The Carolina Panthers (3-0) are rolling, but have some competition in the NFC South. Not only are the Atlanta Falcons 3-0, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-2, and were a few kicking issues away from potentially being 2-1. Can Cam Newton continue the impressive play he showed in the Week 3 victory over the New Orleans Saints against rookie Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers on Sunday?
Here are three keys to the game for both the Panthers and Buccaneers.
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1. Have Cam Newton keep doing exactly what he did in Week 3
Whatever Newton ate for breakfast before the 27-22 victory over the Saints, he needs to eat it again. Newton saw his completion percentage jump to 64.5 percent, while throwing for 315 yards, two touchdowns and rushing for another score. Newton is the leader of not only this offense, but this team as a whole. Newton's strong play must continue if the Panthers want to remain unbeaten.
2. Get something going in the run game
The Buccaneers showed a glaring weakness in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. Tampa Bay allowed the Texans to rush 46 times for an impressive 186 yards and a touchdown. Alfred Blue was specifically impressive, rushing 31 times for 139 yards and finding the end zone. Jonathan Stewart has been unimpressive, rushing for 170 yards on 49 carries (3.5 yards per carry), while failing to score. Something has to change here for Carolina.
3. Keep Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn Jr. involved
While the Panthers had 31 targets spread out across the team in Week 3, a total of 17 of them went to either Olsen or Ginn. The result? The two combined for 12 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns (both Olsen). The best part about this pairing is that Ginn's ability to stretch the field helps to open things up for Olsen. On the other side, Olsen's ability to move the chains keeps the deep ball potential available for Newton and Ginn.
1. Don't make Winston carry the load
When you look at the numbers, the biggest difference between the win for the Buccaneers against the two losses, is the passing attempts and completion percentage of Winston. During the two losses, Winston has averaged 34.5 passing attempts, completing an average of 47.85 percent of his passes. During the win? He completed 66.7 percent of his passes, while attempting 21 passing attempts. He also scored two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing), while avoiding turning the ball over as well. The patient Winston, who isn't forced to do it all, is what the Buccaneers need Sunday.
2. Open holes for the run game
There's reason to believe that the Buccaneers' issues in the run game aren't squarely on Doug Martin and Charles Sims. Tampa Bay's offensive line has to open up holes to get this run game going. The more successful the run game is, the easier both Winston's life, as well as the defense's life will be. Through the first three games, the Buccaneers have rushed 81 times for 288 yards, an average of 3.6 yards per carry, with one touchdown.
3. Figure out a way to stop the run game
When you get torched by Houston's backup in Blue, who had been mediocre at best through two games, it's an obvious cause for concern. The Buccaneers rank No. 30 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 138.0, so one of the biggest defensive keys will obviously be to stop the run game. They draw Stewart, who as mentioned above has been struggling, but Newton will also do his fair share of running, which could result in trouble for Tampa Bay.