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Game Day: Buccaneers at Panthers

Posted Nov 30, 2013

Prepare for Sunday’s game with our preview, including injury reports, key matchups, series history, players to watch and more

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Buccaneers bring a 3-8 record into the game while the Panthers are 8-3.

Offensively, the Buccaneers will be in for a tough matchup against the Carolina defense, one of the best units in the league. Although the Panthers are ranked third in the NFL in total yards allowed – and third against the run – Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano says his team’s offensive game plan won’t change much, even in the face of such a stout defense.

“Well, I think we have to continue to play the brand of football that we’re playing,” Schiano said. “Offensively, we have to run the ball and they’re going to be hard to run it against. There’s not an area in their defense where they’re weak, so it’s not like you can sit there and say, ‘Well you know, we can attack this,’ because they are a rounded-out, very very good defense. We have to play to our strengths because they really don’t have a weakness. We have to play to our strength and I think our strength is still running the football.”

On defense, the Bucs will once again square off against NFC South nemesis Cam Newton, one of the more versatile quarterbacks in the league. When these two teams met in Week Eight, a 31-13 Carolina win, Newton showed off his impressive skill set, passing for 221 yards and two touchdowns and also leading the Panthers with 50 rushing yards and another score.

Thus, the Bucs will be placing a heavy emphasis in this week’s contest on containing Newton more effectively than they did the last time around. That may be easier said than done, of course, especially since Newton has developed into a dangerous pocket passer – but one who can still make huge plays on the ground when necessary.

“He’s executing at a very high level right now,” said Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. “He still has the ability to run it – he’s a ball carrier every game. They never get away from at least having him run what’s called the gun-run stuff, and he’ll still pull it and run it three or four times a game. Then, obviously, in the pocket, he’s just very elusive.  So as well as they’re doing as far as getting the ball down the field to the receivers – and Cam does a great job of that – at any time, obviously, he can pull it down when things do break down in protection or things are being covered or matched up on the back end.

- DE A. Clayborn and the Buccaneers will try to keep Carolina QB Cam Newton from escaping the pocket
“He’s able to pull it down and create plays, create first-down plays. Probably the biggest thing is that he’s really bought into being a true pocket passer, and he’s more than talented enough to do anything, offensively.”

Of course, Newton isn’t the only weapon on the Carolina offense. The Panthers boast the NFL’s ninth-ranked rushing attack (thanks, in part, to Newton), and while many teams with dual-threat quarterbacks like Newton run more exotic schemes to take advantage of such athleticism, Sheridan says that’s not necessarily the case with Carolina. With hard-nosed running back DeAngelo Williams (who is questionable for the game but ably backed up by Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert) and shifty veteran wideout Steve Smith, the Panthers have the ability to hurt defenses in a number of different ways.

“I think a little bit of what they’re doing on offense [is] they’re trying to get a little bit more of a mainstream, conventional NFL [offense],” Sheridan said. “They have fantastic running backs [and they] let those guys run the ball and let Cam get in the pocket and throw the ball down the field. Obviously, they have an outstanding receiving corps as well, that’s why they’re doing so well.”

On the other side of the ball, Carolina’s defense is also playing at an extremely high level. And while the Bucs struggled to move the ball and put points on the board the last time these teams squared off, Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan says the key in this week’s rematch will be the Bucs’ ability to keep themselves out of tough situations on offense.

Keeping the chains moving, avoiding long third-down scenarios, minimizing penalties and sacks, preventing turnovers and other such goals are always important, but they become that much more crucial against a stout defense like Carolina's which is not prone to give up the big play. When those kinds of miscues creep into play, they can quickly kill momentum, stall drives and force an offense’s game plan to shift.

“I think they’re a very good football team, for sure, and they’ve certainly gotten better in all respects,” Sullivan said. “We were our own worst enemy at times [the last game against Carolina], as has often been the case this year, with a couple of critical third downs when the game was still in the balance and you get the errant snap and then it results in a sack and, all of a sudden, you’re having to settle for a field goal or you get knocked out of field goal range.

“I think there were some of those self-inflicted wounds. Then, before you know it, you’re in a situation where you’re having to throw a ton, which, in our perfect world, we’re throwing when it’s best for us, on our terms if you will, in terms of the play-action pass and some three-step [drop passes]. When you have to throw, you have to throw; everyone knows, third down, that’s what it comes down to. I think we were really skewed, as I look back at that game, being in that two-minute-type of a mode on the ball and those guys [the Carolina defense] are able to pin their ears and it makes for some tough sledding.”

