Football Nation Preview: The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2012 Record: 7-9
Tale of Two Defenses
After the lax atmosphere perpetrated by Raheem Morris sunk the Bucs in 2011 (rock bottom in points allowed and run defense), discipline was needed. So Morris was canned following the season, and drill sergeant-minded Greg Schiano was imported from Rutgers.
In one year, Schiano and new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan did the impossible: Tampa's run defense improved to the best in the league. The Buccaneers gave up only 82.5 rushing yards a game, and 3.5 YPA, both the best averages in the NFL.
But while the run defense soared, the pass defense languished. The Buccaneers gave up 297.4 passing yards per game (worst in the league) and managed just 27 sacks (third lowest). Seven times, Tampa allowed 400+ passing yards, and were 2-5 in those games.
The Post-Thanksgiving Skid
Despite the disproportionate defense, Tampa was still a vastly improved team last season. In fact, following an overtime win in Carolina on November 18, the Buccaneers posted a 6-4 record, and were in good position to push for a playoff spot.
But after Turkey Day, and through Christmas Day, the Buccaneers would not win another game. A five-game losing streak struck the team, and left them twisting. Losses to superior teams like Atlanta and Denver (both close) weren't too surprising, however.
After falling to 6-6, the real humbling experience began. On December 9, the Buccaneers would lose to the Eagles on the last play of regulation. Those same Eagles hadn't won since September 30. A 41-0 loss the following week to New Orleans (whose godawful defense somehow recorded five turnovers) officially eliminated the Bucs from contention.
2013 Projected Wins: 6.5
Top 3 Rookies
-Jonathan Banks, CB (2/43): The secondary was already upgraded with veterans, but via the draft, Tampa adds a fearless playmaker with a penchant for interceptions.
-Mike Glennon, QB (3/73): Towering and strong, has the velocity to throw over the top, but is a mess when forced to move, lacking consistency and accuracy.
-Akeem Spence, DT (4/100): More of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, sealing gaps between guard and tackle, but struggles with timing his hits.
It was a trade-happy offseason for the Buccaneers, dealing pickings, acquiring picks, et al. But no pick made as much headlines as the one that brought Darrelle Revis to town. "Revis Island" comes off of a torn ACL from last season, but Tampa's faithful enough to give the shutdown corner a six year, $96M deal.
The retirement of Ronde Barber was a good enough cue to overhaul the rock bottom secondary anyway, but Revis isn't the only major addition. Dashon Goldson was signed from the NFC Champion 49ers, bringing both crunching hits and turnover potential.
The offense made changes, including shipping lesser-used running back LeGarrette Blount to New England. Incoming wideout Kevin Ogletree comes off a career-year in Dallas, while tight end Tom Crabtree could find more use outside Green Bay's multi-pronged attack.
Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Josh Freeman
RB - Doug Martin
FB - Erik Lorig
WR - Vincent Jackson
WR - Mike Williams
TE - Luke Stocker
LT - Donald Penn
LG - Carl Nicks
C - Jeremy Zuttah
RG - Davin Joseph
RT - Gabe Carimi
DE - Da'Quan Bowers
DT - Gerald McCoy
DT - Gary Gibson
DE - Adrian Clayborn
OLB - Adam Hayward
MLB - Mason Foster
OLB - Lavonte David
CB - Darrelle Revis
CB - Eric Wright
FS - Dashon Goldson
SS - Mark Barron
K - Connor Barth
P - Michael Koenen
LS - Andrew Economos
2013 at a Glance
2012 was the first season for Tampa Bay since 1984 in which they ranked in the top ten in offensive yards. Over the three previous years under Raheem Morris, the club finished no better than 19th.
The strict, disciplinarian ways of Schiano quickly whipped the Buccaneers into fighting shape. The sprints and rigid control weeded out arrogant dissenters (i.e. Kellen Winslow Jr), and drew praise from Barber and other veterans, who snapped out of the lazy funk they fell into in 2011.
And to think, 2012 could have been so much stronger. The offensive line that was assembled was poised to be one of the best in the game.
Premier guard Carl Nicks was signed from New Orleans, but missed 9 games due to injury. Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph missed the entire year. Monstrous tackle Donald Penn played at his usual high level. With all 3 healthy and joining veteran center Jeremy Zuttah, there may be no better line in football today.
To put that in perspective, Tampa, behind rookie sensation Doug Martin, aka "Muscle Hamster", averaged 4.42 YPA rushing, which was eleventh best. What could they have achieved with a healthy line?
Despite the injuries to the group, Josh Freeman was only sacked 26 times, and mostly had a bounce-back season. The biggest issue was, as mentioned earlier, the post-Thanksgiving collapse. Freeman had 27 TD and 17 picks on the year, but just 6 TD and 10 INT over the final six games.
Freeman's in the final year of his contract, but the pieces are falling into place for him to succeed. If the line stays healthy, Martin takes pressure off of him. He also still has a more-than-formidable combo at receiver in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Tight end will be a question. With Dallas Clark gone, Luke Stocker is penciled in as starter. Stocker has just 28 catches and 257 yards in his first two seasons.
The run-stopping unit is among the best in football, between Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, and Mason Foster. The pass-rush could use a push, as leading sacker Mike Bennett bolted for Seattle. Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn will have their hands full helping out their new-and-improved secondary.
But that secondary will be able to help itself better than last year. With Revis and Eric Wright at corner (Wright could be subbed out for Banks sooner than later), and Goldson and Mark Barron at safety, Tampa Bay may have fixed their biggest 2012 problem in a short period of time.
If the offensive line stays healthy, and the secondary can clean up any binds the (lack of) pass rush puts them in, this will be a far and away improved team, even from 2012. While the line remaining pristine has a good chance of occuring, the pass defense isn't out of the woods.
Yes, Revis is the NFL's premiere shutdown corner. Barron and Goldson are both quality players, but can they handle bombardment if the rush doesn't eat the QB? Call Tampa an improved team, but a crowded NFC may exclude them from the playoffs for another year.