By Tom Krasniqi
The 0-6 Bucs are on the national stage Thursday night as they host the 3-3 Carolina Panthers from Raymond James Stadium at 8:25pm (620 WDAE, 95.3FM, 103.5FM). Tampa Bay has dropped 11 of their last 12 dating back to last season. Meanwhile after a 0-2 start, Carolina has won 3 of their last 4.
The Bucs are 0-3 at home with losses to the Saints, Cardinals and Eagles. Two of those losses came at the very end. The Bucs are 0-3 this season in games decided by three points or loss and 0-6 since head coach Greg Schiano took the job. Last season, the Bucs swept the season series from the Panthers.
Carolina’s defense, especially their front seven, has been very impressive this season. Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy each have four sacks. Rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short have done a nice job of plugging up the middle and allowing stud middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to fly around. Kuechly leads the team with 48 tackles and also has two interceptions. Linebacker Thomas Davis has been reborn after multiple ACL surgeries. He’s second on the team in tackles (47) and has three sacks.
The Bucs offense could have a hard time moving the ball. Carolina is in the top 5 in rush and pass defense. Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will make his fourth start and he’s progressing with each game. Last week, he completed 26 of 44 passes for 256 yards and two scores. However, he will be without the services of running back Doug Martin (shoulder). Expect to see plenty of Mike James and Brian Leonard in his place. Wideout Vincent Jackson has a good rapport with Glennon. Over the last two games, Jackson has 19 catches for 252 yards and four touchdowns. He was targeted a whopping 22 times last week in Atlanta. The Bucs will need to get WR Mike Williams and tight end Tim Wright more involved against Carolina.
The Panthers’ offense has been efficient and effective. Last week in the win over the Rams, quarterback Cam Newton completed 15 of 17 passes. Their running game has been physical with Newton pounding the ball along with running backs Mike Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams. Carolina is averaging 130 yards rushing per game. It’s a good thing the Bucs are stingy in rush defense, allowing under 90 yards rushing per contest. When Newton throws it, he’ll be looking for WR Steve Smith who caught his 800th career pass last week. One would think Darrelle Revis will be matched up against Smith but it won’t be all the time. Wideouts Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are the deep threats and tight end Greg Olsen is an underrated pass catcher.
The Bucs have to find a way to apply pressure on Newton or else it will be a long night. Tampa Bay has just 2 sacks in the last 105 pass plays and they did not sack Matt Ryan last week. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy puts it all on his shoulders: “I’m kind of taking it on myself to get something done.” Someone has to. Or else the Bucs will be 0-7 by midnight.
Prediction: The Panthers are clicking on both sides of the ball. Newton is more poised in the pocket and playing within the structure of offensive coordinator Mike Shula’s offense. The Bucs defense has been rattled the last two weeks in allowing opposing QBs to complete 73% of their passes. Their struggles will continue on Thursday night. The Panthers defense will harass Glennon. It’ll be all Carolina, 27-10.