The last time Tampa Bay faced Baltimore, Joe Flacco threw five touchdown passes within the first 17 minutes to get the Ravens rolling in a 48-17 rout.
Flacco will be watching from the sideline Sunday in the rematch of that 2014 blowout. The 2012 Super Bowl MVP lost his starting job this week to rookie Lamar Jackson, who presents an entirely different set of problems for a porous Tampa Bay defense that is allowing nearly 400 yards per game.
With Jackson operating an effective run-pass option, Baltimore (7-6) has racked up 914 yards rushing over the past four games, including 336 by its slashing, nimble quarterback.
“He is fun to watch, that’s for sure, and they’ve been tearing it up with their run game,” Buccaneers coach Dick Koetter said. “Their run game makes you play assignment football, and you can’t argue with the results, 3-1. They’ve been playing good football with him in there.”
Jackson took over as the starter after Flacco hurt his right hip on Nov. 4. Flacco is healthy now, but with the Ravens flourishing under Jackson, coach John Harbaugh decided to maintain the status quo as Baltimore seeks to end a three-year playoff drought.
“My brain and my heart and my experience says this is the way to go ,” Harbaugh said.
The Bucs (5-8) have also shuffled quarterbacks this season, with mixed results. Though Tampa Bay leads the NFL with 331.4 yards passing per game and ranks second in total offense, Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick each have thrown 12 interceptions.
Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter, filling in while Winston served a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Since leading the Bucs to upsets of the Saints and Eagles in the first two weeks, the 36-year-old journeyman has been benched twice over the course of losing five consecutive starts.
Winston, meanwhile, is 3-3 as a starter this season, 2-1 since regaining his job three weeks ago. He was benched after throwing 10 interceptions during a four-game stretch, but has done a much better job of protecting the ball lately.
Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft, has one turnover in the past three games, —a meaningless interception with 1 second remaining in last week’s 28-14 loss to the Saints.
Some other things to know about Bucs vs. Ravens:
Defensively, the Bucs rank near the bottom of the NFL in yards (387.9) and points (29.5) allowed per game. They have, however, improved significantly in a number of areas since firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith and promoting linebackers coach Mark Duffner as his replacement.
Over the last two months, Tampa Bay is allowing five fewer points per game and has 25 sacks, tied for second in the NFL with Kansas City over that stretch. After going seven consecutive games without forcing a turnover on defense, the Bucs had eight takeaways the past three weeks, including seven interceptions. The team had one in the first 10 games.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Duffner, who was head coach at the University of Maryland from 1992-96.
JUGGERNAUT AND HULK
Baltimore’s front line is anchored by Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, who alternate at nose tackle with the purpose of clogging the middle for the league’s fourth-ranked rushing defense.
The 340-pound Pierce is nicknamed “Juggernaut,” a comic book character who crushes everything in his path. Pierce has that nickname tattooed inside his right calf. Williams, who weighs in at 336, is known by his teammates as “The Hulk.”
Sunday, Pierce and Williams will bang helmets with former teammate Ryan Jensen, who left as a free agent after last season.
“I’m sure he’ll be hyped up to be back here,” Pierce said.
If Flacco gets into the game, the Tampa Bay defense must adjust accordingly.
“They were like 60-40 pass under Flacco. They’re more like 60-40 run now under Jackson. You’ve got to prepare for both,” Koetter said. “Our plan will be based primarily on their personnel and then their tendencies out of those personnel.”
Defending against Jackson, however, presents the biggest challenge.
“You didn’t just reach down in your desk drawer and pull out the same game plan that you used last week,” Koetter said. “You have to work at it.”
CLEATS FOR A CAUSE
Ravens tight end Maxx Williams will be wearing personalized cleats to promote diabetes awareness and the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.
The multi-colored cleats feature the type 1 diabetes (T1D) ribbon and the name of his brother-in-law, Sean Lejonvarn, who lives with T1D.
Source: The Associated Press