It has been an up-and-down season and one of inconsistency for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they head to London for a key NFC South matchup with the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs defeated the Panthers in Charlotte 20-13 on a Thursday night in September when they held all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey to 53 yards.
Since that the game, nobody has been able to slow down McCaffrey as he has totaled 193, 179, and 237 total yards in his last three games. When you look at the numbers McCaffrey has generated the last three games, it’s hard to believe the Bucs defense held him down in Week 2.
This will be one of the keys to the game and it is a big one: Don’t let McCaffrey run wild. You won’t stop him, but you sure need to contain him.
The Bucs have done a really nice job defensively when they have keyed in on one player and shut them down. The Bucs shut down McCaffrey in Week 2, Saquon Barkley in Week 3, Todd Gurley in Week 4, and Alvin Kamara last week. The pass defense has been so bad that these running defense numbers have gone largely unnoticed.
Another key to the game will be improved defensive play. The Bucs’ defense ranks 28th, giving up 393 yards a game, most of those passing. The pass defense ranks last in the league, having allowed 324 yards a game, while their run defense is the second best, giving up 70 yards a game.
The Bucs’ defense has given up 499, 518, and 457 yards the last three weeks, respectively. It seems like the defense has taken a step back these last few games with their inability to stop the opponents at key moments in the game.
Another key factor to winning this game will be how the Bucs play on third down on both sides of the ball. The Bucs have allowed teams to convert on 18 of 39 third downs on defense the last few weeks. A lot of those third downs have been third-and-long situations where, if the defense had done its job, the outcome may have been different.
Offensively, the Bucs have converted 15 of 38 third-down conversions over the last three weeks. This number has to improve for the Bucs to start winning on a more consistent basis.
The Bucs also need to have better offensive production. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said that the offense must improve in all phases of the game offensively. The offense seems lightyears away from where they were last year when they had one of the top five offenses in the league.
The Panthers have the fourth-best pass defense in the league, giving up 197 yards a game. This will be a challenge for Jameis Winston in this offense as teams have successfully been able to take receiver Mike Evans out of the game.
Most of Evans’ production came against a porous Giants defense when he had 190 of his 368 season receiving yards. Evans was shut-out for only the second time in his career last week in New Orleans.
The right side of the offensive line will be brand new this week as guard Alex Cappa is out with a broken arm and tackle DeMar Dotson has a hamstring injury. Zack Bailey is slated to start at guard but was seen on crutches in the locker room on Wednesday. Josh Wells will get the start at tackle. This is a concern as the Panthers’ pass rush has significantly improved since the last time the Bucs faced the Panthers. Defensive end Mario Addison leads the Panthers with 6.5 sacks. As a team, the Panthers are averaging four sacks a game.
Rookie linebacker Devin White will get the start at middle linebacker. This will be White’s first game since he suffered a knee injury in the Thursday night game against Carolina.
Rookie cornerback Jamel Dean, who has been hampered by injuries most of the season, is ready to go and should get some playing time on Sunday.
Carolina rookie quarterback Kyle Allen has done a nice job filling in for the injured Cam Newton. Allen has done a great job managing the game and has not thrown an interception in his three starts. Allen has performed so well that there is talk in Charlotte that Cam Newton may sit on the bench when he is ready to return as the Panthers are 3-0 since Kyle Allen stepped in at quarterback.
The Bucs’ defense will need to get some pressure on the young quarterback, get him off his game, and try to force him into making some mistakes.
This is a game the Bucs can win and should win. A loss to the Panthers would put the Bucs 1-2 in the division with three games to go and would reduce their chances of having any shot at winning the division.
The Bucs should do enough to win this game, but it won’t be pretty.
The defense will play better and the offense will do just enough to get the win in London, 21-18.