The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take their longest trip of the season as they head across the pond to London for a key NFC south matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
The Bucs defeated the Panthers 20-13 in the second game of the season when they held Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey to 53 yards.
Since that Thursday night in September, no one has been able to slow down McCaffrey as he has racked up 193, 179, and 237 total yards in his last three games.
Stopping McCaffrey will be the biggest key to the Bucs winning this game. Don’t let McCaffrey run wild. You won’t stop him completely, but you sure need to contain him.
The Bucs have done a good job defensively when they have keyed on one player and shut them down. The Bucs shut down McCaffrey in week two, Saquon Barkley of the Giants in week three, Todd Gurley of the Rams in week four, and Alvin Kamara of the Saints last week in New Orleans.
Another key to the game will be improved defensive play especially in the passing game. The Bucs defense ranks 28th in overall defense giving up 393 yards a game, most of those in the passing game. The pass defense is last in the league giving up 324 yards a game, while the Bucs have the second best run defense giving up 70 yards a game.
The Bucs defense has been torched the last three weeks giving up 499, 518, and 457 yards. It seems like the defense has taken a step back these last few games with their inability to stop the opponents at key moments in the game.
Another important factor to winning this game will be how the Bucs play on third down on both sides of the ball. The Bucs defense have allowed teams to convert 18/39 third down conversions. A lot of those third downs have Been third and long situations which if the defense had done its job, the outcome may have been different.
Offensively the Bucs have converted 15/38 of their third down conversions the last three weeks and this number will have to improve for the Bucs start winning on a more consistent basis.
The Bucs also need to have better offensive production in both the passing game and running game. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said that the offense must improve in all phases of the game.
The Bucs offense seems is not clicking new near the efficiency that is what last year at this time when they had one of the top five offenses in the league.
The Panthers come into this game with the number four ranked pass defense in the league giving up 197 yards a game. The Panthers pass defense will be a challenge for Jameis Winston as teams have successfully been able to take receiver Mike Evans out of the game.
Most of Evans production this season came against a porous Giants defense when he had 190 of his 368 receiving yards. Evans did not catch up a pass last week in New Orleans for only the second time in his career.
The right side of the offensive Line will be brand new this week as guard Alex Cappa is out with a broken arm, and tackle Demar Dotson has a hamstring injury. Zack Bailey was slated to start at guard, but it is now being reported that he will be out for the game. Earl Watford should get the nod in Cappa’s absence. Josh Wells will get the start at tackle.
The Panthers pass rush has significantly improved since the last time the Bucs faced the Panthers. Defensive end Mario Addison leads the panthers with 6.5 sacks and as a team, the Panthers are averaging four sacks a game.
Rookie linebacker Devin White will get the start at middle linebacker. This will be White’s first game since he suffered a knee injury in the Thursday night game against Carolina.
Also, Rookie cornerback Jamel Dean who has been hampered by injuries most of the season is ready to go and should get some playing time on Sunday.
Panthers rookie quarterback Kyle Allen has done a good job filling in for the injured Cam Newton. Allen has managed the game very well and has not thrown an interception in his three starts.
The Bucs defense will need to get some pressure on the young quarterback, get him off his game and try to force him into making some mistakes.
There is some talk in Charlotte that Cam Newton may sit on the bench when he is ready to return as the Panthers are 3-0 since Kyle Allen stepped in at quarterback.
Reciever Breshad Perriman and linebacker Jack Cichy will also miss the game for the Bucs.
This is a game the Bucs can win and should win. A loss to the Panthers would drop the Bucs to 1-2 in the division with three division games to go and would reduce the chances of having any shot at winning the division.
The defense will play better and the offense will do just enough to get the win in London 21-18.