They grow up so fast...
The last time the Carolina Panthers faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers it was week one; a time where optimism abounded, and the Panthers were supposed to waltz to a fairly easy victory against a team still finding their legs. Fast-forward to week 11, and now the Buccaneers are everything we wish our Panthers were, and they're now a vastly superior football team. Rob Chudzinki's offense continues to struggle, Newton continues to regress, and the running backs continue to do nothing. Will the addition of Jeremy Bridges be enough to stop the bleeding?
X-Factor: Cam Newton
A picture of inconsistency, Cam Newton may not be getting any help from his offensive line, but he's not helping himself either. Over ten starts Newton has posted a QB rating of 100, or better on three occasions, a QB rating of 60, or worse on three occasions, and the remaining have been a melange of mediocrity. There's a fun stat floating around about how the Panthers cannot win when Newton turns over the ball, and while this does show that the Panthers can't afford their QB to make mistakes, it also points to the tip of a larger iceberg-- when Cam makes mistakes, he makes them in bunches. Four games this season (eight in his career) he has thrown multiple interceptions, which is almost a third of his total starts. What's worse, when Cam gets out of rhythm early he is unable to turn it back around.
Thankfully this week reeks of being a confidence booster for the second-year quarterback. Tampa Bay have not found their footing in the secondary yet, and as such are allowing a league-high 321 yards through the air. Jeremy Bridges certainly isn't the Panthers' savior, but he's markedly better than starting undrafted free agents at right guard, and right tackle.
Carolina pass offense vs. Tampa Bay pass defense
Giving a quarterback the edge, and an entire phase of the offense the edge are very different beasts. This week there's confidence that Cam Newton can get back on track, but will the supporting cast make their presence known?
One area the Buccaneers are really struggling (thankfully) is their pass rush. With just 15 sacks in ten games, only three teams have done a worse job getting to opposing quarterbacks. The loss of Adrian Clayborn really derailed their pass rush, and had Greg Schiano been able to pair the sophomore defensive end with standout Michael Bennett, this would be a very different discussion-- but as it stands they're going to have a hard time getting to Cam.
Overall their defense is trending upwards, and as Lavonte David and Mark Barron develop they'll only get better. This year, however, they're not equipped to stop the Panthers' passing game, provided Newton is on target which I think he will be.
Carolina run offense vs. Tampa Bay run defense
We can get this one out of the way quickly-- the Panthers have no chance.
More likely a scheme issue, than a talent one, the result is the same; the Carolina Panthers run offense is abysmal. Starting Jonathan Stewart was a wise move, but the packages they're running out of aren't doing either back any favors. We may see an impressive run here or there, but overall this unit cannot move the ball regularly, or effectively. Cam Newton is dangerous with his legs, but he hasn't been making defenders miss in open space the way we saw his rookie year, likely a product of teams preparing better for the Panthers' quarterback.
Meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The NFL's best run defense. Granted, they're not run on a lot (only 206 attempts this year) and that's largely due to their struggling pass defense, but when teams attempt to run on the Bucs it doesn't go well. Teams are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry against their defense, and they are able to stifle teams.