We finally conclude our 2019 NFL Preview with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have once again hit the proverbial reset button with the hopes of starting a new (successful) era of football. Needless to say, it’s been quite a while since the Bucs have been any good, having won more than seven games just once in the last decade, with most recently yet another Last-Place finish in the loaded NFC South, their eighth in the last ten years, prompting their Ownership Group, the Glazer Family, to institute more change, firing Dirk Koetter after three years, and replacing him with the venerable Bruce Arians, who spent 2018 in retirement. Even at the ripe old age of Sixty-Six, Arians remains one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, and his presence has created a legitimately positive buzz within a franchise that has been in dire need of it for quite some time. With that said, he still has his work cut out for him, particularly at Quarterback, where former No. One Overall Pick, Jameis Winston, has yet to come close to living up to his potential. So will Arians revitalize Tampa Bay in 2019? Will Winston finally figure it all out and earn a longer stay with the club that drafted him? Will a retooled Defense channel the spirit of Buccaneers past? By all means, folks, read on and find out…
After retiring from coaching following a largely successful five-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals, it came as a surprise that Bruce Arians, now at 66- Years Old, would return to the sidelines, so quickly, let alone for a franchise such as the Buccaneers. After all, since winning Super Bowl XXXVII, they had made the Playoffs on just two occasions, with only five winning seasons in sixteen years, while cycling through Head Coaches, featuring five different figures during that period. Then again this guy is a bonafide lifer, spending thirty-eight consecutive years coaching in a variety of roles for a plethora of teams, both in the NFL and College before finally getting his shot at being a Professional Head Coach with Arizona. His CV as a Playcaller over the years certainly speaks for itself; in 2015 and 2016 when the Cardinals were at the peak of their powers, they ranked First and Ninth Overall in Scoring, along with Second and Sixth Overall in Total Offense. Upon looking at the team that he’s inherited, you’ll find that there is certainly some talent to work with, particularly on the offensive side of the football; Tampa Bay ranked Ninth and Third Overall over the past two seasons in Total Offense, averaging 430.1 Total Yards in 2018, despite being excessively Turnover-Prone, committing a staggering Thirty-Five to lead the NFL. Even with the departures of veteran Receivers DeSean Jackson (41 REC, 774 YDS, 18.9 Y/R, 4 TD) and Adam Humphries (76 REC, 816 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 5 TD), there are many tools with which to work with, including Pro-Bowl Wideout, Mike Evans (86 REC, 1,524 YDS, 17.7 Y/R, 8 TD), and promising youngsters O.J. Howard (34 REC, 565 YDS, 16.6 Y/R, 5 TD) and Chris Godwin (59 REC, 842 YDS, 14.3 Y/R, 7 TD). An advocate of the Vertical Passing Game, there likely shouldn’t be much resistance in transitioning from the previous regime to this one, though it does merit keeping an eye on Offensive Coordinator, Byron Leftwich. The former Quarterback served under Arians before, but in his first opportunity to call plays as the Cardinals’ Offensive Coordinator in 2018 after they fired the incumbent Mike McCoy following just four games, he appeared to be well out of his depth, as his unit floundered to dead-last in both Scoring and Total Offense. Granted, that group was without much talent to speak of, so perhaps new surroundings coupled with some familiar faces will make the difference.
Last Chance, Jameis
More so than any other Franchise Quarterback staring at an uncertain future, Jameis Winston (64.6%, 2,992 YDS, 7.00 NY/A, 19 TD, 14 INT, 71.8 QBR) is in dire need of proving himself worthy of being the Buccaneers’ leading man for the foreseeable future. Needless to say, he’s left a lot to be desired over the course of his first four years in the league, despite the club going out of their way to surround him with the necessary elements for success. We already listed the volume of weapons that he’s had in the Passing Game, but let’s not forget that the Glazers surprisingly fired Lovie Smith after just one season as Head Coach, in favor of promoting the aforementioned Koetter due to his working relationship with Winston. And despite what many would consider optimal circumstances, the former Heisman, National Champion, and No. One Overall Pick has gone just 21-33 as a Starter (.388), while also drawing criticism off the field thanks to allegations of sexual misconduct, which have persisted since his college days. That was a big reason as to why he was ultimately benched for a portion of 2018, losing his job to none other than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the Passing Attack to greater heights than it’s seen in years. Though the oft-traveled journeyman predictably came crashing back down to Earth, it’s not as if Winston could do much better; in eleven appearances last year, he posted a career-high Interception Rate of 3.7%, with a disappointing Twenty-One Turnovers. Carelessness, recklessness, whatever you want to call it, that has been the biggest issue for the 25-Year Old when he’s been on the field, for he’s been little more than a Turnover Machine; no Quarterback has committed more Turnovers than Winston since he was drafted in 2015, totaling a staggering Ninety-Six. And this is where Arians will be making his presence felt the most. The veteran skipper has a long history mentoring some of the greatest Quarterbacks that the league has seen over the past two decades, raising a young Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andrew Luck, while also resurrecting the career of Carson Palmer to name just a few. Can he save the career of his latest charge? There is room for tepid optimism, for despite the recklessness, Winston did show marked improvement in a number of other categories, including Completion Percentage (64.6%), Touchdown Percentage (5.0%), Yards per Attempt (7.9), Net Yards per Attempt (7.00), Yards per Game (272.0), and QBR (71.8), all of which were career-bests. Let’s not forget that he also rushed for 281 Yards, which is also a career mark. To some, these are signs of an immature Quarterback primed to take the next step, but unless Arians is able to smooth out those considerably rough edges, it may not matter…
