Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3 Keys to a Panthers Win

Brandon BeckerCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2011

Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3 Keys to a Panthers Win

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    The Carolina Panthers are looking to get on a bit of a roll to finish out the season. Ron Rivera has come out this week and talked about building momentum towards next season and winning back-to-back games for the first time since 2009. 

    Carolina is a team on the upswing, but needs to start turning close and frustrating defeats into wins. The Panthers have a good chance to extend their win streak to two games on Sunday against the Buccaneers.

    Tampa Bay won 10 games a year ago, yet is suffering through a miserable season in which Josh Freeman's play has been troublesome. Freeman's status for Sunday's contest is up in the air after he hurt his shoulder late in a loss to Tennessee.

    Everything that could have gone wrong for the Bucs this season has, and the Panthers will have an opportunity to add to Tampa's misery with a win.

    Let's take a look at three keys to the Panthers winning on Sunday.

Protect Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton has slowed down a little bit of late, and one of the main reasons is he hasn't had the time to sit back in the pocket that he did earlier in the season. The Panthers offensive line is solid, but the loss of Jeff Otah earlier in the season has hurt.

    Byron Bell has filled in admirably for Otah, yet he is an undrafted rookie and is limited as far as ability goes. Jordan Gross has also struggled in pass protection at times this season, which is a cause for concern for the Panthers going forward.

    The Bucs defense is one of the worst in the NFL, so if Newton is given time to throw he should be able to find holes in the defense to exploit. 

    It's also important to note that Newton has held on to the football too long the past few games, and as a result, he is taking more sacks. The rookie still needs to learn how to give up on a play and play for the next down.

Run the Ball

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    Finally, the Panthers truly committed to running the football for an entire game, and it resulted in a win. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 25 carries and ran for 139 yards. It was the type of output that was expected from the pair earlier in the season, but it is just coming to fruition. 

    The Panthers would be wise to stick to the ground game against the Bucs.Tampa Bay ranks 30th in stopping the run and will be in trouble if Carolina commits to running the football.

    Like I said in the previous slide, Newton is slowing down a bit. He's not as sharp as he was early in the season, and it appears like he may be hitting the rookie wall. I could be wrong, but the Panthers can't continue to rely on him as much as they did at the beginning of the season.

    By putting the onus on Williams, Stewart and the offensive line it can ease the pressure off of Newton to carry the team and allow him to play more efficient football. 

Stack the Box

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    The Panthers play quite a bit of man coverage, which means more bodies are available to stack the box and stop the run. But, it puts the onus on the defensive backs to win their matchups and not get beat. 

    Tampa Bay has the perfect back in LeGarrette Blount to exploit the Panthers defense. He's big, strong and a physical runner who runs between the tackles. Sione Fua and Terrell McClain are both rookie defensive tackles for the Panthers and have struggled mightily against the run. 

    Carolina is going to have to bring extra defenders into the box and run a variety of run blitzes to help stop Blount and the Tampa attack. It's going to be a challenge that the Panthers will have to rise to if they want to walk out of Raymond James Stadium with a W.