Pewter Report's Dory LeBlanc examines five keys for a Buccaneers victory each week prior to the game. Following Tampa Bay's 27-21 OT win over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, LeBlanc reviews her keys to victory and offers up her grades on each one.
Key 1. End Newton’s Theory of Relativity
The Bucs couldn’t force Cam Newton into any interceptions Sunday, but they did put enough pressure on last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year to keep him from having a rebound game where he throws for over 300 yards. Despite what appears to be a bit of a sophomore slump, Newton is always a threat due to the explosive physical ability the former Heisman winner has.
The Bucs kept Newton contained through much of the game, sacking him twice, getting him down three times, and limiting his passing game to 252 yards and one score.
Gerald McCoy was only credited for two tackles (one for loss) against Carolina, but McCoy contributes far more than the stats show. McCoy was after Newton constantly on Sunday, forcing the National Champion to make several errant throws.
Michael Bennett and Da’Quan Bowers each recorded a sack, upping their season total to seven and two, respectively. Newton is surrounded by a solid O-Line, but persistence and blitzing kept Newton on his toes all day.
Grade = A-
Key 2. Keep Man-ing Up
Entering Sunday’s contest, the Bucs’ offensive line had allowed 13 sacks, tied for third fewest in the league and the Panthers were tied for ninth in the NFL with 25 total sacks, with defensive ends Charles Johnson (8.5) and Greg Hardy (6.5) combining for 15 of them.
Following the half sack he was credited for along with DT Andre Neblett, Hardy now has seven sacks on the season. Although allowing only one sack to a team as pass rush-happy as Carolina has been this year is a positive, but there’s a negative in this one as well – Freeman was hit five times and had nine passes defensed.
Aside from flashes of giving Freeman enough time to go through his progressions, the Bucs’ first round draft pick in 2009 was under a lot of pressure through the first three quarters. Like the entire offense, the line shored up in the final 15 minutes and opened up the passing and ground game for Tampa Bay.
Freeman was able to complete 13-of-21 passes in the fourth quarter and OT period, partly because the Panthers’ D was exhausted and partly because the offensive line stepped up after playing very lackadaisical for the first 45 minutes.
Grade = C+
Key 3. Stay Offensive
The opening drive went three-and-out, but luckily Jacob Cutrera forced a fumble on the ensuing punt which Dekoda Watson recovered at the 29, giving Josh Freeman and Co. another shot. Six plays later, Freeman went through all of his progressions and was able to deliver a laser under pressure to Nat Byham in the back of the end zone.
Had it not been for the special teams play, the Bucs likely would not have scored at all in the first half. Freeman and receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams looked like they had lost some of the timing that had been exceptional over that past five games. On Freeman’s second pick of the game, the ball looked like it was going to be intercepted the moment the fourth-year QB let it go.
Since the bye week, Tampa Bay had been punishing teams all year with sound running and high-octane passing games, but Sunday reverted back to Week 3 against the Cowboys when the defense had a strong outing, but the offense was almost non-existent.
The Panthers have the 16th overall defense with opponents averaging 344.9 yards of offense per game, but Carolina had little to do with the Bucs’ offensive woes, terrible execution did.
Then the Buccaneers did an about-face in the fourth quarter and woke up, with Freeman throwing for 152 yards and two touchdowns finding chemistry with tight end Dallas Clark, who was one of the clutch players for Tampa Bay Sunday, catching five passes for 38 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Freeman and Jackson finally found their timing and after amassing only 27 yards on two receptions through three quarters, Jackson erupted for four catches for 67 yards, the tying touchdown and 2-pt conversion.
If the offense played as well and hard as they did in the final quarter for the previous 45 minutes, the Bucs wouldn’t have had to go to overtime.
Grade = C+
Key 4. Win The Rookie Showdown
One of the most anticipated one-on-one matchups of the day, Doug Martin and Luke Kuechly are two of the most impressive rookies of the 2012 draft class.
The stats would say that Kuechly won the rookie battle Sunday, but Martin had some success against the linebacker trucking through Kuechly on his longest run of the day, a 20-yarder in the opening quarter.
In the first matchup, Kuechly was very quiet due to the different packages Carolina was running but since moving over to Mike to replace an injured Jon Beason, the three time ACC tackle leader has picked up the pace and depending on what statline you look at, Kuechly has anywhere from over 115 tackles to just shy of 100.
Since taking over the middle in Week 5, Kuechly is averaging 15.2 tackles per game and has recorded double-digit tackles in the five previous contests, so his 10 tackle total against the Bucs is pretty low, relatively speaking. Just as Martin got the better of Kuechly early on, Kuechly recovered Martin’s fumble at the goal line, to keep it even.
Martin now has seven straight games with over 100 yards from scrimmage, tying the record set by James Wilder back in 1984. The Bucs’ second of two first round picks in April has exactly 1,000 rushing yards on the season after gaining 138 yards on 24 carries against Carolina. With six games left to play, Martin could very well surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage for 2012.
Both rookies were solid and not one outshined the other, making the key end in a tie.
Grade = C
Key 5. Greg Olsen: Take Two
Greg Olsen was one of the players that could give Tampa Bay problems Sunday and he didn’t disappoint early on. In the early stages of the second quarter, Mark Barron was flagged for pass interference on Olsen in the end zone, sending the Panthers to the one-yard line. Jonathan Stewart ran into the end zone on the next play putting Carolina on top.
Later in the second, Olsen caught a 32-yard bomb in the middle of the field as he was left wide open. The Panthers weren’t able to convert the drive into points and it was the only catch Olsen had in the first half, also something the Bucs should be grateful for.
With the Bucs’ pass defense being as porous as it has been, most thought Steve Smith would be the player to watch out for, but Olsen has quickly become Newton’s go-to guy. Entering Sunday’s matchup, Olsen had four more receptions than Smith and after Olsen’s two-catch performance versus Smith’s five receptions; the tight end leads the wideout by only one exiting the game.
Olsen’s 42 yards on two receptions is impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Olsen was targeted six times, which means the Tampa Bay defense was expecting the former Miami Hurricane to get thrown to and were able to limit the damage.