By Michael Brennan
It’s been quite some time since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4) visited Charlotte, NC, amid the conversation for the postseason hunt. As for the Carolina Panthers (2-7), they’re just trying to manage small wins and find success from the remainder of their schedule. In this important NFC South matchup, there should be more than enough defense from two teams that have continued to show their improvement with new personnel.
After their loss to the Denver Broncos last week, the Carolina Panthers parted ways with their special team’s coordinator, Brian Murphy. However, one of the bright spots of the Carolina’s performance was their outstanding defense, which allowed only 14 points all day. The defense has continued to improve each week for Carolina, especially with linebacker Luke Kuechly taking over in the middle.
As for the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they bring with them the best run defense in the league. The Bucs defense allows hardly over 80 rushing yards per game, while managing to gain more than 120 yards on the ground on offense. The Buccaneers balanced attack on offense and defense has been the key to their success in 2012 – fixing them behind the Atlanta Falcons (8-1) for second place in the NFC South.
Cam Newton’s season has been a rollercoaster. At Fed-Ex field against the Redskins, Newton caught fire and was able to rekindle the momentum for the season by capturing a victory on the road with his mistake-free play. After the performance last week against the Broncos, Newton is back to square one.
The Carolina offensive line allowed seven sacks, and Newton could hardly manage to put the ball where he wanted to. Newton was picked off twice, one of which, was returned 40 yards for a touchdown. Newton’s success on the ground was also stifled – managing only seven yards rushing on four attempts.
If Carolina is going to capture a win on Sunday against the Tampa Bay team with a winning record, they are going to have to do so with an impressive run-game. In games that Carolina has won this season, Cam Newton has averaged more than five yards per carry with one touchdown; a tough task to continue against the best run-stopping defense in the NFL. Carolina will need to shut down rookie-sensation, Doug Martin, who has accelerated his name in to the ROY conversation with a behemoth performance two weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders. Martin accounted for 272 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns. Carolina will need to shut down Martin with the 16th-best run defense and a similar 16th-best pass defense.