CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady's job got a little easier Friday in terms of being pressured with the Panthers ruling out starting defensive linemen Kawann Short and Yetur Gross-Matos with injuries.
Short, a two-time Pro Bowl tackle who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, suffered a foot/ankle injury in a 34-30 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders and did not practice all week beyond going through a few drills on Thursday.
Gross-Matos, a second-round pick out of Penn State who started at end opposite Brian Burns, entered the concussion protocol after being hit in the eye during Wednesday's practice.
Coach Matt Rhule is hopeful Short will be back next week but admitted the team captain's presence will be missed greatly. Short was one of the league's best pass-rushing tackles from 2015 to 2019 with 27.5 sacks. He also was a top run-stopper.
"Him not being there will be an impact," Rhule said. "He's a premier player. Him not playing will have an impact throughout the game."
The Panthers' pass rush was almost nonexistent in the opener. They had an NFL-low 10% pressure rate with only five pressures and were the only team not to touch the quarterback on a pass or rush.
Defensive coordinator Phil Snow blamed that in part on inefficiency on first and second down. On 12 third-down situations against the Raiders, eight were 4 yards or less.
"You're not really in pass-rush mode because of those down and distances," Snow said.
Snow said it will be key to put Brady in obvious pass-rush situations because of his quick release and intelligence.
Without pressure, Brady has been one of the best in the NFL. Since 2014, among 30 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 attempts while not pressured, Brady has completed 71% of his passes to rank ninth.
Brady's touchdown-interception ratio of 5.1 (143 to 28) during that span is second only to the 5.72 of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. His total quarterback rating, according to ESPN Stats & Information, ranks fifth at 78.8.
Lack of pressure isn't always a factor with Brady. In last week's opener against New Orleans, Brady completed 21 of 30 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns -- and both of his interceptions.
The Panthers are hoping first-round pick Derrick Brown, who showed flashes of brilliance in the opener, will be more consistent and step up his game against Tampa Bay. Veteran Zach Kerr is a candidate to replace Short as a starter if Carolina opens in a four-man front.
Carolina also could go with more three-man fronts, as the Panthers effectively did in the second half against the Raiders. Snow said that's a part of the base defense and didn't rule out using it more.
It's effective because Burns, who also plays outside linebacker, and rookie linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn are so versatile and able to play multiple positions.
Regardless, Snow said the Panthers have to be sharper than they were in the opener. He recalled that once, when Snow was a position coach with the Detroit Lions, Brady helped New England overcome a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes without having a play over 10 yards.
"He just has the ability to move the chains and always has," Snow said. "He's so intelligent out there, knows what you're in and executes. That's who Brady is, and I don't think that's changed."