By Max Luckan
Having lost 11 of their last 12 games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still stuck searching for answers. Everyone is becoming fed up with head coach Greg Schiano at this point, including some of the players on the roster, but there have been no clear indications that Schiano is on his way out of town as of yet.
This week, the Bucs have a short time to prepare because they are playing a Thursday night game against another divisional opponent, the Carolina Panthers. Surprisingly, the Bucs put up a fight against the feisty Atlanta Falcons last week, but came up short. This Thursday the Bucs will look to finally erase the goose-egg in the win column.
Panthers Season Record
Quietly, the Panthers have crept into second place in the NFC South with a record of 3-3. The Panthers, led by quarterback Cam Newton, have won two games in a row after starting off the season slow.
Carolina started off the season with losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, but then rebounded with a 38-0 thrashing of the New York Giants. However, a week later the Panthers were pummeled by the Arizona Cardinals, but again, were able to rebound with wins against the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams.
The schedule has been pretty weak so far, but the Panthers find themselves in the playoff hunt.
Panthers on Offense
The centerpiece of the Panthers offense is undoubtedly Cam Newton, who has thrown 10 touchdowns already this season, and has completed 63.5 percent of his passes.
Running back DeAngelo Williams has 434 yards on the ground through six games, which isn’t overly impressive, but the Panthers have struggled on the ground. Tight end Greg Olsen has been battling a foot injury and he’s the team’s second leading receiver behind none other than veteran Steve Smith.
So far, the offense hasn’t been explosive, but has been able to get the job done. If Newton continues to play at a high level, the offense is in good shape.
Panthers on Defense
While the offense is moving along, the defense has really been hindered by injuries this season, but that hasn’t affected the team’s performance so far.
Currently, cornerback D.J. Moore is out because of a knee injury, cornerback Melvin White is battling a concussion, and safety Robert Lester has a hamstring injury. Then there’s the fact that the Panthers traded away veteran linebacker Jon Beason to the New York Giants this season.
The defensive leader is linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has emerged as one of the best in the league. The Panthers defense is feisty, resilient, and tough, and the Bucs won’t have an easy time moving the ball against them.
Panthers Players to Watch
Cam Newton: Obviously, Carolina’s offense goes as Newton goes so he will be the Bucs main focus on Thursday.
Steve Smith: Once again, Smith is Newton’s top target. The Bucs should put Darrelle Revis on Smith, which will make for an interesting matchup.
Luke Kuechly: Kuechly has quickly become one of the best linebackers in the league. He will be key in stopping the Bucs rushing attack and Kuechly will surely keep an eye on Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
The Panthers lead the all-time series 14-11, but Bucs coach Greg Schiano got his first ever win as a head coach in the NFL against the Panthers. This divisional matchup should be very competitive either way.
For more Bucs news and updates, visit Bucs Central.
Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. Max is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.