The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to make it two wins in a row as they host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The Panthers have lost three straight games and are looking to snap that streak and sweep the Bucs this year.
The Buccaneers defense is a completely different animal at home than it is on the road. At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay’s defense is a fierce creature, allowing no more than 23 points in any home game this year, while allowing an average of 18.3 points per game to be scored – 16 points per game under new defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. Yet those defensive performances have come against Pittsburgh and four average offenses in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Washington and San Francisco.
On the road, the Bucs defense has been a cowardly beast, allowing an embarrassing 38.3 points per game, including surrendering 42 points at Carolina the last time Tampa Bay played the Panthers. The Bucs defense got embarrassed the Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers razzle-dazzled Tampa Bay with plenty of misdirection on screen passes, end-arounds and reverses. The good news for the Bucs is that this game is at home, and the Color Rush-clad pirates will hope that the trend of good defense continues at home where the defense has allowed 20 fewer points per game.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, they are a bit banged up on defense with cornerback Brent Grimes questionable for the game with a knee injury, and rookie cornerback Carlton Davis out with a knee injury. Linebacker Lavonte David (knee) and free safety Justin Evans (toe) have missed the last two games due to injury and are questionable to play. The 6-5 Panthers come in as the healthier – and better – team, and need to snap a three-game losing streak to stay in the hunt for an NFC Wild Card spot, or perhaps the NFC South title.
Wide receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Donovan Smith need to amend for awful games at Carolina in this rematch, and quarterback Jameis Winston will have to play another turnover-free game for the Bucs to come away with a victory in back-to-back home games and improve to 5-7. More importantly, the Bucs defense needs to have another big-sack showing from bookend defensive ends Carl Nassib and Jason Pierre-Paul, create some more takeaways and not let McCaffrey eclipse 100 yards of total offense, which will be a challenge.
If the Bucs were healthier, I’d like them in the upset, but the Panthers will prevail and send Tampa Bay to 4-8 on the season with a close road win.
I mean the Panthers are too good and the Bucs are essentially playing for a draft pick, right?
Well, the more I think about this game the more I am not chalking it up as a sure-fire loss for Tampa Bay. I do think ultimately the Panthers end up winning, but I won’t be shocked if the Bucs somehow surprise us all. For whatever the reason, and I am sure there are some good ones, this team does seem to fight for head coach Dirk Koetter. We saw it last year, and despite a 5-11 record, the Bucs never folded up their tent. They played hard, came up short a bunch, but didn’t mail it in.
I think that trend continues this year. Will it be enough to save Koetter’s job? Impossible to say at this point, but in order to do so, they have to win some games and not just lose them closely.
I can’t bring myself to pick the Bucs this week, however. I just don’t trust them. I want to be able to, but until they get a signature win – and the Week 1 victory in New Orleans seems like a lifetime ago, I just can’t. At least not against a team of Carolina’s caliber.
The Bucs should be able to keep the game close, and like the homes games this season (not counting the Pittsburgh game), I don’t think it will be this huge, high-scoring shootout affair. The Bucs defense plays much better at home, particularly under defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. While the Panthers put up 42 points on Tampa Bay last month in Charlotte, I think the defense was embarrassed and wants to make amends. That will mean slowing down Christian McCaffrey and not allowing Cam Newton to beat them with his feet. Playing sound, fundamental football with good eye discipline is essential if they are going to have a chance.
Offensively it all starts and ends with protection. Give Jameis Winston time and he can pick apart this Carolina secondary. I see a back-and-forth affair for most of the afternoon with the Panthers making a couple more plays in the fourth quarter than the Bucs.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and head coach Dirk Koetter specifically, have any hope of making this 2018 season a success and savaging some coaching jobs, it has to start with Carolina – they realistically have to run the table, but that still starts with Carolina, so it still counts.
A win against the struggling Panthers would not only be one win closer to the playoffs, it would not only be one win picked up in the division, it would also be a double win with a team they’re chasing in the wild card also picking up a loss.
In order to beat the Panthers, the Buccaneers’ offense will have to start much better than they did against Carolina when they visited them earlier this season. With Winston as the quarterback now, it’s going to be up to him and Mike Evans to get this thing going early. Winston has to be able to build off the turnover-free game he had last week.
