Bucs’ offense faces challenge in Kuechly

by Gary Shelton on December 21, 2017 · 3 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Winston goes against Newton (1) this week./CARMEN MANDATO

Winston goes against Newton (1) this week./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 2 a.m.

For a change, the Bucs had life. For a change, they had sizzle.

Jameis Winston was very good. Mike Evans was very good. Peyton Barber was very good.

Now comes the defense of the Carolina Panthers, ranked fifth in the NFL and smelling blood. Of all of the Bucs' opponents this year, only the Vikings have a better defense.

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Winston struggled against the Panthers earlier./CARMEN MADATO

Winston struggled against the Panthers earlier./CARMEN MADATO

Can the Bucs' offense, which managed but three points the last time they played Carolina, make it a game against linebacker Luke Kuechly and his friends?

Kuechly was the only Panther voted into the Pro Bowl off the 10-4 Panthers.

In the earlier game between the two, Winston had 17 incompletions, two interceptions and only 210 yards passing.

“He is the best that we’ve gone against,” Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. “We’ve gone against him many times and he is the best. I think there (are) probably other players in the league that know what is coming, but he also verbalizes it and tries to get everybody else on board.

“I think the thing for me, just studying him over the years, he’s off the charts but when he tries to get everyone else (on the same page), they don’t always get it. When you really look at the tape, sometimes they are all right [and] sometimes if just one guy is off — like any play — then it doesn’t always help. But, he knows your tendencies. There was a game a couple years ago when as soon as Jameis [Winston] made the check, he was calling out the play (and) what our check was. We do have to be constantly on guard about trying to give him different looks and trying to change it up, but the guy is sharp.”

Koetter said the Panthers are very good across the defensive front.

“Their front seven is top notch,” Koetter said. “The other thing is, even though they play some man, they are what you call a vision-zone team, where they are playing zone but they are looking at the quarterback. I think that gives them confidence and they play what we call palms coverage where the corner knows that he has help from the safety and he is looking at the quarterback, so he has a little more freedom to jump routes. I think they made the decision a year or so ago to go with two young guys and I think they have both improved a lot. I think they both really compete hard and I think they both do a good job of fitting within what their system demands of them. I just don’t think they ask them to play a ton of man, but they can play man. I don’t look at Carolina at all and say that corners are the weak spot of their defense. That is not really how we look at them.”

Across the line of scrimmage, the Bucs again have to contend with quarterback Cam Newton.

“He is arguably their best running back on the team,” said defensive coach Mike Smith. “I don’t mean to take anything away from the guys that don’t receive the snap that do run the ball, but he is a big, strong guy and often time in defenses you aren’t always accounting for the quarterback. You have to do that when you are playing the Carolina Panthers. They are running him more. He is their leading rusher in terms of average, so he is a guy that we’ve got to make sure we can get him on the ground and have guys that are going to be shadowing him on certain defensive calls.”

Making it tougher for the Bucs is their run defense, which has been inconsistent this season. Against Atlanta last week, the Bucs gave up 201 yards on the ground.

“We have not played the run consistently, just like we haven’t played the pass consistently all season,” Smith said. “I can think of three games where we’ve had close to 200 yards run up on us. It comes down to everybody is responsible for a gap and when you’re not in your gap, the back is able to roll back and if he gets into that gap it’s into the second level. That’s been the story of what we’ve done this year in terms of the negative things. We haven’t been very consistent in anything that we’ve done. When you’re not holding your gap, good running teams are going to be able to run the football on you.”

The Bucs' game time is 1 p.m. in Charlotte on Sunday.

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