The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off another tough last-second loss after coming all the way back from an 18 point deficit. The Panthers look like one of the best teams in the NFC right now, but they still have weaknesses. Let’s look at what the Bucs have to do to get back to .500 and get another division road win.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made yet another major change to their team. The Bucs have benched starting quarterback Jameis Winston after a four-interception performance. Winston had 10 on the season, and the team showed drastic improvement with Ryan Fitzpatrick on the field. With Fitzmagic on the field, the Buccaneers were a missed field goal away from a chance at overtime.
The Carolina Panthers are looking strong after defeating a tough Baltimore Ravens team handily 36-21. Their offense made the Ravens stout defense look average. When the Panthers are clicking, they can beat any team. The Panthers offense looked inconsistent so far but at home, where they have not lost a game and are averaging 29 points, they come to play. The Buccaneers offense just put up their most yards in franchise history and still lost so their offense is potent, but their defense still has some work to do. While they shut down the Bengals for 29 minutes in the second half, they made a few mistakes on the final drive. The Bengals have an actual moderately reliable kicker.
The Panthers offense can score and they have the talent on defense to be a top team in the league. Here is what the Bucs should focus on during this Sunday match-up in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Currently, the Carolina Panthers offense is putting up the 19th most yards per game, but are scoring the 12th most points per game. They have struggled to pass the ball, 22 in the league, but are averaging the second most rushing yards per game at 138.9. The threat of the run with Cam Newton has to be a primary focus for the Buccaneers on Sunday. Newton is averaging 44 yards on the ground per game and has four rushing touchdowns. Combined with completing 66% of his passes he is as dangerous as ever this season.
Carolina carries one of the best offensive lines in football. With tremendous run blocking, they are top three in the league and only have allowed ten sacks all season. Newton has the skill to avoid sacks but with the strength of his line, it is allowing him to focus on making plays.
The Run Game
The Carolina Panthers have been an elite rushing attack for some time with Cam Newton under center. This year is more of the same with second-year running back Christian McCaffrey taking the bulk of the carries. McCaffrey is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and while he only has one touchdown, he’s also a receiving threat out of the backfield. Cam Newton is the one with all the touchdowns as he gets most of the goal line work. Their sleeper in the backfield is C.J Anderson. Formerly the lead back of the Denver Broncos is averaging five yards per carry this season. Behind only the Rams in rushing this year, the Bucs better hope they can get some players back on the defensive line this week.
The Carolina Panthers biggest weakness is their receivers. Outside of their tight end, Greg Olsen, and Christian McCaffrey, their biggest threat this season is Devin Funchess. The former Michigan tight end receiver combo has 401 yards this year and three touchdowns. Recently their rookie first-round pick DJ Moore has started to come along. This past weekend against the Ravens he has his best game with five catches for 90 yards. He’s got speed, but lacks the connection with Cam Newton.
Greg Olsen is still consistent. While he is coming off yet another broken foot he is still playing over 95% of the offensive snaps and is Newtons favorite red zone target. Against the Ravens, he had his best game of the season with 56 yards and a touchdown. The Buccaneers still struggle against tight ends with safety and linebacker being a weakness on the defense. Look for Greg Olsen to have a big game this Sunday.
The Panthers defense has been slightly above average this year allowing 350 yards per game, 13th in NFL. They have the 8th ranked rush defense and 17th ranked pass defense so the Bucs biggest strength is going against the Panther biggest weakness.
The defense looks really strong one week, but then gives up 31 points to the New York Giants. One thing Carolina is good at, is forcing turnovers. Tied for ninth in the NFL with 13 turnovers they can change the game. With Jameis Winston on the bench this weekend the Bucs offense should be better at protecting the ball.
Carolinas biggest issue on defense is their pass rush. With 18 sacks they are 23rd in the league, still better than Tampa, but their defensive line has not produced a ton of pressure. Six of their 18 total sacks are coming from linebackers and the secondary so the offensive line has to be prepared for the blitz. They won’t have to fear any particular player, like the Panthers should with Jason Pierre Paul.
Carolina’s defense is not penalized often, with the fifth fewest penalties in the NFL. The Bucs were able to get some extra yardage with the Bengals mistakes last week, but they shouldn’t expect it with Carolina. With Ron Rivera and Luke Kuechly leading the defense, they are one of the most disciplined groups in the league.
Panther Special Teams
Graham Gano is one of three kickers in the NFL to not have missed a field goal this season. he is currently 11-11 most notably a 63-yard game winner against the New York Giants. He’s 7-7 from beyond 40 yards so if the Panthers reach the twenty-five-yard line they are likely going to score. Grahams not perfect on extra points, however. He has missed two of his seventeen tries but that is still better than Tampa and Chandler Catanzaro.
Carolina doesn’t punt much because they put up a lot of points and are having moderate success when they have to. Michael Palardy is 10th in the NFL with a 42.4-yard net punt and 15 of his 28 kicks are inside the 20-yard line.
If the game comes down to special teams this Sunday the Panthers are going to be in a much better position. Look for another shootout Sunday with tons of points and a lot of passing yards. Then again, that’s not new for the Bucs.