Click here for more on what the Lions will bring to the table on Sunday afternoon.

**

SERIES HISTORY

Carolina leads the all-time series with Tampa Bay, 15-11, having extended their advantage in Week Eight of this season with a 31-13 win in Tampa.  The Panthers are trying to get their third season sweep in the last five years and continue an alternating trend of such sweeps.  The Bucs won both games in 2012 and 2010 while the Panthers took a pair in both 2011 and 2009.  In their previous 11 seasons together in the NFC South, the Buccaneers and Panthers have finished the season in a split just three times – in 2005, 2007 and 2008.

Carolina brings an NFL-long seven-game winning streak into Sunday's game, while the Bucs have won their last four.  This is the first time since 1996 – only the second meeting between these two teams – that both squads come into the affair with winning streaks of at least three games.

The Buccaneers' last trip to Bank of America Stadium, in Week 11 of the 2012 season, produced a thrilling 27-21 overtime victory for the visitors that extended Tampa Bay's four-game winning streak.  The Bucs overcame an 11-point deficit in the six minutes of regulation, sending it to overtime on Vincent Jackson's 24-yard touchdown catch and subsequent two-point grab.  Dallas Clark won it in the extra period on the opening drive with a 15-yard TD pass from QB Josh Freeman.  The Buccaneers have secured several other exciting late-season wins in Charlotte, including a 20-10 battle in Week 14 of the 2005 season that essentially decided the NFC South in the Bucs' favor.

Click here for more details on the all-time Buccaneers-Lions series.

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INJURY REPORT

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Game Status

LB Mason Foster

Concussion

Probable

LB Adam Hayward

Foot

Probable

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Probable

G Jamon Meredith

Ankle

Probable

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Out

CB Darrelle Revis

Groin

Questionable

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Probable


Panthers:

Player

Injury

Game Status

LB Chase Blackburn

Foot

Questionable

T Jordan Gross

No Injury

Probable

TE Ben Hartsock

Knee

Doubtful

DE Charles Johnson

Knee

Out

G Chris Scott

Knee

Out

WR Steve Smith

Knee

Probable

RB Jonathan Stewart

Ankle

Questionable

RB Mike Tolbert

Knee

Questionable

RB DeAngelo Williams

Quad

Questionable


**

BUCCANEER PLAYER TO WATCH: LB LAVONTE DAVID

Fresh off his recognition as the NFC Defensive Player of the week, Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David is quickly becoming one of the most talked-about young defensive players in the league.

Despite the award and increasing hype around his game, David says he’s still keeping a level head and focusing on the challenges in front of him each week – especially this week against Cam Newton and the multi-faceted Carolina offense.

“I look at it as I’m just playing the game I love, just playing the game of football,” David said. “I love to play. I go out there and try to have fun as much fun as I can. When things like [winning Defensive Player of the Week] happen, it goes to show that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”

As mentioned, with Newton and the Panthers offense on tap this week, David will have a tough test ahead of him as he looks to keep both his impressive individual performances going, and his team’s three-game winning streak.

“Obviously, [Newton] is a good runner, once he breaks contain out of the pocket,” David said. “He has a great strong arm and he’s taking care of the football. He’s got great game management and he knows how to find his weapons.”

Interestingly, despite Newton’s impressive athleticism and running ability, David said he feels the Carolina quarterback has been forced to tuck and run the ball less often this year, due largely in part to the success of the other weapons around him.

“He’s got less designed runs for him because his players, his teammates, are doing their job,” David said. “At first, they were putting a lot of pressure on him, he was trying to make plays on his own, but now, everybody’s making plays, so it’s less pressure on him now.”

With the Bucs riding a three-game winning streak, and the Panthers having won seven straight games of their own, Sunday’s contest should be a great NFC South battle, and David is looking forward to it. And coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, David said the chance to play in such meaningful football games is just one of the aspects of his life he’s grateful for.

“I’m thankful for being alive," he said, "thankful for my parents raising me the right way, thankful for the friends who’ve stuck by my side through the tough times and just thankful I get to play the game I love.”

**

KEY MATCHUP: S DASHON GOLDSON VS. TE GREG OLSEN

Tampa Bay's starting free safety, 2012 first-team all-pro Dashon Goldson, returns to the defense after missing one game while serving an NFL suspension.  Goldson also missed the first meeting between the Buccaneers and the Panthers due to a knee injury.  Tampa Bay's coaches are hoping that Goldson's presence will help slow down a Carolina offense that scored 31 points in that Thursday night matchup in Tampa.

