Five keys hang in the balance to a Bucs victory over division rival Carolina on Sunday. One of the biggest mismatches in Tampa Bay's favor will be the Buccaneer wide receivers against the Panthers' secondary, but the offensive line has to do their job in protecting Josh Freeman and giving the QB enough time to make smart decisions.
The first battle of the 2012 season begins and the Buccaneers are led by a new general in Greg Schiano. Beat writer Dory LeBlanc gives her thought on five keys to a first game victory.
1. Build A Fortress
The first game Donald Penn came back from a calf injury that kept him out of the majority of the preseason, the Bucs lost the anchor of the O-Line Davin Joseph. Head coach Greg Schiano is carrying on Raheem Morris' favorite expression “next man up”, which Schiano said after Joseph’s injury dictated he would miss the entire season on IR. The next man up he was referring to was either Ted Larsen or Jamon Meredith, and in the preseason finale against Washington, Meredith got the majority of snaps. Schiano must not have liked what he saw in DC, because Larsen took the snaps at right guard at practice and is listed as the starting RG for the opener against Carolina. Schiano also talked about giving both Demar Dotson and Jeremy Trueblood time at right tackle.
We have said it before at PewterReport.com, and it must be said again: essentially, this offensive line has been able to build zero chemistry.
The Russian-roulette-find-a-lineman has spun on several different players, without any one of them actually playing together as a cohesive unit in a live-game situation.
The day has now come for the line to do its job. Josh Freeman must be protected and the running backs have to be able to find holes to run through. The Buccaneers spent a lot of money in the offseason upgrading their offense, and the only way it will pay dividends is if Freeman can have time to make smart decisions.
2. Penetrate Enemy Lines
With Jonathon Stewart questionable after not practicing the latter part of the week, the Panthers’ ground game will (more than likely) consist of Newton and Williams, but the two combined ran for 1542 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
The Bucs have upgraded their linebacker corps and secondary drafting tackling-machine Lavonte David and Mark Barron. Both rookies are expected to have a big impact against the run and pass after impressive preseasons, but the defensive line is razor thin behind the starters, and Roy Miller’s career at NT has been a yo-yo. Gerald McCoy is an unusual find at defensive tackle but needs to play up to his third overall pick in the 2010 draft billing.
Adrian Clayborn in his second year is the defensive end that will go against the Panthers’ most tenured lineman, Jordan Gross.
Michael Bennett has proven to handle the duties at left end replacing Da’Quan Bowers but needs to get into the Carolina backfield on Sunday. Bennett is smaller than the 6-5 339 pound RT Byron Bell, but Bennett’s athleticism and quick step should be able to beat Bell.3. Gain Positive Position
In the preseason, kick returns were the Bucs’ bright spot. Rookie Michael Smith returned 10 of Tampa Bay’s 11 kickoff returns in the preseason and needs to use his 4.3 speed to get the ball into enemy territory. Smith has great vision on special teams and has the patience to follow his blockers. The big difference will be what Smith can do on Sunday against special teams unit that was one of the causes of the Panthers’ 6-10 record in 2011.
Punter Michael Koenen punted for an average of 45.1 yards last season while also handling kickoffs. The eight year veteran needs to get the ball as deep as he can on both punts and kickoffs as Carolina’s PR Joe Adams and KR Kealoha Pilares can get the ball downfield in a hurry.4. Operation Shock And Awe
The Bucs defense has been blitzing throughout the preseason and has to continue to do so against the Panthers’ explosive offense. The Panthers offensive line is about as dominant as Tampa Bay’s defensive line, which may end in a few draws Sunday afternoon. If the defensive line can’t penetrate Carolina’s front five, the linebackers and secondary will have to do it.
Greg Olsen is a receiving tight end and won’t offer much protection to Newton in the passing game, but Mike Tolbert will. The 5-9 245 pound running back is a tremendous asset to the Panthers in pass protection, but may have difficulty picking up the Bucs’ blitzes especially against Tampa Bay’s linebackers.5. Achieve Secondary Objective
The most effective member of Carolina’s secondary is Chris Gamble, who should move from LCB to right to cover Vincent Jackson. That would leave Captain Munnerlyn to cover Mike Williams, a definite mismatch in the Bucs’ favor.
Last year against the Bucs, Gamble recorded nine tackles, but defended no passes and did not intercept Freeman once in the two December meetings.
If Freeman has time to make proper decisions, the passing game could be very successful on Sunday.
LeBlanc's Prediction: 17-14 Buccaneers
Cook's Prediction:26-21 Buccaneers
Reynolds' Prediction: 27-17 Panthers
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