CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - After losing their season-opener against the Raiders last week, the Panthers are hoping they can fix the mistakes that cost them a win. The Panthers had five penalties in the second half, including a crucial defensive pass interference in the fourth quarter.
That won’t fly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose new quarterback, Tom Brady, is known for taking advantage of critical mistakes and turning them into wins.
The Panthers will take on the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday in their first of two matchups this season. Here is what you need to know:
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL ...
The Panthers offense under coordinator Joe Brady moved the ball well against the Raiders last week. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater passed for 269 yards and a touchdown, while running back Christian McCaffrey finished with 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
McCaffrey is one of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL, and last season, he became the third player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch for 1,000 yards in the same season.
But the Bucs were one of two teams to hold McCaffrey to fewer than 40 yards rushing in 2019. And they did it twice.
The Bucs also held him to below 30 yards receiving in both games. Again, they were one of two teams to do that.
“I think the biggest thing is you have to tackle really, really well,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “You have to gang tackle and get to him because he’s a threat to break one and take it to the house every time. (Bucs defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles does a great job of scheming. It’s always an all-day chore, but we were lucky last year.”
Former All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh mans the middle, while linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul make life miserable for offensive tackles and quarterbacks. Barrett, an undrafted player, had 19.5 sacks in 2019, and Pierre-Paul had 8.5.
“I think the Tampa Bay Bucs and Coach Bowles, his defense, they come off the bus with pressure,” Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. “They are fun to watch on tape. They fly around, they are physical ... It’s a huge challenge for us this week.”
The Bucs held Saints running back Alvin Kamara to 16 yards on 12 carries. Latavius Murry was only slightly better, with 48 yards on 15 carries.
Bucs cornerback Charlton Davis is also one to watch. He held All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas to three catches for 17 yards.
Much of the gameplan will likely focus on McCaffrey again, and he’s what makes the engine go. If the Bucs can slow him again, the Panthers may struggle, unless they can get help from D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel.
▪ Edge: Bucs
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL ...
The Bucs have one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Godwin had 18 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown in two games against the Panthers last season.
Godwin was reportedly in concussion protocol earlier in the week, but practiced Friday. While Evans struggled last week (1 catch, 2 yards, 1 TD), the 6-foot-5, 231-pound receiver is still a big-play threat. Injuries limited Evans to 13 games last season, but he still had eight receiving touchdowns, and 1,157 yards receiving. He had three games with 180 yards receiving or more.
And the guy throwing him the ball this season is none other than perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady was criticized for his two-touchdown, two interception day in a 34-23 loss to the Saints last week, but the 43-year old is still dangerous.
The Bucs still seem to be finding their groove with the ground game. They had 71 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown between running backs Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette.
As for the Panthers, they struggled to slow the Raiders. Running back Josh Jacobs had three rushing touchdowns and 93 yards rushing, which is not a good sign for a team that gave up an NFL record 31 rushing touchdowns last year. And quarterback Derek Carr was barely touched. He also had a touchdown.
The Panthers' secondary is young, but getting cornerback Donte Jackson back, who left in the first quarter with ankle injury, is a positive sign. Cornerback Rasul Douglas looked good in last week’s game when he came in relief of Jackson. The Panthers picked up the fourth-year cornerback off waivers two weeks ago, and he had less than a week to prepare.
But there are still too many questions that remain about the Panthers' defense.
WHEN THEY KICK ...
Panthers kicker Joey Slye was 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts last week, but he missed one of his two extra points. The second-year kicker, who had an up-and-down rookie season, has a tendency to miss the shorter kicks wide left, and make the longer ones.
For the Panthers to win close games, he’ll have to be more accurate. Rookie punter Joe Charlton, who struggled some in training camp, had two 60-yard punts last week. However, one was returned for 27 yards, while the other was returned for 10 yards.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop made one of his two field-goal attempts last week. The one miss was partially blocked from 54 yards out. Despite Succop’s struggles with Tennessee last season (1-for-6 on field-goal attempts), it didn’t deter the Bucs from picking him up. He is an 82% kicker for his career. Bradley Pinion served as the Bucs' punter. He had five punts and averaged 47.2 yards per attempt last week.
The biggest thing we learned from last week’s loss is that the Panthers' offense is going to have to carry them this season. The defense is young and inexperienced, and has many holes it needs to address, particularly at cornerback and at defensive end. And while the Bucs weren’t particularly impressive last week, they still pose problems for the Panthers' defense.
Prediction: Bucs 27 Panthers 21
PANTHERS VS. BUCS INJURY REPORT
Panthers: DT Kawann Short (foot) OUT, DE Yetur Gross-Matos (head) OUT, LG Dennis Daley (ankle) OUT.