NFC SOUTH Preview: Panthers vs. Buccaneers in London
By Steve Moore
We head into the second London game that is just one 34-yard field goal from being a battle between two 3-2 NFC South sides.
As it is, Matt Gay missed that chip-shot against the Giants and the Buccaneerss have rotated wins and loses to be 2-3, including beating the Panthers side they face on Sunday in Charlotte on Thursday Night Football.
Given that loss-win pattern, allied with the fact they have already turned the Panthers over, surely a Buccaneers victory will be on the cards in North London come Sunday night?
A different QB for the Panthers this time
Well a lot has changed since that Thursday Night Football. For starters, Kyle Allen has taken the place of Cam Newton at QB. Newton may have passed for 333 yards against the Buccaneers but was obviously injured during that game and was consistently missing open targets, hence a completion percentage under 50%.
Since Kyle Allen has gone under centre after the Week 2 meeting they have performed a Houdini act to rescue the season as they have rattled off three-straight wins. Whilst Allen has shown a propensity to fumble the ball (6 times in 3 starts, 4 lost), when he actually gets his passes off, he has been very accurate, finishing with a 70%+ completion percentage in two of his three starts and is yet to throw an interception. This suggests that the Buccaneers secondary will have to be much tighter in coverage. Something that might be even harder if their best corner, Carlton Davis III, is suspended for a helmet to helmet hit that saw him ejected from Sunday’s game against the Saints.
The Christian McCaffrey Effect
The Buccaneers actually won the Week 2 game thanks to a 4th and short stop of Christian McCaffrey though and despite their secondary problems the run defense is more than stout. “Run-CMC” has been wildly tipped as an MVP candidate the way he has played since that TNF clash but the Bucs held him to just 37 yards on 16 carriers.
This was no one time thing as the Bucs have proved it time and time again in recent weeks when running a gauntlet of running backs more difficult than trying to get through the one challengers used to have to tackle on ‘Gladiators’!
Starting with McCaffrey, they then faced Saquon Barkley and while he got injured he has gone for just 10 yards on eight carriers before he did so. They followed that up with a Rams running game featuring Todd Gurley and they went for 28 yards on 11 carriers. Finally, they broke down a little against Alvin Kamara in giving up 3.9 yards a carry, but that was still the second best performance against him this season.
“Run-CMC” has run for 422 yards in the three games since Kyle Allen started in week 3 and if the Bucs can hold him to anything close to that week 2 tally, we will learn a lot more about Allen as a QB.
Can the Buccaneers bounce back?
Meanwhile, any neutral that watches the 55-40 Buccaneers victory over the Rams, will be looking forward to an absolute offensive showcase on Sunday. It’s easy to see why too, Jameis Winston throwing for almost 400 yards and 4 TD’s, Chris Godwin all over the field for 172 of them, Mike Evans being Mike Evans and second-year running back Ronald Jones II suddenly ripping off the type of runs they drafted him for.
The reason for that though is that it was probably the best offensive-line display by a Buccaneers unit in some time as they held the Rams to just two sacks, neither of which came from Aaron Donald who they managed to make a non-entity.
One week later and things look very different. The Saints were having fun in the Buccaneers backfield on almost every play. The six sacks stat-line doesn’t even begin to tell the story as Winston was running for his life on most plays almost as soon as he received the ball.
Things probably won’t be looking up for the Buccaneers on the line either. Aging right tackle Demar Dotson was struggling with hamstring and calf injuries throughout the Saints game and eventually was replaced by Josh Wells who was badly beaten up by the Saints line. Meanwhile, right guard Alex Cappa hurt his arm halfway through the second quarter and was not the same thereafter. That’s not surprising though when it was found after the game that his arm was broken! Former Buc Gerald McCoy will no doubt be looking forward to facing an entirely different right side of the line after making just one tackle for loss in week 2.
It’s not just the offensive line that was shown up and knocked around by the Saints. Shaqu Barrett looked unblockable for the first four weeks of the season. Nine sacks, three forced fumbles, seven tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits and an interception won him NFC defensive player of the month for September and talk about record setting numbers. Sean Payton showed up double-teaming him six times, playing six offensive linemen on another ten and the end result was just one solo tackle and one assist from the man they had begun to nickname ‘Sack’ Barrett.
I’m sure Norv Turner was looking on in interest.
The Final Word
As NFL fans head up from Seven Sisters on Sunday the Carolina Panthers have the chance to effectively make the NFC South a two-horse race, spiralling the Bucs to 2-4, squaring the series against them and keeping up the pace set by the Saints.
For the Bucs to avoid such a fate, they will need their run defense to reproduce the performance in Carolina, the rest of the front seven to step up in pass-rush to compliment and take the heat off ‘Sack’ Barrett and Earl Watford and Josh Wells to produce career days on the right side of the offensive line.
If they don’t get that? It’ll be 0-3 in London for the Bucs and will leave them looking to the 2020 draft already, with Bruce Arians questioning why on earth he came back.
Image credit: USA Today