WHO: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
WHEN: Tonight, 8:25 p.m.
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
TV: NFL Network; WMOR, Channel 32
RADIO: WDAE (620 AM) (95.3 FM), WFUS (103.5 FM)
THREE KEYS TO VICTORY
Win Battle in the Trenches
The Carolina Panthers have one of the best defensive front sevens in the league. They allow only 84.5 yards per game, which is fourth in the league. The Bucs have a run-oriented offense, and they are not expected to veer from that even with RB Doug Martin out with a shoulder injury. The Bucs have the talent up front to win this matchup. But to neutralize defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, they have to get better play out of G Davin Joseph and LT Donald Penn. Joseph and Penn are the remaining Pro Bowlers on Tampa Bay’s line, but neither has played at that level consistently this year.
Be Sharp in the Passing Game
Bucs QB Mike Glennon has completed 58.5 percent of his passes. While that’s not a bad completion percentage for a rookie, he might have to be sharper with his throws against Carolina. The Panthers don’t have an exceptionally good secondary, but their front seven is very good and, led by Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, their linebackers are among the league’s best in coverage. They stick to receivers well and make it hard for quarterbacks to complete short and intermediate passes. The Bucs have leaned on those types of routes since Glennon took over in Week 4. He’s consistently hit his targets in stride and given them throws they can make plays with.
Stop Beating Yourself
If the Bucs could count the games in which they’ve beaten themselves as wins, they’d probably be 4-2 instead of 0-6. Almost every game ended with the Bucs lamenting their “self-inflicted wounds,’’ and rightfully so. After committing 11 more penalties for 103 yards last week against Atlanta, Tampa Bay ranks third in the league with 54 penalties and first in penalty yards with 516. Those numbers, though, are just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger problem is the timing and the nature of the penalties. Four of the 11 against the Falcons came when the offense was in the red zone and two wiped out touchdowns. Penalties on both sides of the ball are costing the Bucs not only points, but also victories.
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Bucs secondary: Bucs defensive backs have allowed several balls to sail over their heads in recent weeks, and that could be a problem yet again. Even at 34, Smith remains one of the fastest and most dangerous wideouts in the league. He often works from the slot, which means he could spend the night matched up against Leonard Johnson, a second-year nickel corner. Johnson has matched up well against speed receivers in the past. He was particularly strong against Percy Harvin during a Thursday night game at Minnesota last year. Johnson doesn’t have the speed to stay with Smith downfield, but he can win this battle by utilizing sound technique and strength to reroute Smith at or near the line of scrimmage. With a little help from the safeties over the top in zone coverages, Johnson needs to limit Smith’s big-play ability.
At 0-6 the Bucs are beyond frustrated. They have reached a point where they are simply confounded by their inability to break their losing streak. A Thursday night game might seem like the absolute last thing Tampa Bay needs, but it actually is welcomed. The short work week forced the Bucs to immediately put Sunday’s loss to Atlanta behind them and focus on the Panthers, greatly reducing time spent dwelling on their latest setback. That’s not a bad thing. The mistakes that led to that loss are the same ones that have plagued them all season, so most are eager to get right back on the field and prove themselves capable of eliminating them. The Bucs remain a confident team, but their biggest challenge is to play with confidence.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH: CB JOHNTHAN BANKS
Q: Growing up in Mississippi, how would you describe Southern hospitality?
A: It’s very real. No disrespect to the people up north, but in the South you see people outside your workplace that you don’t even know saying, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ It’s different up north. I’ve always been nice to people, that’s just the way I was raised in the South.
Q: Your locker is next to Darrelle Revis. Do you ever get tired of hearing the man talk?
A: No, I’ve learned so much from sitting beside Darrelle, and not just about football, but life in general. He’ll talk about anything and everything and he makes a lot of sense. He’s an elite player, he’s been successful, so why not listen to him?
Q: You are known to love horses. What can people learn from being around them?
A: Whatever you want to learn. I’ve been around horses all my life and I enjoy it. They know a lot about me and I know a lot about them. They are very intelligent animals. You’ll be amazed if you really look into it.
Q: How good a baseball player were you in high school before signing with Mississippi State?
A: I was part of two state championship baseball teams back in high school. I put it behind me once I got to college and focused strictly on football, but we had a dominant high school program. I played center field and shortstop and I was really good. Right-handed batter with a little speed.
Q: What are your hopes for your 1-year-old son Keidan?
A: I just hope he grows up to be a man. He doesn’t have to be me, I just want him to be very respectful. I’d like him to play football, but if he doesn’t want to, I hope he goes out and leads his life to the fullest, respecting women and honoring God.
Roy Cummings: Bucs, 23-18. Short work week helps Bucs end long losing streak.
Ira Kaufman: Panthers, 21-10. Bucs O-line will struggle against an elite defense.