When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers meet on Sunday, the Bucs will have a different look than the first time these two teams played.
When Carolina traveled to Tampa in late October they emerged with a 17-3 victory by limiting the Bucs’ offense. And this time, many of those Tampa Bay offensive players might not be on the field.
The Bucs’ injury situation is one of the worst in the NFL, and their most recent game – a 24-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night – only made matters worse. Going into that game, Tampa was without three of its best defenders – defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (biceps), linebacker Lavonte David (hamstring), and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (hamstring). Monday brought 10 new injuries, including to receiver Desean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard, who both wore boots on their ankles after the game.
Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter is dealing with all those injuries now.
“You don’t have much choice,” Koetter said via phone on Wednesday. “They’re not gonna cancel the season just because you get guys hurt.”
One of the most significant injuries Monday night was to one of the Bucs’ key offensive linemen, guard J.R. Sweezy. If Sweezy, who also sported an ankle boot after the game, is unable to play, it could be a huge boon for Carolina’s defensive line, already among the league leaders in sacks with 43. Only Jacksonville (51) and the Los Angeles Rams (47) have more quarterback takedowns than Carolina, which is tied with Pittsburgh.
As for Carolina’s offense, Cam Newton could also take advantage of a depleted Bucs front, especially if McCoy, just named to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl, is out for another week.
As for what Koetter can do to replace that level of production? Not much.
“We’re paid to play and paid to coach,” Koetter said, “and we have to do that.”