Carolina Panthers steamroll Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As Pewter Plank assistant editor Josh Hill and I predicted in our previews (separate links “our” and “previews”), the Carolina Panthers wouldn’t have much trouble dispatching their rivals. They didn’t, and the Bucs had no chance in a 48-16 victory for Carolina. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers really looked out of place, and Raheem Morris’s tenure with the team is likely over. His contract runs out after next season, and he will be a lame-duck coach if the team doesn’t give him an extension. I doubt that happens, and I also doubt that the Bucs will allow him to be a lame-duck coach. I hate to say it, but it looks like Morris is out.

Anyway, let’s focus on the good instead of the bad, because there was a whole lot of good in this game for the Panthers. Even though we can’t draw too much out of a game against a lifeless opponent, it still feels good to trounce a rival and get things rolling at the end of the season. There is a lot of optimism in the air in Charlotte, and that’s understandable considering the Panthers have a great rookie quarterback, the most elusive running back tandem in the league, a solid offensive line, an elite wide receiver, the best group of linebackers in the league, a shutdown corner, and a nice pass rushing duo. Below are a few storylines I have handpicked to discuss in this game.

Cam’s historic day

Well, it was a historic day because of the rookie records he broke. Cam Newton went 12 for 17 with 171 passing yards and now holds the rookie passing record with 3,893 yards on the season. He should easily surpass 107 yards next week against New Orleans to reach the 4,000 yard threshold. Only five rookies in NFL history have 20 touchdown passes in a season, and Cam just became one of those five after dishing out three yesterday. Also, no quarterback has ever made it to the end zone on a running play 14 times in a season. If you didn’t see Newton’s 49-yard touchdown run, then you better watch it now. That’s what we call the perfect option run, and he showed blazing speed after faking the handoff to DeAngelo Williams. He went untouched until E.J. Biggers tried- and failed- to drag him down, as Newton fell into the end zone.

Newton completed 70.6% of his passes as he completely broke down the Bucs secondary and threw touchdowns to Jonathan Stewart, Jeremy Shockey, and Brandon LaFell. Only three of his passes were tipped and none picked, and he had a 142.4 QB Rating to go with 10.1 yards per attempt.

Greatness befell Lafell

Last week, I was critical of Brandon LaFell’s lackluster performance against the Houston Texans. LaFell certainly wasn’t held without a reception in this game, as he caught all three of his targets for 103 yards. His seven-yard catch was the pass that broke the rookie passing record, but it was obviously his 91-yard touchdown catch that garnered the most attention.

Cam Newton dropped back into his own end zone, but he, thankfully, received better protection than Mark Sanchez and was able to find Brandon LaFell behind E.J. Biggers in coverage. Newton delivered a strike, and LaFell raced down the right side for a touchdown. Fellow receiver Steve Smith was held to just one catch for nine yards on a meager three targets, as Smitty was constantly double-teamed. The nightmarish matchup wasn’t able to burn the Bucs today, but he freed up a lot of space for the others. In any case, his block on Biggers was crucial and allowed LaFell to get to the end zone.

Blount benched

Really, there were only two favorable matchups for the Bucs in this game, and one of them was taken out of the game by Raheem Morris. After missing the handoff on the first play of scrimmage, the elusive LeGarrette Blount was relegated to bench duty and only received two carries. Kregg Lumpkin filled in and was very poor with an average of just 3.4 yards per carry.

Strong Line

Cam Newton received a ton of time to operate, and only Michael Bennett delivered a quarterback hit (a sack) on Newton. Bennett had a very favorable matchup against Byron Bell, and he was the only player who even threatened Newton as a pass rusher. Adrian Clayborn was only average, and the interior was ineffective. The Panthers, on the other hand, hit Josh Freeman six times and received a strong performance from Andre Neblett. I don’t know why NFC South blogger Pat Yasinkas was so quick to criticize the Bucs for allowing Neblett to get a sack, and Yasinkas really underestimates Neblett’s ability. Granted, he isn’t a special player by any means, but he’s a decent defensive tackle overall.

Double Trouble

Heading into the game, Josh and I correctly identified the most lopsided matchup; the Panthers running game against the Bucs run defense. Everybody knows that the Bucs can’t tackle, or they should know that, and it’s no secret that Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are two of the most elusive backs in the game. Smash and dash struck again, as both players had seven carries and did a lot with those limited touches. Stewart had 88 yards on the ground and a touchdown on his sole reception, while Williams added 66 yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Those two touchdowns are certainly notable, and he kicked off the scoring in this game with 10:12 left in the first quarter. Williams’s eight yard run showed his trademark vision and ability to squeeze between the smallest of holes. Watch it, because that play is a clinic on how to run between the tackles. His second touchdown was a beautifully executed triple-option play by quarterback Cam Newton, and Williams raced, track meet speed for sure, for a 22-yard TD.

The only threat

With LeGarrette Blount benched, the only threat at a skill-position was the skilled tight end Kellen Winslow. Heading into this game, I highlighted Winslow as a guy who had a favorable matchup against a Panthers linebacker corps that struggles in pass coverage. Winslow did fumble the ball once, but he also caught a team-high six passes for 63 yards on seven targets. He was the only true weapon on this offense, even if Freeman had a decent game that got him out of a really bad slide.

The Play

I’m simply going to call Arrelious Benn’s catch at the beginning of the second quarter “The Play”. It was the only time he caught the ball on just two targets, but No. 17 certainly made an incredible catch. Benn lined up on the left side of the formation in the “slot”, and he pushed off of cornerback Darius Butler before crossing outside. Benn then leaped high and dragged his feet in-bounds for what was an incredible touchdown. He has the ability to make the plays, but he is still far too inconsistent to be considered a threat at this point.

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Tags: Adrian Clayborn Andre Neblett Arrelious Benn Brandon LaFell Byron Bell Cam Newton Darius Butler DeAngelo Williams E.J. Biggers Jonathan Stewart Josh Freeman Kellen Winslow LeGarrette Blount Michael Bennett Raheem Morris Steve Smith Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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