The Bucs need to be able to get up on the scoreboard early for two reasons. One: They need to score more points than the Panthers by the time the game is over — thanks, genius. Two: They need to be able to let their defensive line go after Cam Newton and rough him up a bit. That only happens if you’re forcing the Panthers to pass. That’s the way you beat Carolina. You have to make Newton uncomfortable.
The Panthers are coming into Tampa Bay on a three-game losing streak, and have been terrible on the road this season, so this all bodes well for the Buccaneers. However, I have seen too much bad Bucs football to say that they are the favorites in this one.
If they win this week, maybe I’ll believe in them again. But for now, I’ve been burned too many times, and I still think the Panthers are a good team. It’ll be close, the Bucs will have a chance and a drive at the end, but I think it comes up short.
All the fun and games are over now. It was nice to see the Bucs defense come alive against the 49ers, but that’s a two-win football team, and Carolina dropped 42 on them the last time these teams played. Carolina has lost their last three, but that may hurt the Bucs even more, as the Panthers are fighting for their playoff lives.
The Bucs have some momentum going on their defensive line at the moment. Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib have become a nice bookend when disrupting the quarterback, and Vita Vea just played the best game of his career. As good as the line was, the linebackers are struggling, starting players that are third-string and practice squad guys. This bunch has a horrendous time stopping the simplest of misdirection plays, which the Panthers seem to excel at. The Bucs better pray that Lavonte David is healthy enough to go, because they are going to have tough time stopping Christian McCaffrey in any sort of capacity. The defense does play better at home, but they won’t against a guy like this.
Each week is the “most important” game to players, but this week and next truly are for Jameis Winston. He had his first game of the year where he didn’t turn the ball over, again though, that was the 49ers. Winston will have to prove this week against an aggressive defense that last week wasn’t an anomaly, and this is a new Winston that can protect the ball.
Keep a lookout for Mike Evans as well to have a better game than the last time he faced corner James Bradberry. Evans is as competitive as they come, and his last game against Carolina brought only one catch for 16 yards. While I expect Evans to have a big game, the Bucs will revert to playing behind for most of the game and cost themselves a chance to win in one way or another.
Last week was a welcome respite for fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For one week – if only for a week – all of the problems this team has had on defense seemed minimal and the offense executed largely without a hitch. Unfortunately week 12 is over and the Carolina Panthers aren’t the San Francisco 49ers.
Looking ahead to this game you can bet that the Bucs’ defense probably won’t hold the Panthers to just nine points, they probably won’t come out of the game with two more interceptions and Jameis Winston probably won’t play a complete game of mistake-free football.
The Panthers gashed the Bucs earlier in the year, setting a franchise record with 35 points on the board by halftime. I can’t see the score ever being quite as lopsided this time around, but I don’t predict the result to be any different. The Panthers are coming off of a tough three-game skid but they still bring a top-10 scoring offense into Tampa, led by a run game that’s producing 138.4 yards per game on a league-best 5.3 yards per carry.
Carolina is going to run the ball often and run it well, this is known, but it’s how the Bucs respond that will determine how bad this game gets. Will the offense start fast, play a consistent sixty minutes of football and limit turnovers? Will the Bucs be able to cover electric weapons like D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey – who have over 2000 combined yards from scrimmage – while stopping the run? Will the Bucs be able to contain Cam Newton while dropping into coverage? Having Lavonte David back in the lineup this week will help, but only time will tell and history says no.
On offense, it’ll all be about execution, per usual. The Panthers surrender the sixth-lowest rushing yards per game and Winston will be without key weapons in O.J. Howard and Desean Jackson, in addition to a questionable designation for starting RT Demar Dotson. Should Dotson be forced to miss time, third-year OT Leonard Wester will likely be his replacement.
The Bucs tend to play better at home, but their performance this week will not look nearly as good as the Color Rush uniforms they’ll be wearing. Like I said before, it probably won’t ever be 35-7 bad, but barring a perfect football game Tampa will likely fall to 4-8 on the season and 0-4 in their all-reds on Sunday.