Skip to main content
Presented by

Five things to watch against the Bucs: Beginning with offense

FiveThings_Thumbnail (2)

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are coming off an interesting week and need to gather themselves in a hurry after the dismissal of head coach Frank Reich on Monday. Now, they embark on a late-season run of division games, beginning Sunday at Tampa Bay.

The 4-7 Buccaneers have their own problems at the moment and have struggled on defense nearly to the degree the 1-10 Panthers have on offense.

Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium. Fans can check out more information on how to watch here.

Here are five things to watch for during the game:

Jonathan Mingo

Mingo could become more of a factor

Rookie wide receiver Jonathan Mingo had his best game in a month last week, with four catches for 60 yards. He had five catches for 31 yards in the previous three games since he had four for 61 in the win against the Texans.

Mingo has some run-after-catch ability, and last week's first play against the Titans was an example of what it could look like. Tight end Tommy Tremble came across the formation in motion to move a linebacker, quarterback Bryce Young rolled to the right, and Mingo came across for a 22-yard gain.

It wasn't a home run play, but it was the kind of chunk they hadn't gotten many of, so it stood out. They also didn't use much similar roll-out action from Young the rest of the day.

It's important to remember these guys are rookies, and this is the longest they've ever played football in a season. But anything they show down the stretch before the next coaching change would at least be a useful data point.

Baker Mayfield

All eyes on Baker

Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield started last season here, and even though he didn't make it through the entire season, he still has a few friends in the building.

"He's a good player," interim coach Chris Tabor said Friday. "Got a lot of respect for him. Looking forward to seeing him in pregame and saying hi to him in postgame. But during the game, obviously, we'll cheer against him."

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero cited Mayfield's ability to move the pocket and get the ball downfield (though he's 22nd in the league at 6.8 yards per pass attempt) and the fact that a lot of the guys on this defense practiced against him can't hurt.

"That's good that the guys have experience with him, personally and on the practice field," defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said. "And the cool thing, too, is that I've coached against him as well. But I always think that players feel better about competing against guys, especially when they have familiarity.

"So I think that's a good thing, and then, you know, the big key is, obviously you could throw the ball down the field, but this guy can keep plays alive. He can scramble really not for yardage but to throw the ball. And so we gotta do a great job protecting the pocket."

What will the offense look like? Who knows?

If an NFL team is ever going to have the element of surprise, it's this week.

Asked about potential changes, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown offered a coy grin and said: "We'll find out on Sunday."

When you fire a head coach/play-caller of an underperforming offense, the list of possibilities includes literally every other play in the world, except all the stuff that was consistently not working.

Considering the personnel, most people would reasonably expect more of the run game and getting Young on the move more often, letting him make decisions on the fly. Tabor said that other than moving passing game coordinator (now de facto quarterbacks coach) Parks Frazier out of the booth and on the sidelines, the operation would be largely the same.

But it's all a guess.

You know who else doesn't know? The Bucs and their 27th-ranked defense.

Getting the band back together

The Panthers know CJ Henderson will be back this week since he cleared the concussion protocol. And as they approach the possibility of Jaycee Horn, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Jeremy Chinn returning, they're close to adding some important parts back.

They're still without middle linebacker Shaq Thompson, and safety Vonn Bell is out this week with a shoulder injury, but this is potentially as close as they've been to fully stocked in some time.

They've performed well, considering.

They're sixth in the league in total defense, allowing 304.5 yards per game and fifth against the pass (179.6 per game). That's frankly astounding, considering the attrition in the secondary when the backups to the backups to the backups have been on the field.

Maybe have some fun or something

Brown talked about getting guys to "play loose" this week, and that's an on-field dynamic.

But even on the practice field and in the locker room, there was some evidence that guys were a little more relaxed this week.

As you might imagine, there's a certain weight that comes with being 1-10. That's why Tabor cracked that it "feels like Week 72." Make no mistake, they're not celebrating Reich's departure, but they also know that any expectations that came with this season are out the window.

"I mean, his first team meeting, he obviously addressed the elephant in the room with what's going on," Evero said. "But he was also himself; he brought levity when it was appropriate, and he brings this bell into the meeting room where he hits the bell to start it and stop it, and he does some goofy things like that. He's been great. He's handled it well, and obviously, he's not in an easy position."

Tabor has made a point of trying to get guys to relax and have some fun, but that's also part of who he is. He's serious about the work (ask the guys who weren't early enough to practice on Thursday), but he also knows it's OK to have some fun while doing it.

They have a kangaroo-court-style system of fines in the special teams meetings, and you don't want to be late.

That's why he stood in the locker room before a recent meeting started this week and announced in the tone of a flight attendant: "Three minutes until this plane leaves for Field Goal Block."

No one was late for that departure.

It's not everything, but it might not be nothing either.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

Related Content