The Buccaneers team that took on the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 season opener didn’t look much like the squad that dropped two games to their division rivals by a combined score of 86-35 over the last five weeks of 2011. Given the entirely new coaching staff and a roster with about 50% turnover, the Panthers didn’t have much to go on in their preparations for that opening contest. Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera even said as much in his postgame comments after the Bucs took a 16-10 victory at Raymond James Stadium.
Now, the Panthers do have 10 weeks of videotape to study before the Week 11 rematch. The thing is, the current Bucs team really doesn’t look much like that Week One squad, at least in terms of efficiency of play and a few key personnel moves. That’s good and bad for both teams.
The Bucs, of course, are no without the services of Carl Nicks, Adrian Clayborn, Quincy Black and Aqib Talib. The Panthers have had a few losses along the way, too, including all-pro middle linebacker Jon Beason and center Ryan Kalil. On the other hand, Tampa Bay’s offense, which sputtered a bit in Week One and played a very conservative game plan, has developed into one of the most explosive attacks in the league. At the same time, despite a 2-7 record, Carolina’s defense has emerged as one of the NFL’s best.
There are things to learn from Week One, of course, but Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano says you have to develop the information rather than taking it at face value.
“We certainly look at it,” said Schiano of the tape from the first meeting with Carolina. “Matchups, ideas, thoughts…you try to save it. What teams do is, if you have something you like, you window-dress it another way and you do that again. And plus they have new ideas. You see how a team has evolved over the last eight weeks; where are they headed? As you have success or failure schematically, usually your offense, defense and special teams kind of go in a direction. They evolve. So that’s one of the tricks, to see where it is going to and make the corresponding adjustments.”
For one thing, the Panthers are almost certain to adjust their approach in the running game after Tampa Bay held them, stunningly, to 10 yards on 13 carries in Week One. That was perhaps the best indication that the 2012 Bucs bore little resemblance to their 2011 predecessors – Tampa Bay had the league’s worst run defense in 2011 while Carolina had the third best rush offense. The Bucs have since proved that their early performance was no fluke, as they rank first in the NFL against the run, but the Panthers have, in certain weeks, rediscovered their touch in the ground game. They also now have RB Jonathan Stewart, who was unable to play in Week One.
“I think we’ll be hard-pressed to play the run the way we did [in Week One],” said Schiano. “There was some element of surprise there, and there’s not going to be that this week. Look, it’s going to be a battle. They certainly have good players. They have both of their running backs healthy; you remember Week One they didn’t. We’re just going to have to go out and really fight for every inch on defense and see where it puts us.”
The Bucs are definitely ready to fight. They’re just not taking anything for granted.