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The Panthers Face the NFL’s Top Offense

Sharon Thorsland
November 02, 2018 - 2:50 pm

A week after facing the NFL's top-ranked defense, the Panthers get set to take on the league's number one offense. Division rival Tampa Bay comes to town, bringing with them their high flying offense that's averaging over 400 yards and 33 points per game. The Bucs don't have the wins to go with those gaudy numbers, though – they're 3-4 on the season after a last-second loss to the Bengals last week.

The Bucs have managed to put up big numbers on offense despite a flip-flop at quarterback. Starter Jameis Winston started the season with a three-game suspension and was benched last week after throwing 10 interceptions in just 3 and ½ games. So the Bucs have turned again to 35-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran made NFL history throwing for over 400 yards in each of the Bucs first three games, earning the nickname “Fitzmagic.”   He’s got an outstanding pair of receivers in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Evans ranks 5th in the NFL with 770 yards, and Jackson is a 3-time pro bowler who's averaging a whopping 23 yards per catch. Former Clemson standout Adam Humphries is in the slot, and the Bucs also have an outstanding pair of tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.  “Mike Evans is a physical receiver, he’s a jump ball guy, 6-5,” said Panther cornerback James Bradberry.  “DeSean Jackson - speed all day, they got some great tight ends over there.  I mean, he’s got plenty of weapons to choose from.”

The Bucs running game has struggled, they rank 28th in the NFL managing just 91 yards a game. That's at the other end of the spectrum from the Panthers rushing attack, which is 2nd in the league at 139 yards a contest.  But Christian McCaffrey and company will face a test from the Bucs defense, which is pretty darn good against the run. They've got a ton of Pro Bowlers on the defensive line, starting with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The rest of the defense isn't so great, though – the Bucs rank in the bottom of the league in total defense, passing defense, and sacks allowed, and are dead last in the league giving up 33 points per game. Injuries have played a big role – Pro Bowl middle linebacker Kwon Alexander and starting DB's Chris Conte and Vernon Hargreaves are all on IR. The secondary is also very young, Brent Grimes is the only veteran alongside three rookies and a second-year player in safety Justin Evans, who has the team's only interception.

This is a key matchup for both teams – the Bucs want to get back on track after losing four of their past five games, while the Panthers are looking for extend their nine-game home winning streak and pick up their first division win of the season. And of course, this is a rivalry game, which means throw out the records.  “We’ve played tight games with them, it seems every time, every year,” said Greg Olsen.  “Records in this league can be deceiving.  It’s definitely a team that we’ve got to prepare hard for.”

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