TIME TO PUT UP OR SHUTUP!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are heading northeast to North Carolina for their first of two meetings with the division rival Carolina Panthers. Both teams are struggling and looking for answers right now. And both teams are having trouble finding them.
These are two teams wanting to go totally different directions. The Panthers are obviously in “rebuild mode” and maybe even playing for the #1 pick in the 2023 draft. The Bucs are still hoping to get to their second Super Bowl in three years. We’ll see if both teams play like that today. So let’s dive into this NFC South matchup between the Buccaneers and the Panthers.
At 1-5, Carolina possesses the worst record in the NFL this season. Their only win so far came at the expense of the 2-5 New Orleans Saints in Week 3. They’ve now lost three straight games to the Cardinals, 49ers and Rams scoring 16 or less points in each game.
They are officially in rebuilding mode now after trading away their top two offensive weapons this past week. Running back Christian McCaffrey, their leading rusher (393 yds/2 tds) AND receiver (277 yds/1 td), is now in San Francisco. And wide receiver Robbie Anderson, their second leading receiver (206 yds/1 td), is now in Arizona. And they just fired their head coach AND their defensive coordinator as well. It’s a mess in Charlotte.
This team is truly struggling this season as they are dead last in the NFL in total offense averaging just 260 total yards and 17 points per game. And that was WITH Mayfield, McCaffrey and Anderson. They are 20th in total defense allowing 357 total yards and 24 points per game.
As if the offense wasn’t in bad enough shape already, backup quarterback PJ Walker will get the start against the Bucs as Baker Mayfield is still out with an ankle injury. No starting QB. No leading rusher. And missing their top two receivers. Even with the way the Bucs have been playing lately, this is going to be an uphill battle for the Panthers.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE: WR DJ Moore
There’s not much left to choose from here. He’s the only player left on the roster with more than 10 catches for the season. I imagine that he’ll be getting plenty of looks on Sunday, so hopefully the Bucs secondary has all their kinks from last week worked out.
DEFENSE: DT Derrick Brown
His normal position is at leftside defensive tackle. However, I have a feeling that they’ll slide Brown over to the right side to line up over Bucs left guard Luke Goedeke. He has been having a rough rookie season so far and it won’t get any easier this week.
At 3-3, Tampa Bay might be one of the most disappointing and underachieving teams in the whole league right now. They were being anointed Super Bowl Champs before the first preseason game kicked off. Maybe all the hype went to their heads. Maybe they went into Pittsburgh a little too confident. Maybe they just weren’t prepared. Maybe they were just outcoached and outplayed. In any case, the Bucs are looking to right the ship and get back into the win column.
Even though Brady has been sacked the fewest times of any starting QB this season, the Bucs offense has had a tough time scoring. Especially in the redzone. They are 21st in offense right now averaging just 332 total yards and 20 points per game. Their defense hasn’t been too bad, ranked 7th (despite the late struggles) allowing just 307 total yards and 17 points per game.
A strong performance on BOTH sides of the football would go a long way with Bucs fans right now. They need some hope. They need some answers. They need some clarity. They want to see Tom Brady’s offense put more than 21 points on the board. They want to see Devin White’s defense keep Carolina out of the endzone. They want to see some good football being played by all three phases. This is as much of an easy win as they’ll see this season, so they need to make it count.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
OFFENSE: LG Luke Goedeke
He’s had a rough rookie season so far. He’s given up 5 sacks in 6 games, which is the third most in the league among guards. He has the second worst pass block win rate and he’s allowed the most pressures in the league. He’s got to start playing better to give this offense a chance to get things going in the right direction.
DEFENSE: LB Devin White
The once rising NFL star linebacker has disappeared this season. His play last week was atrocious as he was out of position on a number of occasions against the Steelers. Most people had big expectations for him this year, but he has not been the same player that he was during that Super Bowl run. He has to find a way to get his fire and swagger back so that he can start playing elite level football again.
1. Tristan Wirfs vs Brian Burns
This should be a fun battle to watch. Both guys are one of the best in the league at their positions, so this could be a back-and-forth match all game.
