WHERE: Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
SPREAD: Bucs by 7
WHERE THE PANTHERS STAND: The Panthers are 3-4 and in third place in the NFC South Division.
PANTHERS HEAD COACH: John Fox
PANTHERS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Dan Henning
PANTHERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jack Del Rio
PANTHERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Scott O' Brien
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 24th RUSHING: 24th PASSING: 18th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 1st RUSHING: 2nd PASSING: 4th
HOW THE PANTHERS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 25th RUSHING: 15th PASSING: 16th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 4th RUSHING: 15th PASSING: 5th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Panthers DE Julius Peppers vs. Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker: Tampa Bay's offensive line has surrendered 15 sacks in seven games this season and they'll face Carolina's defense this Sunday, which has recorded 26 sacks this season.
The good news is Tampa Bay's starting quarterback will be Rob Johnson. He has much more mobility than Brad Johnson and can elude Carolina's relentless pass rush, especially from the Panthers' defensive ends. The bad news is Rob Johnson has a reputation for holding onto the football too long, which could translate into sacks if he can't find receivers open downfield.
Kenyatta Walker has been inconsistent in his ability to provide the quarterback protection from the right tackle position. He'll face rookie DE Julius Peppers, who has recorded seven sacks this season. Peppers is quick off of the line and will likely give Walker some problems. Walker will have to hold off Peppers' awesome pass rush. If he can't, Johnson will have to make some plays with his legs.
DID YOU KNOW…
…Carolina has lost four games in a row and is 2-1 at home this season?
BEWARE OF CAROLINA'S DEFENSE:
Carolina has the No. 4 ranked defense in the National Football League. They've recorded 26 sacks and 10 interceptions this season. The Panthers are only allowing 15 points per game. Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan is a solid force against the run and in pass coverage. He leads the team in tackles with 44. Carolina defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker have recorded a total of 13 sacks and they've each forced three fumbles in seven games.
Tampa Bay's offensive line hasn't been able to provide time for their quarterbacks to throw this season, but they'll need to find a way against Carolina's relentless pass rush.
BUCS WILL AIM TO STOP THE RUN:
Carolina's rushing offense hasn't been very productive thus far, but Tampa Bay's defense will still attempt to stop the run first. Panthers running back Lamar Smith has rushed for 513 yards and is averaging 3.5 yards per game. He's also scored six touchdowns this season.
Tampa Bay's run defense is only allowing 89.3 yards per game, but they allowed Philadelphia RB Duce Staley to rush for over 150 yards last Sunday. The Bucs' defense will aim to stop Carolina's run and take their chances against the Panthers' woeful pass attack, which will be led Sunday by rookie QB Randy Fasani, who is the team's third-string quarterback.
BUCS MUST ESTABLISH THE RUN:
Tampa Bay's running attack has been ugly this season. They're averaging just 3.6 yards per game and they've rushed for just 651 yards in seven games this season. Bucs RB Michael Pittman has rushed for 358 yards and is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
Carolina's secondary has played well this season. Panthers free safety Deon Grant has recorded three interceptions and defended nine passes this season. Carolina's defense is only allowing offenses to pass for an average of 176 yards per game. But Carolina's run defense has allowed teams to run for just over 100 yards per game this season. Tampa Bay would be wise to try and establish its running game against Carolina Sunday.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden on changing protection on the offensive line against Carolina:
"We are going to change protection. We've been working hard in trying to create matchups in our favor and utilize different personnel groupings to help us in that area. Julius Peppers, with the pressure Carolina applies, you bet (protection) will be as important as it ever is. This is a very physical defensive football team. All you have to do is watch them play Green Bay in Lambeau. If it wasn't for a couple of trick plays it's a long day for the Packers three weeks ago in Lambeau. This is a good football team and protection will be a huge, huge factor in terms of winning this game."
Gruden on Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers:
"He's a good player, there's no question. For a rookie to come in here and establish himself as quickly as he has, has been impressive. They use him very creatively. John Fox is a guy that not a lot of people are familiar with but he's a great coach. What he did with Michael Strahan in New York speaks for itself. The guy understands football, he's great with players and Peppers is a guy, physically, that has a criteria that you're looking for. He's a very impressive football player."
Bucs DT Anthony McFarland on preparing for Carolina QB Randy Fasani:
"You don't necessarily prepare for a guy, you look at the base plays that they run, the things that they do, then you understand what they are trying do to you as a defense. And after that, you worry about yourself."
Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice on how to dictate what Carolina's offense does:
"By doing what you need to do. In terms of a player, if you do what you need to do everything else is inconsequential. If you're sacking a quarterback, getting a running back tackled for losses, getting interceptions, causing turnovers that's to our favor. That's how we try to play every week. Nothing more, nothing less."
Bucs LB Derrick Brooks on how his team can avoid a losing streak:
"You just go out and win this week. There's nothing to talk about, there's not an aura of panic like everyone is writing or talking about. We're 5-2 and that's the big thing. We're trying to be 6-2 and that's something we haven't been in this franchise in a long time. We're going to keep our focus on the big picture."
Tampa Bay's offense might be better off with QB Rob Johnson this Sunday. Carolina's defense is excellent, but Atlanta QB Michael Vick was able to rush for 96 yards against them last Sunday. Johnson won't likely rush for that many yards in this game, but his mobility will certainly help against Carolina's pass rush.
If Carolina's defensive ends sustain a consistent pass rush against Tampa Bay's tackles, it will be a long day for the Bucs' offense. This game will be a defensive match-up, but it will be won or lost by the offenses' ability to not turn the ball over. Whichever team's offense makes the fewest mistakes will likely win this game. Tampa Bay's defense will stand a good chance of causing some turnovers by rattling rookie QB Randy Fasani. The Bucs seemed pretty determined to finish the first half of the 2002 season with a 6-2 record and they should be able to accomplish that goal with a solid performance from its defense and turnover-free performance from its offense.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 17 Panthers 10
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