The stakes get higher this week, as the Buccaneers visit their division rival and reigning NFC South champs, the Carolina Panthers. Panthers QB Cam Newton is out for the game due to the NFL’s concussion protocol, so Tampa Bay really ought to cash in this opportunity to play a Carolina squad that has yet to meet expectations this season. The Bucs have also come short of meeting their own expectations thus far, so this game is an important indicator for their season. If the Bucs can’t beat a Carolina team missing its starting QB and its starting RB, along with a struggling secondary, things will look bleak for them this season. Conversely, if they are able to get a division road win on Monday night in front of the entire country, it could put them right back into the conversation in the NFC South.
Buccaneers Offensive Keys to Victory
- Oh boy. Here it comes. PROTECT THE FOOTBALL! QB Jameis Winston simply has to stop turning the ball over. The Buccaneer defense has looked adept at playing competitive football when they aren’t forced to start at their own 20 yard line. Jameis has to help them out. Winston had a remarkable turn-around regarding interceptions last season at the Week 5 mark. He’ll have to do that again right now if the Bucs hope to have any chance at winning their division.
- Pick on the secondary. The loss of CB Josh Norman has been felt deeply in Carolina this season, but it’s not just that. Their free safety play is as bad as Tampa Bay’s, and their pass rush is not what it used to be. Last week, Carolina gave up 500 yards to the opposing QB, and 300 yards to the leading receiver on opposition side. The Bucs have a chance to expose them further this week.
- Continue to involve TE Cameron Brate. With WR Vincent Jackson struggling, and ASJ’s memory beginning to fade, all the work in the passing game has been falling to the shoulders of WR Mike Evans and WR Adam Humphries. Those are capable shoulders indeed, but week to week, Brate has been getting an increased workload, and for the most part, has handled it well. The more viable options for Jameis to throw to leaves holes for the Bucs to take advantage of. The more Cam sees the football, the better for Tampa Bay.
Buccaneers Defensive Keys to Victory
- Show us what you got. Here it is, men. This is your shot. You’ve got a beat up Panther offense that has lost both players to injury and confidence. Now is the time to show all that talent. Now is the time to gain some confidence yourselves. Now is the time to shut up the naysayers, and shut down an opposing offense.
- Stop the run. The Buccaneers have the 27th ranked defense in the league against the run at this point. That dog ain’t gonna hunt. They’ll need to show a much better ability to slow down the run game of their opposition to get anywhere this season. With Newton and Stewart out, it should be easier, but DT Gerald McCoy’s absence will also make it difficult. The linebacker position needs a good day for the Bucs to take care of their job against the Carolina running game.
- Turn the ball over. This is becoming a reoccurring theme in this article. The Bucs just haven’t found any ability to give their offense some extra chances. It has to change. CB Brent Grimes has been a disappointment for Bucs fans, and they are looking to see some return in investment. CB Vernon Hargreaves III has been split seconds away from grabbing a few interceptions. The linebackers have not forced a single fumble. Tampa Bay needs to find a way to do these things.
Players to Watch
- WR Mike Evans has yet to have a bad game this season, and he’s not likely to against the Panthers. With no Josh Norman to contend with, he should enjoy an easier day than he is used to in Charlotte. Look for him to take advantage of poor safety play in zone match ups, and get over the top for a long score.
- QB Jameis Winston. It’s all bout those interceptions, and stopping them from happening. Bucs fans are all surely looking to see if Jameis can begin to take care of the ball, while still making big plays. All eyes will be on Winston, as he tries to make that happen.
- DT Clinton McDonald. With GMac out, it is Clint’s turn to be THE Buccaneers’ man in the middle. He was fantastic at picking up that slack last week, and it is on him to show up big again. Panthers QB Derek Anderson might get to know Clint much better than he’d like to in this one.
The Panthers are missing too much on offense, and grasping at straws on defense. They drop to 1-4 after the Buccaneers go off through the air. Tampa Bay wins 28-10.