The Buccaneers (3-8) take on the Carolina Panthers (8-3) and are trying to extend their winning streak to four games. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game?
1. CONTAIN CAM NEWTON AT ALL COSTSWhat makes Carolina quarterback Cam Newton so dangerous is the fact that he can hurt defenses with his arm or his legs. In 2013, Newton is completing a career-high 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,353 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while rushing for 379 yards and five touchdowns on 77 carries (4.9 avg.). The best way to limit Newton’s production is to make him one-dimensional and keep him in the pocket.
Newton threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay in the first meeting, but also rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries (4.5 avg.). The Bucs lost contain on the edges too many times in a 31-13 defeat and allowed Newton to make plays outside the pocket with his arms and legs. The Bucs have to do a better job of containing the edge and keeping Newton from getting outside the tackles.
“It’s definitely a factor; no doubt,” said Bucs head coach Greg Schiano. “Sometimes, 90 percent is better than 100 percent, if that makes sense. Because a lot of times 100 percent is all or nothing with this guy, and all is great and nothing can be really bad. So you have to have a little more control. You have to have a little bit more of your lane integrity in your pass rushes. Some guys, when you don’t have a mobile guy, you can darn near have no lane integrity – just go get him. We’re not going to be on either end of the spectrum. Against Cam, you’re going to need to be somewhere in between.”
2. DEFEND OLSEN IN THE RED ZONEThe Buccaneers did a very good job against tight ends during the first six weeks of the season, allowing just one touchdown to a tight end – New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham in a 16-14 loss in Week 2. But over the past five weeks, Tampa Bay has given up three touchdowns to tight ends. In last week’s 24-21 victory against Detroit, tight end Joseph Fauria hauled in a 10-yard touchdown and tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught an 18-yard score down the seam.
The other tight end that has caught a touchdown against Tampa Bay was Carolina’s Greg Olsen in the Panthers’ 31-13 win at Raymond James Stadium. Olsen caught three passes for 21 yards in the first meeting this season, but his first quarter touchdown in the red zone allowed Carolina to jump out to a 7-0 lead.
The seven-year veteran has 45 receptions for 526 yards and five touchdowns this season with four of those scores coming in the last five games, so he’s red-hot. Middle linebacker Mason Foster (concussion) and free safety Dashon Goldson (suspension) missed the Lions game last week but will be on the field on Sunday in Carolina and will be charged with the responsibility of shutting down the middle of the field and limiting Olsen’s production. 3. CAGE THE PANTHERS’ RUN GAMEIn Tampa Bay’s 31-13 loss to Carolina in October, the Panthers rushed for 129 yards on 27 carries (4.8 avg.). Quarterback Cam Newton led the way with 50 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries (4.5 avg.), but DeAngelo Williams was also effective with 43 yards and a touchdown on eight carries (5.4 avg.). In addition to catching a touchdown pass, backup running back Mike Tolbert had seven carries for 35 yards, including a 22-yard scamper, which gave him a 5.0 rushing average in Tampa Bay.
When the Panthers rush for more than 100 yards against the Buccaneers they usually win. If Tampa Bay’s rush defense can tackle well on first and second downs and force the Panthers into third-and-long situations, the Bucs can limit Carolina’s rushing yards and force Newton to beat them with his arm.
The good news for Tampa Bay is the fact that all three of Carolina’s running backs are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Jonathan Stewart has an ankle injury, Tolbert has a knee injury and Williams has a strained quadriceps.
4. KEEP WINNING THE TURNOVER BATTLE The secret to Tampa Bay’s recent success has been winning the turnover battle. The Bucs have played their best football of the season over the past four games, winning the last three in a row. It’s no surprise that Tampa Bay has had 12 takeaways and just one turnover during that span for a plus-11 turnover margin.
The Bucs had the best turnover margin of the season last week in their 24-21 victory, getting five takeaways on defense, and not turning the ball over at all on offense. As head coach Greg Schiano said after the game, the Bucs needed every one of those turnovers and a blocked punt to win on the road against the NFC North-leading Lions. Tampa Bay has to play mistake on offense again and the defense needs to pick off Cam Newton a few times to give the Bucs a chance to upset the Panthers and collect its second straight road win of 2013.
5. STAY AGGRESSIVE ON SPECIAL TEAMSImproved special teams play has also sparked Tampa Bay over the last four weeks. Against Seattle, the Bucs forced and recovered a fumble on a kickoff that enabled the Bucs to jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first half and also attempted a surprise onside kick. Against Atlanta, the Bucs blocked a punt, recovered a surprise onside kick and also tried a fake field goal. In last week’s 24-21 win at Detroit, Tampa Bay blocked another punt.
Special teams coordinator Dave Wannstedt has given Tampa Bay’s special teams a winning edge this year and his aggressive playcalling has been a breath of fresh air that has either given the offense or the defense some in-game momentum. With the Panthers the hottest team in the league, the Bucs may need Wannstedt to dial up another blocked punt, another surprise onside kick, a fake punt or a reverse on a punt or kickoff to steal a possession from Carolina or produce a cheap score.
6. A RAINEY FORECAST FOR SUNDAYFresh off a 163-yard, three-touchdown performance in Tampa Bay’s 41-28 win over Atlanta, Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey had a tough outing in Detroit. The stingy Lions rush defense dominated the Bucs offensive line and held Rainey to 35 yards on 18 carries (1.9 avg.).
In order for Tampa Bay to have any chance of winning in Carolina on Sunday, the Bucs need to establish their running game to give the offense balance and keep Cam Newton off the field. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Bucs struggled to run the ball, producing only 48 yards on 14 carries (3.4 avg.).
Mike Glennon threw the ball a career-high 51 times in that game, and that’s way too many for a rookie quarterback to have success. Glennon averaged 45.25 pass attempts per game in his first four starts. But over the last four starts, in which the Bucs have won the last three games, Glennon has averaged just 22 pass attempts per contest due to a better running game fueled in large part by Rainey.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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