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Turnover potential awaits as Cardinals travel to take on the Buccaneers

Arizona Cardinals’ Chandler Jones points to the crowd during the team’s training camp Sunday, July 28, 2019, at State Farm Stadium. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals got to sit back and watch Sunday unfold, having already played on Thursday night.

There’s no doubt the team’s eyes were fixed on their next opponent in Tampa Bay as the Buccaneers took the Seattle Seahawks down to the wire, only to lose in overtime.

The matchup not only presents one of the more high-powered passing offenses in the NFL, but a familiar face in former Cardinals and current Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians.

Under Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Tampa Bay has seen an improvement in their offense, sitting fourth among the NFL leaders in points per game (28.8).

Behind the arm of Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers rank in the top 10 through the air as the signal caller has thrown for just over 2,400 yards and 16 touchdowns on 182-of-307 passing (59.3%).

And on the other side of the receptions is the duo of wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Winston’s clearcut favorite weapons. The pair has lit up opposing defenses this season, combining for 104 receptions, 1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games. Evans is tied for first among NFL pass catchers in touchdowns (7) and second in yards (842), behind only New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas. Godwin sits has the fifth-most yards (766), ahead of Deandre Hopkins and Julio Jones, and is tied for third in scores (6).

“It’s a good offense,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday after practice. “Obviously [Arians] went to Seattle and scored 35, scored 55 on my guy [Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips], so they’re putting up a lot of numbers and a lot of points.

“Jameis is playing out of his mind. When it’s clean he is playing at a high level and that’s obviously coach Arians tutelage and his offense working for him. He’s got two receivers who in the top five in receptions, yards and touchdowns with Evans and Godwin, so it’s working. It’s what coach [Arians] has done his entire career is put up numbers and is vertical, it’s attacking, so it’s going to be a challenge to get a stop.”

Like Joseph said, “when clean” Winston is a scoring threat, but while Winston has found the open man in the end zone frequently in his return as the team’s full-time starter — he shared the duties with former Buccaneers QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2018 — the quarterback still has his blemishes.

Winston sits in fifth among NFL passers in the touchdown department, but is tied for the most interceptions (12) and has been sacked the most times (30). The Buccaneers are second in total turnovers (18) behind only the New York Giants, giving the Cardinals defense the opportunity to dictate the game.

Cardinals linebacker Chandler Jones continues to build a Hall-of-Fame resume with each game played. Jones sits at 9.5 sacks, third in the NFL, highlighted by a four-sack effort against the Giants. He’s also knocked the ball out four times, recovering three fumbles. It’s not just Jones who’s had success at getting to the QB, either, as fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs has added another five sacks and four forced fumbles to the Cardinals defense.

If the pass rush can effectively cause problems, that’s only going to help out the secondary led by Patrick Peterson.

Peterson, who’s coming off one of his worst performances as a pro against the San Francisco 49ers, has a prime opportunity to redeem himself with the turnover-prone Winston under center.

It’s not just on Peterson’s shoulders, however, as it’ll take a village to limit the production of the Buccaneers’ weapons, most notably Evans.

“Speaking of this week, it’s Mike Evans, I mean he’s a big time guy, so we can’t expect one player to defense Mike Evans,” Joseph said when talking on Peterson. “We as defense have a plant defend Mike Evans and obviously Pat wants the challenge of having him most of the time, but we have a game plan to defend Mike Evans.”

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