I have been a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since I was a kid. In that time, I have experienced many disappointments and frustrations; ranging from Chris “Swaggy” Baker being intimate with a tree to the alarm clock numbers to the Jameis 30 for 30 season. In these last 20+ years I can say with confidence that I have never been as disappointed by a Buccaneers team as much as I was this year.
The biggest part of that is the expectations the team had for this year. The Bucs were widely considered to be a favorite in not just the NFC South, but to win the entire NFC. Even a trip to the Super Bowl was well within reason for this roster.
Sadly, things didn’t go as expected. While the Bucs did win the NFC South, it was a result of their peers’ failures more than their own success. In the end, this team finished 8-10 and fell well short of expectation.
Were expectations unreasonable for the talent of this team? Or was this just a series of failures across the board? I took a deep breath and evaluated this team’s season in hindsight.
Even now, I still believe that this is one of the most talented rosters in the NFC. Even with injuries to key players such as Ryan Jensen and Shaq Barrett, this Bucs roster still had plenty of ability to be better than they were. I would even say they had more talent than the Dallas Cowboys, who just beat the Bucs soundly to eliminate them from the playoffs.
Looking at the pass catchers of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage it’s not hard to say that this is one of the better wide receiver rooms in the league. And with Tom Brady at quarterback, it’s fair to expect the passing game to thrive. Combine that with emerging rookies such as Cade Otton and Rachaad White as well as and offensive line that, despite injuries, still feature Tristian Wirfs, Shaq Mason and Donavan Smith and there is more than enough talent to far exceed what they accomplished this year.
Defensively it is no different. The Buccaneers front seven is mostly the same group they have had in recent years where they have dominated. However, this defense wasn’t able to establish themselves as one of the best defenses in the league this year.
With perhaps the best pair of linebackers in the NFL in Lavonte David and Devin White and a defensive line that is anchored by Vita Vea, the Bucs were susceptible to the run this year. They also failed to create a lot of turnovers with a secondary that was poised to take the next step forward this year with emerging stars like Antione Winfield Jr. Once again, to a lesser degree compared to the offense, the production didn’t live up to the production.
How Productive Was This Group?
We know the raw numbers. A 8-10 record with the 25th ranked scoring offense and the 15th ranked scoring defense. However, the numbers are even worse than they look at a glance.
The Bucs were dead last in rushing yards (1308) and rushing touchdowns this season (5). Granted, they also had the fewest rushing attempts in the league so their raw numbers should be towards the bottom. However, it’s important to note that they also had the lowest yards per attempt average, so the low number of attempts are more of a result of being forced to throw the ball due to their inability to run.
When the Buccaneers threw the ball things weren’t much better. While they did finish 5th in terms of passing yards, the Bucs also finished 31st in yards gained per passing attempt. This is to say that their production was a result of throwing the ball more than other teams, not doing it more effectively.
These failures on offense put the defense in a position where they had to do more. Despite being middle of the road in scoring defense, the Bucs were 8th in yards allowed per offensive play and 6th in 1st downs allowed. However, with the offense punting the ball away more often it put the defense in a position to where they had to get more stops than other defenses did.
We know the Bucs under performed this year. However, the offense drastically under-achieved and it put the defense in a bad position. There is no excuse for this.
With names like Evans, Brady, Wirfs, Mason, Godwin, Gage and Fournette it’s fair to expect them to be amongst the higher scoring offenses in the league. Even accounting for the loss of Jensen, the Bucs have drafted interior offensive linemen to be prepared for them to step in and play.
There are many reasons as to why this happened. Those are articles for another day, but ti’s fair to say that this is a problem that starts at the top and trickles down. How to solve these problems is unclear, but we do know two things for sure. This was not an issue of lacking talent and that this was the most painful season to date for many Bucs fans, myself included.
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