Written by: Drew Pogones
For the 12th consecutive season, Buccaneer fans are forced to watch the playoffs from the comfort of their own couches. It’s usually during this time where coaches, players, and fans watch other playoff teams to determine where their shortcomings were and how to address them in the offseason. During the Wild Card weekend, three things definitely stood out for the teams that won and they are things that cannot continue to be ignored by Tampa Bay’s front office.
Games Are Won In The Trenches
Let’s be honest, when it comes to the NFL draft, or even free agency, linemen are never the most glamorous of choices. Fans typically want the flashiest receiver, a big name QB that comes from a well-touted school, or even the fastest of the running backs. It’s not necessarily wrong to want those types of players. To get the most out of those flashy positions it all starts with building the trenches.
When looking at some of the biggest upsets this weekend, it was the trenches that determined the outcome of the games. The underdog teams controlled the line of scrimmage from the get-go which enabled them to run the ball effectively on offense, thus controlling the time of possession. On the other side, pressure from the defensive line gave them the ability to get into the backfield while disrupting and affecting the opposing teams’ play calling. When you see this, it should bring you back to the early 2000s where this was called “Buc Ball” – play hard-nosed defense and pound the rock!
Turnovers Are Key
Buccaneers’ fans are well aware of what turnovers are. Turnovers were one of the main reasons why Tampa Bay missed the playoffs and could be one of the reasons why their quarterback may not be back with the team next year. Turnovers are crucial when it comes to playoff games, they can change or erase any momentum that a team has built.
Let’s take a look at the Saints/Vikings game. The Minnesota Vikings came into New Orleans as massive underdogs. New Orleans had the fewest turnovers in the NFL as a team (8) but they were playing against a defense that was Top 3 in the NFL in forcing turnovers. The Minnesota Vikings were able to keep the momentum of the Saints and their fans in check by forcing two very timely turnovers – a big-time fumble by Drew Brees when they were knocking on the door of the end zone and then when Drew Brees threw a very bad ball earlier in the game.
Since the Vikings were able to force these costly turnovers, they were able to effectively run the ball with Dalvin Cook and control the time of possession (36:56 to 27:24) and win the turnover battle 2-1. In the NFL, and most importantly the playoffs as we witnessed this weekend if you can win the time of possession and the turnover battle you are more likely going to come out with the win in the end.
Depth is something not a lot of people think about and it really needs to be focused on and planned for in great detail. Fans usually find out about a lack of depth once an injury happens to one or more starters. Depth makes the “next man up” concept easier to deal with. Teams are not immune to injuries, especially in the playoffs (ahem, Carson Wentz), so teams need to ensure they have back up plans in place. One team that really stood out when it came to depth was the Minnesota Vikings.
Minnesota Vikings entered the game without two of their corners which was a big deal going against an offense as explosive as the Saints in their own dome. Because Mike Zimmer loves depth on his defense, he was able to game plan around those injuries and change his defensive playbook just before the game to catch the Saints off guard.
By having depth he was able to move one of his safeties to the nickel position and then rotate his defensive tackles with his defensive ends to provide more inside pressure to Brees in the pocket to make him uncomfortable. If anyone watched this game, it was evident that the depth on the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings along with the ability to run the ball helped them win that game.
So if you are finding yourself wondering what the Buccaneers can do this offseason to help break the streak of missing the playoffs, let’s focus on our trenches, positional depth, and reducing turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.