Hello Buc 'em readers! Jaxon here with Cat Scratch Reader to answer any questions you may have leading up to our showdown on MNF. I knew at the beginning of the season this game would be big but I had no idea it would be THIS big. Not only is the division lead up for grabs but also a potential first round bye as the winner will essentially lay claim to the 2nd best record in the conference.
The Panthers will have plenty to prove having lost to the Bucs convincingly in Tampa earlier in the season. I don't care to recap that performance but lets just say the Panthers left plenty of room for improvement in all phases of their game.
Some of the positives I think the Panthers carry into this match-up as compared to the first game are:
- They have shored up the punt protection that was a major liability in the first half of the season
- The kick return game has vastly improved over the last couple of games as KR Mark Jones is playing well
- The offensive line is 100 percent healthy, unlike the first game. Both C Ryan Kalil and RT Jeff Otah have played the last two games
- The Panther run defense seems to have righted itself back to its earlier stellar performance (Warrick Dunn was the first RB to have a good day against the Panthers)
- The Panthers started moving DE Julius Peppers around in order to create mismatches. He now has 11 sacks on the season
- The Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith connection has heated up the past couple of games as Smith at times appears unstoppable. Since the Bucs are one of the few teams that have been able to shut Smith down in the past he will be looking to make a statement
- The Smash-n-Dash RB combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has evolved into a legitimate concern for defensive coordinators on a weekly basis. If you don't wrap them up quickly they can take it to the house.
- The Panthers have started deploying a pass rush specific front line that focuses on speed in obvious passing situations
- The Panthers are undefeated at home and are sure to be fired up given the MNF stage
Of course there are plenty of negatives but I'll leave that for you guys to talk about. So feel free to offer your questions or comments and I'll do my best to answer them objectively.