The Davey Jones’ Locker series returns this week for the 2019 version. This series is on asking five questions to an opposing NFC South SB Nation outlet.
In Week 2, the Buccaneers fly to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Both teams are coming off Week 1 losses, so Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader joins us to answer five questions to help preview this game between two 0-1 teams.
1. There appears to have been some sloppiness from the Panthers in the passing game against the Rams. Is there reason to be concerned with Cam Newton’s throws or is it more about the pressure that the Rams applied on the Carolina offensive front?
Sloppiness isn’t exactly the right word. There is still a lot of rust on some of the Panthers key players and the Rams have some very good defensive players. Newton only threw six passes in the preseason, so a few misses were to be expected. Add in a few more incompletions (largely targeted towards Greg Olsen) that were the receivers’ fault and you come home with a middling stat line.
For their part, the Rams have some of the best pairings of outside linebackers in the league with Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews and two good cover corners with Marcus Peters and Aquib Talib. Basically, Newton didn’t have a lot of time or a lot of space to make a lot of throws. The fact that he only threw one interception while knocking his offseason and surgery rust off is a minor miracle.
So no, there isn’t any reason to be concerned about Newton’s throws right now. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a big game out of him against a less talented Bucs defense.
2. Christian McCaffrey is one special player only knows how to be successful and this past Sunday was no different for him. Odds are he will have another good game against the Bucs, but if their gameplan is to focus on limiting his touches, who else should the Buccaneers watch out for?
Curtis Samuel was the unanimous Training Camp MVP (not a real title), but he didn’t get much of an opportunity to prove why against the Rams. Between him and D.J. Moore coming off a big fumble last week, the Buccaneers should be on the look out for the Panthers young wide receivers to try to make their mark on this season.
The other big question mark is Greg Olsen’s health. The aged tight end didn’t have a great game against the Rams, either, and that may have been because of the strained back that put him on the injury report to start this week. If he can’t play, look for sophomore tight end Ian Thomas to have a big role. He flashed a lot of talent last season and is the next great receiving talent at the tight end position.
3. Gerald McCoy always seemed to have trouble fighting off a double team consistently or easily taken out of a running play while in Tampa Bay. How did he look in camp, preseason, and in Week 1 against the Rams despite his one tackle and zero pressures on the stat sheet to this point?
McCoy had as good a game as any Panthers lineman did on Sunday. They were all kind of quiet, due to a heavy snap rotation, but still contributed to the Panthers edge guys having a great day. Panthers fans aren’t worried about him yet, as his preseason and training camp yielded nothing but positive reviews. It will only be a matter of time before the team figures out its optimal rotations along the defensive interior.
4. Brian Burns had a decent NFL regular season debut. How special can the rookie be and do you see him giving the Buccaneers headaches Thursday night?
I see Burns giving the Buccaneers headaches for as long as they are in the NFC South. This kid means the word fast the way Christian McCaffrey does. His first step off the snap is lethal and the Panthers are only just starting to figure out how to line him up take best advantage of that fact. Last season the Panthers relying on Mario Addison to be the only guy quick enough to beat a block and sack a quarterback within five seconds, let alone three. The rest of their defense was old, and it showed how tired they were as the season progressed. This year has been all about upgrading the youth and speed of their edge rushers and Burns was the biggest investment in that effort. So far, it looks like he is going to show the best returns as well.
5. What is the outlook for the Panthers the rest of the 2019 season?
Right now we don’t know enough to have a solid picture. They lost a game to the defending NFC champs by three points. That was a game where a live ball hit the ground five times and the Panthers didn’t recover once. It was a game where the Panthers missed a field goal. As losses go, it was pretty good. But there were still a lot of warts. If the Panthers can come out strong against the Bucs on a short week and then roll the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3 while showing they don’t make the kind of mistakes that plagued them against Los Angeles then the sky is the limit. If they spend the next two weeks puttering around on offense and fading in the third quarter on defense then they might very well be locked in a struggle with Tampa Bay for the bottom slot in the NFC South.
My bet would be on something closer to the former scenario. Even if it takes more than two weeks to put their team in order, the Panthers are too talented of a team to not be contenders. Newton appears healthy, the defense is much improved from last season, and the playcallers--Norv Turner on offense and Ron Rivera on defense-- are probably the most talented combination of coaches in Panthers history. This team is deeper than the Panthers last Super Bowl contenders. The biggest question in front of them should be injury luck, we’ll see if they can elevate themselves to that level.