Panthers vs. Buccaneers: Key Matchups

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

This week we see two surging teams collide in Charlotte. The Bucs are riding a three game winning streak after starting the season 0-8, while Carolina is riding a seven game winning streak after starting 1-3. While Carolina's streak more than doubles the Bucs' current streak, any fan of either team can tell you that it is no small task to string together wins in the NFL, especially after cold starts. These two teams face very different futures however. Carolina looks for a franchise record eighth straight win while we continue a strong push for playoff contention, even the NFC South crown isn't far from our grasp. The Bucs playoff hopes are gone, as it appears no team with 8 losses will make the NFC playoffs (can't say the same for sure about the AFC). However, this is still a big game, and divisonal matchups are never a gimme. The Bucs could throw a wrench into all of Carolina's plans as we look to build some momentum going into next week's primetime matchup in New Orleans.

Captain Munnerlyn/Drayton Florence vs. Vincent Jackson

Up until last week, our secondary as a unit had performed quite well defending the pass. Before New Englad, no team had game-planned to attack "The Legion of Whom" and been successful. We saw New Englad match Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola on our undrafted free agent starter Melvin White and make him look silly a few times, but in the end Carolina came away with a W and a pretty successful defensive performance against a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Tom Brady. Well, that all changed Sunday. The Dolphins decided to take their 6 foot burner Mike Wallace and match him up against our 5'8" Captain Munnerlyn and chuck the ball deep. And it worked. Twice, almost three times. Drayton Florence did a decent job against Wallace in the second half when the Dolphins tried again, but the cat was out of the bag. The Dolphins rolled Ryan Tannehill out of the pocket on play action to neutralize the pass rush, allowing him time to find Wallace deep down field. I would expect the Bucs to try the same with Glennon.

Glennon's offensive line is undoubtedly better than the Dolphins line at this point, but Glennon's also been susceptible to hearing footsteps and reacting to pressure, even when it isn't there (fantastic film study session by Bucs Nation in the link). Glennon's still a rookie quarterback, so he has a lot of room to develop. The nice thing for them is he has his shiny toy in Vincent Jackson to get the ball to. Jackson tore us up the second time around last season, and I don't see why they wouldn't try to get him heavily involved if they can't get the run going.

Demar Dotson/Donald Penn vs. Mario Addison/Greg Hardy

This marks the second game star defensive end Charles Johnson will miss after suffering a sprained MCL against New England. While Mario Addison had a great game last week, he had it against a Miami defense that was lacking some starters on the line, which is not the case this week. Per All-22 film, Greg Hardy operated primarily at the left defensive end position (over the right tackle), while Mario Addison played right end. This makes a lot of sense since Carolina elected to use Charles Johnson at left end due to his more adept play against the rush. However, Hardy also would go back to right end when Frank Alexander stepped in, as well as kicking inside to under tackle on passing situations.

Addison had an outstanding game against Bryant McKinnie last week, and we will need more of that this week against Donald Penn to help out our struggling corners. Hardy has been outstanding all season, but if we can't get some pass rush out of our depth we may see Tampa Bay focus on locking down Greg Hardy.

Steve Smith vs. Darrelle Revis/Johnthan Banks

Darrelle Revis being questionable for Sunday's game is a big problem for Tampa Bay. Last time he met Steve Smith, Revis was able to hold him to 4 receptions for 42 yards, a respectable number. Revis held Smith in check, but Smith was still able to make some plays and get some first downs when we needed it, something Smith has done all season. This time around, if Revis can't go or is hampered by his injury, Tampa could have a huge problem defending the pass.

The scary thing about this is that Steve Smith hasn't needed to be a big factor to win. This might be the first season I've seen for a long time as a Panthers fan where the Panthers are winning without Steve Smith being in the upper echelon of the league statistically. Cam's spread the ball out well. with four receivers at or nearing 500 yards receiving. However, one thing we HAVE seen from Steve Smith is that he can still victimize younger corners. And if Tampa Bay is forced to play Banks against Smith, his list of children from this season may grow.

Gerald McCoy vs. Nate Chandler/Travelle Wharton

I wrote on this matchup last time, and to be honest nothing has changed. Last game these teams met McCoy was kept relatively quiet. But since the win streak started McCoy has accounted for four sacks (three of which were against Atlanta). While it's tough to look at one game and believe it's an indicator of overall performance, I think we all know who Gerald McCoy is. Atlanta's offensive line has stunk, but I'd probably rather have any of their starting guards over Nate Chandler. Wharton might be able to hold his own, but I have little to no faith that Chandler will be alright against McCoy. Look for our rushing attack and pass protection to be largely schemed against McCoy, as he showed us last year that his presence can make our offense abysmal.

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