Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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5 Bucs to Watch Against Carolina

Keep an eye on the five players to have an impact on the second game against the division-rival Carolina Panthers in London on Sunday.


1. OLB Carl Nassib

The Panthers have the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the league currently, mostly on the back of Christian McCaffrey who has been held to under 100 yards from scrimmage just once this season. It was in Week Two against the Bucs, if you didn't already know. What makes McCaffrey so dangerous is how versatile he is and how dangerous he is out in space. He bounces to the outside or catches passes out of the backfield quite a bit. Carl Nassib, being on the outside, will try to help contain him while also trying to get pressure on young quarterback Kyle Allen, who is in for the injured Cam Newton. Allen currently has a passer rating of 107.4, good for 10th best in the league since he became the starter in Week Three. However, Allen has fumbled the ball six times in three games. If Nassib can be one of the ones to get pressure on Allen, it could result not only in a sack or quarterback hit, but perhaps a forced fumble and takeaway for the Bucs' defense, which currently has helped the team to a +4 turnover margin, the sixth-best mark in the league.

2. ILB Lavonte David

Another player that will be tasked with trying to contain McCaffrey is Lavonte David, who is one of the best off-the-ball linebackers in the league. David's instincts and lateral quickness are second to none and he'll be one of the players trying to meet McCaffrey at or even behind the line of scrimmage before he can do any damage. In the Bucs' first matchup with the Panthers, David had seven combined tackles, five of which were on McCaffrey. David also helped rookie Anthony Nelson record his first career forced fumble.

With the help of guys like Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea up front, David and the rest of the Bucs defense have put forth one of the most stifling run defense efforts in the league. They will also be getting rookie inside linebacker Devin White back, per Coach Arians. White was activated following a knee injury for last week's game against the Saints but in an effort not to rush him back, he didn't play. This week however, Arians said White will return to a prominent role on defense. Tampa Bay's rushing defense ranks second, allowing just 69.3 yards per game and an even more limiting 3.12 rushing yards per attempt, which is good for the league best. McCaffrey alone is averaging an astounding 117.4 rushing yards per game, so it will be up to the Bucs' run defense to once again limit him.

3. WR Mike Evans

Wide receiver Mike Evans was targeted just three times in the Bucs game against New Orleans last Sunday and due to a tremendous effort by the Saints' secondary, Evans was not able to snag any of them. If you know Mike Evans, you know he's not going to let that stand. You can also bet that quarterback Jameis Winston will be looking his way a lot more as well. It's worth noting that even when Evans is limited in his receptions, he still has a major impact on the field. Because of the attention defensive backs have to pay Evans, there are opportunities that open up elsewhere for other receivers. Like Chris Godwin, who once again had over 100 yards receiving in Week Five, his third such game this season. He also scored multiple touchdowns, putting him at a league-leading six receiving touchdowns on the year. Godwin also has the third-most receiving yards of an receiver in the NFL with 511.

Those numbers aren't by accident. It's because Godwin is winning his one-on-one matchups – matchups that he's getting while other defensive backs are busy double-teaming Evans. It's a give and take between the two receivers and it's a good problem to have. But teams will start respecting Godwin more and more, hopefully allowing the reception pendulum to swing back in Evans' favor. This game could be the start.

4. The O-line

Quarterback Jameis Winston said it himself this week, the Panthers' defense has gotten to the quarterback more and more. In fact, since Carolina last played Tampa Bay, they have the most sacks of any team in the last three weeks, recording 16.0 takedowns. Winston credited it to the team simplifying things overall. Whatever the reason, the Bucs' offensive line is going to have to hold up against the Panthers' improved pass rush. It will be no small task, especially given the injuries along the line. Both right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Demar Dotson didn't make the trip to London due to injury. Cappa broke his forearm in the second quarter of last Sunday's game against the Saints, and before you second guess yourself, he did end up finishing the game. He's one tough dude. Dotson, on the other hand, is dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice all week.

It means it's next man up for the right side of the line. Head Coach Bruce Arians said veteran Earl Watford will likely step in, as will Josh Wells, who the team picked up recently. With the injuries being no secret, Carolina will likely look to exploit that side of the line and quarterback Jameis Winston's success likely depends on how well they respond to the challenge.

5. TE Cameron Brate

Speaking of Winston's success, a surefire target for Winston remains tight end Cameron Brate. The pair have a long history and rapport, with Brate always being a viable option for Winston in tough situations. Brate has been relatively quiet this season so far but when you just need a first down, especially if it's inside the red zone, Brate can make those tough contested catches when it counts. Those shorter, higher completion percentage throws are confidence builders for quarterbacks and Brate can handle those catches with the best of them. With the Panthers' pass rush, it's unlikely Winston will have much time to throw, either. Shorter and more immediate throws could offset the pressure and those happen to be Winston and Brate's calling card.

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