Both the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are limping into their Week 16 matchup. The three best receivers amongst the teams may all be out, the two secondaries are almost a shell of themselves and, oh, we can’t forget the looming prospect of COVID-19 knocking out more guys.
Nonetheless, there are still matchups left to be seen for Sunday.
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In his first two weeks with the headset, offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon has abided by his buddy Matt Rhule’s wishes and has tried to establish the run. And he’s done it, primarily, off the legs of quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton leads all Panthers ball carriers in attempts over the past pair of games. He’s chalked up 25 takes with running backs Chuba Hubbard and Ameer Abdullah going for 18 and eight, respectively.
That game plan, at least when it comes to Cam, has worked too. Still a prolific rusher, Newton has registered 118 yards on those runs (4.7 yards per carry) with a pair of scores. The backs, on the other hand, have combined for 96 yards on their 26 chances (3.7).
White, the Bucs’ stud middle linebacker, will have the task of trying to neutralize No. 1 as a rushing threat—whether that be on read options or by stopping the 6-foot-5, 245-pound tank himself.
Panthers interior OL vs. Buccaneers DT Vita Vea
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
Vea is the straw that stirs the drink that is the Tampa Bay defense. He’s the motor, the ignition, the key cog that makes the unit function at the high level it often does.
Some may not know that simply based off Vea’s conventional stats, as he’s totaled just 10.5 sacks over his four-year career. But it’s his push and presence from the middle that allows the pass-rushing prowesses of Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Joe Tryon and Jason Pierre-Paul to shine.
Additionally, he’s heading what continues to be the one of stingiest run defenses in the game. So if the Panthers want to get rushing and defy that stout average of 89.0 yards allowed per game, their struggling interior (which’ll likely start Michael Jordan and Jon Miller) must contain the beast.
AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman
Both foes and teammates for a brief time, Gilmore and Brown should know quite a bit about each other. Let’s see how that translates on Sunday.
With top receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on the shelf, Brown becomes Tampa’s most potent weapon at the position. He also should become the top priority for Gilmore, who’s played his deepest football over the past two weeks.
The torn quad is a setback of the past for the 10th-year veteran, as he’s played in 98.6 percent of the defense’s snaps between Weeks 14 and 15. Much of his Week 16 snaps should come against a fellow former All-Pro in Brown, who was targeted a hefty 32 times over 119 snaps in his last three games.
Hopefully, the Panthers will let Gilmore know what’s going on though.
Panthers S Jeremy Chinn (and others) vs. Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The absences of Evans and Godwin will, additionally, make Gronkowski even more of a focal point. For that, the Panthers may have some Chinn music.
Carolina’s second-year safety won’t be locked into the future Hall-of-Fame tight end all day, as defensive coordinator Phil Snow loves to mix his coverages up. But the prospect of these two freakish specimens locking horns is too much not to look out for.
Chinn (and company) may treat Gronkowski like they did Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts, with a handful of defenders getting a crack. Pitts—in the recent Week 14 tilt—saw linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerbacks Keith Taylor Jr., Myles Hartsfield and A.J. Bouye in coverage.
Gronkowski himself won’t see Bouye, as he’s been placed on the injured reserve for the remainder of 2021. He could, though, get a piece of Gilmore as a result.[listicle id=647133]