NFL Preview - Carolina (3-3) at Tampa Bay (0-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Something has to give on "Thursday Night Football" when NFC South foes Carolina and Tampa Bay meet up in Central Florida.
The winless Buccaneers have never lost to the Panthers under embattled head coach Greg Schiano (2-0) but they have also dropped 11 of their past 12 games overall dating back to last season. Carolina, meanwhile, is trying to get its head above water and jump over the .500 mark for the first time since finishing 12-4 in the 2008 season.
Making matters worse this week for Tampa Bay is the fact that star running back Doug Martin has been diagnosed with a labrum tear in his left shoulder, an injury which could sideline the second-year pro for the remainder of the season.
The Panthers, on the other hand, have won two straight behind an opportunistic defense led by star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, along with safety Mike Mitchell, the only player in the NFL with three interceptions and two sacks, and defensive end Charles Johnson, who has 16 1/2 sacks and seven forced fumbles over his last 19 outings.
Cam Newton passed for 204 yards and a touchdown in Week 7 to help lead Carolina to a 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams at Bank of America Stadium. Newton completed 15 of his 17 passes and ran for 26 yards on 10 carries.
"He has done a great job," Carolina head coach Ron Rivera said of Newton. "You talk about things that he does and his reads and learning to go through his progressions the right way. When you see him doing those types of things to give us a chance to win, you know that he has matured."
Steve Smith caught the lone touchdown pass from Newton and had five receptions for 69 yards. Mike Tolbert added a touchdown run on 13 carries for 36 yards, while Captain Munnerlyn had a 45-yard interception return for a score in the win.
The Bucs, meanwhile, continued to go the wrong way in Atlanta last week, falling to a banged-up Falcons team, 31-23.
Matt Ryan threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns in that one despite being without the services of his two favorite targets, wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Mike Glennon went 26-of-44 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns for penalty-plagued Tampa Bay in his third career start. Martin gained 47 yards on the ground before leaving with the injury, and Vincent Jackson caught 10 passes for 138 yards and two scores.
"I want to be clear on this because I don't take lightly 0-6. I've never been 0-6. But we do our best. We're trying our hardest," Schiano said. "Our guys are working and I have found when you have good people and they work hard and they work smart it'll turn."
The Panthers and Buccaneers will be meeting for the 26th time on Thursday with Carolina holding a 14-11 advantage in the all-time series.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Carolina has outscored its last two opponents (Minnesota and St. Louis) by a combined score of 65-25 using the same formula, a few big plays from Newton in the passing game combined with a stout, opportunistic defense.
Since taking over the middle linebacker position in Week 5 of the 2012 season, Kuechly has spearheaded an amazingly consistent group which ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense (309.3 yards per game), fourth in rushing defense (96.1) and eighth in passing defense (213.2) over that span.
This season the Panthers "D" has been especially effective against teams in the red zone, ranking third in the NFL by allowing just five touchdowns in 14 red zone possessions, a 35.7 percent touchdown percentage.
Glennon will have to find a way to conquer that group without his best asset, Martin, who was officially ruled out on Wednesday as has guard Carl Nicks, who will miss another game due to a MRSA infection in his foot.
Rookie backup Mike James, who ran for 45 yards on 14 carries after replacing Martin last week with have his hands full with a Panthers front seven that has allowed just 84.5 rushing yards per game, fourth best in football.
The Panthers are also giving up only 217.7 yards through the air, the fifth- best mark in the NFL.
The Bucs' offense, meanwhile, will enter this contest 31st out of 32 in both total yards (297.8) and scoring (14.5 points per game).
"(Carolina is) really talented," Glennon said. "They're one of top defensive teams in the league statistically with how they're playing."
Glennon has a big arm but like most rookies he will telegraph his intentions on occasion as evidenced by his 36 throws toward Jackson over the past two weeks.
Perhaps not surprisingly Jackson is rather high on Glennon.
"We do have a young guy at quarterback doing a great job," Jackson said. "(It's) very impressive the way he is handling the ball. He's only going to continue to get better, making great reads. He stands in there with great confidence and he's going to be a great leader."
That kind of predictability, however, could have Mitchell and Munnerlyn foaming at the mouth in an attempt to jump routes and make the big play defensively.
It's hard to imagine Glennon generating anything consistently against Kuechly and Co. Meanwhile, Newton is starting to mature and become more of a game manager, not exactly a bad idea when you have a legitimate big-time defense backing you up.
Cam is usually good for two or three big plays to Smith so if the Panthers can limit turnovers and stay away from any game-changing penalties, expect a workmanlike win for Carolina.
"We have a tough challenge going on the road in a short week, but we know that's what we are facing, so we must do our best to prepare," Rivera said.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Panthers 23, Bucs 13
10/24 09:15:33 ET