The Buccaneers reached a 6-1 mark with a 38-3 triumph over the Bears on Sunday. The record marked the first time in franchise history that they reached 6-1. That’s obviously good.
But when you consider what the Buccaneers have gone through to get there, it’s even more impressive.
A Banged Up Defense – Primarily in the Secondary – Has Managed to Hold Up
Even the casual NFL fan knows that the Buccaneers have been wrought with injuries in their secondary this season. Just about every member has been out or at least dinged out. Sean Murphy-Bunting exited in the opener with a dislocated right elbow, landing him on injured reserve. Jamel Dean suffered a knee injury in Week 3 and missed a game. Carlton Davis III has been out with a quad injury, and Antoine Winfield, Jr. was shelved with a concussion. Richard Sherman, signed due to the rash of injuries, is also now out with a hamstring injury.
In front of them, two key linebackers have been missing in action over the past few weeks. Lavonte David as been Jason Pierre-Paul has been battling a shoulder injury, which kept him out for two weeks. According to JPP, he’s been playing with a torn rotator cuff and a fractured finger. That’s incredibly tough. Bruce Arians told reporters after the game Sunday that he just needed JPP to make it to Sunday regardless of practice.
But it’s been the depth that has accounted for the Bucs’ ability to overcome such a rash of defensive key injuries. Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has been productive so far, generating two sacks and a rash of pressures. Kevin Minter has held his own nicely in David’s stead. And the secondary has done enough with its replacements to win. The names Dee Delaney, Ross Cockrell, Pierre Desir, and of course Sherman were not ones Bucs fans would’ve expected to see in prime time. Yet there they were on Sunday night in New England, helping the Bucs hold onto a tight 19-17 win. Mike Edwards proved his value earlier this year with two pick-sixes against Atlanta this year.
Eventually Murphy-Bunting and Davis III will get back and this defense will become even more potent. But I would’ve been remiss not to mention the quality of this roster beyond the first teamers. Jason Licht deserves a ton of credit for that. It’s hard enough to re-sign all starters on a Super Bowl winner. It’s even harder to back that up with quality players that can keep the team afloat. Just a masterful job.
It’s Been Next Man up for the Pass Catchers
The Buccaneer offense took a blow – literally and figuratively – in Week 3 against Los Angeles when Rob Gronkowski absorbed a vicious hit to the midsection. He suffered broken ribs that have kept him out of action since. However, he returned to practice Wednesday, so it appears he’s getting closer to returning to game action.
The news appears to be worse for Antonio Brown and his sore ankle, who was spotted on crutches Wednesday at practice. According to Bruce Arians, it’s possible it could be a longer-term injury that Week 10 after the bye.
Brown and Gronkowski have been important to the offense, but the Bucs have still managed to find ways to win in their absence by utilizing Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard at tight end and Tyler Johnson as WR3, and involving Leonard Fournette and Gio Bernard in the passing game.
The Team Has Largely Stayed Healthy Along Both Lines
Despite the injuries, the health of these units (and obviously that of Brady) have been key. Along with the secondary depth, the health of the lines a big reason why the Bucs have been able to continue to be successful. No starters on the offensive line – which has performed admirably this year – has missed a start. The defensive line and edge rushers have generally stayed healthy with the exception of JPP.
As long as the offensive line can continue to perform at the high level it has and protect Brady, the offense should continue to click. Likewise, a resurgent pass rush should continue to force mistakes and make life difficult for opposing QBs.
Here’s to the continued health of both of those units.