- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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This week's "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) features the Buccaneers on the road versus the Panthers. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to watch in this NFC South showdown:
Underrated pass protection
The Bucs' pass protection and blitz pickup is underrated. The offensive line is smart, with the ability to slide or adjust, and the running backs -- especially Warrick Dunn -- do an excellent job of reading the blitz, stepping up and filling. However, the line must figure out how to block Panthers RDE Julius Peppers, who is a terrific edge-rusher. LT Donald Penn will not be able to block him without help. The Panthers do not blitz a lot, so in most cases the Bucs will have to block only the front four, but if they do blitz, the offensive line and backs must be ready.
Force Carolina to contain
Look for QB Jeff Garcia to put a lot of pressure on Carolina's defense with rollouts and bootlegs. The Panthers, much like the Bucs, prefer to rush four and drop seven into coverage without a lot of blitzes. Against a mobile quarterback, blitzing can be very risky. Garcia's mobility will slow down Carolina's front-four pass rush because the Panthers will have to play more contain techniques, and his ability to extend the play will break down Carolina's struggling secondary.
Pound the rock
The Panthers must run the ball a lot and control the clock against the Bucs' Cover 2. When these teams met in Week 6, Carolina threw the ball 39 times in a blowout loss, which is too many against a defense with tight throwing windows. QB Jake Delhomme cannot win this game by passing, and if he is forced to put the ball in the air a lot, it will lead to turnovers and game-changing defensive plays. The Panthers should run the ball 65 percent of the time.
Red zone production
Over the last six quarters the Panthers have scored 60 points, but an even more noticeable statistic is their success in the red zone. Last week at Green Bay they scored touchdowns on all five of their red zone possessions, which takes pressure off their struggling defense. However, the Bucs have allowed only one rushing touchdown in the red zone all season.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm, The War Room.
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to in the Bucs-Panthers game Monday.