TAMPA, Fla. -- Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) are back from their bye week and Jameis Winston will be the starting quarterback going forward, here's a look at the defenses he'll be up against for the remaining 12 games of the season and possible ways to exploit them:
Atlanta Falcons (Oct. 14 and Dec. 30)
This beleaguered Falcons defense is really feeling the effects of no Keanu Neal, Deion Jones or Ricardo Allen. There have been a ton of missed tackles against the run and in the screen game. Defending the slot has been a major problem. This would have been a huge opportunity for tight end O.J. Howard, who's dealing with a sprained MCL, but the Bucs could still replicate that with Cameron Brate or Adam Humphries. It's also not a bad idea to run the ball on third down against the Falcons, as they're giving up 8.5 yards per rush and conversions on 85.7 percent of opponents' third-down runs. In the red zone, they've given up a league-leading 17 touchdowns (nine passing).
Cleveland Browns (Oct. 21)
Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams continues to be the league's most aggressive blitzer (nearly 40 percent of dropbacks). That's how the Browns have accumulated seven of their 14 sacks, freeing up pass-rushers such as Myles Garrett to make plays. Winston actually has excelled against the blitz -- from 2016-17, he has thrown 20 touchdowns against the blitz, second only to Atlanta's Matt Ryan. But Winston also threw eight interceptions against blitzes in that span.
Cincinnati Bengals (Oct. 28)
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is tied for a league-leading 6.0 sacks through five weeks, will impact Winston's ability to step into his throws. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (4.0 sacks) will also flush Winston from the pocket and affect his timing. This group does a great job batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. It would behoove the Bucs to get the screen game going here with Peyton Barber to slow that rush. The Bengals are most vulnerable on third down. The Falcons converted 11 of 15 third downs against the Bengals, and Cincinnati is giving up a 68.8 percent conversion rate on third-down rushes.
Carolina Panthers (Nov. 4 and Dec. 2)
The Panthers just gave up 31 points to the Giants and allowed 300-yard passing performances in back-to-back weeks by Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. Manning had most of his success when the Panthers used max-protection and fired off several quick passes. The Panthers' defensive line is struggling to win one-on-one matchups. Their secondary is also vulnerable, even with a rising star in James Bradberry and the addition of safety Eric Reid. When the Bucs' offense is clicking, Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson are tough to stop.
Washington Redskins (Nov. 11)
Prior to the Redskins' Week 5 game against the Saints, their defense surrendered just 13 explosive plays, the fewest in the league (the Bucs define "explosives" as rushing plays of 12 or more yards and pass plays of 16-plus yards). Against the Saints, they gave up seven, with a slew of coverage breakdowns and communication issues. Of note, it's a lot easier to bait anxious defenders when it's Alvin Kamara in the flat or Michael Thomas on shallow crossing routes, but the Bucs do have enough receiving weapons to replicate some of the Saints' high-low route concepts in a way that stretches the Redskins' defense vertically and horizontally. One thing that should be noted though -- the Redskins do a really nice job of defending throws from outside the pocket.
New York Giants (Nov. 18)
The Giants have struggled to contain Cam Newton, Blake Bortles, Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott on the run. In fact, the Giants have given up 622 rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks, allowing 4.61 yards per rush, among the worst in the NFL. Winston has made more than a few highlight-worthy plays with his feet, either throwing on the move or tucking it and running it. If there's a team for offensive coordinator Todd Monken to use some zone-read against with Winston, it's this one.
San Francisco 49ers (Nov. 25)
Missed tackles have been an issue for the 49ers. Their young linebackers have shown susceptibility to biting on play-action. Both the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs exploited this on one play -- faking a sweep to the outside with the offensive line and running back rolling to one direction and the quarterback hitting a slant to a wide-open receiver in the opposite direction. Their 12 red zone touchdowns allowed are third-most in the league.
New Orleans Saints (Dec. 9)
The Bucs had a ton of success utilizing play-action to freeze Saints defenders and buy time downfield for big throws in Week 1. But in Week 5 against the Redskins, the Saints showed they are very capable of pressuring the quarterback, and not just off the edge with Cameron Jordan, but with Alex Okafor, Marcus Davenport and inside with Sheldon Rankins. The Bucs had success throwing on first down, and that's something they can still exploit with proper protection and play design. Teams throwing on first down against the Saints this season are completing 78.9 percent of those passes -- the most in the NFL -- and they're getting a lot of cushion -- 13.03 yards per completion with 11.37 yards before first contact.
Baltimore Ravens (Dec. 16)
The Ravens boast the league's top third-down defense, giving up conversions just 28.8 percent of the time. They're an aggressive blitzing team. One area of vulnerability, though, is that they have given up a 60 percent completion percentage to quarterbacks throwing from outside the pocket. Andy Dalton had success utilizing play-action and misdirection, capitalizing on a very eager Ravens secondary.
Dallas Cowboys (Dec. 23)
Two years ago, the Cowboys' much-maligned pass rush wound up being a total nightmare for Winston in the fourth quarter. Despite an overtime loss in Week 5, the Cowboys looked particularly impressive at the goal line against Houston (the Cowboys allowed the Texans just one score in five drives when they had goal-to-go opportunities). They mostly play a single-high safety. The Bucs could use four verticals and wheel routes.