2. Luke Goedeke vs Derrick Brown
Brown usually lines up on the other side, but it’s not going to surprise me if they put him across from the rookie for most of this game. Goedeke has struggled this season who’s clearly been the weak link in this o-line and Brown is a crafty vet, so this will be a matchup to keep an eye on throughout the game.
3. Todd Bowles vs PJ Walker
The Buccaneers don’t have the best record versus rookie or backup quarterbacks, but Bowles is good at rattling their cage a little bit. It’ll be interesting to see if he some exotic blitzes and coverages to get into Walker’s head in this game.
The Bucs have four players officially ruled “OUT” for this game. Those players are DT Akiem Hicks (foot), TE Cam Brate (neck), WR Julio Jones (knee) and Sean Murphy-Bunting (quad). The only other player listed are CB Carlton Davis (hip), RG Shaq Mason (ankle) and S Mike Edwards (elbow) who are all listed as “QUESTIONABLE” but all should play on Sunday.
Even though quarterback Baker Mayfield (ankle) is listed as “DOUBTFUL” on this report, PJ Walker has already been named the starter against the Bucs. The only other player listed as “DOUBTFUL” is DT Matt Ioannidis. They do have a bunch of guys listed as “QUESTIONABLE” though including WR Laviska Shenault Jr (hamstring) , S Sean Chandler (hamstring), C Pat Elflein (hip), CB CJ Henderson (concussion), CB Jaycee Horn (ribs), CB Donte Jackson (ankle), LB Frank Luvu (shoulder) and OT Taylor Moton (knee).
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. TD’s, Not FG’s!
The redzone has not been kind to the Bucs this season. What was supposed to be a “prolific” offense this season has been anything but that. Tampa Bay has had 62 offensive possessions in 6 games so far and only scored 10 touchdowns and 15 field goals. That’s not gonna cut it.
2. Establish The Run, Stop The Run!
Both sides of the Bucs run game have been terrible lately. They haven’t been able to run the ball consistently because of spotty blocking up front. And they haven’t been able to stop team from running it on defense. They haven’t been winning in the trenches much this year at all, but they’re gonna have to if this team wants to get where they say they want to go.
3. Do Your Job!
A lot of the problems last week were simple breakdowns in the defense. Those breakdowns were due to miscommunication and guys just being out of position. Bowles defensive schemes are brilliant and work well when implemented properly. If they’re not, then you get results like the Steelers game. This should be one of the easiest games this defense will have this entire season, so it’s a good opportunity for them to build some confidence and get some swagger back.
ODDS & ENDS
Tampa Bay -11 and Over/Under is 40 pts
A few weeks ago, this would’ve been an even more lopsided victory for the Bucs. Until they show me this offense can score more than 20 points a game consistently, thats all I’m giving them. I’ve all but lost faith in Tampa Bay at this point. They should’ve beat that bad Steelers team last week, but they didn’t. They should’ve destroyed Atlanta two weeks ago, but they didn’t. Nothing is out of the question right now. I’m picking the Bucs to win this game, but I’m not real confident. My hope is that Tom Brady somehow lit a fire under their ass at some point this week and they get things moving in the right direction with this game. Bucs win.
Bucs 20 Panthers 9
THE WRAP UP
I said I don’t know what to make of this team after the loss to Pittsburgh last week and I still have no clue. A team this talented with this much experience and leadership shouldn’t be playing this much bad football. Is it the coaching? Is it the effort? Is it the injuries? Is it the off-the-field distractions? Is it all of the above? Maybe they bought into the preseason hype a little too much and they just needed a good slap back into reality. Hopefully that’s what that loss last week was and they come to play today.
Carolina is a bad football team that’s planning for a rebuild. They just fired their head coach AND their defensive coordinator. And they just traded their top two offensive weapons. This should be as easy a win as there is in the NFL. We’ll see what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can do with this opportunity. So now that you know all you need to know about the Bucs Week 7 matchup, there’s only one thing left to say.