Two teams heading in opposite directions at a rapid rate met this week and as you might expect, there was no change in either trajectory. The Buccaneers got off to a poor start, allowing a touchdown for the Panthers on their opening drive, and then losing a fumble on their first offensive play.
The Panthers took advantage of the 10-0 lead early and never looked back, eventually putting up a 38-point lead by the start of the fourth quarter, by which stage the Bucs were simply mailing it in. This game had all the hallmarks of a poorly coached team for Tampa Bay, and Raheem Morris must be coming under ever increasing pressure now that the gloss has worn off his 10-6 season.
Carolina is trying to build some momentum under rookie phenom Cam Newton, so that they can head into 2012 looking to seriously challenge in the NFC South again. Let’s see how the game went.
Tampa Bay – Three Things of Note
Tackling – A guide – How not to.
Tampa Bay must be the worst tackling team in the NFL. For a team that used to preach sound defensive fundamentals that must be particularly disappointing. Ronde Barber (-1.7) and Tanard Jackson (-1.2) are embroiled in a battle to lead the league in missed tackles (presumably to win some kind of prop bet between the pair), but in this game they both added just a single miss to their tallies (even if Jackson’s was on Newton’s touchdown run). Instead the veteran duo seem to be teaching the ways of the miss to young safety Ahmad Black (-1.2), who led the team with three misses. The defensive tally for Tampa in this game was 13 missed tackles on defense, a disastrous mark for most teams, but actually only marginally more than their season average.
Trouble in the trenches
Let’s not split hairs, there were problems pretty much everywhere for the Bucs, but multiple linemen were handled all game, allowing the Panthers to run at will and making life difficult for their own running game and quarterback. On defense they acted like they had never before encountered the read-option play, constantly crashing down on the running back allowing Newton to take off around the edge virtually untouched for big gains. Da’Quan Bowers (-1.7) struggled in this regard but there was no bigger offender than Michael Bennett on Newton’s touchdown run, opening up that side of the defense completely as he crashed down onto the running back fake. That level of consistent confusion against such a simple and fundamental concept is another black mark in the coaching of the Bucs.
There weren’t many, but defensive end Michael Bennett working primarily against right tackle Byron Bell, acquitted himself well with a +2.3 grade, despite his poor play for the Newton touchdown run. Bennett notched a sack and two further pressures from his 11 pass rushes as he saw just 22 snaps coming back from injury. On offense Jeremy Zuttah (+2.6) was a standout on a line that was otherwise hemorrhaging pressure and failing to generate any kind of push for the running backs. Zuttah was perfect in pass protection despite being forced to pass block 48 times as Tampa chased the game
Carolina – Three Things of Note
Winning at the line
In contrast to Tampa Bay, the Carolina line was able to win their battles all day long. All of the starting five were able to grade positively, and four of the five firmly in the green (with only left guard Travelle Wharton at +0.9 narrowly missing out). They also got the aid of impressive work from both tight ends, with Jeremy Shockey (+2.7)and Greg Olsen (+2.7) able to seal and set the edge for the run against the Tampa Bay defense all day, allowing Carolina to rush for over 10 yards a carry either side outside of the tight ends.
The ups and downs of James Anderson
Last season James Anderson was one of the best linebackers in football. This season the Panthers have been suffering injury after injury to their linebacker corps and he has been having an up and down season featuring more games in the red (five) than in the green (four). This game was one of his better ones though and his +2.8 grade came from some fine work in coverage, including batting a pass down the seam in the air for a teammate to pick it off, as well as some strong work against the run. Anderson looked much more comfortable in this game with Dan Connor (+2.0) beside him in the middle also playing well.
Injury hurting Charles Johnson
Big-money pass-rusher Charles Johnson only played 21 snaps in the game as he struggled with a back injury, and it clearly hampered his production as well. On 15 attempts rushing the passer he registered just two pressures, which would be a pretty good ratio had the Tampa line not been giving them up like free lollipops from the doctor. Carolina hopes to have him back effective for their final game against the Saints. The Panthers may have been able to crush Tampa Bay without Johnson, but the passing attack and offense of the Saints will be another matter entirely. In his stead DRE Thomas Keiser (+0.5) had a reasonable day, earning himself a sack, a knockdown and another pressure from his 33 attempts rushing the passer. Keiser’s 33 pass rushes came on just 43 snaps as the Panthers kept him largely situational.
- Carolina notched 270 rushing yards as they ran over Tampa at will, but just 100 of them came after contact. This is largely because the Bucs simply weren’t getting a hand on the Panthers runners to force them to make things happen after contact.
- Cam Newton faced pressure on just four snaps. He scores two touchdowns on those plays.
- LeGarrette Blount fumbled the exchange on his first carry, and the Bucs’ first snap on offense, and was benched until the second half. That seems another black mark for coaching, with most coaches going back early to the player that made a mistake, rather than punitively sitting them for extended periods.
PFF Game Ball
This game came down largely to the fact that the Bucs were just mailing it in, but Cam Newton’s ability on the option plays killed them in the run game all day, and his throw for the long touchdown to LaFell was an excellent one in the face of pressure.