After the Buccaneers defeated the Panthers in Week One, Carolina Head Coach Ron Rivera pointed out that one of the challenges for his squad had been dealing with Tampa Bay’s new offensive and defensive schemes, of which they had little videotape to study.
Carolina’s defense actually held Josh Freeman and the Bucs’ offense to 258 yards and 16 points in the loss, but it did not force a turnover and had just two sacks of Freeman, none until after the home team had taken the lead for good. Good protection for Freeman has become the standard for Tampa Bay’s offense, as he has been dropped two or fewer times in every game this season. But that will be put to the test on Sunday in Charlotte, as the Bucs will face the best pass-rush they have seen so far in 2012. And that Panther defense now has plenty of Buccaneer videotape on hand.
“They’re doing a great job defensively, especially in the most recent weeks and all the pressure that they’re able to apply with their front four,” said Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan. “You know, 20-plus sacks from their D-lineman, and they do a great job, and the fact that they’ll have seen how we’ve developed and grown and some of the things that we’ve modified and what we’ve kind of centered ourselves on offensively will be to their advantage.”
Sullivan said that the rematch becomes something of a chess match as the Bucs’ offense tries to adjust to what it believes the Panthers’ defense will do differently this time around.
“The challenge to us is to access what we’ve done and see where we’re being predictable and where we’re we can change some tendencies and where we can attack some of those weaknesses that we might see and where we can kind of minimize our weaknesses,” he said. “We’re really excited and very, very focused on this very challenging test we have ahead of us.”
Of the nine teams the Buccaneers have faced so far this season, Carolina ranks the highest in the NFL in terms of sacks per pass play. The Panthers are sixth in that regard, and they have gotten to opposing quarterbacks 25 times overall. DE Charles Johnson is tied for fourth in the NFC with 8.5 sacks, but he is getting plenty of help from DT Dwan Edwards (5.0 sacks) and situational pass-rusher Greg Hardy (6.5 sacks).
“You’ve got to look at our unit as a whole,” said Rivera. “I think Charles obviously is one of our catalysts, but Greg Hardy and Dwan Edwards and Frank Alexander and just the whole group, the defensive line, is playing well. And I think we’re doing some good things with our coverages as well. The reason [Johnson] is having some success is the guys around him as well.”