The Carolina Panthers get love all over the place.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Nada, zip, zero, none.
Forget the two-and-a-half point spread, they're telling us "blowout."
It seems the problem with the Buccaneer-Panther matchup is the perception created by last year's games that came on Week 13 and Week 16 of the regular season.
There's a couple of problems with that perception. By Week 13, last year's team had firmly given up on then head coach Raheem Morris and simply quit playing for him. It didn't help that defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was in his usual resting place—the Injured Reserve list.
Week 13 saw the Panthers tromp on the Bucs 38-19, and Week 16 was an even bigger fiasco, a 48-16 beat down. It was proof that the Bucs on that roster simply wanted to get the heck out of town and start vacation then wait and see who the new head coach would be.
My thought here is that this will be a different story on Sunday. There's plenty of film on Cam Newton and make no mistake, he's really, really good. He has weapons around him in Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, his receivers, there's tight end Greg Olsen (no kin to last year's awful O-coordinator) and of course the two-headed running monster named Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Stewart is still getting over a bad ankle sprain, that's the good news.
Not real worried about Mike Tolbert at fullback, either.
Newton's scrambling is a problem but the fact is that Greg Schiano saw a lot of scrambling, running quarterbacks as a college coach. If the Bucs can pressure Newton in the pocket, and that's a big "if," then the task will be less difficult on Sunday.
What the Bucs need to do is keep this one close and that will put a lot of onus on the defensive line and therein lies the big key to this game.
Don't know if you caught it or remember it, but Schiano had a very astute observation early in training camp.
If the drop-off between the first and second group is that much, it's doesn't bode well for us. I feel good about our first line, I'm worried about our depth.
It's the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The last time we saw ends Michael Bennett and Adrian Clayborn along with tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller, they did a pretty good job of making things miserable for Tom Brady in the third preseason game against New England.
We haven't seen them since then and they won't be able to play every minute on defense in the Sunday afternoon heat at Raymond James.
How will Wallace Gilberry, Gary Gibson, Corvey Irvin and George Johnson perform? Ponder that one for a moment, if you will.
Schiano's right. Those guys aren't going to strike fear into any quarterback's heart.
Maybe, just maybe, one or two of them will step up and take their game to another level above mediocrity.
The Bucs will need it.
Goodness knows they'll need it a lot.
Buccaneers release Derek Hardman: OneBucSite.com