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Buccaneers - Panthers: Three Key Matchups When Tampa Bay Has The Ball

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Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on defense against the Carolina Panthers.

Donald Penn vs Charles Johnson

Earlier in the season, this matchup would not have been too troublesome for the Bucs' left tackle. Penn was having a terrific season, only occasionally letting defensive ends get by him. But in the past two weeks his play has collapsed, as Jeremy Mincey and Demarcus Ware ate his lunch.

So on Saturday, Donald Penn will have to get his game together for the Bucs to succeed. Josh Freeman has been struggling all season long, and constant blind side pressure won't help things. Johnson has 9 sacks on the year, and was awarded with a very rich contract this offseason for a reason. Johnson has the ability to ruin Freeman's day, and Penn has to find a way to bounce back and stop that from happening.

Mike Williams vs Chris Gamble

Mike Williams had no catches last week. He was targeted just once throughout the match. With Arrelious Benn out, that left Dezmon Briscoe and Kregg Lumpkin as the Bucs' best receiving options, and that's simply not good enough.

If the Bucs want to win on Sunday, they need find a way to get Mike Williams involved. Having Arrelious Benn back (probably) should help that, as he at least has some speed to force safeties back just a little - something that was clearly lacking against the Dallas Cowboys, and really has been a problem all year long. Another factor in this: offensive coordinator Greg Olson. When you blame protection problems for a failure to get Mike Williams the ball as the Bucs did after Cowboys game, you also demonstrate that you were unable to make any in-game adjustments.

Davin Joseph vs Andre Neblett

Legarrette Blount is a between-the-tackles runner, and the key player in running between the tackles for the Bucs is right guard Davin Joseph. He'll likely face DT Andre Neblett most of the time, and really shouldn't have a big problem with the second-year player - except last time these two teams met, the Bucs couldn't run the ball. At all.

Of course, for the Bucs to be successful they need more than just good blocking. They need Legarrette Blount to read his blocks correctly and run downhill, with power. That's something Blount has gotten much better at this season, but he hasn't been particularly consistent recently and this was especially problematic last time these two teams faced off.