We always give you the scoop on the Buccaneers from our point of view but we thought that it would be a great idea to see how our counterparts at SBNation's Carolina Panthers Blog Cat Scratch Reader looked at Sunday's opening game. One of the main guys at CSR, Jaxon, was gracious enough to join us for a segment we're calling View from the Opposing Bench.
We asked Jaxon a series of questions that we feel could have a significant impact in Sunday's outcome.
Read on after the jump for his answers!
Also, be sure to check out Cat Scratch Reader for the Kitties' view on this week's upcoming showdown with our beloved Pirates of Pewter Pants.
1. Carolina finished last season winning 4 of their last 6 including two beat downs of the Bucs. However, they weren't very active in the off-season with maybe Mike Tolbert being the bell cow free agent acquisition. The Panthers also lost G Travelle Wharton and linebackers Thomas Williams and oft-injured Dan Connor. While Luke Kuechly's addition seems to be a good pick in the draft - do you feel the Panthers have done enough on defense to take the next step?
If you mean by ‘the next step’ is compete for a WC playoff spot then I would say ‘Yes’. If ‘next step’ means win the NFC South…I’m not feeling that so much. We have a very tough division and both the Panthers and Bucs would do well just to come in 2nd place in 2012. I think the Panthers have improved their roster in a number of places which includes five new defensive starters and revamped special teams. If the offense remains as potent as it was last year (or even better) then the defense simply needs to be average to keep the Panthers in most games.
2. Let's talk Cam. He had an unbelievable rookie season - broke several NFL records for rookies and became an instant superstar in the league. However, as Buc fans know with Josh Freeman - one good season in the NFL does not a hall of famer make and the 2nd year starting is typically a season of adjustment for how teams defend him and how in turn he counters their adjustments. We've seen Newton's public image grow with commercials, photo shoots and the like. Is there any concern of the dreaded sophomore slump and whether Newton is more focused on his brand than between the lines?
There has been a lot of talk about a sophomore slump but honestly we have not seen any sign of that. He’s showing better footwork and mechanics and is throwing the ball with nice touch. He’s going through his reads and is running what should be a complex offense pretty well. Seems I recall many pundits saying the read option doesn’t work in the NFL but I think he silenced that crowd. Plus what I can’t emphasize more is that his locker room and leadership impact has been the opposite of the impression portrayed in the draft run up. The kid has an infectious leadership quality derived from a true love of the game. His team mates appear to love playing with him and he just looks unstoppable at times. You could say I’m excited to see how this game unfolds. By the way, how in the world did we get a 4pm start time in TB?
3. On the field, during the pre-season we've seen Cam get hit in the backfield a lot more than we're used to seeing last year. Is the offensive line a concern for Carolina or do you see this as just a pre-season anomaly?
The o-line has not had a good preseason for sure but I’m not concerned yet. We’re breaking in the rookie 2nd rounder Amini Silatolu who by all accounts looks like a long-term starter at LG so far. 2nd year RT Byron Bell has been marginal at times as well but is now being pushed by former Raider Bruce Campbell. I think they will get it together in quick order once they open up the playbook a little. The Panther offense has been very vanilla in the preseason but we know that is not how Rob Chudzinski operates. The Bucs can expect some trickery at some point.
4. The Buccaneers have gone through some dramatic changes this off-season with the addition of new head coach Greg Schiano. With the Bucs being very vanilla during the pre-season, there hasn't been much tape for the Panther coaching staff to work from. So much so, they've resorted to reviewing Rutgers film to try to figure out what the Bucs are going to be doing. How much of an impact do you see the unfamiliarity with the Buccaneers offense and defensive schemes?
I could see it leading to a breakdown in the Panther defense early in the game, probably from the secondary. Though the Panther defense hasn’t given up many big plays in the preseason they were very prone to that last season. We only have one new starter in the secondary, Haruki Nakamura at FS but that was our weak link. My hope is that any weaknesses will be shored up in due time so the Bucs will need to capitalize on any early opportunities they get. The Bucs don’t want to get in an early hole or the Panthers will start grinding on the clock with the run game.
5. Tampa Bay spent a lot of money in the off-season adding free agent Pro Bowl players WR Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks. Do you feel the Panthers have the secondary and pass rush to disrupt the Bucs' passing attack?
