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Cam Newton and the resurgent Panthers take on the winless, injury-riddled Bucs
The Carolina Panthers will aim for their third straight win when they face the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a matchup of NFC South teams tonight at 8:25 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. The Panthers limped to a 1-3 start to the season. That seems like a long time ago now that Ron Rivera's team has won two in a row, averaging 33.5 points and 320 total yards in these games. Cam Newton is completing 81 percent of his passes during this stretch. Perhaps even more importantly, the defense has allowed just 30 points and 138 rushing yards during the win streak. No NFL team has allowed fewer total yards this year. With a win tonight, the Panthers also will be above .500 for the first time in Newton's three seasons with the team.
The Buccaneers are in a free fall at 0-6; however, Mike Glennon has offered improved results at the quarterback position. The rookie has improved every game, posting a season-high 90.7 passer rating against Atlanta. Greg Schiano's seat is still scalding hot and it remains to be seen whether he finishes out the season in Tampa Bay.
3 Things to Watch
Steve Smith vs. Darrelle Revis
The is a premier receiver-cornerback matchup. Smith is likely still fired up from his run in with Janoris Jenkins last week, while defensive coordintor Bill Sheridan sarcastically asked Buccaneers fans for help in better utilizing Revis. Revis has been used predominantly in zone coverage, while he is unquestionably the best man-to-man defender in the NFL. Revis is still a force to be reckoned with as he has one interception and two forced fumbles on the year. It will be interesting to see the schemes Tampa Bay uses on the speedy Smith. Revis may have success jamming Smith at the line as he is bigger than Smith and has the makeup speed to keep up with him.
Bucs' Offense Without Doug Martin
The young Glennon must be devastated with the news that he will be unable to lean on his top running back when it was announced Doug Martin will be out indefinitely with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Mike James and Brian Leonard will take over his workload going forward. While Martin was averaging 3.6 yards per carry and had only one touchdown this season, he still rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and remains one of Tampa's most talented offensive weapons. James has only 17 career carries, while Leonard has been used mostly as a third-down receiving option throughout his career. Expect Glennon to struggle against Carolina's fifth-ranked pass defense without the threat of Martin to keep the Panthers honest. Carolina's defense is extremely tough against the run. With defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short along with Luke Kuechly up the middle, the Panthers have been near impossible to run on this year. They boast the NFL's fourth-ranked rush defense, allowing only 84.5 yards per game on the ground. None of this bodes well for a Tampa Bay offense entering this game 31st in both total yards (297.8 per game) and scoring (14.5 points per game).
Panthers' Rush Offense vs. Bucs' Rush Defense
The Bucs' rush defense is just as good as Carolina's. They have the league's fifth-ranked rushing defense, allowing only 88.8 yards per game. The Panthers will prove to be a good test for a front line featuring Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn. Carolina certainly has a devastating one-two punch in DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton, both averaging over four yards a carry. Newton has two rushing touchdowns, while Williams rushed for 291 yards in Carolina's first three contests. He has regressed a bit lately; however, his style of running matches up well against Tampa Bay.
Key Player for Tampa Bay: Vincent Jackson, WR
Glennon has targeted Vincent Jackson 36 times in the last two weeks, with Jackson catching 19 balls for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson had 10 receptions for 138 with no scores in the three games prior to that stretch. He had six catches for 94 yards and a TD during Tampa Bay's 27-21 overtime win at Carolina last Nov. 18 to sweep the 2012 season series.
Key Player for Carolina: Brandon LaFell, WR
LaFell is tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches and provides Newton an option if Smith is plastered by Revis. LaFell has been a surprisingly effective big-play option this year, including a 79-yard touchdown reception earlier in the season.
Short of Jacksonville, Tampa Bay looks to be the NFL's worst team. It is worth noting that the Bucs have lost by an average of just over seven points per game. Mike Glennon is still young and the Panthers' defensive backs should feast on his inexperience. Without Doug Martin I don't think Tampa has a chance here.
Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 15