TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get their do-over against the Carolina Panthers this weekend as they try to avenge a 42-28 loss this month and pull themselves out of a 4-7 hole. The Panthers are trying to stop a three-game losing streak that’s dropped them to 6-5.
What can the Bucs take from their Week 9 loss to help them this go-around with Jameis Winston under center? What has allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks to have an edge on the Panthers, sending them on a downward spiral, and how can the Bucs capitalize?
“I felt like even though they were a one-high [safety] team, Eric Reid was coming to me no matter what. And then [cornerback James] Bradberry was just underneath pressing me,” said Evans, who saw one of Fitzpatrick’s passes sail over his head and into Reid’s hands.
As for Bradberry — you could see his physicality with Evans at the line of scrimmage — his hands were all over him. Even on plays when Evans was able to get off the line and beat him, Bradberry was still able to use his body length to disrupt passes.
“I’ve gotta be better, more physical, and I gotta be faster and stronger — I think I will be this time,” said Evans, who rebounded with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games the past two weeks, which included going up against Richard Sherman last week.
Overall, the Panthers’ secondary matched up well with the Bucs. Cornerback Donte Jackson limited DeSean Jackson to just two catches for 32 yards and picked off Fitzpatrick on a pass intended for No. 11.
Winston, who was much more decisive and quick in his decision-making last week, could benefit from using receiver Adam Humphries and running back Jacquizz Rodgers by checking down, which he did in Sunday’s 27-9 win against the 49ers.
“Against the Panthers I had some good opportunities,” said Humphries, who had eight catches for 82 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Carolina. “That’s the biggest thing with avoiding turnovers, taking what’s there, taking the checkdown as opposed to forcing it deep down the field where you know bad things can happen.”
The general feeling in the Bucs’ locker room is that they’re a pretty difficult team to stop when they start fast and don’t turn the ball over.
“It’s not like we’ve been overmatched all year. It just comes down to players playing better. I don’t know if that makes it any easier,” tight end Cameron Brate said. “I think it’s more frustrating knowing that we have that ability to move the ball down the field, score points, protect the football and win games — we just haven’t been able to do it, so hopefully we build off of what we started Sunday.”
Last week, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had success hitting wide receivers Tyler Lockett and David Moore with the deep ball, exploiting the absence of Donte Jackson, who left the game with an injury (he was replaced by Corn Elder and Captain Munnerlyn, who are both traditionally nickelbacks). Jackson’s status this week is up in the air.
The Panthers also struggled in getting pressure with four rushers, which has been a recurring theme over the past three weeks. In that span, they made contact with the quarterback just nine times — 24th in the league — and only two of those were not blitzes, suggesting Winston might be able to hit some deep shots early to keep the Panthers honest.
Against the Lions, the big issue for the Panthers’ defense was missing tackles, particularly against rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, who saw 61 of his 97 yards from scrimmage come after contact — sixth-most in the league.
In Week 10, Carolina surrendered a whopping five touchdown passes to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had just three incomplete passes. The Panthers’ red zone defense has been a problem throughout the season, and it was a huge problem that night, allowing the Steelers to convert all four of their red zone trips into touchdowns.