Goldson's potential matchup with Carolina tight end Greg Olsen will become more important, at least on paper, if cornerback Darrelle Revis is able to overcome his groin injury and play on Sunday.  The Buccaneers would probably ask Revis to spend much of the day shadowing #1 receiver Steve Smith, which would make QB Cam Newton more likely to look for his other reliable pass-catchers.  Olsen may be the most reliable of all those options.

Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano referred to Olsen as one of the NFL's elite tight ends earlier this week, and indeed his 45 catches for 526 yards rank second for the Panthers after Smith's 51 for 586.  Olsen, who is a very crisp route-runner and a serious threat in the red zone, leads the Panthers with five touchdown catches, including the game-winner late in last Sunday's comeback win at Miami.  If the Buccaneers hope to keep Newton in check, it would help if Goldson could lead the way in limiting the damage done by Olsen.

Click here to read about other head-to-head matchups that will help determine Sunday’s outcome.

**

TEAM RANKINGS

The Buccaneers and Panthers share a lot of similar rankings in the league stat tables such as their tie for fourth in the NFL in turnover differential.  Both teams have also stopped the run well, intercepted passes at a high rate on defense and done well on punt returns.  However, Carolina has a clear edge in the rankings on third downs, both offensively and defensively, while the Bucs have been better at avoiding interceptions on offense.

OFFENSE

BUCS RANK

PANTHERS RANK

Points Per Game

26

31

Yards Per Game

28

27

Rushing Yards Per Game

19

9

Average Per Rush

24

18

Passing Yards Per Game

28

30

Sacks/Pass Play

18

25

Interception Pct.

7

20

Third-Down Efficiency

21

2

Punt Return Average

9

10

Kickoff Return Average

27

24


DEFENSE

BUCS RANK

PANTHERS RANK

Points Per Game

14

1

Yards Per Game

14

3

Rushing Yards Per Game

9

3

Average Per Rush

14

8

Passing Yards Per Game

17

8

Sacks/Pass Play

25

8

Interception Pct.

5

4

Third-Down Efficiency

24

4t

Punt Return Average

30

21

Kickoff Return Average

5

12


OTHER

BUCS RANK

PANTHERS RANK

Turnover Differential

4t

4t

Gross Punting Average

27

5

Net Punting Average

28

11

Field Goal Percentage

29

15


**

WHAT TO WATCH FOR
  • LB Lavonte David has five sacks on the season and, with one more can tie for the fifth-most sacks in a season by a Buccaneers linebacker in team history (Kevin Murphy-6.0, 1989).
  • With two tackles against Carolina, David will have 100 tackles for the second consecutive season, becoming the first Buccaneer to do so since Barrett Ruud (100 from 2007-10) and Geno Hayes (100 from 2009-10).
  • David has two interceptions this season and with one more can become the first linebacker since Derrick Brooks (3 in 2006) to record three or more interceptions in a single season.
  • David has five sacks and two interceptions this season and with one more interception can become the first player in team history with at least five sacks and three interceptions in the same season.
  • Foster has two interceptions returned for a touchdown this season and with one more can tie LB Derrick Brooks (3 in 2002) and CB Wayne Haddix (3 in 1990) for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a single season in franchise history.
  • QB Mike Glennon has 1,782 passing yards on the season and needs 74 more to pass Josh Freeman (1,855 in 2009) for first place on that list.
  • With a passer rating of 120 or better against Carolina, Glennon would be the first quarterback in team history with three consecutive games with a passer rating of 120 or better.
  • WR Vincent Jackson needs 112 receiving yards to reach 1,000 yards for the second consecutive season, and the fifth time in his career. Jackson would be the first Buccaneers receiver to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Joey Galloway (three consecutive seasons, 2005-07).
  • WR Eric Page has two punt returns of 40 or more yards this season. With one more punt return of 40 or more yards, Page will tie Jacquez Green (three in 1998) for the most returns of 40 or more yards in a single season.
  • With one more receiving touchdown this season, TE Tim Wright can tie Calvin Magee and Jim Obradovich as the only rookie tight ends in franchise history with at least three receiving touchdowns.
  • With a win against Carolina, the Buccaneers would be the first team since the 1978 St. Louis Cardinals to lose their first eight games then win the next four.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers