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OPPONENT: Carolina Panthers
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE PANTHERS STAND: The Panthers are 0-2 and are tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for last place in the NFC South division.
PANTHERS HEAD COACH: John Fox
PANTHERS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dan Henning
PANTHERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Trgovac
PANTHERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Danny Crossman
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 28th (247.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 32nd (33.0 ypg)
PASSING: 15th (214.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 22nd (327.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 32nd (205.0 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (122.0 ypg)
CAROLINA PANTHERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 30th (243.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (86.0 ypg)
PASSING: 26th (157.0 ypg)
CAROLINA PANTHERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 28th (375.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 31st (196.0 ypg)
PASSING: 11th (179.0 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… Tampa Bay has lost five of its last six meetings with Carolina?
SCOUTING THE PANTHERS
One of the reasons why Carolina is off to a surprising 0-2 start is because of the play of QB Jake Delhomme, who has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 367 yards and tossed no touchdowns and one interception. Delhomme has also been sacked six times in two games. A solid pass rush disrupted Delhomme in Tampa Bay’s 20-10 win over Carolina last December. The Bucs will set out to stop the Panthers’ ground attack first, but getting pressure on Delhomme will be key Sunday.
The Panthers released the aging RB Stephen Davis during the offseason, but they still have a two-back attack that features DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. A first-round pick in April, Williams has averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored one touchdowns, but he’s carried the ball just 13 times in two games. Foster has rushed for 80 yards and is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Tampa Bay’s run defense is ranked 32nd in the NFL, but it can’t allow Carolina’s offense to establish the run and become two-dimensional. Otherwise, it could be a long day for the Bucs defense.
Will he play or won’t he? That’s the big question right now regarding Panthers WR Steve Smith, who is the offense’s engine. Without Smith, Carolina’s offense has struggled mightily, converting just 19.2 percent of its third down attempts through two games after converting nearly 43 percent of those plays last year. Smith, who possesses great speed and playmaking ability, caught a team-leading 103 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. A hamstring injury he suffered in training camp has kept Smith sidelined for two regular season games and could keep him out of Sunday’s game in Tampa, which would be good news for cornerback Ronde Barber, who would be charged with the difficult task of covering him. Drew Carter has been playing in place of Smith, and he’s caught nine passes for 96 yards. However, Carter is listed as questionable with a hand injury. The Bucs have injury problems of their own. Cornerback Brian Kelly missed last Sunday’s game with turf toe and is questionable for game vs. the Panthers. If Kelly can’t go, CB Juran Bolden will start and go up against former Bucs WR Keyshawn Johnson, who has caught nine passes for 146 yards (16.2 avg.) through two games. If Kelly is out, Torrie Cox will play nickel corner for the Bucs, and he will go up against Panthers WR Keary Colbert. Although Colbert has caught just three passes this season, this matchup will be one to watch as Colbert torched Cox for two touchdowns two seasons ago in a game played in Carolina.
Carolina’s offensive line has the ability to dominate opponents in the trenches, but that hasn’t happened this season. The Panthers’ ground attack is ranked 22nd in the NFL, and this unit, which features left tackle Rashad Butler, left guard Mike Wahle, center Jeff Hartwig, right guard Evan Mathis and right tackle Jordan Gross, has allowed six sacks through two contests after allowing a total of 28 through 16 games last year. Things could go from bad to worse for Carolina’s offensive line if Hartwig, who is battling a groin injury, can’t play Sunday. He is listed as questionable on the injury report. But even if Hartwig doesn’t play, the Bucs might have a tough time taking advantage of his absence since defensive tackles Anthony McFarland (hip) and Chris Hovan (ankle) are also listed as questionable for this game with their respective.
This is where Sunday’s game could be decided. Carolina’s defensive line is one of the league’s best and has given Tampa Bay’s offensive line problems in the past. Panthers left end Julius Peppers is coming off a spectacular game vs. Minnesota and has notched three sacks this season after recording 10.5 quarterback takedowns in 2005. Peppers will go up against Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker, who has had mixed outings vs. Peppers in the past. Bucs quarterback Chris Simms will have to be careful not to telegraph his passes as Peppers, who will be rushing Simms’ blindside, uses his long arms to deflect passes near the line of scrimmage. He had seven batted balls last year and already has two this season. Simms has already had 10 passes batted down near the line of scrimmage through two contests, and you can bet the Panthers will attempt to bat down more on Sunday. With Davin Joseph out, Sean Mahan will start at right guard and will go up against Panthers under tackle Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis, who comes in on obvious passing downs and already has notched two sacks this season. Panthers nose tackle Kris Jenkins will be attempt to work his way around Bucs second-year G Dan Buenning and center John Wade. Left tackle Anthony Davis will have to hold off Panthers right end Mike Rucker. Both Jenkins and Rucker are capable of taking over games, and Buenning and Davis can’t allow that to happen. While the Panthers are completely capable of rushing the quarterback, they haven’t shown the ability to stop the run this season. The Panthers are currently ranked 31st in that department. The Bucs, who are ranked 32nd in run offense, will make an effort to establish the ground attack with RB Cadillac Williams, who has rushed just 23 times for 59 yards (2.6 avg.) in two games. Even though Tampa Bay’s offense was outstanding in pass protection last week in Atlanta, working Williams into the game will be key for the Bucs. When Tampa Bay downed Carolina 20-10 last December, Williams played an integral role, rushing 29 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
Carolina will be without starting middle linebacker Dan Morgan for this contest, which is good news for the Bucs, who will be attempting to establish the running game and work the short-to-intermediate part of the field in the passing game. The Panthers are missing LB Will Witherspoon, who left Carolina via free agency. However, they still have two talented linebackers in Thomas Davis and Na’ll Diggs. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden could attempt to work Williams, RB Michael Pittman and tight end Alex Smith into the passing game with some favorable matchups vs. Davis, Diggs and Adam Seward, who will replace Morgan in the starting lineup.
Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway is coming off a nine-catch, 161-yard performance vs. the Falcons, but he’ll be hard pressed to catch nine balls vs. Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble, who is a solid cover corner and recorded a team-high seven interceptions in 2005. Galloway caught just four passes for 39 yards in Tampa Bay’s last meeting with Carolina. The Panthers likely will attempt to double team Galloway with free safety Mike Minter and/or Shaun Williams. However, Williams is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game with a foot injury, which means backup Colin Branch likely will start in his place. While the Bucs want to establish the ground attack, they might be tempted to exploit this weakness in Carolina’s secondary by getting Galloway, WR Michael Clayton or even TE Alex Smith in some one-on-one matchups with Branch. Clayton will be covered primarily by CB Ken Lucas, who is also a ballhawk, evidenced by his six interceptions in 2005.
Field position and field goal kicking will be key in this game. Last year, Panthers kicker John Kasey only made 26-of-34 (76.5 percent) of his field goal attempts, but he’s off to a good start this season – he’s made 4-of-4 field goal tries. Punter John Baker continues to put his strong leg on display. He’s averaging nearly 47 yards per punt and has pinned five of his 15 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Panthers rookie RB DeAngelo Williams is averaging 21.4 yards per attempt on kickoff returns while cornerback Chris Gamble is averaging just 5.2 yards per punt return. Bucs running back Michael Pittman and wide receiver Mark Jones aren’t faring much better in the kickoff return and punt return areas, respectively. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell is averaging 45.2 yards per punt on 12 attempts. Field goal kicking has become a bit of a concern for the Bucs after K Matt Bryant missed two attempts last Sunday in Atlanta.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 17 Panthers 16
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