Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Preparing for the Carolina Panthers


Even with a losing record (1-2) through three weeks of the 2015 NFL season, the Bucs are undefeated in the NFC South by virtue of their week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Lovie Smith wants to take advantage of an opportunity to beat the Carolina Panthers for the first time as the Bucs head coach and improve to 2-0 in the division.

That will be no easy task as the Panthers have started their season 3-0. despite losing no. 1 WR Kelvin Benjamin to a torn ACL in August. Carolina boasts the fourth-best defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. If the Bucs had trouble moving the ball against the Texans 13th-ranked defense, things are only going to get harder come Sunday.

The one bit of good news is that while Carolina ranks fifth against the pass, they come in at just 15th against the run. If we’ve learned anything about the Bucs offense this season its that Jameis Winston needs a solid ground game before he can really make things happen.

Winston called Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly one of the best players in the league on Wednesday, but the status of the 2013 DPOY is still uncertain due to a concussion that has held him out of the last two games.

Whether he plays or not, though, the Bucs will still have their hands full against the Panthers stingy defense. Bucs OC Dirk Koetter knows his offense will have to play a whole lot better to have success.

"“They’re a top-notch defense,” he said on Wednesday."

Winston said that Panthers QB Cam Newton has helped him a lot since coming into the NFL. He said they’ve talked a few times and Newton has encouraged him to be himself, which he has done. With limited options in the passing game, Newton has put the offense on his back during the team’s 3-0 start.

Newton has rushed 31 times for 144 yards and two TDs in the first three games of this year. Keeping Newton in the pocket and forcing him to throw the ball to receivers like Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. will be a huge priority for the Bucs defense Sunday. If Newton does escape the pocket, sound tackling will be key to limiting the damage he can do on the ground.

A win Sunday would give the Bucs their first victory at home since 2013 and improve the team to 2-2, matching their win total from 2014. It would also keep the Bucs from falling to 1-3, a hole that would prove extremely difficult to climb out of. And most of all, a victory over the Panthers would take the Bucs to 2-0 in the division, something that could go a long way if the Bucs do find themselves in the NFC South title race later this year.

Next: 3 Best Moments from week 3