It may be a bit early to predict how Bucs Head Coach Bruce Arians will do in the 2019 season. But let’s look back at what he started with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. Let’s look at what he inherited from Dirk Koetter and his regime in Tampa Bay.
The 2013 Cardinals under Arians finished 10-6 in the NFC West. They doubled their win total from the previous season but still missed the playoffs. The team saw additions like one-time Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (which ended up being his final year in the NFL), and former Miami Dolphin linebacker Karlos Dansby, who spent a previous stint with the team after the 2004 NFL Draft.
Under Arians, the Cardinals improved on defense significantly with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles (now Bucs DC). They went from 17th in points surrendered in 2012 to 7th. Offensively, they went from 31st in points scored to 16th and from 32nd in yards gained to 12th.
Despite finishing in third place, the team kept improving. It culminated in their best season in 2015, when the team finished 13-3 before losing in the NFC Championship game to the Carolina Panthers. The Cards also scored 379 points while allowing 324 in 2013 compared to the paltry 250 points scored and 357 points surrendered in 2012.
One of the main differences in 2019 going in is Arians prefers the quarterback he inherited in Jameis Winston, which stems from Winston’s visit to Arians’ football camp. Another difference is Adrian Peterson, who re-signed with the Washington Redskins. Kerwynn Williams never had feature back material and is currently hoping to make the Detroit Lions.
The Bucs can take a chance on Chris Johnson as a low-risk, high-reward player. The downside is that he hasn’t had a 1,000-rushing season since 2013 as a member of the Tennessee Titans. He came close in 2015 when he rushed for 814 yards and 3 TDs for the Cardinals, but his best days are long behind him. Larry Fitzgerald is finishing his last year in the league with Arizona. JJ Nelson hasn’t shown anything more than average slot receiver numbers. And Jaron Brown’s numbers are far less impressive.
Tampa Bay added Deone Bucannon, who was second to Dansby in tackles in 2017 and is a welcome addition. The team could also add Dansby, but he’s not really considered an attractive option at 37, having not played since 2017. I can see the team signing him to a minimal deal just to see if he still has it.
Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, who played for the Cardinals during Arians’ days, already signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Antoine Bethea, who led the Cards in interceptions in 2017, opted to sign with the New York Giants.
Offensively, you can consider Mike Evans and Larry Fitzgerald to be interchangeable for no. 1 receivers. Four years ago, I could have seen Michael Floyd as a competent replacement for Adam Humphries. Yet who knows if he can find the form he had when he was under Arians in Arizona.
Going into 2019, the Bucs find stiffer competition than what Arians dealt with in 2013. Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton offer a greater challenge than Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and whoever the Rams had at QB at the time. Bowles will need to do far more with his 2019 unit than what he had in 2013.