GLENDALE, Ariz. — Last year, Jameis Winston came to Arizona and had a very long afternoon.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) return to the desert on Sunday, where they will see Adrian Peterson, of all people, glaring at them from the Cardinals’ backfield.
Winston threw four interceptions in Arizona last year in Tampa Bay’s 41-7 loss.
“Well you see what they did to us last year,” wide receiver Mike Evans said. “They stomped us out last year. They bring a lot of pressure and a lot of man coverage on the back end. We’ve just got to be real physical as receivers and tight ends. We’ve got to be real physical and get open.”
Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said that last year the Cardinals “physically beat us and took advantage of all of our mistakes.”
The Cardinals expect an improved, confident Winston on Sunday.
“He’s matured as a leader, as a captain of that team,” Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “You can tell that they gave him the keys to the car.”
Winston faces an Arizona defense that was carved apart by Carson Wentz in a 34-7 loss at Philadelphia last Sunday.
The offense for Arizona (2-3), was equally inept, particularly on the ground, where the Cardinals are averaging a league-worst 2.6 yards per carry.
Enter Peterson, the four-time All-Pro running back who was languishing on the sidelines as the third-string running back in New Orleans. Arizona acquired the 32-year-old back this week in exchange for an undisclosed draft choice.
Peterson will have had only three practices when he takes the field as the Cardinals’ lead back Sunday.
“He’ll have his role,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.
Peterson said he’s ready to play and insists he still has it despite his unimpressive few games with the Saints.
Running the ball with a new team, Peterson said, is “pretty much easy.”
“I feel like any system is about being on the same page with the offensive line,” he said, “knowing your assignments, knowing the route you have with protections to make sure you keep the quarterback upright. That’s going to be the toughest challenge for me.”
Here are some things to consider when the Buccaneers meet the Cardinals:
ENERGY BOOST: The acquisition of a player of Peterson’s stature has provided an emotional boost to a team trying to shake off an ugly loss.
“Anytime you bring a guy in of that caliber there’s going some kind of excitement,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We haven’t had much excitement the first five games of the season.”
STRIVING FOR BALANCE: With RB Doug Martin back on the field, the Buccaneers hope to ease some of the burden on Winston by becoming more balanced on offense.
Martin returned from a suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancers last week, averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 13 attempts and scoring one TD during a 19-14 loss to New England.
Two years ago, he was the NFL’s second-leading rusher behind, well, Adrian Peterson.
“At our core, we’d love to be 50-50 on run downs. Balance is the hardest thing to defend,” Koetter said. “If you’re running the football, your play-action game opens up. It slows down their pressures. I think every team is like that.”
ARIZONA’S DEFENSE: Mathieu said Cardinals defenders still consider themselves among the league’s best despite some ineffective play.
“I don’t think it really puts a dent in our armor, who we think we are,” he said. “I think we’ll be all right.”
Winston is very familiar with what Arizona does.
“I think it all starts with their rush. They’ve got some good guys up front,” he said. “They get a good rush on you. Patrick Peterson (is) arguably one of the best corners in the league and (Justin) Bethel, he is a great corner, too, but I think we match up well with those guys.”
THIRD DOWNS: Arizona has been awful on third-down defense and it was especially bad against the Eagles.
Philadelphia was 9 of 14 on third-down opportunities, including Wentz’s 79-yard touchdown pass on third-and-19.
TOYS: With Martin back, Winston has a wide array of options when he passes the ball, including Evans and his fellow wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and tight end Cameron Brate.
“Our hands are definitely full,” Patrick Peterson said. “Jameis has a lot of toys to play with.”