Thursday Night Preview
Buccaneers offense vs. Panthers defense
One thing—or maybe THE one thing—that Bucs fans can be encouraged about is the play of Mike Glennon. Aside from a handful of typical rookie misreads, the third-rounder has been uncommonly poised in a vertically inclined passing system that demands he hang in the pocket. Glennon has all the instincts and tools of a classic dropback quarterback. Style-wise, there are similarities to Joe Flacco. (That is, when Glennon isn’t throwing deep; he must significantly improve his downfield accuracy, especially outside the numbers.)
We’ll see if Glennon can remain poised now that the opposing defense don’t have to worry much about the run. The likely absence of Doug Martin hurts. With good help from lead-blocking fullback Erik Lorig, this front five can still be decent enough to give rookie Mike James consistent shots at success. More likely, though, the Bucs will have to expand their aerial attack. Carolina’s speedy linebacking corps is tough to run against.
Carolina’s secondary can be exploited, but only if the dynamic front four it plays behind can be contained. Defensive end Greg Hardy (who also plays inside on some passing downs) might be the biggest breakout star of 2013. (Not that he wasn’t an emerging player before this contract year.) The Bucs’ pass protection has improved over the past two weeks, thanks in part to the team’s willingness to keep extra backs and tight ends in to help. Max protection is pretty much mandatory given the downfield nature of this passing game.
Panthers offense vs. Buccaneers defense
Cam Newton has completed 76.9 and 88.2 percent of his passes over the last two weeks, lifting Carolina back to .500 and applying some much-needed coolants to head coach Ron Rivera’s seat. Carolina’s last two opponents, Minnesota and St. Louis, both play very standard zone-based defense. It just so happens, that’s exactly what Tampa Bay generally plays.
The Bucs’ zones, however, are stocked with better defensive backs than Newton has seen lately. Even though Darrelle Revis is not playing a lot of man, he’ll likely follow Steve Smith around. That means there will be instances that require Newton to go deeper into his progressions and look for ancillary, or even dump-off, targets. Those are usually the situations where Newton becomes undisciplined and mistake-prone.
Another big propagator of Carolina’s recent success has been DeAngelo Williams, who looks close to his 2008-09 version. The Bucs, with their athletic D-line slants and the instinctive downhill linebacking of Lavonte David, can be difficult to run against—especially when safeties Dashon Goldson and/or Mark Barron missile into the box (though Goldson is likely out this game). This will be a revealing indicator of where Carolina’s somewhat gimmicky rushing attack really is.