Bucs vs. Panthers: 10 Key Matchups To Watch – Yardbarker

10 Key Matchups in Bucs vs. Panthers game is presented by Age Rejuvenation
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Each week, you can find five matchups to watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here are the five key matchups to watch when the Tampa Bay offense takes on Carolina’s stout defense. The Panthers beat the Bucs, 21-3, in Week 7 in Carolina earlier this season.
Burns is the Panthers’ lone Pro Bowler and has gotten to the quarterback a career-high 12.5 times this year. One of those sacks came against Smith back in Week 7. Burns wins with speed and quickness, but at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he can also generate sacks with an inside spin move or an occasional bull rush to catch offensive tackles off guard. The former first-round pick will play on both sides of the line, but will spend most of his time against Smith on Sunday.
Smith missed last week’s win at Arizona with a foot injury, but is set to return to the starting lineup against Carolina. He’s not 100%, but he practiced all week and the team needs him. Reserve Brandon Walton was good enough to win with last week, but he’s no match for Burns. Smith will not only have to play the whole game, but he’ll need to take his game to the next level. He’s had a subpar year in terms of penalties and sacks surrendered and will need to keep Burns off Tom Brady.
Brown had one of his worst games of the year in Week 7 against the Bucs. He had four tackles and three pressures, including a QB hit versus Tampa Bay. But he’s coming off one of his best efforts of the season in a huge win over Detroit. Brown, who is the highest-graded Panthers defender per Pro Football Focus (83.2), not only occupies blockers and eats up space, he also makes plays. At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, he’s hard to handle one-on-one and usually draws the opposing team’s center, too. The Bucs will want to establish the run to make their play-action passing game more effective, and can’t let Brown wreck the ground game.
Leverett split time with struggling rookie left guard Luke Goedeke back in Week 7. It was the last time Goedeke appeared in the starting lineup due to poor play and a foot injury. Leverett has improved the play at left guard with his feisty style and better technique. But at 6-fo0t-4, 310 pounds, Leverett gives up some size to the powerful Brown. He’ll need to play the best game of his life to help open up some holes in the Carolina defense and to keep Brown from getting to Tom Brady on Sunday.
Taylor is expected to get the call at right cornerback, filling in for the injured Jaycee Horn, who is the team’s best cover corner. Horn had wrist surgery this week and is out. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Taylor has the size to matchup well with the 6-foot-5 Evans. In his second year, Taylor has yet to record an interception and has only three pass breakups this year. Evans has not had a great season by his standards, but typically plays well against the Panthers. Taylor has to ensure that Evans has another subpar game on Sunday.
Evans only has three touchdowns on the season, and none since two against the Chiefs in Week 4. He dropped an easy touchdown bomb at Carolina in Week 7, which was very uncharacteristic. Evans is on the verge of another 1,000-yard season and has seven career touchdowns against the Panthers. That’s the second-most of any team he’s faced in his career. Evans needs to end his end zone drought on Sunday and come through with a monster game for Tampa Bay if the team wants to beat Carolina.
Henderson might get charged with covering Evans, as he’s the best cornerback on the team behind Horn. But with Taylor and safety help over the top, the Panthers might feel they can contain Evans that way and lock up Gage one-on-one with Henderson. Now healthier, Gage is starting to become more productive for the Bucs offense. Henderson has the size at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds to push the smaller Gage around and enough speed to hang with him. Gage has become a red zone weapon with two touchdowns two weeks ago against the Bengals, and Henderson will need to step up with Horn out of action.
Gage actually leads the Bucs with four touchdown catches this year, with two coming versus Cincinnati. He’s overcoming his hamstring injury and playing better than he did at the beginning of the season. He had a big 23-yard reception in overtime last week to help win at Arizona. That was his longest catch of the season. The Bucs would love to see him produce more explosive plays in the passing game and Sunday against Carolina is as good a day as any to make that happen.
Chinn has underwhelmed as a former second-round pick. He’s a great athlete with ideal size at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, but just hasn’t put it all together yet in his career. He’ll be charged with trying to stop Godwin in the slot on Sunday after missing the Week 7 game against Tampa Bay. That’s a tall task because Godwin keeps getting closer to his old form with each passing game. This will be one of the key matchups that the Panthers must win in order to claim victory on Sunday.
Godwin is closing in on 100 catches this season (87), and that’s an incredible feat considering that he tore his ACL just over a year ago. After a slow start, Godwin is beginning to round back into his former self. He’s scored all three of his touchdowns in the past six games. Godwin plays the ever-important slot receiver position in Tampa Bay’s offense. He’ll need to separate from Chinn to get some yards after catch and move the chains in Week 17 – and perhaps find the end zone again.
