The Bucs have changed quarterbacks (again), fired another coordinator (again), and now have a completely different defensive scheme than the one that surrendered an embarrassing 267 yards on the ground.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, it's the same one that surrendered 299 yards on the ground in a game that had very different circumstances riding on it last December.
Indeed, what a difference a year makes for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers. Since that fateful Monday night on Dec. 8th last season, the Bucs have gone 1-14, while the Panthers have managed a 7-9 record (including the playoffs).
Carolina was one-and-doned in the postseason, while the Bucs pretty much blew up everything and started from scratch.
Now both teams return to the scene of their decline, searching for victory and hoping it's the start of a new rise back to NFL prominence.
Carolina leads the series 11-7 and won the last meeting in Week Six 28-21.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Attack vs. Carolina Panthers Pass Defense
While statistically, the Buccaneers remain in the bottom half of the league in passing offense, under rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, it's a different team. Freeman's seven touchdown passes in four games is nearly as many as his two predecessors combined. His completion percentage and average yards per attempt are also superior.
His arm gives the Bucs receiving core big play opportunities, as evidenced by his quick strike drive against Atlanta last week.
Freeman commands the huddle with authority and poise beyond his years and has been the bright star in the otherwise dark season for Tampa Bay.
Carolina's defense isn't what it once was, but the one thing they do well is stop the pass. The Panthers rank third in the NFL at defending the pass, and star defensive end Julius Peppers will certainly make life hard on Tampa Bay's future franchise quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Attack vs. Carolina Panthers Run Defense
It's the resistible force against the movable object. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' M.I.A. running game faces a defense that is just as bad at stopping the run.
The Bucs had one of their better rushing games of the season against Carolina, totaling 124 yards on the ground.
They'll need it again this week to keep the pressure off of young Freeman.
Carolina Panthers Passing Game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
From all indications, it appears that Jake Delhomme will miss this game against the Bucs, and maybe a few more while he nurses a broken finger. That's bad news for the Buccaneers as Delhomme has been absolutely horrible this season, throwing just eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Young perennial back up Matt Moore takes his place under the butt of the Panther's center and already boasts a victory against Tampa Bay in his career.
The Bucs defense certainly improved for one week under head coach Raheem Morris (now calling the defensive plays). The Bucs held the Falcons to just 222 yards passing and sacked Atlanta quarterbacks six times, but gave up some plays down the stretch that cost them the game.
Even in the old scheme run by deposed defensive coordinator Jim Bates, the Bucs were getting a little better at pass defense, ranking 11th in the league.
Under Delhomme, the Panthers were only 28th in the league passing the ball.
The Bucs will need to watch out for Buc killer Steve Smith, who managed just one catch for four yards against the Bucs in the last meeting and was none too happy about it.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Carolina Panthers Running Game vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
The last two times the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the Carolina Panthers running attack, the Panthers ran for over 265 yards against them. The good news for Tampa Bay is the Bucs run defense looked revitalized under the play calling of Raheem Morris, holding the hard charging Falcons to just 75 yards rushing, the best performance by the defense this season.
Carolina's two powerhouse backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart didn't practice on Wednesday. While both are expected to play, they will be nursing various ailments.
Stopping the Panthers running game would go a long way in putting the Bucs into position to win this one.
It would also prove emphatically that the defense just might be fixed with Raheem at the controls.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Special Teams vs. Carolina Panthers Special Teams
If there was ever a disadvantage between squads, it's the special teams. In the last meeting, special teams nearly won the game for Tampa Bay, blocking a punt and returning a kickoff for a touchdown.
While the Bucs coverage units and return units are among the best in the league, the Panthers have the worst.
Connor Barth has been solid for the Bucs, showing the ability to hit from way downtown. Tampa Bay has a new punter in Sam "Bam" Paulescu.
Carolina's specialists include veteran kicker John Kasay, who's 13-17 in field goals this season, and punter Jason Baker, who's averaging a solid 45.3 yards a kick.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
- Carolina has won five of the past seven meetings with Tampa Bay
- In four of those five victories, Carolina went over a 100 yards rushing. The Panthers are 1-2 against the Bucs when being held under 100 yards rushing during this current run.
- Tampa Bay and Carolina have split the season series each of the last two years and three of the last four seasons.
- Carolina is a negative nine in turnover ratio. The Bucs are a negative four.
- Tampa Bay is 3-4 in Carolina since joining the Panthers in the NFC South.
Raheem Morris is in his first season as an NFL head coach and is now 1-10. He's 0-1 against Carolina.
John Fox is in his fifth season as an NFL head coach. He is 67-56, with three division championships and a conference championship. He is 10-5 against Tampa Bay.
So this week we figure out if we have something with head coach Raheem Morris taking over the defensive coordinator duties. If the Bucs can get the same production out of the defense they got in Atlanta, they stand a very good chance at winning this ball game.
If Carolina's banged up backs run wild once again on the Bucs, it could be a long day on the road.
Josh Freeman played his first turnover free game of his young career (he did have one fumble, but the Buccaneers recovered) last week against Atlanta. He'll need to protect the football once again against a tough Carolina pass defense.
Freeman also needs to find his weapons, Antonio Bryant and Kellen Winslow, to make plays in the passing game.
It will be crucial for the Bucs to establish the running game in this one and keep the defense fresh.
I think this is going to be an old style slobber-knocker of an NFC South battle, with defense being the key.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, I think Carolina's defense may be just a bit better on this day.
Final Score: Carolina 16, Tampa Bay 13