Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Storylines to Follow: Buccaneers vs. Panthers

Five things to look for when the Bucs take on the Panthers on Sunday.

1. Third-down conversions.
Perhaps the most talked-about theme in the Bucs' locker room leading up to the team's game against Carolina has been converting on third down. The Bucs struggled mightily on third down against Houston, moving the chains just once in four attempts. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter said that Tampa Bay's issues were mostly self-inflicted. Look for them to be improved this weekend.

2. Keeping Cam Newton in the pocket.
Newton is one of the league's most dangerous weapons for a few reasons. At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, he's nearly the size of a defensive end. His 4.6 speed usually makes him one of the fastest players on the field and he's just as capable of beating teams with his arm as he is with his legs. But so far this season, Newton has one of the lowest completion percentages in the league. A surplus of drops haven't helped that number, though. Based on what Carolina shown so far, it makes sense that the Bucs would try to keep Newton in the pocket and make him beat them with his arm.  

3. Stopping the Panthers' rushing attack.
Keeping Newton in the pocket is contingent on forcing the Panthers to throw the ball and that won't happen unless the Bucs are able to stop Carolina from running the ball. The Panthers are No. 6 in the league in rushing yards, led by Jonathan Stewart, who has 170 yards on 49 carries. Newton is the team's second-leading rusher with 144 yards.

*4. Explosive plays from the Bucs' offense. *
Although the Bucs' offense struggled on third down against Houston, the team did not lack explosive plays. Koetter said that the Bucs passed the ball seven times on run downs and that six of those plays were considered "explosive." If Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson continue to produce at the rate they have been, the explosive plays will continue. Both players are averaging over 14 yards per reception.

5. The next man up.
Both teams will be without some of their usual starters on Sunday because of injuries, providing an opportunity for players lower on the depth chart. A few Buccaneers to keep an eye on include tight end Cameron Brate, defensive lineman William Gholston and cornerback Mike Jenkins.

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