It’s Thursday, so that means it’s time for Thursday Night Football and tonight’s match-up is between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While this game may not have the best teams in the NFL, it’s still an important game, mainly for the Panthers. When you talk about the Panthers, you’re talking about a team primed for a mid-season run. Panthers are currently 3-3 but they are on a two-game winning streak and they are looking to stay in the playoff race as a possible wild card and the only way to accomplish that is to go on a run. For those saying they can’t go on run, think back to last year, when the Panthers won five of their last seven games last season.
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Now some would say this game should be no problem for the Panthers seeing that they face off against the 0-6 Buccaneers. However, Panthers would be smart to not underestimate the Buccaneers. They may be win-less, but they still compete. If the Panthers plan on winning, there will be certain steps to follow. Same goes for the Buccaneers, while they may be struggling to win their first game, there is no doubt they have steps to follow if they want to upset the Panthers.
Panthers Steps to Victory
In this game, it all starts with the offense and for the offense to get off to a good start it all starts with quarterback Cam Newton. Newton has played great the last two weeks especially in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, Newton threw three touchdowns and ran for a rushing touchdown. He also had no turnovers. Newton must continue to play smart football and limit his mistakes. As explosive as he is when rushing the ball, I still want him to focus on the passing game. Newton and his receiving core should also look at create some big plays with the deep ball this game.
However, for Newton to be successful, the Panthers will need the running game to come alive in this game. Why? Mainly because the Panthers are a better offensive team and balance team when they run the ball. I look for running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert to keep pounding the ball. If they can do well in the running game like they did the last two weeks, I expect this offense to be hard to stop tonight. Now that won’t be easy against the Buccaneers, who are ranked 5th in the NFL in opponent rushing yards, but mainly the Panthers need to the running game to keep balance and help them score in the red-zone.
The key factor for this offense is the offensive line. So far this season, they haven’t done the best job of protecting Newton, seeing that he has been sacked 18 times so far this season. I’m not surprised that they are struggling considering all of the injuries they suffered so far but they still need to step up. The other key factor is Head Coach Ron Rivera, he must continue with his aggressive play calling because so far it has put the Panthers in position to win.
Defensively, I honestly don’t worry about the Panthers much. It’s because of the defense that they have been able to survive this season. Don’t believe me, well believe this, the Panthers only allow 13.6 points per game. Then on top of that, the Panthers are ranked 5th in the NFL in opponent passing yards and 4th in the NFL in opponent rushing yards. Like I said, it’s because of the defense, that the Panthers have gotten this far.
Going into this game, Panthers would be smart to put pressure on rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, while he has shown the ability to make plays at times, he still tends to make plenty of mistakes especially under pressure. Next the Panthers must focus on slowing down the run game, while losing running back Doug Martin is a big blow to the Buccaneers offense, they still have a solid back-up in running back Mike James who showed the ability to be a primary back in Martin’s absence. I have to say I think the Panthers will be able to contain James, mainly because they have a good defensive line but even more impressive talent at linebacker in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Finally I think the area that could win the Panthers this game, the secondary. As I said earlier quarterback Mike Glennon is having some rookie growing pains. He is not able to throw the ball down the field with great success which limits the Buccaneers offense from throwing the deep ball, allowing the Panthers to keep everything in front of them. Glennon has also shown some inconsistent moments with accuracy, so Panthers secondary should look to make some plays on the ball in this game as well.
Buccaneers Steps to Victory
When it comes to the Buccaneers, it hard to decide who to start with, seeing that both sides are inconsistent and have flaws but nonetheless I will start with the offense. As I said earlier, quarterback Mike Glennon is trying his best right now and definitely getting some good experience as a rookie. However, Glennon limits this offense, mainly because he can’t throw the deep ball accurately, causing defenses to not worry about receivers getting behind them and allowing them to focus on everything in front of them and close in more. However, I do think the Buccaneers would be smart to get the ball out quickly with short and immediate passes, mainly because that something Glennon excels at. The other key for Glennon is to limit the turnovers especially against a team like the Panthers who can make you pay for turning it over.
The next step is the running game, it has already been reported that running back Doug Martin won’t suit up for this game although his status for the rest of the season is unclear. However, the Buccaneers have a good back-up running back in Mike James, if he can come into this situation and continue to bring balance it will be huge for them. He doesn’t need to be Martin, mainly because he can’t be plus he doesn’t have his speed but he still can be a nice piece in this offense especially with his ability to fight for every yard and take big hits.
Defensively, I am concerned about this team, mainly because no matter who they play they get exploited, more so in the passing game. Buccaneers have no issue slowing down the run game, it’s the deep ball in the passing game that hurts them every game. If they plan to win this game, this defense has to start with making the Panthers a one-dimensional team and slow down the run. If the Buccaneers can slow down the run they can focus on the passing game. However, for the passing game to be contained, Buccaneers safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron must step up, it’s their job to slow down the deep balls, yet for the last couple week they have been inconsistent in doing so.
Buccaneers must also create a pass rush against the Panthers inconsistent offensive line, as I said earlier, the Panthers offensive line has allowed quarterback Cam Newton to be sacked 18 times so far this season. Last week, the Buccaneers struggled to create a pass rush against the Atlanta Falcons offensive line, which is sad considering how bad they are, so I suggest they create some type pressure this time.
Finally the biggest key for this Buccaneers team is to stop shooting themselves in the foot with mental errors and constant penalties. When it comes to penalties, the Buccaneers are right up there at the top whether it’s on defense or offense. Buccaneers will have trouble winning their first game with those type of constant mistakes.
I am picking the Carolina Panthers to win this game. I feel they understand this is the time to take advantage of the weaker part of their schedule and use it to their advantage. I also don’t trust the Buccaneers to limit the penalties, turnovers and mistakes. While this could be a close game, I still stick with the Panthers in this one. Be sure to watch the Carolina Panthers face-off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight at 8:25pm (ET) on NFL Network.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com