The NFC South Preview continues with a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
What an odd year in Tampa Bay; the former future of the franchise, Josh Freeman, was unceremoniously traded, there was a rash of injuries to star players, and a mean case of MRSA affected the team and led to a NFLPA claim. Not surprising for a team with that much drama, the Bucs won four games in a season (that strangely enough featured a three game winning streak) and underwent massive overhaul in the offseason.
Mike Glennon wasn’t bad considering all the extra stuff swirling around the position, and the team at large. The rookie QB put up an 83.9 Quarterback rating, besting RG3, Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill among others in that regard. Glennon was efficient despite his running back, Doug Martin, suffering a torn labrum in the sixth game of the year and missing the remainder of the season. Surprisingly, the first three games of Glennon’s career (the only he played with Martin) were the ones where he attempted the most throws per game; and while his TD:Int ratio slightly decreased, his QB rating increased. Glennon was a 3rd round selection, but showed promise in his limited time at NC State (he supplanted Russell Wilson in Wilson’s senior year there) and stepped into a tough situation in Tampa and was relatively productive.
While he was efficient, Glennon wasn’t very effective moving the ball downfield—the Buccaneers were last in net yards per pass attempt. Even with Glennon doing an admirable job plugging holes in the dam, the team was feeble and impotent in their attempts to score. They were 30th in points scored per game, dead last in yards, and got the least number of first downs in the league. In short, they were a trainwreck. Outside of Vincent Jackson, there was no consistent offensive threat for the Bucs, and it was painfully obvious to anyone that watched them play.
Their defense was better than their offense. That’s about all that can be said for the unit that finished in the bottom 3rd of the league in points allowed. As bad as the team overall was, having a corner like Darrelle Revis seemed like an odd luxury. Indeed, on the isle of misfit toys, Revis was truly an island to himself (kind of perfect for the Tampa Bay topography, right?). The defensive line showed promise, although its numbers (rushing yards allowed per attempt, sacks, etc.) were largely mediocre. Take a look at the roster and the line is teeming with potential; Gerald McCoy, Da’Quan Bowers, and Adrian Clayborn were all either 1st or 2nd round picks. While Clayborn and Bowers still need to validate their high draft grades with more on-field production, McCoy is coming off of the first All-Pro selection (1st team) of his career and has reportedly begun negotiations on an extension.
The secondary gave up 30 passing touchdowns, which was 27th in the league. That same unit also scooped the third most interceptions in the NFL, so to describe them as hit-or-miss seems to be the only proper labeling. The team will need much more consistency from its back unit in order to return to its winning form.
There is a lot of turnover for the Bucs, but a 4-12 team obviously needs change. After his impressive role as substitute teacher, Josh McCown has left the Chicago Bears for the opportunity to start. Despite Glennon’s solid efforts, Tampa gave McCown a two year, $10 million contract. Certainly the QB battle will be the one to watch. And who will be making the final decision of who is the signal-caller? New head coach Lovie Smith. With him, he brings defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who turned the Cleveland Browns defensive front into a fearsome unit (they racked up the most sacks in the last 12 years of Browns history, and allowed just 3.9 yards per carry). In addition to the aforementioned talent, Cullen will coach new additions Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. While in Cleveland, Cullen relied on a deep line that rotated frequently; looking at the offseason moves, it appears the strategy will be employed again. The defensive line play will be important because their star secondary player, Revis, has gone to the Patriots via free agency.
The Bucs opened their 2014 Draft with a splash, drafting…a Vincent Jackson doppelganger. Mike Evans out of Texas A&M is a similarly built (6’ 5” 225 pounds) version of the team’s number one receiver. Whoever has the pleasure of throwing to these two should get familiar with the phrase, “throw the fade”. Perhaps that strategy will improve TB’s touchdown efficiency in the Red Zone (24th in the league last year). Martin’s return from injury will alleviate the pressure from the quarterback, as will the arrival of 2nd round selection Austin Seferian-Jenkins (tight end) from Washington. Indeed, all six draft selections were on offense, showing the team’s desire to improve its most glaring weakness—scoring the ball.
The Bucs will be better, but it’s hard to fathom a team having this much turnover and competing for a playoff spot. Still, the team’s stay as “doormat of the NFC South” will be a short-lived one; expect them to compete and be in every game all season.