The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the Carolina Panthers to only 20 points on Sunday, and allowed only six of 15 third downs to be converted. But with a non-existent pass rush and some key breakdowns in coverage, the Panthers got the points they needed to beat the Bucs and move to 1-0.
So with yet another backup quarterback on the schedule for Tampa Bay, how can Lovie Smith's team rebound and ensure that they don't fall to 2-0 with two very favorable matchups? It starts on defense with these key matchups.
Adrian Clayborn versus Joe Barksdale
Michael Johnson was injured against Carolina. Gerald McCoy was dominant against Carolina. Adrian Clayborn was missing against Carolina.
The Bucs' veteran defensive end did nothing as a pass rusher against the Panthers, and even failed to contain Derek Anderson on a scramble and run play. He has moved to left defensive end, where he goes up against right tackles (who are usually worse than left tackles), but through one week, it doesn't appear that change has helped him at all.
Barksdale allowed some QB pressures against Minnesota, and is definitely beatable as a pass blocker. Adrian Clayborn must have a better game, and find a way to pressure whoever is under center for St. Louis, or it could ultimately cost him his job.
(EDIT Friday at 10:02 AM: Clayborn was placed on Injured Reserve with a biceps injury. This makes it an even more important matchup now for Will Gholston, Larry English, Da'Quan Bowers and Scott Solomon to get after the QB from the left end position.)
Leonard Johnson versus Tavon Austin
Leonard Johnson isn't going to follow Tavon Austin around the field, but the two will likely find themselves lined up across from one another when Austin is in the slot and Johnson is subbed in for the Bucs nickel defense.
So can the often-burned but still favored starting nickel back keep up with the speedy Austin and tackle him in open space when he catches the ball on short routes?
Tackling is something Lovie Smith has praised Johnson for in the past, and it will be crucial for him to wrap up and stop Tavon Austin every time he gets the ball. Austin hasn't been consistent during his time in St. Louis, but he has proven time and time again that it only takes the slightest breakdown for him to find the end zone from anywhere on the field.
Johnson will need help from his safeties on plays where Austin goes deep and he's in zone coverage, but on the majority of Austin's short routes, it will be the Bucs' nickel back who must be fundamentally sound and prevent big plays.
Clinton McDonald versus Davin Joseph and Rodger Saffold
There were a lot of fans upset about the performance of Michael Johnson in Week 1, but not as many upset with the play of Clinton McDonald, who was pushed around in the run game and did not play well against the pass, either.
The former Seahawk was brought in to provide a second threat to get upfield from the defensive tackle position, but he was unable to do anything of the sort against the mediocre offensive line of the Panthers.
He'll be matched up with former Buc Davin Joseph and the freshly paid Rodger Saffold on Sunday, and he must have a better game than he did against Carolina. Whichever Buccaneer tackle (McDonald or McCoy) matches up with Saffold will have a tougher assignment than the one across from Joseph, but that's no excuse for a well-paid "pass-rush specialist" like McDonald to not make an impact on Sunday against the Rams.