Carolina comes in hot - Tampa comes in cold. And yet I can see this
game going in almost any direction. Rivalry type games can do that, and
while the last few have been lopsided in either direction (a blowout win
by Carolina in 2011 near the end of the year, Tampa sweeping Carolina
last year), that's often been aside from the quality of the team
winning. There's not bad blood like the recent Atlanta games,
necessarily, but when I think of some of Carolina's biggest wins and
losses, Tampa Bay comes to mind often.
Carolina's a moody team. Its greatest successes come when something
goes undeniably right (best example - when the team created 4 turnovers
in the second quarter after a Ted Ginn return TD). And this is a game
that could go right, or go wrong.
Tampa was the best team in the league last year at stopping the run,
and the worst at stopping the pass despite the obvious advantages that
come with forcing opponents to one-dimensionality. They famously spent
at a Bill Gates level to improve that pass defense with CB Darelle Revis
and S Dashon Goldson - and it's worked to a point (improving to 18th
pass, while only dropping to 5th run). They're a 4-3, in theory, but
you may as well call them a 4-4 with SS Mark Barron playing in the box
They've only given up close to 300 yards passing to New Orleans, who
routinely throws the ball for much more. Their problem, so to speak, is
inconsistency. Revis, Goldson have their obvious moments, and you have
to respect Barron and WLB Lavonte David at times.
But Johnathan Banks has dealt with MRSA infection and is a rookie, and
smallish Leonard Johnson is a second year at nickel. They combined to
give Harry Douglas 7 receptions for 149 yards this week. Not specific
to the two young corners, Jacquizz Rodgers had 2 scores and 8 receptions
out of the backfield for Atlanta as well.
David as a blitzer has been their best pass rusher, with 4 sacks; the
defensive line hasn't generated much. DT Gerald McCoy is the 2nd best
with 2, tied with MLB Mason Foster and end Adrian Clayborn. So they
give up some to get pressure; you're going to expect them to go from
cover 1 look to cover 1 look without much variation. With Barron in the
box so much in base, and with Revis/Goldson built for specific roles,
you can pull them into less comfortable looks with three WR. Which
throws both Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell out there, and potentially Greg
Olsen as well; pushing the ball into the heart of the Tampa D isn't the
way to do it, but if you must, three wides and moving Olsen around might
not be the worst way to pull it off. Create room.
To make it worse for the Carolina run game, Deangelo Williams spent a
lot of his carries gaining no yardage. Jonathan Stewart isn't likely
ready despite practicing; Mike Tolbert is getting more positive yardage
on non-goal situations thanks to simply hitting the hole faster, so it's
hard to say if Tolbert will be getting more snaps this week. Either
way, Tampa's front is
4th year end Daniel Teo-Nesheim and rookie DT Akeem Spence round out
the DL; Spence has become a good runstopper early into his career as
well. Tampa isn't the easiest team to run on. But if you can get them
out of their comfort zone defensively - spreading so they can't just sit
in Cover 1 Robber (deep safety, and an underneath zone guy- often Barron
with a blizing LB in the same space, and man around that), and getting
the ball out fast enough that the blitz can't get there, you can move
the ball on them effectively with the short and medium pass.
It will be a critical challenge for Newton, and Mike Shula, to
challenge the secondary safely without repeating the mistakes of
Seattle, where they were exceedingly conservative and threw up seven
total points. This isn't as tough a challenge as Seattle, but both will
be out of their comfort zone - minimal running game, not a lot of play
action opportunity, and therefore a lot more traditional passing snaps
with some of the field taken away. It will be harder to be efficient
without some of those looks, and it will be hard to remain efficient
over 40+ passes as well.
Offensively, Tampa is a mess. After cutting Josh Freeman, rookie Mike
Glennon got forced into duty and improved their completion percentage,
but he's playing small-ball out there. Like most not-mobile QBs early
in their career, Glennon's QB rating when pressured is noticeably worse,
so expect some level of rolling toward WR Vincent Jackson and a lot of
players headed to the QB.
To make that more critical, RB Doug Martin has been their workhorse,
already at 127 carries in six games but for only a 3.6 average; he's
likely done for the year, but definitely out for this game. They've
only given 30 total carries to backups. Mike James, a rookie from
Miami, is the next man up, and he's taken most of those carries; 17 for
an uninspiring 3.4 yards as a backup. Brian Leonard looked like a good
dual purpose threat at first, he's never had 250 yards rushing or
receiving since his rookie year (which has now been seven years ago).
FB Eric Lorig has never had an NFL carry.
So, they're going to be pretty one dimensional, and Glennon is neither
the running threat nor does he have pocket elusiveness like the massive
Freeman. He's taken 2, 2, and 3 sacks in his three starts, and has
fumbled once each game already. He does complete nearly 60% of his
passes, and for a rookie, a 5/3 TD/INT ratio isn't bad.
And he feeds Vincent Jackson - 19 receptions (half of his season total)
for all four of Jackson's TDs on the year. He doesn't look as hard at
Mike Williams on the other side, instead giving backup TE Timothy Wright
(a rookie Rutgers product) 14 of his 15 receptions on the year. He
dumped to Doug Martin for 75% of Martin's receptions for the year, but
hard to say how he'll treat James or Leonard or if they'll work the
screen game hard (I imagine I would). 3rd WR Chris Owusu barely sees
the field, however.
The better model to look at for Glennon isn't his last two, more
comfortable, games against bad defenses. Against Arizona, Glennon was a
55% passer who threw a score and two picks, and under 200 yards.
Hopefully that's more the player Carolina will see.
Tampa's line has given up 14 sacks for the year; missing Carl Nicks
this week (again, with MRSA) puts non-descript rookie Paul Omameh in at
left guard. Demar Dotson (RT) and Donald Penn (LT) do an average job
holding the edge; Jeremy Zuttah is just average, too - Davin Joseph
stands out for simply being really high paid, though they'll pay Nicks a
great deal to be on the sideline as well.
So, Carolina's 2nd ranked scoring defense against a rookie QB and RB is
an obvious matchup advantage for Carolina. There's a reasonable
strategy to not making mistakes for their offense, still attempting to
pound the ball enough, playing field position. That hasn't worked for
them, against better teams, and the Coryell system's best attributes are
stifled to a point against good run defense and good individual
secondary members. You have to make plays in this league, instead of
just sitting on a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. It'll be up to
Carolina to make those plays to put this game away.