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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Bucs to Watch Against the Carolina Panthers in Week 7 

In continuation of the NFC South tour, the Buccaneers will face the Panthers on Sunday, and there are several players to monitor

5 Bucs to watch vs Panthers_

Next up on the division compilation list, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Week Seven. A win against the Panthers will give the Buccaneers a sweep of the NFC South following wins against the Saints and Falcons, respectively. With a 3-3 overall record, the Buccaneers have lost three of their last four outings and will look to change the tide in the Queen City. Meanwhile, the embattled Panthers fired Head Coach Matt Rhule on October 10 and subsequently parted ways with wideout Robbie Anderson and running back Christian McCaffrey via trade. Following three-consecutive lackluster five-win seasons, the Panthers have a 1-5 start to the 2022 slate with a game of musical chairs at quarterback. There are many matchups and individual performances that could weigh heavily on the outcome of the Bucs-Panthers clash in Week Seven. Here is a closer look at five Buccaneers to observe on Sunday. 

Tristan Wirfs 

The Panthers' 2019 first-round pick, Brian Burns, leads Carolina with 4.0 sacks, fortifying the unit up front. Burns has the fifth-highest get-off at the snap among edge rushers (0.8 seconds) per NFL Next Gen Stats. With explosion out of his stance, Burns devastates with an effective spin move and vast array of counters in his arsenal to bate tackles. The Panthers move Burns along the line to keep offenses off balance, so he will have matchups with both Tristan Wirfs and Donovan Smith on Sunday. Burns can dip underneath blockers and win with speed, making it challenging for tackles to recover against him. Wirfs has established himself as one of the top-tier right tackles in the NFL and is only in his third season. In 2021, Wirfs was named a first-team Associated Press All-Pro for his contributions on Tampa Bay's offensive line. With quick feet and a powerful upper body, Wirfs can get push in the ground game and quickly get to the second level. He can generate movement at the point of attack and will need a stout performance against Burns on Sunday afternoon at bank of America Stadium. 

"I have been going against him for a couple years now and it is so fun to block him," Wirfs stated on Burns. "He is so explosive, so fast and I think his spin move is the huge thing, his spin move inside – you always have to be ready for that. I was watching tape this morning on him, and I was getting kind of excited. Last year, I do not think he got the attention he deserves. I think he is a really good player…I know I have to stay square when I lock him because if I try to shoot out there and open up, I am leaving the inside available and he can take that pretty quick. I have to be on top of my stuff when I go against him." 

Lavonte David 

Christian McCaffrey was the focal point of the Panthers' offense but was traded to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday evening. Despite McCaffrey's departure, the Panthers will likely continue with the same approach: attacking the perimeter and middle of the field on intermediate/underneath routes to try and mitigate pressure on P.J. Walker. Tampa Bay cornerstone Lavonte David will play a critical role in disrupting the Panthers' system. Touted as one of the best off-ball linebackers in the NFL, David is effective shadowing running backs and tight ends in man coverage and is a sure tackler. He has stellar read-and-react skills and sideline-to-sideline range. Whether it is stopping a running back in the backfield, limiting yards-after-catch out of the flat or blowing up Carolina's screen game, David will play a significant role in commanding the defensive unit. 

Shaq Barrett 

One of the main points of emphasis this week behind the podium was 'pressure.' The Buccaneers have not had a takeaway in the previous eight quarters of football, which starts up front with collapsing the pocket. "Those guys need to rush a heck of a lot better," run game coordinator and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers stated. "We just met this morning and talked about it. We expect a lot of those guys – if you look where our resources are on the defense – you need to get home. And they don't shy away from it – we'll squarely put it on them. We need to rush better." The overall defensive performance is predicated on the team's ability to get to the quarterback. According to Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers rank 21st in the league in overall pressure rate (26.1 percent). Tampa Bay will be looking to take the pressure level up against the Panthers, beginning with Shaq Barrett. Barrett has not recorded a sack since Week Two at New Orleans – where he recorded two. This could be the breakout game where 'Sack Barrett' makes an appearance. The Panthers' offensive line has already allowed 19 sacks through six games and Barrett will strive for dominion on Sunday in the trenches. Barrett has established himself as one of the best pass-rushing linebackers in the league, known for his rare bend. He sets the tone up front and whether it is getting to P.J. Walker or knifing through blockers to make a play on a running back in the backfield, Barrett will be a key component in the Bucs' defense in Week Seven. 

Rachaad White 

The Panthers defense struggled to find answers for the Rams' use of fly sweeps in Week Six and Rachaad White could provide a spark for the Buccaneers in a similar regard in Week Seven. Known as one of the shiftiest backs in the Pac-12, White could elevate the offense with his slash-back style. The Buccaneers currently rank last in the NFL in rushing, with an inability to create offensive cohesion. The first-year player is patient with his run-tempo and has good balance when jump-cutting. White has great burst when getting north and could elevate the Bucs' passing attack off sweeps or screens, benefiting his explosiveness in the open field. This could be the game White gets more involved to catapult the offense forward in the club's must win divisional matchup. 

Keanu Neal 

A rash of injuies has shaken up the defensive backfield, with safety Logan Ryan on injured reserve, safety Mike Edwards (elbow) and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad) dealing with recent ailments. In Week Six, the Bucs utilized cornerback Dee Delaney in sub packages, allowing the staff to continue employing their catalyst on the back end, Antoine Winfield Jr., in a hybrid role at safety and slot corner. Veteran Keanu Neal also played more snaps than in previous weeks with Edwards out. Edwards will potentially be able to return from his injury against Carolina, which would bolster the secondary, but Ryan is out for at least four weeks. The Bucs acquired Neal in free agency, and he resumed his natural position at safety in Tampa Bay after transitioning to linebacker last year with the Cowboys under Dan Quinn. He played around 50% of the defensive snaps in Dallas and was part of the linebacker rotation in nickel packages last season. Prior to his stint in Dallas, Neal was the model cover 3 strong safety for the Falcons and was stout against the run in the box. Known for his coverage ability carrying running backs and tight ends, Neal garnered a Pro Bowl nod in 2017 after posting a career-high 116 tackles, four tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Neal was coming off a bicep injury to begin the year and was eased gradually into practices as the season progressed for healing. He adds a physical presence to the backfield and will be called upon to contribute more extensively as injuries pile up.

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