Bucs fans have had his game circled on their calendars since around about May, when He Who Shall Not Be Named was cut and subsequently signed with our division rival. Division games are always tough. Add in a player switching sides and, like a relationship gone wrong, it gets ugly. Compound the anticipation with the sour taste many fans feel after our ugly loss to the 49ers, and this is a game that has a lot riding on it.
I don’t think we’re going to have a hard time with our former defensive tackle. As we’ve stated many times, he’s a one-trick pony that’s easy to beat. With our offensive line’s markedly improved run blocking and his ability to create holes in the defensive line by getting completely pushed out of the way, I have no doubt we’ll be successful in the run game. Carolina allowed the Rams to clock 166 yards rushing with a 5.2 yard/carry average. While you could argue the Bucs don’t have a running back like Todd Gurley, the fact is the Rams spread it around to five different rushers and Malcolm Brown’s 11 carries nearly matched Gurley’s 14.
Conversely, I am 100% worried about Carolina’s run game. Specifically, Christian McCaffrey, who put up 128 yards rushing against the Rams, and another 81 yards receiving. It appears they’re limiting the amount Cam runs as he only rushed three times for a total of -2 yards. Mark Duffner, as interim defensive coordinator last year, figured out that if you contain Cam and force him to throw you have a chance at beating them. It was exactly how the Rams game shook out. Whether that was the game plan by the Rams or the Panthers, I don’t know.
Our run defense can certainly handle the challenge of this running heavy offense. The linebackers, however, will need to emphasize their tackling, as McCaffrey is known to require more than one defender to bring him down. Lavonte David appears to have returned to form, as on his five tackles against rushers in Week 1, San Francisco gained: 0, -2, 1, 4, 1 yards. A good day against McCaffrey is holding him to 80 yards and a touchdown, which we’re confident the defense can handle. Neutralize him and we have a good chance to win the game.
The bigger question here for Bucs fans is Jameis Winston. How is he going to perform after losing us the game last week? Bruce Arians has publicly stated the interceptions weren’t Jameis’ fault, but as Ralph discusses in our game review podcast, that’s not necessarily the case. While Jameis’ intended targets may have made mistakes in their routes that led to the interceptions, two for touchdowns, Jameis had open receivers elsewhere. This is a flaw in Jameis: he does not read the field. It may be the flaw that ends his career (with the Buccaneers, anyhow). But if anyone can fix it, it’s Bruce Arians.
The fan reaction to Jameis this week has been an emotional one. Ralph and I are always on the Bucs hype train, but were disappointed in the Week 1 showing. Jameis has to make better decisions. Plain and simple. This loss hurt more than years past because there’s a lot riding on this season. We had a lot of hope. Expectations are high. If Bruce Arians can’t do it, can anyone? We should have beat a team like San Francisco. It’s one of our few gimmes in the first part of the season, before we go on a five-game away streak that spans the globe.
This Carolina game offers redemption. A win would earn Jameis forgiveness from the fans he hasn’t yet lost completely. It would restore some hope, while at the same time perhaps tempering the expectations of those that had the highest of hopes. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’d rather have low expectations and be pleasantly surprised than have high expectations and be disappointed. Perhaps that’s what we needed Week 1 – reminder that anything can happen on any given Sunday (or Thursday).