Vincent Jackson scares the bejeezus out of me! I mean, if he’s matched up on Captain Munnerlyn he’ll have a two foot height advantage. Okay, it might be more like 11 inches but seriously he could get stuck in VJ’s arm pit. If the Panthers don’t get a pass rush on Freeman then that favors the Bucs big time and should lead to points. So where will the pass rush come from? Beyond the obvious leader in this area being DE Charles Johnson I would throw out two names to watch for a 3rd down passing situations: LB Thomas Davis and DE Thomas Keiser. Davis is finally healthy but doesn’t need to start with Kuechly developing so quickly so he has been key on 3rd down. Keiser is a high-motor guy that has been making plays. Beyond that I’m just praying and drinking beer.
6. Unlike most NFL teams who are going to the spread-em-out college style offenses, the Bucs are going a little old school - pounding it with backs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount. Have the Panthers adapted their defense (i.e. smaller, speedy players) to combat the Saints and other teams' spread offenses and if so, does it make them more vulnerable to old school pound the rock football?
Rather than getting smaller as you have suggested the Panthers just picked up DT Dwan Edwards off waivers from the Bills who were deep at DT. Ron Rivera has said he will start next to Ron Edwards against the Bucs giving us essentially two NG’s up front. I think that proclamation comes as part of game planning for the Bucs run game. Now I’m not saying our run defense is vastly improved at this point but certainly having Kuechly and Jon Beason on the field will improve this unit. I can’t say enough positive things about Kuechly by the way.
7. Jonathan Stewart is hobbled a bit by an ankle problem while Steve Smith was dealing with a foot infection and Jon Beason missed the pre-season with a hamstring injury. How healthy are the Panthers heading into this one and do you see these injuries making an impact in the game?
We are actually in pretty good shape. Smith and Beason have practiced all week and I expect them to start. Rivera said he is ‘hopeful’ Stewart will play but I’m kind of hoping they don’t rush him back. He might dress but I’m pretty sure he will have limited duty if any at all. Otherwise we are good injury-wise.
8. The Panthers certainly have confidence heading into this one against the Bucs after the two thrashings they dealt Tampa Bay last season. However, Buc fans know that the team that showed up those two Sundays was not the same team we'll be seeing this week. Any concerns Carolina comes into this one a bit overconfident?
Being the first week and considering what we’ve been hearing about the team wanting to perform at a higher level they will be plenty motivated. I’m not worried about that at all.
9. Ryan Kalil made some headlines with his ad proclaiming the Panthers are going to win the Super Bowl, while Steve Smith stated he thinks the Carolina offense can double their output from last season (which would have them averaging over 50 points and 780 yds a game). Some would say the Panthers are talking a little too much, ala the Jets of the last few years. It didn't work out too well for the Jets. How has coach Ron Rivera handled the drama and do you see it being a problem with the Panthers?
As it turns out the ad Kalil took out was more of a statement to his teammates and though none of the players really talked about the ad too much no one was upset about it. It was simply a very public way of raising expectations but it wasn’t viewed internally as negative or excessive. For me it "I’m glad your confident and have the right goal but let’s just take the next step first."
10. As great as Cam's rookie season was, he threw 17 interceptions. What has Cam done to cut down on those interceptions and how has he looked in the pre-season?
He didn’t throw a single one in the preseason [huge knock on wood]. You mentioned he was taking more hits in the preseason and I might say that is a result of taking the sack instead of trying something stupid like he did in his first 10 games. I’m thinking he’s a quick study in that regard.
11. The Bucs have trained heavily in the heat of Tampa's blazing late July and August sun to get ready for the hot, steamy conditions of Raymond James Stadium on September 9th. How have the Panthers prepared for the heat and humidity they will endure?
I guess you haven’t been to Spartanburg, SC in August. If this team isn’t used to the heat and humidity then they never will be. Still it will take a toll on the Panthers who will need to work their rotations, especially on the d-line. Plus because of the convention the Panthers are already in Bradenton at IMG practicing; got there on Tuesday actually. So they have time to acclimate.
12. What new thing from/about the Panthers have Bucs' fans not seen before?
I’m hoping rookie PR Joe Adams shows all of us something we are not used to seeing from the Panthers and that is dynamic punt returns.
13. Your prediction for the game?
Panthers 27 Bucs 20