The Carolina Panthers have a lot of momentum coming off of two big wins against the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings, momentum they hope will continue as they open their division schedule against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both teams started the season 0-2 and have dealt with major injury issues and quarterback inconsistency, the difference is that the Panthers have rebounded behind an efficient passing game and a dominant defense while the Bucs have floundered despite talent on both sides of the ball. The Panthers must be careful not to take this game lightly as they prepare for the Atlanta Falcons next week, because Tampa Bay is now a desperate team with nothing to lose. Here are the key matchups:
Star Lotulelei vs. Davin Joseph
Joseph is one of the premier right guards in the game, but he has been hampered by injuries for much of the season, and it will be difficult to get the run game going without breakout back Doug Martin against a stout Panthers front seven. The Buccaneers will concentrate on the passing game and will try to utilize Mike Glennon‘s arm to stretch the field, and that can only happen if the Bucs’ offensive line can give Glennon a clean pocket. Lotulelei has been a force on the inside this season, consistently getting penetration with a devastating bull rush if Lotulelei and his partner in crime Kawann Short can get penetration, it’s going to be a long day for the Bucs.
Cam Newton vs. Darrelle Revis
Revis may not be the same player he was with the New York Jets, but he is still one of the premier cover corners in the NFL. Steve Smith will have more than his share of problems getting open on Revis island, so it will be up to Newton to throw Smith open. Newton hasn’t exactly made a name for himself with his accuracy, but he certainly has the arm strength to fit throws into tight windows. If Cam can continue to be as accurate as he has been during the last few games then Smith rack up catches, and the Panthers offense will run smoothly.
Gerald McCoy vs. Ryan Kalil
The Panthers aren’t the only team with a monster in the middle, and Buccaneers’ man up front is older and wiser. McCoy took some time to round into form after struggling with injuries during his first few years, but he has begun to recall memories of Warren Sapp in Tampa with his penetration ability. Kalil was injured all of last year but he has returned to form this year, spearheading the Panthers’ potent running attack. Kalil will need to keep McCoy out of the backfield if the Panthers offense is going to be successful, because another performance like last week against the Rams interior line will spell doom for the Panthers’ newfound success.