Each week Beat Writer Dory LeBlanc gives her Five Keys To Victory against that week's opponent. Following the game, LeBlanc revisits those five keys and give a synopsis along with the grade for each.Josh Freeman finished the game 16-of-24 for 138 yards and a touchdown while carrying the ball seven times for 13 yards. Are those numbers Pro Bowl worthy? No. But what they were was effective and efficient. Freeman was sacked twice and did not throw a pick, but could have had more help from Vincent Jackson, who only caught four of 10 targets.
1. Build A Fortress
1. Build A Fortress
As the game wore on, especially Ted Larsen who was playing in place of Davin Joseph, the O-Line got sloppy. At the end of three quarters, Freeman was 13-of-16, but both sacks came in the third. The Bucs were spotless penalty wise entering the second half until the first two penalties given up by the Bucs were both on Larsen. Freeman had enough time to get the Bucs up on Carolina and not look back, but that was largely due in part to Connor Barth, who was a perfect 3-for-3 on the day.
Combined, Freeman and RBs Doug Martin, D.J. Ware, and LeGarrette Blount, the Bucs rushed for 130 yards and no touchdowns, but 95 of those yards came from the rookie Martin who had 24 attempts.
Grade = B-: The line gave Freeman time with decent pass protection, but the loss of Joseph was felt in the running game.
2. Penetrate Enemy Lines
The Bucs needed to put pressure on Newton and did, sacking him three times for a loss of 12 yards total. The most promising part of the pressure one of them came from Gerald McCoy. McCoy practically lived in the Panthers’ backfield registering two QB Hurries and two tackle for losses.
Michael Bennett got in on the Newton-sack-action, but not before committing a roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter.
The front four as a whole recorded seven of the Buccaneers 40 total tackles, two sacks, two QB hurries, and 3-out-of-9 tackles for loss while the linebacker corps and secondary handled the rest of then tackles. Mason Foster led the team with TFL with three and Ronde Barber registered the final sack on his 200th consecutive start.
Grade = A: The Bucs held the Panthers to 10 yards on the ground the entire game, and sacked the hard-to-bring-down Newton three times. You can’t ask for much more from your defense than that, other than a shutout, which the Bucs had going into the third quarter.
3. Gain Positive Position
Aided by a Carolina penalty for interference on a fair catch punt to Sammie Stroughter, the Bucs started their second possession around the 50 yd line up 7-0 in the latter part of the 1st quarter. The drive resulted with a 36 yard Connor Barth FG to put the Bucs up 10-0 on the Panthers.
Mike Smith finally saw the field to start the second half, but his efforts were futile. After an impressive preseason where Smith won the starting kick return position, he returned three kickoffs for 55 yards against Carolina.
Stroughter had three fair catches, and Preston Parker got into the action with one punt return for zero yards, and a downed ball as the Bucs amassed zero total yards on punt returns against the Panthers.
The Bucs defense put Josh Freeman et al in great position throughout the second half, but the Bucs couldn’t capitalize on anything more than field goals.
Grade = C: Although the 18.3 yards per return average by Smith isn’t horrible, the punt return average of zero is. The defense gave the offense the best they could, which is why the grade isn’t an F.
4. Operation Shock And Awe
The Bucs blitzed a ton in the preseason and continued the same routine in the opener. Using linebackers, corners, and safeties, the Bucs kept the pressure on Newton the entire game, resulting in last year’s Rookie of the Year completing 23-of-33 passes for 303 yards. Newton was forced to throw two interceptions, however, and was able to only gain four yards on five rushing attempts.
Grade = A: The Bucs blitzing is effective and needs to continue being heavily implemented into every game. In a pass-happy NFC South, the more blitzing the Bucs do to Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton – the better the outcome for Tampa Bay.
5. Achieve Secondary Objective
Vincent Jackson should have had a big game. The eight-year vet was the prize of the free agent wide receivers, but struggled against a secondary he shouldn’t have. Jackson was targeted 10 times, but had only four receptions for 47 yards. Not what you expect from a $55 million man. He rebounded just before the two minute warning in the fourth and gave the Bucs the first down they needed for Freeman to be able to take a knee to end the game.
Mike Williams put the Bucs on the board with a six-yard TD in the first for the 7-0 lead, but in two more targets, Williams only caught one for another six yards for 12 total.
Tight end Dallas Clark had just one reception for 33 yards and Fullback Erik Lorig tied Jackson and Martin for four catches.
Grade = C+: Freeman was given time to throw, and not including Jackson, the Bucs receivers caught 12-of-14 passes. You just have to expect more from one of the top eight wideouts in the league.
Before the 16-10 Bucs victory, the PewterReport.com staff felt the season opener would end like this:
LeBlanc's Prediction: 17-14 Buccaneers
Cook's Prediction:26-21 Buccaneers
Reynolds' Prediction: 27-17 Panthers