The season obviously did not start out the way that the Panthers or Buccaneers had hoped for, as they both dropped to a disappointing 0-1 last week in their respective season openers. However, both teams surely looked at Thursday night as a chance to bounce back from a disappointing first game and to give their fans something to cheer for.
It was a game that could certainly be described as sloppy, if that word even does justice to how horrid some facets of this game were. I can’t be too critical though… I’m here to note the negatives as well as positives for this Week 2 matchup. So buckle in as we analyze just how this shaky matchup went down.
Let’s take a look at the Panther’s first.
The Panthers were practically living in the shotgun formation this whole game. According to my snap tracking they ran shotgun in 57 of 75 total snaps, which totals out to 76% of snaps in the game, a more modern number in today’s NFL. The Panthers game plan was seemingly directed to be revolved around the pass, but that didn’t go very well. Cam Newton was 24-50 (48%) and was sacked a total of 3 times, as well as being pressured a large portion of the game. In fact, the pressure the Buccaneers were constantly bringing in on Newton was a big part of the reason he had such a shaky game. However, I simply can’t give all the credit to the Buccaneers D-line considering how bad the Panthers O-line looked all game. They had a fair share of blown assignments as well as some untimely false starts that were detrimental to Carolina’s momentum. I have to be honest though… Cam Newton is still very inconsistent throwing the ball; it's very odd how sometimes he can hit a great downfield strike, and then follow up the next play missing an easy wide open target. It wasn’t just the Panthers pass game that failed to get going, because their run game was also very atrocious. They ran mainly out of the shotgun, but did mix in some singleback (8% of snaps) as well as I-form (8% of snaps) to switch up looks running the ball. No matter what they tried, it just wasn't working, and Christian McCaffrey finished with only 37 yards on 16 carries (2.3 YPC).
Another key part of the Panthers’ loss, was the rough late down play calling. They were 3-14 on third down, as well as 0-3 on fourth down with one of them being their final snap of the game AND one of them occurring after they just caused a safety on the Buccaneers, which swiftly killed the momentum they had built.
You rarely can pull out a win in the NFL with an offense showing up this lethargic. One final thing I will point out about the Panthers, is that Ray-Ray McCloud muffed two kicks in this game. Fortunately none of them ended up being turnovers, as the Panthers were able to recover twice. Thus, we will have to see if this trend continues throughout the season.
Now comes time for us to turn our attention to the victors from Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Don’t get me wrong, the Bucs played a very sloppy game too. The thing is though, they did just enough right and/or better than the Panthers, in order to secure the W.
The Buccaneers, unlike the Panthers, ran a majority of their plays out of the singleback formation (roughly 64% of snaps). This allowed them to run the ball a lot and eat away at the clock, which they successfully did as they controlled the ball for 33:53 of the game time, compared to the Panthers 26:07 of game time. The Buccaneers also took some shots out of the singleback that resulted in decent gains, usually targeted at Mike Evans or Chris Godwin.
Other than the singleback, the Buccaneers were mainly in the shotgun (29% of snaps) and showed the empty set 2 times (4% of snaps). The Bucs pass attack was not amazing by any means, but they did just enough to stay on top of the Panthers. Jameis Winston completed 16/25 of his passes for 208 yards (64%), as well as throwing for a touchdown. I will point out here that Winston is sometimes also very inconsistent with his throws. Notably, he had a moment where he completely under threw his target and placed the ball right into Luke Kuechly’s hands, who just was not able to secure the interception.
This was a very big break for the Buccaneers and Winston. A very minor thing I noted from the game was that the Buccaneers only ran out of the I-form 4 times in this game (7% of snaps). According to my tracking, they averaged 8 YPC on those four snaps, with one of those snaps being a play that Peyton Barber took 16 yards to the house. Expect more I-form action going forward from this offense. This O-line didn’t play great, but they definitely played better than the Carolina O-line. They committed their fair share of penalties and allowed plenty of pressures and a few sacks as well. They had just enough great moments where they would give Jameis a lot of time to throw, or create a big hole for their back to hit. The last thing I will note about this Bucs offense is that I really think this team needs to feed their 2nd string back Ronald Jones II a lot more. He was the teams 2nd round pick in last year’s draft and frankly, he just hasn't gotten enough reps, and when he does, he looks like he could be very productive given a multitude of touches.
Before I end this article I must also give a nod to the Bucs defense this year, which so far, looks much improved over last season.
They forced one turnover by making Cam Newton fumble, additionally almost forcing multiple interceptions. They certainly were an X-factor in this game and may continue to be all season long.
So I'll wrap things up here with my final thoughts. Was it an incredibly sloppy and hard to watch game? Absolutely. Does this mean that both the Panthers and Buccaneers won’t improve? I doubt it. I think that both these teams can look a lot better than they have in their opening 2 weeks. Obviously they both have some glaring errors, but with the right leadership, play calling & execution, these teams can both improve heavily.