The Panthers have to figure they're going to have a tough time running the football against the league's top-ranked defense, so don't be surprised to see Jake Delhomme come out throwing. Defensively, look for Carolina to pressure Chris Simms early and often and disguise their defenses as much as possible in an effort to rattle the youngster. Special teams have played a huge role in the last four games between these two teams.
With Chris Simms at QB, the Bucs are going to continue to face a lot of eight- and nine-man fronts loading up to stop the run until the 25-year-old lefty can prove he can beat them upstairs.
The Panthers have one of the NFL's best front sevens to begin with and are second only to the Bucs in the league against the run.
Last week at San Francisco, the Bucs were held to 43 yards rushing, putting Simms under pressure on third down. In fact, running back Cadillac Williams has been held to 33 yards on 24 carries in his last two games.
"It'll be big for us," Simms said. "Getting (Michael Pittman) and Cadillac going in the right direction, getting them some positive yards, always helps out the passing game. Again, I think it make them think twice about blitzing a whole lot if we can gash them early. If Pitt and Cadillac can get to the second level, get to the safeties, no defensive coordinator likes that."
The Bucs expect the Panthers to blitz Simms from every angle on third down, making it hard to get the ball into the hands of his biggest playmaker - WR Joey Galloway.
"They're fast, physical," Galloway said. "They're a playmaking defense. We're going to have to be able to run the ball to be successful against this type of defense. We're going to have to be sharp. They like to blitz and they're effective with it. Offensively, we've got to be extremely sharp in our assignments, in our blitz pick-up and our ability to make plays when we have the opportunity."
Defensively, the Bucs have to contend with the two-headed rushing attack of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster.
If that weren't enough, the Panthers have the NFL's leading receiver in Steve Smith.
"He's playing good after the catch," Galloway said of Smith. "He's making a lot of plays after the catch. (Jake) Dehomme's got a lot of confidence in him. I think right now the ratio is something like 50 to 10 to the next guy getting passes. He's got 50 passes and the next guy's got maybe 15 or something. They've got great confidence in him. They're throwing the ball up in any situation - whether he's covered or not. It's just a combination of everything.
"When you see a guy like that coming in hot, it's usually an indication of how his season is going. He's making a lot of great catches, getting a lot of good breaks on his side. They're playing good ball and he's the X factor."
MATCHUPS TO WATCHPanthers WR Steve Smith vs. Bucs secondary. Smith has been on a tear and leads the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Over the past three weeks he has 25 catches for 443 yards and four touchdowns, so what will the Bucs do to slow him down? If Tampa Bay gives Smith too much attention, it might impact what they can do to stop Carolina's running game. In this case, the Bucs will have to pick their poison on whether they want to stop the run or the pass. Chances are they will try to take Smith, because he's more dangerous and considered a game-breaker, out of the game by rolling an extra safety to his side on nearly every play. Carolina really needs Keary Colbert to step up this week and make some plays.
Panthers LDE Julius Peppers vs. Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker. This match up has become personal over the years, with Walker being baited into his share of personal fouls. With lefty Chris Simms starting at QB, Peppers will be attacking from Simms' blind side.
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs. Bucs CBs Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly. Smith is the hottest receiver in the NFL, leading the league with 50 receptions for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He will be a handful for the Bucs if they don't pressure QB Jake Delhomme.
Bucs WR Joey Galloway vs. Panthers CB Ken Lucas. Galloway has 11 career TD passes of 50-yards or longer, including a 78-yarder last week against the Niners. Lucas, a free agent from Seattle, was the co-interception leader along with new Panthers teammate Chris Gamble. Both had six.
INJURY IMPACTthe Panthers come into Sunday's game healthy with no significant injuries to report.
S Dexter Jackson is out with a hamstring strain. He will be replaced by second-year pro Will Allen. RB Michael Pittman is questionable with a shoulder stringer. Pittman has played well in place of Cadillac Williams, who still is not 100 percent from a foot injury. LB Derrick Brooks (hamstring) and C John Wade (ankle) did not practice Wednesday but are probable.