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The Panthers Take on Division Rival in Tampa

Sharon Thorsland
October 29, 2017 - 11:33 am

The Panthers and their third ranked defense face off against the league's number two offense when they take on the Bucs in Tampa Bay on Sunday. Kick-off is set for 1:00 on WBT. It's been a rough few weeks for the Bucs, who have dropped three straight games to fall to 2-4 on the season. The Panthers have lost two in a row after falling to Chicago last week and are 4-3 on the year.

 

The game features a pair of Heisman Trophy winners and number one draft picks in Cam Newton and Bucs quarterback James Winston. “Famous James” leads a Bucs offense that is averaging nearly 400 yards a contest and a league best 312 passing yards per game. Winston is also putting up big numbers, he's thrown for over 1600 yards and 10 touchdowns with just four interceptions. But it's not just his arm that makes him dangerous. “He makes plays with his legs and also with his arm,” said Panther corner back James Brad berry. “He can sit back there and throw it and beat you and he can also run and throw it and beat you. Anytime you face a dual threat quarterback, you've got to be aware of them throwing the ball and also running it. It's going to be a tough challenge for us.”

 

Winston spreads the ball around to plenty of weapons, starting with Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans. He teams with fellow Pro Bowler and former Redskin Demean Jackson. The Bucs also boast a pair of outstanding tight ends in Cameron Rate and O.J. Howard, the 6-6 rookie out of Alabama. They've combined for over 500 yards and 7 touchdowns. They'll have their hands full with the Panthers' defense, which is allowing just 180 passing yards per game, that's 4th in the NFL. 

 

To say the Bucs have been struggling to run the ball is an understatement – they're next to last in the league managing just 80 yards a game, in spite of boasting a Pro Bowl back in Doug Martin. Of course, the Panthers are having their own difficulties getting the ground game going, with Cam Newton leading the team in rushing the past two games. But that's what makes Newton so dangerous – and the Buck know slowing down the former league MVP won't be easy. “I still believe he's the best escape artist we have in this league,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “He can make plays with his feet, he has one of the strongest arms in the league, and he's just got that 'it' factor.”

 

McCoy and the Buck defense could use some of Cam's “it” factor – they rank near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category, including total defense, passing defense, and points per game. And in spite of having a Pro Bowler anchoring the front line in McCoy, the Bucs' pass rush is almost non-existent, they've managed just 7 sacks, that's last in the league. But they've got some of the best young linebackers in the game, starting with All-Pro Lavonte David. He teams with Kwon Alexander and rookie Kendall Beckwith who leads the team in tackles. The secondary features Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes and veteran Chris Conte at safety. After spending four years in Tampa, Panther receiver Russell Shepard knows this Bucs defense well. “They bend but don't break,” says Shepard. “

 

This game means a little more since it's a division game – it's also a game against one of their biggest rivals. The Panthers have won three of their last four trips to Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs won both match-ups last season. The Panthers would like to stop that streak, and at the same time, get back on the win column.

 

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