Each week, you can find five matchups to watch on offense and defense in my SR’s Fab 5 column. Here are the five key matchups to watch on defense for the Bucs as they take on Sam Darnold and the Panthers offense. A win on Sunday by Tampa Bay earns the Bucs another NFC South title. A victory by Carolina puts the Panthers in the driver’s seat for the division crown in Week 18.
Okwonu has played well as a rookie and has only allowed five sacks this season. He played very well against Tampa Bay in Week 7 and only allowed one pressure and no sacks. But Okwonu has allowed two sacks in the past three weeks and may be hitting a bit of a rookie wall. The Bucs will play both Nelson and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka against Okwonu on the right side. So the former N.C. State star will face both Tryon-Shoyinka’s speed and Nelson’s power on Sunday.
Nelson has been an ascending player over the second half of the season after getting more playing time with Shaq Barrett on injured reserve. The 6-foot-7, 270-pounder wins with length and strength more than pure athleticism. But he had a sack of Sam Darnold last year in the season finale win over Carolina. More importantly, Nelson has 3.5 sacks in the last five games, and his 4.5 sacks is third-most on the team. Nelson is in a contract year and is looking for a strong finish to cash in next March in free agency.
Foreman is a big back at 6-foot, 235 pounds and runs with power like a runaway train. The Bucs saw that firsthand in Week 7 when he ripped off a 60-yard jaunt en route to 118 yards rushing. Since then, he’s had four more 100-yard games, including 165 yards in last week’s big win over Detroit. Foreman has rushed for 811 yards and five touchdowns this season while averaging 4.6 yards per catch.
White had an up-and-down start to this year, but has played pretty well since the Seahawks game before the bye week. While he didn’t play well at all in a Week 7 loss at Carolina, White needs to have a much better showing this time around versus the Panthers. White must tackle well and fill his gaps correctly. The Bucs’ emotional leader on defense needs to finish with at least 12 tackles and run sideline to sideline to shut down Carolina’s stretch zone runs.
Moore is Carolina’s primary weapon in the passing game and has 56 catches for 761 yards and six touchdowns. Three of those TDs have come in the last four games and he’s heating up in time for a potential playoff run. Moore will need to get loose against Tampa Bay’s secondary to help Darnold and the passing game. Darnold is more of a game manager and Tampa Bay will try to put the game on his shoulders. He’s 4-0 as a starter this year with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Blanketing Moore could help the Bucs force a turnover.
Dean is expected to return to action after missing the last game with a toe injury. The Bucs will need him to not only match up with Moore in the passing game, but also to bring sure tackling to the table. Carlton Davis III missed the last game in Week 7 and the run defense at the cornerback position struggled. This week, Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting will be manning the cornerback spots, so that should help. But Dean’s wheels will be needed to cover the speedy Moore on Sunday.
Moton is Carolina’s best offensive lineman, although he’s not had his best season. The 6-foot-5, 325-pounder has allowed three sacks this year and has committed five penalties. He’s equally adept at run blocking and pass protection, but has flourished more in the passing game this year. He’ll have his hands full against Tryon-Shoyinka on Sunday. The athletic speed rusher is playing well right now and will test Moton on every snap.
Tryon-Shoyinka hasn’t had the breakout season some envisioned for the Bucs this year. His four sacks are fourth 0n the team and he needs to finish the season strong with a good showing against Moton on Sunday. Perhaps more importantly, Tryon-Shoyinka must play better against the run because that’s what Carolina is going to try to do on Sunday – run first. Tryon-Shoyinka got pushed around in the running game too much in Week 7 and must be more stout at the point of attack this time around.
Christensen has been solid this year after moving from offensive tackle last season. At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, he has a long wingspan, but will give up about 50 pounds of size to the 350-pound Vea. While he’s only given up two sacks this year, Christensen has committed 10 penalties. So, he’ll have to block Vea in the run game and the pass game cleanly. Christensen is in for a big challenge on Sunday – literally and figuratively.
Vea is set to return to action after missing several weeks with a calf injury. The Bucs run defense is different with both Vea and Hicks in the starting lineup together. Hicks missed the last game against Carolina in Week 7 and the Panthers ran for 173 yards. Vea still leads the team with a career-high 6.5 sacks and needs to get by Christensen and into Darnold’s lap early and often.
This article first appeared on Pewter Report and was syndicated with permission.
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