These are 40 facts you need to know before the Bucs and Panthers kick off at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Why 40? That’s roughly the number of times we expect Cam Newton to target Christian McCaffrey. To the list!
1. The Panthers gained 5.2 yards per play during the first five weeks of the season. They went 4-1.
2. The Panthers gained 4.0 yards per play during the past two weeks, the league’s fourth-lowest average in that span. They went 0-2.
3. The Panthers attempted an NFL-high 525 runs in 2015. Their play calls were nearly evenly split between runs and passes.
4. Since then, the Panthers have called 14 percent more passes than runs.
5. Nineteen teams have more rushing touchdowns than the Panthers and the Bucs, who have scored three each. Five teams have more than them combined.
6. Doug Martin scored two of the Bucs’ three rushing touchdowns. Jacquizz Rodgers scored the other.
7. Cam Newton scored all three of the Panthers’ rushing touchdowns.
8. On two of those touchdowns, he executed the same read-option concept.
9. If the Panthers were a Liam Neeson character, they’d be Ra’s al Ghul from "Batman Begins." "Theatricality and deception are powerful agents. You must become more than just a man in the mind of your opponent."
10. There are two ways to get to Newton. 1.) Blitz him. 2.) Ask him benign questions at a press conference like, "Do you think you guys have the wherewithal to consistently execute big plays week in and week out?"
11. Newton has been sacked 22 times, tied for third most. He is on pace to be sacked 50 times, which would be a career high.
12. Until last season, Newton had gained a first down on at least 40 percent of his rushes in every season since he made his debut in 2012. He is back above 40 percent this season.
|Season||Rushing attempts||First downs||Percentage|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
13. The Panthers have gained 3.4 yards per carry, which ranks 29th.
14. The Panthers have struggled to run the ball on first down in particular. They have gained 3.2 yards per carry in such situations, which also ranks 29th.
15. Since joining the NFL in 1995, the Panthers have used a top 15 pick on a running back three times (Tim Biakabutuka in 1996, Jonathan Stewart in 2008 and Christian McCaffrey in 2017). Only the Chargers have drafted as many running backs that early.
16. McCaffrey, whom the Panthers drafted eighth overall in April, has gained 2.5 yards per carry, last among qualifying running backs.
17. McCaffrey has gained 1.7 yards per carry on first down.
18. If the Bucs were a Liam Neeson character, they’d be Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent from "Taken." "I don’t have edge rushers, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills, like making bad offenses look good."
19. Newton threw 44 passes to his running backs last season.
20. Newton has thrown 44 passes to McCaffrey this season.
21. McCaffrey leads running backs in targets (59) and catches (44). He is eighth among all receivers in targets and fourth in receptions. Only Antonio Brown (52), Jarvis Landry (50) and Larry Fitzgerald (45) have caught more passes.
22. Of McCaffrey’s 329 receiving yards, 308 have come after the catch.
23. Bucs linebackers will be busy Sunday. The Panthers line up McCaffrey everywhere. In the backfield, the slot, outside. And there’s no route he doesn’t run. Screens, wheel routes, angle routes.
And just when you think you know what’s coming …
If not for Newton’s accuracy issues on short-range passes, that would have been a touchdown.
24. Newton led the NFL last season with an intended air yards average of 11.2. Air yards are yards the ball travels before it reaches its target.
25. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston was second with 10.8.
26. Newton’s intended air yards average has dropped to 8.2. 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard’s average is 8.3.
27. Newton has earned a 71.3 quarterback rating on short passes, which ranks 31st.
28. Winston’s intended air yards average has increased to 11.3. He is the league leader.
29. Winston has earned a 84.6 quarterback rating on deep passes, which ranks 18th.
30. Bad Bucs injury news from earlier in the week: The team announced defensive end Noah Spence will miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury. Bad Bucs injury news from Friday: The team announced cornerback Brent Grimes will miss Sunday’s game because of a shoulder injury.
31. In related news, the Bucs are now accepting shoulder donations.
32. When under pressure this season, Newton has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions.
33. The Panthers have committed 0.173 turnovers per offensive drive, second most in the NFL. The Browns have the most, at 0.207 per drive.
34. The Bucs have committed 0.136 turnovers per drive, which ranks 25th. That’s a slight improvement over last season, when they committed 0.154 per drive, third most.
35. Grimes’ injury likely means that Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith will be the Bucs’ starting outside cornerbacks.
36. The last time they were the starting outside cornerbacks, Case Keenum passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns. He gained half of those yards on four passes.
37. If you’re feeling bored around, say, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, the second season of "Stranger Things" just dropped on Netflix. Here’s the trailer.
38. Speaking of stranger things: Kickers. Panthers kicker Graham Gano, who is dealing with a knee injury, did not practice Friday. Carolina has insurance in case he can’t go — former Bucs second-round pick Roberto Aguayo.
39. For the Bucs, this will be Patrick Murray’s first game at Raymond James Stadium since he replaced Nick Folk, who replaced Aguayo, who replaced Connor Barth, who replaced Kyle Brindza, who replaced Murray.
40. Murray has been perfect so far (two field goals and four extra points in two games).
Statistics in this report are from Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference. Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]