Welcome to another installment of Enemy on the Ship, a series of articles where I am graciously given the time and effort of a writer or blogger for the teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face in 2013, and they share their thoughts on the team they cover, and how they’ll do against the Bucs in 2013.
For our look at the division rival Carolina Panthers, we are joined by Kyle Casey, the editor of Cat Crave on the Fansided network. You can find him on Twitter here. He gave us these thoughts about the Cats and how they’ll fare against the Bucs this season.
Leo Howell – Last season it seemed like the Panthers were by far the worst team in the NFC South, but they turned things around late and wound up in a three-way tie. What has changed in Carolina this offseason? Will it be a more consistent season for the team, or will there be more of the same?
Kyle Casey – The thing that has been a trend throughout the first two seasons of the Ron Rivera era in Carolina is that the team simply can’t stay consistent. The Panthers were one of the best teams in the NFL to finish the 2012 season, winning their final four games and five out of the last six. However, they greatly underwhelmed prior to the second half of the season and there’s no telling which team shows up in 2013.
Two things will give the Panthers an edge moving forward: one more offseason of a continuity for a franchise still going through a transitional mode and momentum-boosting wins to finish the 2012 season. The Panthers were able to knock off the NFC South champion Atlanta Falcons, and traveled to Philadelphia, San Diego and New Orleans for three key road wins to finish the season. Those wins will pay huge dividends for a budding team.
LH – Cam Newton is maybe one of the most important players in the NFL, as he’s able to carry the offense on his back with his incredible athletic ability and strong arm. When he’s on, the team is much tougher to handle. That said, will we see Superman Cam Newton more often in 2013, or is Cam resigned to a career of ups and downs?
KC -Without Cam Newton the last two seasons, the Carolina Panthers would have been in contention for the first overall pick in the draft in three straight years. When Newton is playing at his highest level – something that can’t be said for every game – he is one of the NFL’s hardest players to game plan for. He has developed as a passer during his first two seasons, and it will all come down to decision making this season.Newton has enough offensive pieces to get by, as better quarterbacks have done more with worse supporting casts. If Newton can get his completion percentage over 60 percent this season, he will be able to lead more sustained drives, which will translate into success.
LH – I am a doubter of Luke Kuechly, but I will put aside my bias to ask about how he and the front seven of the Panthers is set up for next season. In my eyes, the Cats have assembled a very strong core in the box on defense, how do you believe they’ll perform?
KC – If there’s one thing that gives the Panthers a shot at sneaking into the playoffs this season, it’s their front seven. They put an emphasis on the defensive front in April’s draft, selecting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. They also added linebacker AJ Klein, a rangy side-to-side player who provides value in coverage. All three figure to contribute heavily this season, and Lotulelei in particular figures to make an instant impact.
Ultimately, though, it will come down to Jon Beason and his health. If he can play a full season for the Panthers this season, he’ll help lead the front seven and take it to the next level. Carolina possesses one of the deepest and most talented front sevens in the league, and while it may be young, it figures to keep the rest of defense from getting dominated by opposing offenses this season.
LH – Will the Panthers have a running game apart from Cam Newton in 2013? Can any of the running backs they have brought in prove themselves and make an impact on the offense?
KC – Right now, there should be concern in Carolina when it comes to the running game. While Newton is one of the most dynamic running quarterbacks in the NFL, he can’t reach his full potential without an established, consistent group of running backs. Veterans Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart struggled in 2012, and all signs point to Stewart not being ready for the start of training camp. If Stewart can’t recover from his offseason ankle surgeries, the Panthers may have to rely on Kenjon Barner, who they selected in the sixth round of the draft out of Oregon.
Barner was highly productive in college, but no part of his game screams NFL success. He doesn’t figure to contribute heavily in the NFL, and if he is relied on early this season, the run game could struggle
LH – How do you believe the Panthers will do in their two matchups against the Buccaneers? Will the Bucs be able to sweep again? Or will the Panthers fight back this year?
KC – With the additions the Buccaneers made during the offseason, they figure to be back in the playoff hunt this year, even more than Carolina. Both team’s playoff hopes will come down to divisional play, particularly when they face each other. While the Panthers figure to be an improved group this season, they could be swept yet again by Tampa Bay.It will likely come down to the Tampa Bay offense against the Carolina defense, and Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had two rather successful games against Carolina in 2012. While the front seven of Carolina will be tough to compete against, the Panthers did little to improve their pass defense during the offseason. Freeman figures to have success against Carolina again this season, and while a series split is more likely, another Tampa Bay sweep is certainly possible.