The Carolina Panthers are one of seven teams headed into week four with an undefeated record and as the team heads to the sunshine state to play Tampa Bay they intend to keep it that way. Cam Newton admitted that it feels good to be 3-0, but the team is focused on finding ways to make it 4-0.
“Those guys (Buccaneers) are very rangy. Gerald McCoy is a person that we do have to take into account and will take into account. Lovie Smith is a great coach that coaches his players extremely great as far as technique and disguising them. We have to be on the up and up in understanding what to expect and have answers for.”
One of the answers Carolina may have on Sunday will be with their pass rush, which they hope will get a boost from recently acquired veteran Jared Allen who often looked out of place in Chicago’s 3-4 defense.
“That’s just where I feel comfortable. I understand the game with my hand on the ground. I feel like I can play faster, stronger. I have better leverage, I have better technique. This is where my heart and my home is, in a 4-3 defense.”
For many, the Panthers are overwhelming favorites, but like players’ contracts and team loyalty, nothing in the NFL is guaranteed. Here are the specific players who will need to have an impact if Carolina will win Sunday.
Players to Watch
In my previous previews I’ve stayed away from stating the obvious. Cam Newton is always a player to watch. But this week I’m naming him in my preview for one simple reason – he is arguably the entire Panthers’ offense. Of course he can’t throw and catch the ball himself, but he certainly does almost everything else and with limited playmakers on offense he’ll have to continue his MVP-like play against an upset-minded Buccaneers team desperate to get a win at home for the first time in 10 games. I expect Lovie Smith’s defense to throw the house at Newton in attempts to pressure him into making mistakes, but Newton will have to continue to remain patient with his throws, while picking the right time to run. Basically he’ll need to keep doing what he’s been doing.
All eyes will be on the newest Panther Sunday. Jared Allen was once one of the league’s best pass rushers and Carolina signed him this week with hopes that the 33-year old still has a little left in the tank. Getting his feet wet against Tampa’s banged up offensive line may be the best way to get rolling.
Jonathan Stewart has had some nice runs this season, but the Panthers’ feature back has yet to rush for 100 yards. This could be his week against a Tampa defense that is ranked 30th in the NFL in stopping the run – allowing 138 rushing yards per game. A strong ground attack will certainly take pressure off of Newton to make all of the plays and set a good tone heading into the team’s bye week.
Carolina will be without defensive leader Luke Kuechly for the third straight game. So far, the defense has performed respectably in his absence and they will need to continue that against Tampa. I suspect Smith’s game plan will be to get Doug Martin going as much as possible so that they don’t have to count on Winston to make plays on third down to sustain drives, which so far this season hasn’t been very successful. If the Panthers can take away the run while getting pressure on Winston in third down situations, Carolina will be on their way to 4-0 for the first time since their 2003 Super Bowl run.
Inside the Numbers
Yards Per Game
Passing Yards Per Game
Rushing Yards Per Game
Points Per Game
Total Yards Allowed Per Game
Passing Yards Per Game Allowed
Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed
Points Per Game Allowed
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX, with Chris Myers and Ronde Barber announcing for the third time this season
Prediction: I don’t think it will be the cakewalk everyone thinks it will be, because no desperate team is, but I do think Carolina will get the win. Panthers: 24 Tampa Bay: 17