2016 Buccaneers’ Season Preview: Week Five at Carolina

Jun 15, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes the ball at the practice field at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 15, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) passes the ball at the practice field at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

We continue our look ahead at the Buccaneers’ 2016 schedule with a preview of week five, and a primetime date with the NFC champs.

It’s almost time for Buccaneers’ football to begin once again.  In less than two weeks, rookies and veterans will descend upon One Buc Place, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the doldrums of the off-season are finally coming to an end.  Soon enough, the lights will go on for September 11th, and the regular season will be underway.

With that, let’s move ahead with our season previews.

Over the last several days and weeks, we have been looking at the upcoming Bucs’ schedule, game by game.  Recent previews have included week two, three and four.  One thing is for certain, that the Bucs’ schedule doesn’t start out easy.  Well, as we move into week five, it doesn’t get any easier.

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Week five is an appearance on Monday Night Football, and the first of two dates with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.  Yep, those Panthers.  Time to go up against everyone’s favorite dabbing quarterback, although according to multiple reports, Cam Newton is retiring the “Dab” in favor of a new dance.  Like him or not, he was named the top player in the league by his peers for a reason.

He’s tough.

So have been the Panthers throughout history.  In 31 previous matchups, the Panthers have won twenty, including both games in 2015.  In fact, the Bucs haven’t beaten their rivals since November of 2012, when they won an overtime contest on a fifteen yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Dallas Clark.

The first key to this game will be Jameis Winston, and his ability to protect the football.  The Panthers led the league in interceptions with 24, with Kurt Coleman leading the way with seven, and Josh Norman posting four of his own.  Norman took back two of those for touchdowns.  Everyone remembers Winston’s four interception performance last October.  Ironically, he only threw two interceptions in the second game and it was a blowout loss, but that doesn’t diminish the need to protect that football.

The Panthers can be thrown on a bit.  Last year, quarterbacks completed 60% of their passes against the conference champs.  They are going to have to get it done with a balanced attack, and that means Doug Martin needs to be big.  He went over 100 yards in the opening contest in 2015, but was held to 48 yards in the season ender.  They must be balanced to keep the likes of Luke Kuechly in check.  In addition to being the team’s leading tackler, he posted four interceptions.

A big game out of him spells trouble for Tampa Bay.

On defense, they have to contain Cam Newton.  It’s easy to say but difficult to accomplish.  His receivers aren’t particularly scary.  Kelvin Benjamin is coming off of a major injury and Devin Funchess hasn’t risen to that level yet, although he did have a 120 yard performance against the Bucs’ defense last year.  The newly-improved pass rush will have to get to Cam and not let him extend plays.  Defensive backs can only cover for so long, and if he can move around, guys will be open downfield.

One could argue that the Panthers’ biggest threat in the passing game is Greg Olsen.  His 77 receptions for 1,104 yards and seven touchdowns led the team by a wide margin, other than Ted Ginn‘s ten touchdowns.  Kwon Alexander and company will have their hands full when Olsen comes down the seam.

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Can the Bucs pull the upset?  Sure, but it will take a great deal of work.