1. DE Carl Nassib
This one is for obvious reasons in that Nassib spent the last two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He was thrust into the public eye on HBO’s Hard Knocks during training camp this year for his financial advice before Cleveland made the move to release him. He was scooped up by the Buccaneers to add to their d-line depth and has proven his worth already. Now, he’ll face his former team and will likely see an increased role due to defensive end Vinny Curry being held out with an ankle injury. Nassib will help hold down the left side opposite Jason Pierre-Paul, who has had a sack in each of his last four games.
Nassib was an asset to the Buccaneers this week, helping out the offensive linemen in particular. He’s also familiar with Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield from spending all of training camp with the young signal caller. Cleveland has allowed 10 sacks over the past two games and rank dead last in sacks allowed this season. With Nassib’s familiarity, he’ll be looking to get himself one coming off the edge.
2. LB Kwon Alexander (yes, again)
It’s crucial that the Buccaneers stop Cleveland’s fifth-ranked rushing offense on Sunday if they want to pull out the win. Stopping that run game will be up to the front seven, with linebacker Kwon Alexander playing a key role. Alexander had two tackles for loss last week against Atlanta and the Bucs’ defense held the Falcons to 70 net yards rushing. In fact, the Buccaneers claim the league’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, so that should be the overarching matchup to watch come Sunday. Alexander’s ability to get to the ball is a point of emphasis. He’s forced two fumbles this year and he may have the opportunity to add to that total with some inexperience in Cleveland’s backfield.
The Browns just completed a trade of running back Carlos Hyde to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday, leaving them with Duke Johnson and rookie Nick Chubb to take on tailback duties. Johnson has been in the league since 2015 but has started just nine total games for the Browns during that span. Chubb broke out for 105 yards in Cleveland’s narrow loss to Oakland in Week Four but has been relatively silent otherwise. If there was ever an opportunity for a statement game on defense – this might be it.
3. TE Cameron Brate
The tight end is a favorite target of quarterback Jameis Winston. The two have been together since Winston came to the Bucs in 2015. He and Brate have worked overtime the past few seasons to nail down their timing until it was juuust right… and then they continue to work on it some more. Brate is just always reliable. He doesn’t seem to mind throwing his body into traffic to make a contested catch. He knows where the ball is going to be and Winston knows where to put it for Brate when the Bucs really need it. Though the offense hasn’t been exactly struggling for the Bucs, there are some crucial moments that I think the team would like back. They’ll be looking to minimize turnovers and rely on safe targets – like Brate. He hasn’t had his breakout game this season yet but what better time to do it than when the Bucs return home for the first time in a month?
4. DT Vita Vea
The 2018 first-round pick gets his first start of the season in wake of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy’s calf injury. It’s ironic considering a calf injury is what kept Vea out all of the preseason. He saw his first NFL action against Chicago and played 42% of the defensive snaps in Atlanta last week. It’s all been leading up to this: his first NFL start.
It’s worth noting that fans shouldn’t expect a one-for-one trade-off as he comes in for McCoy – and not just because of his lack of experience. Vea isn’t historically a three-technique tackle. Whether or not he’s asked to be at this level remains to be seen. What isn’t in question though is his sheer power. The guy has the ability to absolutely manhandle offensive linemen. Even in his limited playing time, there have been flashes of his potential in the form of him physically moving a lineman out of position as if he were one of those rocks in Tahiti (if you don’t know what I’m talking about Google ‘Vita Vea rock story’ and you’ll find it). We’ll see how he does as he presumably gets the majority of the snaps on defense against the Browns.
5. DT Beau Allen
It’s a defensive kind of day for me, I guess. This player to watch has more to do with what’s going on off the field than on it. Sunday is the Buccaneers’ Crucial Catch game and before it, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation will host the Sixth Annual Treasure Chests 5K & Fun Run powered by Jabil in support of breast cancer research and patient services in the Bay area. Among those participants will be Beau’s mom, Susie, who is herself a breast cancer survivor. Beau wears a pink ribbon in his hair for his mom, who has been cancer-free for 15 years now, during the month of October and Sunday will be no different. He’s even leading the team out of the tunnel with his mom as the honorary flag runner before the game. It’s an all-around feel good story and a good game from Beau would be the cherry on top.