Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up his analysis on how Tampa Bay's defense played against Carolina in the Buccaneers' 16-10 over the Panthers in the 2012 season opener, and dishes out the game grades for each defensive unit and the Bucs special teams.
BUCCANEERS DEFENSIVE LINE
Defensive end Michael Bennett had a ticky-tack 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit on Cam Newton, but would later get revenge with a sack-fumble on Carolina’s quarterback. Bennett finished the game with two tackles, including a tackle for loss.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy had a huge day for the Buccaneers with four quarterback pressures and a big fourth quarter sack for minus-8 yards. McCoy was beating guards Geoff Hangartner and Amini Silatolu regularly and had one of his best games as a Buccaneer, finishing with two tackles for losses and a sack.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn had a fairly productive game, highlighted by a recovered blocked punt in the fourth quarter that helped set up Tampa Bay’s fourth quarter field goal that pushed the Bucs’ lead to nine points and made it a two possession game. He finished the game with just one tackle, but did a nice job of containing Newton and keeping him inside the pocket.
Defensive tackle Roy Miller helped clog the middle of the defense and finished with two tackles. Carolina rushed for just 10 yards on 13 carries (0.8 avg.) against Tampa Bay after gashing the Bucs for 163 yards and four touchdowns at Raymond James Stadium last year, and destroying the Bucs on the ground with 270 yards rushing and three TDs. The defensive line did a great job of maintaining its rush lanes and didn’t any opportunities for Newton to scramble for yards. GAME GRADE = ABUCCANEERS LINEBACKERS
The Bucs linebackers played a huge role in shutting down the Panthers’ explosive running game. Rookie Lavonte David is already a better player than Geno Hayes, the weakside linebacker he replaced. Tampa Bay’s 2012 second-round pick led the Bucs with six tackles on Sunday. David had a notable stop on third-and-goal, stopping Newton’s quarterback draw and forcing the Panthers to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter.
David and reserve linebacker Dekoda Watson did a great job of spying Newton and keeping him in the pocket when the Bucs played dime defense.
Middle linebacker Mason Foster is a much surer tackler this year, and had five stops, including a career-high three tackles for loss to lead the Buccaneers.
Strongside linebacker Quincy Black saw time in the Bucs base defense and was also used in rotation with David in Tampa Bay’s nickel defense. He had five tackles and one tackle for loss against the Panthers.
The linebacking corps didn’t create any turnovers, nor did it have any sacks, but the unit didn’t miss many tackles, either. Tackling was a huge issue a year ago, but the Bucs linebackers started off the season with the right way in helping neutralize the Panthers rushing attack.GAME GRADE = BBUCCANEERS SECONDARY
Newton completed 23-of-33 passes for 303 yards against the Buccaneers defense, but only had one touchdown and threw two interceptions. Free safeties Ahmad Black and Ronde Barber each had picks, and Barber, who started his 200th NFL game, also recorded a sack. The sack was Barber’s 28th of his career, and the pick was his 44th of his career. It was just the second time in Barber’s illustrious career that he got a sack and an interception in the same game. The other game was against Carolina in 2005.
Barber finished the game with two pass breakups and five tackles, including two tackles for loss. He teamed with David on the third-down stop of Newton on a quarterback draw that forced the Panthers to kick a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Aqib Talib had two pass breakups against Carolina, including one in the end zone on a potential touchdown pass to Louis Murphy, and a pass intended for Brandon LaFell that was tipped up and intercepted by Barber, who returned the pick 26 yards.
Talib defended LaFell for most of the game, but wasn’t assigned to him on the 22-yard touchdown catch. Talib did give up a perfectly thrown 51-yard pass to Murphy in the fourth quarter that set up Carolina’s field goal.
Cornerback Eric Wright had four solo tackles and two pass breakups while covering Steve Smith for most of the game. Smith did finish with 106 yards on seven receptions, including a 32-yarder in which he shoved Wright down to gain 18 yards after the catch, but that was his longest play of the game. Wright did a reasonably decent job of defending Smith all day and held him out of the end zone.
Veteran Brandon McDonald was the Bucs’ nickel cornerback for most of the game and finished with one tackle.
Strong safety Mark Barron, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2012, had a very good NFL debut. While he did have a couple of lapses in coverage, he made up for it with a key pass breakup on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter that forced a Carolina punt, and saved a touchdown by knocking Smith out of bounds on his 32-yard reception. He finished the game with three tackles and two pass breakups.
The secondary did a good job of making plays against the Panthers receivers by picking off two passes and deflecting eight others, but one of those breakups was a dropped interception by Black. In addition to giving up a 51-yard pass to Murphy late in the game, the Bucs secondary also gave up a 19-yard reception by LaFell on third-and-17 by getting in a prevent zone defense in the first half, and a miscommunication in the secondary led to LaFell being wide open in the third quarter for Carolina’s lone touchdown on a 22-yard scoring catch.GAME GRADE = B+BUCCANEERS SPECIAL TEAMS
The highlight on special teams was a key blocked punt by Talib in the fourth quarter. Clayborn recovered the ball and gave the Bucs great field position near midfield and set up a field goal to increase Tampa Bay’s lead to 16-7.
The Bucs got nothing from their return game as rookie kick returner Michael Smith averaged just 18.3 yards on three opportunities. His longest return was only 23 yards. Preston Parker had one punt return for zero yards and Sammie Stroughter was forced to fair catch all three of his punt return opportunities.
Kicker Connor Barth kicked three field goals from 36, 20 and 40 yards and was perfect on all of his attempts. Barth has now made 18 straight field goals dating back to 2011.
Punter Michael Koenen had four touchbacks on his kickoffs, and Joe Adams was only able to return one for 31 yards. Adams returned three punts for 28 yards, but Koenen averaged 46 yards per punt with a 36.4-yard net. He dropped two inside the 20-yard line and had one touchback.
Fullback Erik Lorig had two tackles to lead Tampa Bay’s special teams.GAME GRADE = B+
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