Bucs vs. Panthers I: Big Darn Preview

Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Bucs are on the hunt for win number one against the hated Panthers

The Buccaneers' dysfunctional family gets their first taste of the National Spotlight as Tampa Bay hosts hated rival Carolina on Thursday Night Football.

For the Bucs, its a chance to prove they're not as bad as they seem, while Carolina gets a chance to be over .500 for the first time in the Ron Rivera era.

Its also a big game for embattled Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano. If the Bucs are embarrassed at home in front of a National audience, it may lead the ownership to do something they've never done before - make an in-season change.

Billboards in Tampa are going up simply saying "Fire Schiano".

Coach S desperately needs a win. Can he get it against the Panthers?

Series: Panthers lead 14-11

Last Meeting: November 18th, 2012, Tampa Bay defeated Carolina in overtime 27-21.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Carolina Panthers Pass Defense

Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will face his toughest challenge as he goes up against the elite Panthers defense. At the beginning of the season, I thought Carolina's secondary was suspect and it would be their downfall. Instead, their front four has been dominant and their secondary is one of the league leaders in interceptions.

The Panthers surrender just 217.7 yds a game (5th in the NFL) and are led by Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, each having 4 sacks.

The Bucs' passing game has improved under Glennon, who is averaging 240 yds a game (better than the team's overall average of 196.7 - 29th in the NFL). He's been sacked at 7 times in three games as the Bucs' line has been its weakest link on offense (surprising pretty much everyone).

Mike Williams is still slowed by a hamstring injury and is questionable for the game, leaving Vincent Jackson the team's only real viable weapon on offense.

Advantage: Carolina

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rushing Attack vs. Carolina Panthers Run Defense

It doesn't get any easier for the Bucs on the ground. The Panthers are 4th in the NFL against the run, led by Star Lotulelei and Luke Kuechly. Carolina gives up 84.5 yds a game against the run.

Tampa Bay will be without their bell cow, Doug Martin, for the foreseeable future leaving them with rookie Mike James and veteran Brian Leonard to try to pick up the slack. James is a deceptively shifty power runner with good vision. He likely won't break any home runs like Martin but he can churn out 4 to 6 yds runs and help keep the sticks moving.

Tampa Bay is ranked 20th in the NFL running the ball, averaging 101.2 yds a game.

Advantage: Carolina

Carolina Panthers Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

I said before the season that I believed Cam Newton would return to form in 2013. He's even better, throwing for a higher percentage and not making that crucial mistake that would doom the Panthers.

According to CBS Charlottte, in his last 16 Starts, Cam is 9-7, has completed 60% of his passes, 3800 yds, 31 total touchdowns and only 11 interceptions.

That's pretty good football right there, folks.

Statistically the Panthers are only 28th in the NFL, averaging 197.3 yds per game passing. Yet in his last two starts, Newton has posted QB ratings of 146 and 136, while completing 81% of his passes for 446 yds, 4 touchdowns and no picks.

Tampa Bay's pass defense has simply fallen apart after a good start to the season. The Bucs are getting virtually no pass rush from the front four, they've stopped blitzing are playing a lot of zone and have been torched for 569 yds and six touchdowns in their last two games.

Tampa Bay's pass defense has dipped to 18th in the NFL.

Advantage: Push

Carolina Panthers Rushing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

You know the Carolina Panthers. It's always begun with the run and it always will. It's no different this season where Carolina is ranked 7th in the NFL rushing the football, averaging 130.2 yds per game. Buc Killer DeAngelo Williams is back and doing damage, rushing for 434 yds on 106 carries. Mike Tolbert is the short yardage and goal line guy while Cam is always a threat with the read-option.

The Bucs aren't slouches against the run, either. Tampa Bay ranks 5th in the NFL at stopping the ball carrier, giving 88.8 yds a game.

This matchup could very well determine the game. If the Bucs can stuff the run, they can slow down the Panthers offense. If Carolina runs well, it could be an ugly night in Tampa Bay.

Advantage: Push

Special Teams

Former Redskin Graham Gano is 9 for 9 with a long of 53 in field goal kicking for the Panthers. While punter Brad Nortman is averaging 47.3 yds a punt. Carolina's top returner is Ted Ginn. He averages 25.3 a kickoff return and 7.7 yds a punt return.

Tampa Bay kicker Rian Lindell has settled in after a slow start. He's 8 of 10 with a long of 50. Punter Michael Koenen continues to be more of a weapon on kickoffs than punting of late, but he's still averaging 42.9 yds a punt.

Eric Page is Tampa Bay's primary returner, averaging 29.2 yds a kick return and 10.8 yds a punt return.

Advantage: Push

By The Numbers

  • Carolina is 7-5 lifetime in Tampa
  • The Buccaneers and Panthers have exchanged series sweeps in each of the last four seasons. The Bucs swept Carolina in 2012 and 2010 while the Panthers swept Tampa Bay in 2009 and 2011.
  • Tampa Bay is even in give/take ratio, Carolina is +5.
  • Carolina is -1 in give/take in their three losses.
  • Cam Newton has a career 105 QB rating in four starts vs. Tampa Bay
  • Mike Glennon has attempted a league record 130 passes over his first three starts
  • Carolina has won 5 of their last 8 trips to Tampa Bay.

Outlook

The Buccaneers have had three games against teams that were beatable in the depleted Falcons, the Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals. They've lost each matchup.

Now they step up in weight class to face a tough Carolina Panthers team that has blown out their last two opponents and are looking to really position themselves for a playoff spot.

Its a recipe for an ugly night for your Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But you never know with these division contests - especially on National television.  The Bucs aren't so far gone that they've Raheem'd Schiano. They're still playing hard and they may want to show the nation that the Bucs may be the best 0-6 football team in NFL history.

This may be the week they don't shoot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, turn the ball over, blow coverage assignments and run wrong routes.

The Bucs have the talent to play with any team in the league but they lack the discipline to win those games. The recipe for tonight - turnovers. Force Cam Newton into some costly mistakes, turn those mistakes into points. Protect the football (I'm looking at you rookies, Mikes) and make the Panthers beat you - don't beat yourselves.

They haven't done it all season. I don't think they will tonight - I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.

Prediction: Panthers 27, Buccaneers 6

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