There’s plenty of frustration in Tampa coming off of a close, and somewhat deflating, loss to the Houston Texans last week. The Buccaneers had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but it just didn’t come together.
On the contrary, the Carolina Panthers have had every game this year come together. Though only one, a 20-9 victory over the Jaguars, was by more than one score, they’ve managed to walk into week three undefeated. Let’s see what the Panthers will be bringing to RayJay this week.
Weapons of Mass Destruction: Cam Newton, Greg Olsen, Jonathan Stewart
The beginning, middle, and end of the offense in Carolina is Cam Newton. In the fifth year of his career, Newton is as polished and dangerous as ever. Despite having perennially sub-par receivers and being without a game-changing running back, Newton utilizes what he has and gashes opposing defenses without them even realizing what happened. This starts in the air, but it also spends plenty of time on the ground with Newton breaking away to run.
While his receivers haven’t always been the most reliable, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reliable receiving threat. Greg Olsen is the unsung hero at tight end, and sometimes falls under the radar around the league. That isn’t the case for Buccaneers fans, who remember all too well the many times Olsen has chopped up our defense one completion at a time. Olsen has led the Panthers in receiving yards two weeks straight, including two touchdowns and 134 yards last week against the Saints.
With all of the danger in Newton and Olsen, the man that goes somewhat unnoticed is Jonathan Stewart. While he hasn’t been lighting things up with his stats, Stewart is a key part of a balanced offense in Carolina. The Panthers have had over 100 yards rushing each game this year, but it’s always come from a combination of Newton, Stewart, Mike Tolbert, and others. There is speculation Stewart is going to be getting a heavier load in the future, and that could start in Tampa.
Bastions of Defense:
Luke Kuechly, Josh Norman, Thomas Davis
It’s impossible to talk about the Panthers’ defense without bringing up Luke Kuechly. He has been called “the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers of defense” by Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. As of two days ago, Koetter was already speaking about how prepared they would need to be for Kuechly, and at that point he looked good to go. Unfortunately for Carolina, Kuechly’s week one concussion is still lingering, and now he looks unlikely to play this Sunday.
It’s a tough break for Carolina, but a little bit of luck for Tampa Bay. Without Kuechly on the field, the Panthers defense is strong, but just not as strong. The rest of the defense will still play hard, beginning with the NFC Defensive Player of the Month, cornerback Josh Norman. The buzz is already bouncing around the league, including some saying Norman will be “the next Richard Sherman.” Hype or not, he’s a playmaker.
While Norman will wreak havoc in the secondary, the front seven will be anchored on the outside by veteran Thomas Davis. There are plenty of consistent players on the front, even with the departure of Greg Hardy, but Thomas Davis is the cornerstone at outside linebacker. Davis has been tied, or led, the Panthers in solo tackles every game this season. He’s also registered one sack, and constantly takes advantage of the pressure the defensive line brings.
The struggle with the Carolina defense is that I could go on about three more players without even trying. There are tons of playmakers, and they’ll all be looking to completely nullify Jameis Winston. While the Texans had scary names like J.J. Watt, the Panthers have the consistent pressure and truly complete unit that will hassle the offensive line all game long.
When it comes to rivalries, the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers definitely have one of the most heated. Like any rivalry, some years are more intense than others, and this is definitely one of the more heated clashes. Comparisons and talk of mentorship between Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are building the excitement, and both teams can make a huge divisional statement with a win. Either the Panthers walk out undefeated, or the Bucs walk out batting .500 and being undefeated in their division.
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