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Carolina Panthers

What to Watch: Panthers at Buccaneers

1. THAT'S JARED: The Panthers traded for a potential future Hall of Famer this week with the addition of sack artist Jared Allen. The 12th-year pro impressed in practice and more importantly will now look to do the same as Carolina's starting right defensive end Sunday.

"His first-step quickness is still pretty good," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's got this natural long-ness that when he's coming around the corner and reaching at the quarterback. When you see his extension, it's pretty impressive."

The Panthers would love to put pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston to see how the rookie reacts, and Allen could play a pivotal role in reaching that goal, especially with Charles Johnson out with a hamstring injury.

Winston, the No. 1 overall draft choice, has been up-and-down over his first three games, to no one's surprise. Veteran Roman Harper expects Winston rise up Sunday, requiring the Carolina defense to slow him down.

"I'm sure he's going to be great," Harper said. "Usually teams bring their best against us."

2. BIG TARGETS: When Winston is able to look downfield, he'll look to two of the biggest and most talented targets in the league in 6-5 bookend receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.

That's the type of challenge that cornerback Josh Norman, recently named NFC Defensive Player of the Month, relishes.

"This is one of those things I get up for," Norman said. "Both those guys pose a great threat to what we like to do as a defense. They are towers, man. You have to do the best you can to defend them."

Norman could be busy against Evans, who was slowed by injury the first two weeks but made up for lost time last week with 17 targets that produced seven catches for 101 yards.

3. MORE THAN A CAM-EO: The Panthers and Buccaneers meet twice a year as NFC South foes, but the last time Cam Newton was under center against Tampa Bay, Winston was preparing for a postseason push at Florida State that netted a national championship and the Heisman Trophy – as a freshman.

"It's extremely weird," Newton said. "Me and D.A. have talked about this."

Newton was referring to Derek Anderson, who quarterbacked the Panthers in both games against Tampa Bay last season – the only two games Newton missed over his first four NFL seasons.

Anderson won both of those starts, and Newton has enjoyed his share of success against the Buccaneers as well, compiling a 4-2 record. In those games, he has averaged 248 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and 47 rushing yards with six touchdowns.

4. CHASING CAM: Newton's obstacles will include the NFL's surprise sack leader. Defensive end Jacquise Smith, a former Canadian Football League player from the University of Missouri, has four sacks to date.

The name may be new, but he made a mark prior to the new year. Smith earned significant playing time over the second half of the 2014 season and responded with 6.5 sacks – the 10th-most in the league over the time frame.

5. COMPLEMENTING CAM: Newton has had a hand in all of Carolina's offensive touchdowns to date, and that could continue Sunday if the Buccaneers challenge him to beat them with his arm.

"The nice thing is that teams have dared us to throw, and we've had success throwing it. Hopefully we can continue to do that," Rivera said. "You'd like to think that maybe our guys may get a little more respect, but if not, we'll try to have some success throwing it vertically again."

Opposing defenses have crowded the box and put pressure on Newton to rely on his receivers, and the much-critiqued group – with a big assist from tight end Greg Olsen – has mostly stepped up to the challenge. If the Buccaneers elect to play it more straight, Carolina's running backs could have some room to roam.

Either way, the Panthers have shown an ability so far take advantage of what the defense gives them. If that continues Sunday, given how devastating Carolina's defense can be, the Panthers just might head into their bye undefeated.


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