Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What's the Game Plan for Tampa Bay?By Luke Easterling Oct 3, 2015Ronald Martinez/Getty Images From an ugly blowout at home against the Tennessee Titans to an impressive road win against the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have looked like two completely different teams at times this season.Last week, they were within striking distance of a solid Houston Texas team, but their continued struggles on offense, special teams and with penalties sent them to another loss.Returning home is usually considered a good thing, but the Bucs have still yet to win a regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium under head coach Lovie Smith.Furthermore, they’ll be facing a Carolina Panthers team sitting at 3-0 despite key injuries on both sides of the ball. Behind the dangerous connection between quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen, Carolina just continues to get the job done.What do the Bucs need to do on both sides of the ball to come away winners this week? Let’s take a look.Offensive Game PlanIn order to support their rookie quarterback as he develops, the Bucs have to commit to the ground game. However, this might not be the week to expect big numbers from their backs, as the Panthers rank fourth in the NFL against the run, allowing just over 75 yards per game.So, instead of setting up the pass with an effective running game, the Bucs will have to do it the other way around this week. They’ll need to get Jameis Winston in a rhythm early with quick passes that neutralize Carolina’s pass rush while also building Winston’s comfort level and confidence with high-percentage throws.Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston will need to set the tone for the offense with high-percentage throws.One thing the Bucs can do to get Winston more comfortable is to work out of the shotgun more often, giving their rookie quarterback a little extra time and space to read the defense without a traditional dropback. Winston has proven he can still be effective from under center, but he’s clearly at his best when working from the shotgun, especially when the offense is running uptempo.Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is likely to be out again this week, but Mike Evans is back to full strength, Vincent Jackson is still an effective chain-mover and Louis Murphy has been a pleasant surprise as a big-play threat so far this season. If Tampa Bay’s offensive line can hold up as well as it did last week in pass protection, Winston will have plenty of weapons to take advantage of.Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will also need to find creative ways to avoid Carolina’s top cover man, Josh Norman.If the Bucs can move the ball down the field through the air consistently in the early going, it should open things up for Doug Martin and the running game. If they’re able to find that successful balance, it will open up the play-action game as well.Tampa Bay will have to make huge improvements when it comes to converting on third downs and winning time of possession. In last week’s loss, the Bucs were just 1-of-12 on third downs and simply couldn’t sustain enough drives to keep their defense fresh. That can’t happen again this week if the Bucs want to come away with a big division win.Defensive Game PlanThe objective for Tampa Bay on defense this week should be simple, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. It has to focus its collective attention on shutting down Newton and Olsen, forcing someone else on the offense to step up and beat them.Newton has thrown for 685 yards and five touchdowns so far this season, with 215 of those yards and two touchdowns going to Olsen. The former Miami Hurricanes tight end has been one of the most consistent players in the league at the position over his career, hauling in at least five touchdown passes in each of the last seven seasons.Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesShutting down Cam Newton and Greg Olsen will be Tampa Bay's prime objective on defense.While debate rages on about classic pocket passers versus the more mobile variety, Newton remains a rare breed who can do it all and win games in whatever way is needed. He can take care of the ball and manage the game carefully, or like he did against the New Orleans Saints last week, win in a shootout by slinging the ball for over 300 yards.He’s comfortable working from the pocket, but his size and athleticism are a nightmare for opposing defenses if he decides to handle things himself on the ground.Even without Newton in the equation last year, Olsen still had a field day against the Bucs both times they matched up. In Week 1, Olsen caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, then he hauled in 10 catches for 110 yards in Week 15—both performances with backup quarterback Derek Anderson playing in place of an injured Newton.Tampa Bay has the talent on defense to keep Newton and Olsen in check, as both Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are exactly the kind of athletic, smart linebackers it takes to spy on Newton and hang with Olsen in coverage. But as the Bucs are finding out all over the field this year, it doesn’t matter what you have on paper if the execution doesn’t happen.Especially with a banged-up secondary, Tampa Bay’s front four has to control the line of scrimmage against the run and pressure Newton into making poor decisions in the passing game. If they give him a clean pocket to work from and allow Jonathan Stewart to consistently pick up a handful of yards on every carry, it will be another long afternoon for Bucs fans.Key Players and MatchupsStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTampa Bay needs to avoid Carolina's playmaker at cornerback, Josh Norman.Bucs WR Mike Evans vs. Panthers CB Josh NormanAfter being Johnny Manziel’s favorite target at Texas A&M, a top-10 draft pick and posting over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, Evans is well-known by most NFL fans. Norman, on the other hand, wasn’t much of a household name coming into the 2015 season, but that’s quickly changing.A fifth-round pick in 2012 out of Coastal Carolina, Norman has recently drawn comparisons to Seattle’s Richard Sherman, both for his ability to shut down opposing receivers and his no-apologies on-field attitude. With a huge pick-six and a game-clinching, acrobatic interception already under his belt this year, Norman is making opposing quarterbacks pay for testing him.This week, look for the Bucs to do their best to stay away from Norman, moving Evans around the formation to try to get their best receiver in a more advantageous matchup.Bucs LBs Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton, TE Greg OlsenKim Klement-USA TODAY SportsAs I mentioned above, Newton and Olsen are key to Carolina’s success on offense, but the Bucs have the talent on defense where they need it to contain them.David is already widely regarded as one of the best linebackers in the league, with speed, athleticism and instincts to burn. A fourth-round pick out of LSU, Alexander quickly snatched the starting job in the middle during training camp and has proven himself to have similar skills to David.Between spying on Newton to keep him from escaping the pocket for big chunks of yardage and mirroring Olsen in coverage down the field, David and Alexander will have their hands full this week. But they have the skills to get the job done, and stopping those two playmakers will be Tampa Bay’s top objective on defense.PredictionThe Bucs simply have to contain Newton and Olsen, forcing the Panthers to beat them on the ground. But even if they’re able to accomplish that, it won’t matter if the offense can’t punch it in once they get in the red zone. Last week, Tampa Bay learned the hard way what happens when you rely on a young kicker with fragile confidence.If the Bucs continue to shoot themselves in the foot with costly mistakes, mental errors and poor fundamentals, they won’t be able to hang with a more stable, experienced Panthers team.The defense will keep it close for Tampa Bay again this week, but Carolina stays undefeated in a close one.Panthers 27, Bucs 24link
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