CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – The Panthers prepare to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the second time this season after falling to the Bucs in week two. Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Unfortunately for Carolina, Christian McCaffrey is once again out of the lineup just as quickly as he returned. The all pro running back tallied 151 total yards and two touchdowns in his first game back from injury last week against the Chiefs. But McCaffrey sustained a shoulder injury late in the contest and has been ruled out for action this Sunday, though his outlook for a speedy return next week does seem plausible. Head Coach Matt Rhule discussed the situation below:
Mike Davis will again be called upon to fill the void in the backfield. Though he was limited to a single carry, Davis was still heavily involved in the passing game and recorded five catches on six targets for 34 yards in the 33-31 loss. He’ll be bumped up to regular duties on Sunday.
Teddy Bridgewater is coming off of arguably his best performance of the season as the Panthers nearly took down the defending Super Bowl champions. Bridgewater completed over 73$ of his passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives to take away from the performance. And the Panthers will look to bring that experience into Bank of America Stadium on Sunday as they get ready for a division rival.
The defensive play was also elevated against the Chiefs. Carolina’s front completely shut down any rushing attempts by the Chiefs, and were able to get pressure on Patrick Mahomes. Their weakness, however, came in the form of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, who torched the secondary 19 catches for 270 yards and two touchdowns. They’ll have to contend with another talented group of receivers this week, so the defense will need to button things up if they want to hand the Bucs a second-straight loss.
Tampa Bay has had some up and down moments over the past month, from getting blown out by New Orleans and Green Bay to beating the Raiders by 25 before narrowly defeating the Giants. They’ve been a difficult team to read as of late, but they still have one of the league’s best rosters and are a weekly challenge.
Tom Brady has been predictably efficient this season, but perhaps not as explosive as some predicted given the weapons at his disposal. Although the receiving corps has experienced its share of injuries this fall. Brady is completing just over 65% of his passes this season for 2398 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, three of which came in last week’s loss to New Orleans.
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and newly acquired Antonio Brown highlight the receiving corps. Godwin was limited at the early portions of the week, but appears to be good to go for Sunday. He brings the speed to Evans’ power and control. Evans is one of the better high-point contested catch receivers in the league and is a tough matchup for any corner as he stands 6’5″, 231 pounds. He leads the team with seven touchdowns this season.
Brown is likely the best route runner of the past decade, but having been out of football for over a year there is very likely some rust. He was targeted five times last week and caught three passes for 31 yards. Rob Gronkowski is often a reliable third down target, and has a great rapport with Brady having played with him for a decade in New England. Case in point: there are no easy matchups for this Panthers defense.
On the other side of the ball, the Bucs defense has been stellar this season with the exception of two poor performances. Even though they gave up 76 points to the Packers and Saints combined, they still present a top-ten defense in points allowed (22.6 ppg).
They have an outstanding edge rusher Shaquille Barrett, and bolster the league’s best linebacker corps including Devin White and Lavonte David. They get to the quarterback in a variety of ways whether it be from their linebackers, linemen or defensive backs. Every player is active around the line of scrimmage at some point.
They lead the league in takeaways (16), and are second in the NFL with 29 sacks. They get after the quarterback effectively, and it’s compounded by their ability to stop the run as they lead the league in allowing just 77 yards rushing per game.
When baited into multiple turnovers, the Buccaneers have proven to be very beatable this season. And while that’s often the case in the NFL, the Bucs tend to stack turnovers when producing early giveaways. This was most evident last week when the Saints grabbed three interceptions of Brady. The Panthers need to find a way to shrink the field and capitalize on turnover-worthy plays. A shorter field will give them a much better chance at putting up points against the stingy Bucs defense. To that point Tampa forced four Panthers turnovers in their first meeting, something the Panthers can’t afford to replicate this go around.
Furthermore, while it’s been difficult for team’s this season, the Panthers need to find a way to get a consistent run game going. They were held to just 87 yards rushing in their week two matchup, and will need improve in that area if they hope to win on Sunday.
Carolina has been a tough out each week even if they don’t have the record to show for it. But they’ll be getting an angry, and hungry Bucs team this weekend. Bridgewater said the team has grown considerably over the season and discussed the current team chemistry and culture below: