The Panthers and the Buccaneers face off of the second time this season in London on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Here are five things to watch in the Week 6 division battle.
The Shaquil Barrett problem
Panthers players readily admitted earlier this week that they didn’t give Bucs edge rusher Shaquil Barrett enough respect before the two teams met in Week 2. After his explosive three-sack performance against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football, you can bet he’s on the team’s radar this week.
Since Barrett’s breakout performance against the Panthers, he’s gone on to make sure everyone knows it wasn’t a fluke – as he leads the league with nine sacks.
Last time, Barrett found his success lining up across from then-left tackle Daryl Williams, but the Panthers O-line has changed quite a bit since then. Now Williams is playing right guard, so that means this time it’ll come down to rookie tackle Dennis Daley to slow down Barrett.
Daley played exceptionally well last week against Jacksonville in his first career start, which he said gave him a bit of a confidence boost. But still, Daley knows he can’t get complacent, especially with a guy like Barrett across from him.
“He’s full go. He never takes his foot off the break. He’s always going,” Daley said. “Got to work harder than him, outwork him. I’m going to focus on me for the week, focus on my technique and get my mindset right.”
After seeing Daley succeed last week, guard Greg Van Roten said he knows the rookie will once again rise to the occasion this Sunday.
“First start in the NFL, did everything we asked him to do. There’s always stuff you have to clean up, but for your first start as a rookie, to come in like he did against a defense like that, he did a great job,” Van Roten said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us, but I think you saw this week what we’re capable of when we’re healthy and when we’re all on the same page.”
A revenge game for CMC?
Last time the division rivals squared off, the revenge game narrative was all about Gerald McCoy facing his former team. This time, the story looks a little different.
No, running back Christian McCaffrey never played for the Bucs, but so far this year they’ve been the only team to slow down his MVP-caliber season. In typical Christian fashion, he’ll insist this game isn’t different than any other matchup, but we all know that’s not true.
In Week 2, the Bucs defense held McCaffrey to just 53 yards from scrimmage. In each of the four other games this season, McCaffrey’s gained more than 170 scrimmage yards. So what is it that let the Bucs keep CMC contained?
“Tampa Bay forces a lot of negative plays,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said of the No. 2 ranked rush defense. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t let them have negative plays, and when the opportunities present themselves, we have to create some big plays ourselves.”
The big plays Turner is talking about might end up being passes this week. While the Bucs boast a stout run defense that allows just 69.8 rushing yards per game (2nd best), their pass defense ranks worst in the league, giving up an average of 323.6 passing yards per game.
If Tampa Bay stacks the box and sells out against the run like they did in Week 2, it should open up some opportunities for McCaffrey and the Panthers’ other receiving threats, to get their revenge through the air.
“You have to do a great job and you have to have patience with the run,” Turner said. “When you commit to the run like that, you leave some openings in the back that we can take advantage of.”
The banged-up Bucs O-line
Just like the Panthers, the Bucs offensive line has taken a few hits since Week 2 as well. Both right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Demar Dotson left last week’s game against the Saints with a fractured arm and a strained hamstring, respectively. Those injuries will likely lead to the Bucs debuting a whole new right side along an already struggling offensive line that gave up a season-high six sacks last week.
Combine those new faces with the way the Carolina defense has been playing the last few weeks, and it could mean trouble for the Bucs and quarterback Jameis Winston.
Last time Winston faced the Panthers, it was before the Sack Street Boys kicked off their nationwide tour, picking up 16 sacks in the last three games. Now, the band of rushers is going international, and rookie Brian Burns sees it as another opportunity to get after the quarterback.
“We’re going continue to do the same thing we’ve always done,” Burns said. “It’s just an execution point. We’re going to keep the same momentum on to the next game.”
A change of scenery
The Panthers have proven themselves to be road warriors this season, picking up their first two wins in hostile environments in Arizona and Houston. Now, the team is heading the opposite direction for the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the NFL’s London series.
Ever since the trips out west, head coach Ron Rivera has praised his team’s unity, citing several examples of players spending quality time together while the team is on the road. With a five-hour time difference between Charlotte and London, the Panther chose to arrive a full four days prior to game time in order to adjust to the change.
As a result, the extra time in London has led to more of the team building Rivera has enjoyed seeing this season.
“I think it’s cool,” Rivera said. “They will have opportunities to go out and enjoy a little bit of London and get a good feel for life in the UK. I’m excited for our guys to get away and continue to develop as a team, because I really do think if you have a strong group of guys in the locker room, it really does show on the football field.”
Plus, it doesn’t hurt playing in London where the forecasted high for game day is 60 degrees, instead of the unusually warm October weather in Charlotte.
“The weather here is terrific, I really do appreciate it,” Rivera said. “I think the guys kind of like that. It gives them a little bit of energy.”
The turnover battle
Once again, the turnover battle could be the deciding factor against the Bucs.
Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen has yet to throw an interception in his young career, but his fumbles have proven costly this season. If Allen can hold onto the ball and keep his interception-free streak going, the Panthers defense is coming off of a three-takeaway performance and looking to keep that momentum rolling.
On top of just getting turnovers, the Panthers have to be able to take advantage of any potential extra opportunities, because if Tampa Bay gets the chance, they more than likely will. The Bucs lead the league in points off turnovers with 52, while the Panthers are tied for seventh (34).
In the last 11 match ups with the Bucs, the winner of the turnover battle has won the game as well, including Week 2 of this season.