The Panthers need as much help as they can get from their TEs on Sunday to beat the Bucs. (Photo by John Clark)
GAME: Tampa Bay (1-0) at Carolina (0-1)
SITE: Bank of America Stadium
SURFACE: Natural grass
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: FOX (Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, Jim Mora)
SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular season meeting. Panthers lead series, 12-7. In the last meeting on Dec. 6, the Panthers defeated the Bucs 16-6 by picking off Josh Freeman five times.
LAST WEEK: The Bucs rebounded from an 11-point deficit to beat the Browns 17-14 in their regular season home opener. QB Josh Freeman completed 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards with two touchdowns and one interception while RB Cadillac Williams ran for 75 yards on 22 carries. Carolina played the Giants tight for a half, but then things began to slip away (literally) on a bad snap by J.J. Jansen in the third quarter. The Panthers were outscored 17-2 in the second half and QB Matt Moore threw three picks in the end zone.
THE STAT SHEET: Tampa Bay offense: 20th overall (288 ypg.), 9th rushing (119), 16th passing (169), 3th scoring (17). Tampa Bay defense: 17th overall (340), 16th rushing (104), 18th passing (236), 9th scoring (14).
Carolina offense: 26th overall (237), 17th rushing (89), 24th passing (148), 12th scoring (18). Carolina defense: 22nd overall (376), 18th rushing (118), 21st passing (258), 24th scoring (31).
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Freeman vs. Panthers secondary -- Although Freeman threw for 321 yards last year against the Panthers, he was intercepted five times in a 16-9 loss at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers expect to do everything they can to confuse the young quarterback. Carolina's secondary, however, did not play well last week against the Giants, allowing Eli Manning to throw for three touchdowns. To make matters worse, the Panthers might be without CB Chris Gamble (ankle).
Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs. Bucs front seven -- The Bucs spent a lot of draft picks looking up to upgrade their defensive front. Carolina has run well in the past against Tampa Bay. Last year they put 157 yards on the ground on 33 carries, a 4.8-yard average, and Williams didn't even play in that game.
QB Matt Moore vs. Bucs red-zone defense -- Moore (yes, he is playing this week) threw three interceptions last week, all of those in the Giants' end zone. All of them were poor decisions. He must make better decisions if the Panthers are to have a successful season.
INJURY UPDATE: The Panthers could be without four starters. RT Jeff Otah is out, while DT Louis Leonard is doubtful and DE Tyler Brayton and CB Chris Gamble are questionable. None of those four players practiced on Friday, which is normally a pretty good indication they won’t play. In addition, the Panthers picked up CB C.J. Wilson in case Gamble can’t go.
Unlike the Panthers, the Bucs come into this one fairly healthy. Their biggest concern is TE Kellen Winslow, who is questionable with a knee injury and did not practice Friday. If he can’t start, Jerramy Stevens gets the nod. Also, backup RB Kareen Huggins is questionable with a knee injury, while Freeman (thumb) and FB Chris Pressley (knee) are probable. If Huggins can’t go, Kregg Lumpkin could see more carries as the backup to Williams.
INSIDE THE GAME: Here’s the trickledown effect from Carolina’s injury situation. With Martin going on injured reserve Friday, the team will have to activate either Armanti Edwards or David Gettis as their fourth receiver. If Edwards is active it means the “Mountaineer” package could be back in play… Also, look for Everette Brown to start at RDE for Brayton, while either Nick Hayden or rookie Andre Neblett (or possibly both) to be activated as the third DT with Leonard doubtful for this game… And, if Gamble can’t play Captain Munnerlyn will likely start and rookie Robert McClain, the team’s seventh-round draft pick, could serve as the nickel back. (The other options there are Wilson and Hudson)... RT Geoff Schwartz starts again this week for Otah.
OFFENSIVE GAME PLAN: The Panthers weren’t all that effective running the ball last week in the second half (six carries, 6 yards) and part of that was they never established any continuity. Look for the Panthers to come out and be committed to the running game on Sunday. The problem is (and has been for awhile) they don’t have a dangerous No. 2 receiver (sure would be nice to have Anquan Boldin, huh?), which means opposing teams can double standout WR Steve Smith and send an extra man in the box to defend the run, which is exactly what the Giants did. Look for the Panthers to use their tight ends, particularly Jeff King, a little more this week as they back it down into a more conservative approach on offense.
DEFENSIVE GAME PLAN: You’d like to see the Panthers bring a little more pressure this week at QB Josh Freeman, but I’m not so sure that’s a good idea if Gamble doesn’t play. That could result in some big plays for the Bucs downfield. However, Carolina wasn’t very aggressive last week against the Giants and came back to bite them – their defensive ends combined for no sacks and no quarterback pressures against the Giants. I’d like to see rookie Eric Norwood get a few more reps as a pass rusher and Greg Hardy a few more plays, which will likely happen if Brayton is out.
NOTEWORTHY: In his last three games against the Panthers, RB Cadillac Williams has run for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 and 2 – The Panthers and Bucs are the youngest and second-youngest teams in the NFL respectively, according to STATS, LLC.
FANTASY WATCH: I think Freeman has a chance to put up some good numbers against a Carolina defense that surrendered three passing TDs last week and could be without its best corner in Gamble. Look for RB Cadillac Williams to have marginal success, which is to say he’s a good low-end No. 2 back. A sleeper pick is rookie WR Mike Williams, whose speed could hurt Carolina. On Carolina’s side, RB DeAngelo Williams and WR Steve Smith are good starts, but I’d give it another week on RB Jonathan Stewart. I think he’s still rounding into good game shape. K John Kasay looks like a good start.
THEY SAID IT: "We had a lot of turnaround last year. We had a lot of changes and it was a learning process for myself with my team and the organization. We had a direction all along, we wanted to go young and we wanted to build something that would win for a long time and we’re starting to see some of the results from that. I am not saying we’re there yet and I am not saying we’re ready to go out and win all the 15 games left. We want to go out there and give ourselves the best chance and we set ourselves up in order to do that with a young fired up football team that can play hard, fast, consistent and smart and that gives a chance at every game.”
--Bucs coach Raheem Morris on his young team.
PREDICTION: A lot of folks are expecting the Panthers to run over the Buccaneers just like they normally do. I’m not buying it. I think the Panthers are too banged up. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict the Bucs to sneak in here and steal one. Bucs 23, Panthers 16. (Last week’s pick: Giants 17, Panthers 13. Season record: 1-0)