Week 15 is upon us and the Buccaneers find themselves playing their division rival the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers come into the game with a record of 4-8-1, a half game out of the NFC South division lead. It's been a down year for the entire division, but this Panthers team still has a playoff chance. When I go back and look at season opener between these teams, it seems not much has changed.
In the first meeting between these two teams, Panthers QB Cam Newton wasn't healthy enough to play. And 14 weeks later, the Bucs still won't have to face him due to an unfortunate car accident that Newton was in earlier this week. The Panthers instead will start the same QB that faced the Bucs in the Game One, Derek Anderson. Anderson was able to come away with the win in that game, and there were definite reasons on both sides of the ball that that happened. This leads me to some keys to defeating Anderson and the Panthers on Sunday.**
- ZERO TURNOVERS**
Get to know the key players on Carolina before the Buccaneers take on the Panthers on Sunday.
In the first game between these teams, Josh McCown and the Bucs offense had a roller coaster game, but the final stat line's three turnovers definitely stood out. Week to week it seems the Buccaneers game story has the word "turnover" written all over it, and there isn't a stat in the NFL that can wreck a team's chances of winning more than that one. Now it's time for this Buccaneers team to get through a game without committing that costly TO. If McCown and company protect the ball, they'll find themselves on the winning side of this football game.2. PASS TO RUN
Running the football hasn't been easy for this Buccaneers offense. The inconsistent play at the offensive line and the lack of getting to the second level of the opponent's defense by the running backs has been a weekly problem. I remember several years ago when the Patriots were making one of their Super Bowl runs that their running game was just as nonexistent, however they were still winning every Sunday. The way they countered their running issues was the use of a quick throwing game. Hitches, slants, stop routes, and quick outs were being dished out on first and second down all over the field from Brady to his receivers. Those four-, three- and occasional 10-yard gains were comparable to the runs they were missing and ultimately those short passes were all they needed to get in 3rd-and-manageable situations. I'm not saying abandon the run because you need that physicality up front to impose your will on the defense, but adding that short pass game to compliment and assist the run game still allows the offensive line to quickly come off the ball and win in the trenches. This Bucs offense needs to establish itself anyway possible on Sunday. The quick pass game on early downs could be an option.3. PUT THE DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS ON FULL DISPLAY
Last time, the Bucs tried to shake the backup with multiple looks and pressures, but Anderson did a great job of having a pre-snap plan and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. His preparation and veteran savvy carried him to a strong performance on opening day. But this Bucs defense has evolved. As of late, the pass rush has improved, and the secondary has been limiting passing production far better than the first half of the season.
The biggest thing the Bucs can do this time around is to disrupt Anderson is sack and hit him early. Hitting Anderson and finishing the pass rush through the QB, will pay huge dividends for this defense on Sunday. The second thing the Bucs can improve upon with their pressures that Anderson was able to beat last game, is to disguise them better. Anderson is getting his first playing time in a few months and sneaking a blitz to compliment the front four's rush could pay dividends.
Teams that have to start backups usually try to get them in some type of groove early with the quick pass game. Therefore, this week's defensive key is to affect Anderson's thought process by mixing pressures and coverages. The Bucs secondary need to get in the wide receivers' faces, help that pass rush get to the QB and force Anderson to be the hero. Lets see if the D can live up to what they've built in the past few weeks and correct mistakes from game one.4. VICTORY OVER DRAFT POSITION
Bucs fans tell me all the time that the Buccaneers need to lose out and secure a high draft position because there is "nothing left to play for." I always chuckle when I hear that because it couldn't possibly be further from the truth. Beyond just the sheer will to win that the players have and the morale that comes with it, these final three games are also importantly about evaluation. Teams need to see improvement from players and backups every week to better evaluate the talent this roster has and will keep in the future. Coaches and personnel can build off every positive, no matter the record. If the Bucs can find themselves on the winning side of these games to end the season, Lovie and his staff can feel good about the process moving forward and then whatever draft spot they earn, they can feel confident in their decision because of how they finished the season, whether that finish was good or bad.