The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive front seven had a stellar 2019. The best season since the days of Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, and Derrick Brooks. The switch from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under Todd Bowles led to massive improvement on the front end in Bruce Arians first season in Tampa Bay.
Prior to training camp, there were questions about how Bowles’s defensive philosophy would fare here. Would it be able to turn around a defense that struggled for so many years? The secondary is still a work in progress. Let’s take a look at the front seven now that year one is in the books.
#1 Against The Run
For most of the season, the team ranked first in the league against the run. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that they faced many of the NFL’s top running backs. Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, David Johnson, Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara. The last two they played twice. The only player of that list who cracked 100 yards rushing was Carson.
In fact, none of the others rushed for more than 75 yards when they faced the Buccaneers. That’s pretty darn impressive! Henry, who finished first in rushing yards this season, was held to 75 yards on 16 carries when they played the Bucs in Week 8. That was his 4th lowest total in any game this season. in the end, Tampa Bay’s defense finished the season ranked 1st against the run and tied for the lowest YPC average, allowing 3.3 yards per rushing attempt. The league-wide average for 2019 was 4.3.
A Potent Pass Rush
The Bucs saw a much-improved pass rush this season. Shaq Barrett, who finished with 19.5 sacks, surpassed Sapp’s single-season franchise record of 16.5 that has stood for almost 20 years. They finished the year with 47 sacks, tied for 7th most in the league. Behind Barrett in sacks was Jason Pierre-Paul with 8.5 in just 10 games and Carl Nassib with six. Creating a consistent pass rush has been an issue the Bucs have been dealing with for quite a few seasons now but in 2019 the team consistently put pressure on opposing teams quarterbacks.
Barring free-agent additions to the starting line up, the Bucs will again be fielding a young secondary in 2020 and will look to build upon the improvement made towards the end of this year. A solid pass rush will make it easier for them to grow from the 30th-ranked pass defense.
Bringing Back This Front Seven Won’t Be Easy
Four of the seven players on the front end of this defense will hit free agency if new deals aren’t reached. Those players are Barrett, Pierre-Paul, Nassib and Ndamukong Suh. It won’t be easy to bring them all back as the Bucs are not in good shape with salary-cap space. In all likelihood, the team is going to need to choose between placing the franchise tag on Barrett or Jameis Winston as both are likely to want hefty new deals.
Arians has been vocal about his desire to bring Barrett back, so I would be very surprised to see him in anything other than a Bucs jersey next season. I also think that the team is going to find a way to bring JPP back, possibly on a one year deal. I am much less confident they will be able to re-sign Nassib and Suh. I could see the team electing to fill the void left by them via the draft. It’s unfortunate because this team would benefit greatly from having all four of these players back next year. One thing is for sure though, Arians and Jason Licht have their work cut out for them this offseason.