TAMPA — Carolina coach Matt Rhule knows if the Panthers are to win their first game Sunday, they will have pressure “iconic quarterback” Tom Brady and not allow him to sit in the pocket and pick their defense apart.
The Panthers didn’t register a sack in their season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders and barely got any pressure on Derek Carr.
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“We have to come up in crucial situations and get pressure,” Rhule said. "The biggest thing I took away from last week is we have guys who are more than capable but we have to be a little bit more tenacious, we have to hit pass rush moves and use our hands better. There are things we can correct.
“We have to get a four-man rush,” Rhule added. “That is easier said than done.”
That task will be even more difficult if Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short is unable to play.
The two-time Pro Bowler and the veteran leader of a young defensive line sat out practice Wednesday with a foot injury. The best way to pressure Brady in the past has been to get an inside push, and without Short the Panthers could have a difficult time doing that.
Short is by far Carolina’s most experienced defensive lineman.
The Panthers also start second-year player Brian Burns and rookies Derrick Brown and Yetur Gross-Matos on the defensive line.
Of course, a pass rush and coverage go hand-in-hand, and it doesn’t help that the Panthers are also young — and a little banged up — in the secondary, too.
Rookie Troy Pride Jr. is starting at cornerback with Eli Apple out with a hamstring injury, while top cover man Donte Jackson left Sunday’s game against Las Vegas in the first quarter, forcing the Panthers to play Rasul Douglas, who was claimed off waivers last week. Douglas played well, but Pride struggled at times.
Jackson returned to practice on Wednesday, which is good news for a unit that will face a talented group of Buccaneers receivers led by Mike Evans. Tampa Bay’s other wide receiver, Chris Godwin, is in the concussion protocol.
The Raiders scored on six of their first eight possessions on Sunday, with 20 of Carr’s 23 completions coming on throws of less than 10 yards. He put the ball in the hands of his playmakers and let them make plays.
That strategy worked.
Brady, who was 23 of 39 for 239 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his Bucs debut last week, will surely look to exploit Carolina’s weaknesses.
“I thought our tackling at times, a lot of reaching, a lot of grabbing and we could take just a couple more steps and make those tackles and make them even better,” Rhule said. "I hope and expect that we will make some radical jumps on defense as we tackle better. "
Particularly on third down, Rhule said. The Raiders converted 6 of 11 third downs against Carolina.
“There were so many third and shorts and I think that just goes back to their ability to run the football and then at the same time get the ball on the perimeters, and screens. There wasn’t a lot of drop-back passes,” Rhule said. “There were some play actions that hurt us on specific plays but there wasn’t a lot of drop-back passes. There was a lot more run the ball and get the ball to the perimeter.”
NOTES: The Panthers will be without starting guard Dennis Daley for the second straight week due to a foot injury. ... Christian McCaffrey wore a green jersey on Wednesday, designated for players who aren’t to be touched in practice. The team wants to limit unnecessary wear and tear on the All-Pro running back.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expect to be better against the Carolina Panthers.
The six-time Super Bowl champion struggled in his debut with his new team, was called out by his coach for throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and only knows one way to move on from a rare season-opening loss for him.
''Every week’s a different challenge,'' Brady said. ''I think it starts with great communication, understanding how to win the game, how to lose the game, being on the same page with my teammates so we can go execute.
''Obviously, to turn the ball over, makes it difficult to win. ... It’s a game of scoring points. You’ve got to figure out how to score more points than the other team,'' he added, noting the Bucs (0-1) also need to eliminate penalties and other negative plays. ''There’s been a lot of focus on those things this week.''
There’s also been unwanted attention from the outside following coach Bruce Arians' blunt assessment of the quarterback’s two-turnover performance in a 34-23 season-opening loss at New Orleans.
Arians shrugged off criticism of his decision to express his feelings publicly, saying the relationship between him and Brady is fine.
''So I don’t really care what other people think,'' Arians said. ''It’s just what he and I think.''
For his part, the quarterback didn’t say much.
''He’s a coach. I’m a player,'' Brady said. ''Just trying to win a game.''
The Panthers (0-1) expect the 43-year-old Brady to rebound and play well.
''I have the utmost, utmost, utmost respect for Tom Brady,'' said first-year coach Matt Rhule, a 34-30 loser to the Las Vegas Raiders in his Carolina debut.
''To me, you (learn) about a quarterback when things go wrong,'' Rhule said. ''Some things went bad in the game, but Tom brought them back, got them within 10 points and still had a chance to win. ... We know we’ll have our hands full. No one’s better in bouncing back from a loss than Tom Brady.''
Brady will face a young Panthers defense that includes three rookie starters, including tackle Derrick Brown, end Yetur Gross-Matos and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. Carolina’s defense struggled in Week 1 against the Raiders, allowing Derek Carr to lead six scoring drives in the Raiders first eight possessions, three of which resulted in touchdowns. ''We need to do a better job of tackling,'' Rhule said. Getting off the field on third down was a struggle for the Panthers.
The Bucs are familiar with Teddy Bridgewater, though not necessarily the offensive system the quarterback is running in his first season with the Panthers.
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation of preseason games, the only tape of what Carolina is doing under Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady was last week’s season opener.
Arians was impressed with what he saw.
''The coach and the quarterback have history in the same offense, so it’s not like they’re starting from scratch,'' Arians said.
''Teddy is a very, very bright guy and has very few turnovers in his history. That part of it didn’t surprise me at all,'' the Bucs coach added. ''(Christian) McCaffrey never surprises me because if he gets a crack, he’s going. It all starts with him. I thought they did a good job of feeding him and Teddy played really well.''
Rhule said the Panthers want to get McCaffrey about ''25 to 28 touches per game,'' which was right along the game plan last week. However, Rhule also would like to work in No. 2 running back Mike Davis a little more against the Buccaneers. Rhule said because the Panthers only had three offensive possessions in the first half against the Raiders that was difficult to do.
Panthers left tackle Russell Okung said it has been a tough week for the offensive line knowing they failed to pick up 1 yard on a fourth down run late in the game on a potential winning drive in a 34-30 loss to the Raiders. Fullback Alex Armah was stopped cold on a run up the middle, turning the ball over on downs. ''Honestly, the game comes down to fourth-and-1,'' Okung said. ''We did not do enough to win the game, especially when it was on our backs. ... We needed more. And we’ve got to figure out a way to win those situations.''
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