With a record of 0-6, it’ll be hard to pull off a winning record unless they put together a 10-game winning streak or finish 8-2 down the stretch. But if the Buccaneers are looking to play for that reason, that challenge begins Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers.
The following keys to victory could help the Bucs defeat their division rivals.
Key 1. Don’t Get Run Over
The Carolina Panthers are in seventh in the league in rushing averaging just over 130 yards per game. The Buccaneers are fifth in the league in run defense as they are holding opponents to 88.8 yards a contest. But Tampa Bay has multiple weapons to worry about running the football like DeAngelo Williams and short yardage/goal line bruiser Mike Tolbert.
Fortunately for the Bucs, they are tough inside the red zone. They are fourth best in the league with allowing just eight touchdowns on 20 trips inside the 20-yard line by their opponent. With that said, if the Bucs can hold the Panthers’ running attack, that should limit Carolina in their efforts.
Key 2. Spy Cam
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is a threat that has been on fire as of late. The Panthers have won three of their last four and the primary reason for that is because of Newton’s play on the field.
Newton has thrown for seven touchdowns in that span and has run for two more. His passer rating is 95 and has completed over 63 percent of his passes. However, the Bucs had success against him in 2012 allowing just two touchdowns while forcing two interceptions and look to continue that Thursday night. With Carolina ranking near the bottom half of the league in sacks allowed, look for Tampa Bay to get after Newton early and often if they can get any penetration from their front four. The risk of not being able to get to Newton can be avoided by having a linebacker spy Newton similar to how they did so last season.
It shouldn't stop there though because Tampa Bay is at their best when bringing pressure and giving mixed looks along the front seven. Once they start reverting to zone, Newton will have options to pass and run the football. That is where Tampa Bay can find themselves in trouble.
Key 3. Cool Them Off
The Panthers have scored 30 or more points in three of their last four games while the Buccaneers defense has given up 31 points in each of the last two games. As the defense for the Bucs declines, the offense slowly increases their production. Granted they are not stride for stride with the opposition on the scoreboard but their best defense Thursday night may be their offense.
That concept will be difficult as Carolina’s defense ranks third overall — fourth against the run and fifth against the pass. But the Bucs have to keep Carolina’s offense off the field and the best way to do so is controlling the clock. If they can figure out a way to do that, they can find themselves in good position to win the game.
Key 4. Stop Being So Offensive
The Bucs’ offensive line has allowed 14 sacks this season which is seventh best in the NFL. That number could be a lot higher if it weren’t for Mike Glennon and Josh Freeman in the first three weeks moving out of the pocket. They haven’t been able to provide assistance in the running game either as the running game is averaging below four yards a carry as a team.
Penalties have also ruined chances. Right guard Davin Joseph’s hands-to-the-face penalty on Sunday wiped a touchdown off the board for the Bucs late in the game. Donald Penn and Ted Larsen also had penalties in crucial moments of the game Sunday that set the Bucs offense back.
If the offensive line continues with their undisciplined play, they’ll continue to leave more and more points out on the field.
Key 5. Under The Lights
It’s the second appearance for the Buccaneers on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium. The first was Saturday December 17, 2011 but the game was a “special edition” to the network’s weekly series. The Bucs hosted the Dallas Cowboys and lost 31-15 — a loss that was one of the last 10 in a row. However, that game was well over at halftime when Tampa Bay trailed 28-0.
The Buccaneers can’t have another showing like that one in their own house in a primetime atmosphere. With everything that has circled the team this season, another humiliating loss on national television will just worsen the national perspective of the organization. If that happens, it can no longer be blamed on one single aspect; From the coaches to the players to the front office, everyone must be held accountable.
Gil Arcia (1-5): Panthers 33, Buccaneers 13
Mark Cook (2-4): Panthers 27, Buccaneers 21
Scott Reynolds (4-2): Panthers 34, Buccaneers 16