More than one NFL fan thought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be this season’s surprise football team. It always seems like there’s at least one surprise team. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Buccaneers most definitely aren’t that surprise team.
Tampa Bay is 4 and 10 straight up before their Week 16 game against the rival Carolina Panthers. Yes, these are the same Tampa Bay Buccaneers that went 9 and 7 in 2016. These are the same Bucs that won 5 straight games in 2016.
How the heck did Tampa Bay take such a huge leap backward after such a promising season?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 Update
I first answer some questions that I posed in my preview of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, I write about what Tampa must do to right their sinking ship.
How Much Better is Jameis Winston Going to Be?
Answer: Winston has gotten better. He just hasn’t gotten enough better.
In Jameis’ defense, he has had a bum shoulder for most of the season. Winston’s only started 11 games this season. We’ve got two weeks left. So, there is a reason why he hasn’t been as good as advertised. But, much more was expected out of Jameis then what he’s shown.
In 11 games, Winston has thrown for 2,774 yards. He’s completing 64% of his pass attempts. He’s thrown 17 TD passes. He’s thrown 8 interceptions. He’s completed 65% or more of his passes in 5 of the 11 games he’s started. His best performance was in Week 15.
In Week 15, Winston completed 27 of 35 for 299 yards. He threw 3 TD passes. His QB rating ended up at 130. The Buccaneers wasted Jameis’ best performance by losing 21 to 24 to the Atlanta Falcons. Not that it mattered. The Buccaneers have no shot of getting to the playoffs.
It was important for Winston to play a good game. Jameis has been in the NFL since the 2015-2016 NFL Season. 2017 is his third season in the league. The stats imply that Winston has improved season to season. He only completed 58.3% of his passes his rookie season. In his second season, Jameis completed 60.8% of his passes. This season, he’s completing 64% of his passes.
His QB ratings have also gone up year to year. In 2015, his QB rating was 84.2. Last season, his QB rating rose to 86.1. This season, his QB rating is 93.6. Winston has gotten better this season. The problem is that he hasn’t gotten better enough.
There have been games where he’s been downright awful. In Week 8, a 3 to 17 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Winston completed 21 of 38 for 210 yards. He threw 2 picks. His QB rating came out to 49. A week later, a 10 to 30 loss to New Orleans, he only threw for 67 yards. His QB rating was 68.4.
In 6 of the 11 games Jameis Winston has started this season, he’s completed 60% or less of his pass attempts. Versus Chicago in Tampa’s first game, Winston completed 60% of his pass attempts. Against the Giants in Week 4, he completed 54.9% of his passes.
That’s just a taste of how bad Winston was in those 6 games. The Buccaneers beat both the Giants and the Bears. So, that’s a positive. But, a third year starting QB in the NFL shouldn’t complete less than 60% of his passes in close to half of his games started.
So, yes, Winston is better this season than he was last season. He’s not a franchise quarterback, though, and, that’s what the Buccaneers need him to be.
Will RB Doug Martin’s Suspension Affect the Offense?
Answer: Not at all
The Buccaneers were a horrible rushing team when Doug Martin served out his suspension. They’re a horrible rushing team with Doug Martin starting. Most of Tampa Bay’s rushing issues stem from a terrible offensive line. The Bucs average 91 rushing yards per game. That ranks 27th in the NFL.
In their first game this season, a 30 to 20 win over Miami, the Bucs rushed for 53 yards from 24 carries. Martin was suspended in that game. Martin’s return to the starting lineup didn’t jump start the rushing attack at all. Martin has rushed for 402 yards from 109 attempts. He’s only caught 9 passes for 84 yards. He’s scored a total of 4 TDs.
The best rushing performance the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had this season was in Week 13 versus the Green Bay Packers. The Bucs rushed for 165 yards from 35 attempts. Peyton Barber rushed for 102 yards from 23 attempts. In Week 14, the Buccaneers rushed for 133 yards from 28 attempts. It all came crashing down versus the Atlanta Falcons in Week 15. Tampa Bay rushed for 84 yards from 18 attempts.
There are signs that Tampa’s rushing attack has sort of come around. However, that has nothing to do with Doug Martin.
Does the Buccaneers D Take a Step Forward?
Tampa’s defense projected to be one of the better units in the 2017 NFL Season. The Buccaneers were supposed to play good enough defense to deal with the teams in their division.
The Buccaneers have the absolute worst pass defense in the league. Tampa Bay’s pass defense ranks thirty-second out of thirty-two teams. The Bucs allow over 271 passing yards per game on average. Opponents average 119.5 rushing yards for a total of 390.8 total yards. Opposing teams score 24 points per game on average against the Bucs D.
Why are the Bucs so bad on defense? Many of their issues stem from major injuries. Vernon Hargreaves, arguably their best cornerback, is on I-R. So are LB Adarius Glanton, DE Noah Spence, S Justin Evans, and DL DaVonte Lambert. It’s so bad that going into Week 16, 5 defensive players are listed as questionable: DE Robert Ayers, S T.J. Ward, LB Lavonte David, DT Gerald McCoy, and DB Ryan Smith.
Because of the Buccaneers’ injuries on defense, it’s difficult to make the conclusion that Tampa just has a bad defense. Earlier in the season, the D held New England in check. Tampa only lost 14 to 19. The Buccaneers defense also only allowed Carolina to score 17 points in the 3 to 17 loss on Oct. 29.
Tampa’s D has shown flashes of being a decent unit. The problem is that the injuries have become so numerous, and so ridiculously devastating, that the unit is a shell of the one that coach Dirk Koetter put together this past off season.
Bottom Line: Tampa’s Not Close to Being as Good as New Orleans and Carolina
The key word for every team in the NFL is change. If you don’t change, you’re not going to regularly win football games. That’s just the way it is. All we must do is think about the top two teams this season in Tampa’s division, the NFC South.
The Carolina Panthers made it all the way to Super Bowl 50 only two seasons ago. Last season, the Panthers missed the playoffs. Carolina knew they needed to change. They decided to have QB Cam Newton throw the football more than run the football. At first, that seemed like a horrible idea. It’s worked out. Carolina is 10 and 4 going into Week 16.
The New Orleans Saints had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL in both 2015 and 2016. If there was any team that need to change, it was the New Orleans Saints. What did the Saints do to change? They overhauled the defense. They also instituted a new defensive system. But, the Saints didn’t stop there. New Orleans became a run first team. Being a run first team, means that the Saints defense gets more rest during games than it has in the past, I don’t know, decade.
Atlanta didn’t make any changes. That’s why the Falcons are struggling to make it to the playoffs.
So, now, what changes must Tampa Bay make to become the team that so many thought they’d be? Tampa must put together a rush first offensive line. Dallas has a rush first offensive line. So does New Orleans. The Patriots have a pass first offensive line.
With a rush first offensive line, it won’t matter who the starting running back is. Also, Jameis Winston won’t have to try and bail the team out on every down. Finally, a rush first offensive line should help the defense stay healthier than it did this season because the defense won’t be on the field nearly as much.
That’s it. Take a page from the New Orleans Saints. Old school football, get the rushing attack going, is the best way for the Buccaneers to improve off their horrific 2017 NFL Season.