four games without a turnover — impressive if you remember him last season — and got his first fourth-quarter comeback victory Sunday against Dallas. It’s not easy to command authority at 21 but he’s done that as well. He’s said and done the right things since coming to Tampa, so he’s working to win over his doubters. He knows Philly is tough with takeaways and will need to limit his mistakes there for sure.”

What match-up do you think could decide the game?

“I’d think if the Bucs can hold the Eagles run game in check — say under 100 yards — they’ll take their chances making Mark Sanchez try to beat them. For a Lovie Smith defense, it all starts with takeaways, so they need to force mistakes and take advantage.”

Who do you think will win and why?

“I’m never good with this — two teams with same record, similar frustrations with close losses and red-zone issues. I think the game hinges there — the team that can cash in for seven instead of taking three wins the game. Is that the Bucs? I see a close game in the 27-24 range. If Bucs can get plus-two in turnovers, I think they could pull it off.”