After starting the NFL season 3-1 and leading the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost back-to-back games and are in free fall.
The Bucs have dropped to 3-3 and into second place, and have already lost one-half of a tiebreaker with Atlanta.
With this said, Tampa Bay will travel to Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, New York, to play the struggling 4-3 Buffalo Bills in a must-win Thursday Night football game for both teams. From forcing superstar quarterback Josh Allen into mistakes to unlocking their lackluster rushing attack, the Buccaneers have some hope that an upset victory might be in the cards.
If that's going to happen, they must do these three things in order to take down the Bills.
Force Josh Allen into Crucial Mistakes
Through seven weeks, Tampa Bay has had one of the best defenses in the NFL, giving up 17.3 points per game and allowing 2,055 yards, which rank sixth and 11th in the league. Specifically speaking, the Buccaneers' run defense has been elite, with veteran middle linebacker Lavonte David (53 tackles, 6 TFLs), outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (20 tackles, 5 TFLs), and star defensive tackle Vita Vea (21 tackles, 4 TFLs) all disrupting the backfield to the tune of 575 rushing yards allowed on the season.
The same can't be said about their pass defense, however, as Tampa Bay allows opposing quarterbacks to throw an average of 247.6 passing yards per game, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
Against Allen, three-time pro-bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and wide receiver Gabe Davis, the Buccaneers' front seven will need to limit Buffalo's passing attack to keep Thursday night's game close. While Allen ranks sixth in the league with 1,841 passing yards and second with 15 passing touchdowns, the 6'5", 237-pound quarterback has also thrown seven interceptions, the second-worst mark in the NFL.
Have Baker Mayfield Produce Another Solid Passing Outing
After signing a one-year, $4 million contract in the offseason, it seemed as if Mayfield was just a bridge quarterback for the 2023 season after the retirement of Tom Brady. So far, it appears that Mayfield may be the Buccaneers' long-term answer at quarterback, as he has completed 65.2 percent of his pass attempts for 1,363 passing yards, eight passing touchdowns, and four interceptions, equating to a 58.3 QBR.
Not too shabby.
Mayfield's career resurgence is in large part due to the dynamic receiving duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who have combined for 63 receptions, 886 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns.
So far, Mayfield's performances have largely dictated the result in Tampa Bay's games this season. Take, for example, the Buccaneers' 26-9 win versus the Saints in Week 4, where Mayfield completed 25-32 pass attempts for 246 passing yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Just two weeks later, Mayfield sputtered in week six against Detroit to the tune of 19-37 passing for 206 passing yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception, resulting in a 6-20 loss.
With Buffalo set to start rookie third-round pick Dorian Williams and 2022 sixth-round pick Christain Benford in the secondary, the stage is set for Mayfield to have another solid outing through the air against Buffalo.
Unlock Rachaad White and the Running Game
Speaking of the Buccaneers' offense, their rushing attack has been non-existent for most of this season.
In his first season as Tampa Bay's workhorse back, 2022 third-round pick Rachaad White has struggled mightily, recording 83 rushing attempts for 266 yards (33rd in NFL), zero touchdowns, and 3.2 YPC. Without a strong rushing attack, Mayfield has struggled to move Tampa Bay's offense down the field at times, especially in week seven against Atlanta. On 13 carries, White mustered just 34 yards, and proved to be a major momentum swing in the Falcons' 16-13 comeback win over the Buccaneers.
One key solution brought up has been the addition of a running back ahead of the trade deadline. Tampa Bay has until Tuesday to decide about making any moves and it remains to be seen if GM Jason Licht will attempt to acquire Tennesse's Derrick Henry, Denver's Javonte Williams, Philadelphia's Rashaad Penny, or New England's Ezekiel Elliot before the deadline.
Until then, offensive coordinator Dave Canales needs to find ways to utilize White and the running game better -- or, at all. Relief to the strife might come against the Bills, who have allowed 128.3 rushing yards per game, the tenth-highest mark in the league.