Time was when the Panthers would run straight downhill at you. Not anymore. Though they still run some basic power stuff, their linemen are zone blocking a lot more these days, which means they're turning on an angle and running schemes that better suit the slashing running styles of DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. The Panthers' 4.6 yards-per-carry average is a sign they are doing this rather well, and that's bad news for the Bucs. Tampa Bay plays a one-gap scheme in which each player is responsible for filling a gap and taking out the player who comes through it. It's a lot easier to play that style when the gap isn't moving, but zone blocking moves the gap. It's imperative the Bucs stay disciplined and sharp today and maintain their gap responsibilities. They did that two weeks ago against the Saints, who also run a lot of zone blocking schemes, and it worked. Fly To The Ball On Defense
The one thing that has stood out the most about the Bucs this season is the way they are attacking on defense. No one is standing around waiting for someone else to make a play; they are all getting to the ball carrier or the pass catcher and that always has been their championship trademark. The Bucs call this flying to the ball, and they have to keep up the pace today, especially against RB DeShaun Foster and WR Steve Smith. Foster is going to get his yards and Smith is going to make his catches. However, the Bucs can limit the extra yards Foster gains through second effort and the extra yards Smith makes after the catch by closing quickly and by getting as many players to the ball carrier and pass catcher as possible. Get The Running Game Going Early
The Bucs have had a hard time running the ball early in games this year. They are averaging 3.6 yards per first-half carry overall while feature back Cadillac Williams is averaging 2.9 yards per first-half carry. If that trend continues today, the Bucs will be forced to throw the ball, and that will play into the hands of the Panthers, who desperately want to force them into a one-dimensional attack. To avoid that problem, the Bucs need to utilize more two- and three-tight end sets and make greater use of quarterback Jeff Garcia's mobility by running some designed bootlegs. The former will aid the Bucs' young line, the latter will force Carolina to spread out defensively, which will open more running lanes for Williams. Hold Onto The Ball
Cadillac Williams was benched after he fumbled the ball away on the first play of the fourth quarter last week, and rightfully so. You lose the turnover battle in this league and you usually lose the game. It's imperative for Williams, who has eight career fumbles, to hold onto the ball today. What's equally imperative is that WRs Michael Clayton and Ike Hilliard hold onto the ball as well. Both dropped catchable passes from Jeff Garcia last week and Clayton fumbled the one pass he did catch. The Bucs won despite that sloppiness, but they are not going to win that way very often. Good teams usually find a way to take advantage of turnovers and opportunities wasted by their opponents.
We've been through this once or twice already this season, but we feel compelled to mention it again, especially today. It might not be so critical if the Panthers didn't have WR Steve Smith, but Smith is one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL. He's very tough to cover, so the secondary is going to need some help today, and that help has to come from the front four. These guys have to apply some pressure to the quarterback and make it tough to find and hit Smith downfield. That will make covering Smith easier. Anything the Bucs can do to reduce Smith's effectiveness is critical to their chances today.