Fixing the Defense
It seems like it’s been eons since the Buccaneers’ famed Tampa-Two scheme spread throughout the league like wildfire, with legends such as Derrick Brooks, Warren Sap, and John Lynch pioneering that particular brand of Defense to Super Bowl glory back in early 2003. Needless to say, it’s been quite a while since the franchise fielded a Defense that remotely invoked it’s star-studded forefather, particularly in 2018 when they ranked next-to-last in Points Allowed (29.0 P/G) and Twenty-Seventh in Total Defense (383.3). It marked the seventh time in the last ten years in which Tampa Bay ranked Twenty-Third or worse in Total Defense. And it’s with that said, that one of the first major hires that Arians made to his Coaching Staff was none other than Todd Bowles as his Defensive Coordinator, who had previously served under him in that capacity from 2013 to 2014. One of the more respected veteran coaches on that side of the football, Bowles enjoys excellent synergy with Arians, whom has oftentimes referred to his longtime pupil as his “son”. Familial relationships aside, Bowles will be expected to rebuild a unit that has been lacking any true sense of direction for years now. Judging by the looks of their unit, it could be while before they really start netting result; injuries have struck the Bucs hard already on Defense, with reigning Sack leader, Jason Pierre-Paul (58 TKL, 16 TFL, 20 QBH, 12.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD), expected to be sidelined until November following surgery to repair a fractured vertebrae in his neck, Linebacker Lavonte David (120 TKL, 13 TFL, 7 QBH, 3.5 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 PD), who underwent surgery on a torn Meniscus, and last year’s First Round Pick, Defensive Tackle, Vita Vea (28 TKL, 4 TFL, 4 QBH, 3.0 SK), who is dealing with a sprained LCL in his knee that he suffered during the Preseason. Furthermore, veteran Linebacker, Kwon Alexander (45 TKL, 6 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 2 FF, 2 PD), left in Free Agency, while one of Bowles’ favorites, Deone Bucannon (38 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR), who arrived via the market, also suffered an injury to his knee in Preseason action. Tampa Bay also acquired veteran Defensive Tackle, Ndamukong Suh (59 TKL, 4 TFL, 19 QBH, 4.5 SK, 2 FR, 4 PD), after the three-time All-Pro took his time finding a new suitor for his considerable talents, inking him to a one-year, $9.25 Million Contract that is fully guaranteed. While some would describe him as nothing more than a mercenary at this stage of his career, the 32-Year Old still makes an impact, and should make up for the loss of longtime stalwart, Gerald McCoy (28 TKL, 6 TFL, 21 QBH, 6.0 SK, 1 PD), who was released back in the Spring following nine years with the club. General Manager, Jason Licht also placed a heavy emphasis on this side of the football in the 2019 NFL Draft, using his first five selections on Defenders, headlined by No. Five Overall Pick, Devin White, a heat-seeking missile at Linebacker out of LSU, who some scouts proclaimed to be the top prospect in the entire field.
2019 Forecast: 6-10
Following the 2018 campaign there were few teams in more need of a makeover than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who once again finished last in the stacked NFC South. As mentioned earlier, the Glazer Family relieved Head Coach, Dirk Koetter of his duties, and replaced with Bruce Arians, whom they managed to coax out of a brief retirement. While nobody will question Arians’ considerable credentials, and his hire of Todd Bowles as Defensive Coordinator is a bonafide coup, plain and simple, it definitely needs to be said that he will have his work cut out for him. Yes, the Bucs still have plenty of talent to work with on the offensive side of the football, but their counterparts on Defense are undergoing a sizable renovation from top to bottom, and making matters worse, they’re likely to begin the season with a number of key figures on the Injury Report. However, all that aside, the most important matter to be addressed is the status of Jameis Winston, and whether or not Arians can in fact rebuild the young Quarterback into the Franchise Signal-Caller that he was intended to be when the club drafted him back in 2015. In the last year of his contract, it will be up to Winston to prove that he is indeed worthy of an Extension, by cleaning up his act on and off the field. Arians has done excellent work with a number of high-profile Quarterbacks in the past, so there is reason to believe that he will be effective straightening Winston out. In the end, even if the Defense improves and Winston stops turning the football over, there is still the matter of the NFC South to contend with, where the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers are all clearly a cut above them. This will make it extremely difficult to exhibit any progress, particularly early on given all the injuries and new faces. We applaud the Buccaneers for making an inspired decision to bring Arians into the building, but this is going to be quite a lengthy reclamation project, which will only be hastened or hindered by the performance of their erratic Quarterback. We’ll have to check back in with them in a year’s time.