The Bucs are preparing for their annual grudge match with the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay knows that Carolina is going to feature their rush attack on Sunday.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers have had some tough grudge matches since the NFC South first started play in the 2002 season. Both teams have gone to the Super Bowl in that time, and made multiple playoff appearances. While the Bucs and Panthers are viewed as being in a rebuilding program because they field the two youngest teams in the NFL this year, that won’t change the fact that a physical football game will be played next Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris knows that the Bucs are going to have to stop the Panthers’ ground game first and foremost.
“I said we have to tackle. That’s what you got to do. This is a team that is going to force their will on you and they are going to run the ball. You can’t let it kill you,” said Morris. “You can’t let it take you out of your game. You can’t let it take over your game. You have to tackle and you have to get off on third down when you have the opportunity. The thing that makes those guys so special is, and I’ll start with Jonathan Stewart, I’ve never seen a man with better contact balance than Jonathan Stewart. When he gets hit he stays on his feet. He runs sideways better than anybody I’ve seen through a hole. He’s able to lower the boom on you. After he gets on the open grass he runs away from you.
“DeAngelo Williams creates different problems. He has the same type of jump-cut moves expect he can actually disappear in that hole and run away from you, and be dynamic with it as well and he is also powerful. The combination of those two guys remaining fresh throughout the game is very dangerous. It is very difficult to deal with and the way to stop those guys is to get those guys off the grass and force them into a situation where they have to throw it. That is tough to do when you have two dynamic running backs like that and you got a physical type mentality of their head coach, so that is the dynamics and that’s the toughness of dealing with the Carolina Panthers.”
The key for the Bucs is limiting the Panthers ground game. Last year Tampa Bay was last in the NFL in run defense, but the team showed signs of progress last week in the Buccaneers’ Week 1 victory over the Cleveland Browns. In the first half against Cleveland the Buccaneers allowed 87 yards on the ground. Over the final two quarters Tampa Bay held the Browns to only 17 yards rushing.
“We just played Buc defense,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We got overzealous in the first half and got out of our fits. Not taking anything away from Cleveland they are a good run team and they played well. There were just some miscues on defense. We had to tighten it up and play better.”
Now the Panthers' Williams and Stewart will test the Bucs. Last season Williams ran for 1,117 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Williams was barely edged by Stewart who led Carolina with 1,133 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns.
“They are really good. We are going to have to strap it down and make some key tackles,” said McCoy. “They can go sideline to sideline. Their skills are incredible, jump cuts are out of this world, and they always got their cutback angle. They both can do it. We just have to be ready. We have to tackle well this week. It is all about tackling.”
Over the last three meetings Carolina has had a lot of success running the ball against the Buccaneers. The Panthers ran for 299 yards in the last game against the Bucs in 2008. Carolina ran for 267 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the first game in the 2009 season. In the ’09 re-match after Morris took over the Bucs defense the Panthers ran for 157 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Buccaneers defensive tackle Ryan Sims has gone up against the Panthers the previous three seasons, and he explained what would be the difference for Tampa Bay this time around.
“Right now we are a different football team,” said Sims. “If you just look down our roster it is a totally different football team. We have a different mentality. A different coaching mindset, we are a morphing team. We play a little bit of everything now, so that right there is letting you know the things we put on tape last week and us showing that it is definitely a different team.”
The Bucs had a good game from linebackers Barrett Ruud and Geno Hayes in Week 1 against the Browns. Those linebackers tied for the team lead with eight tackles, and Ruud provided a key turnover with a forced fumble. The Buccaneers also showcased a lot of variety in their defensive formations. Morris had the Bucs run some 3-4 defense and 3-3-5 defensive sets. Keeping outside linebackers Hayes and Black on the field for all three downs is a big reason for those packages.
“We got speed linebackers, you’ve got to use them,” said Sims. “You got tackles that you want to use too, so you’re mixing in the 4-3. When you have an athletic end like Stylez [White] you can stand him up. It is technically a three-man line but you still got four defensive linemen.”
The Week 2 matchup with Carolina will provide a measuring tool for the young Bucs to see how far they’ve progressed in stopping the run since the rough matchups against Carolina in the past three meetings.
“It is good to do it early and see where we are at,” said McCoy. “If we can come out and play well against Carolina and stop the run I think we can stop anybody in the run game because they are one of the best.”
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