The Carolina Panthers defense actually put forth a respectable performance against the Los Angeles Rams high octane offense. It wasn’t perfect—the Rams broke off a few big runs and converted too many third downs, but the Panthers still limited the defending NFC champs to 4.8 yards per play, the ninth best mark of the opening week’s slate of games. That’s very good when you consider the quality of the opposition.
Thursday night’s clash with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be a little easier. The Bucs had one of the most explosive offenses in the league last year, but the Fitz-magic is gone and there’s a new offense to be learned. That offense didn’t look good in Week 1, trudging along to just 4.5 yards per play while Jameis Winston threw more touchdowns to the opposing team than he did his own.
Both teams only have three days to prepare for one another, so there’s a good chance we see a lot of the same strengths and weaknesses we saw on opening weekend. Here’s what the Panthers can do to parlay those into a tasty W.
- Sack the quarterback. The Panthers only sacked Jared Goff one time, and that was on a freelance play by James Bradberry. However, the Panthers did tally six hits on the Rams quarterback, suggesting they were close to getting home. Jameis Winston averaged 3.02 seconds between snap and throw in Week 1, third highest in the league. Goff, for comparison, averaged 2.68 seconds between snap and throw. If the Panthers can generate pressure as quickly as they did against the Rams, they’ll get several sacks on Winston.
- The secondary has to be ready to play the ball. Jameis makes mistakes, no matter who his coach is. He threw three interceptions on Sunday, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The final one came on a screen pass and was such a bad decision that it left Ronde Barber completely befuddled on the broadcast. Winston threw an interceptable pass on 17.6% of his pass attempts on Sunday. The back seven will have opportunities to make plays. They need to make them.
- Seal the left side of the field against the run. Ronald Jones led the Buccaneers backfield with 75 yards on 13 carries. Almost all of his success came to the defense’s left.
The Panthers know where the Bucs like to run Jones and should prepare accordingly.
This is a very winnable game for the Panthers, especially with it being at home on a Thursday night. The Buccaneers are still working out the kinks of their new offense, which puts the Panthers in a prime position to capitalize and get their first win of the season.