Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2019 Season Preview
By Steve Moore
Sunday 6th January 2008. Barack Obama was a one term senator who appeared to have watched too much West Wing and wanted to be Matthew Santos; Donald Trump was a Democrat who Brits regarded as the American Alan Sugar without the same panache when saying ‘You’re Fired’, and Soulja Boy was sandwiched between Leona Lewis and Leon Jackson at the top of the UK Charts.
It was also the last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the playoffs. Only the Cleveland Browns have a longer drought and with Baker’s Browns being on the up, the Bucs will need to step up if they want to avoid being the definition of NFL failure.
2018 was not good for the Buccaneers as they limped to 5-11, including losing eight of their last 10. That performance meant Dirk Koetter was shown the door, after two straight sub-.500 seasons.
The man that has been given the chance to succeed Koetter seemed like he was done with coaching. Bruce Arians, a man so old he was coaching under Bear Bryant at Alabama. However, the 66-year old is certainly not old school when it comes to offensive style. Byron Leftwich may be calling plays but it will be aligned with Arians’ ‘No Risk It, No Biscuit’ policy.
It has certainly been an active offseason for the Buccaneers. They replaced McCoy with Suh, and added Shaquil Barret and Devin White to reinforce their linebacker group. Offensively saw them lose deep threat DeSean Jackson and slot receiver Adam Humphries. The emergence of Chris Godwin means the loss of Jackson won’t be so painful. But Humphries was super last season and the Buccaneers will need someone to step up and fil that void.
Arians comes in to find an offense that has talent. They ranked first in passing yards and third in total yards and passing touchdowns in 2018. However, they also ranked dead last in interceptions, with 26, and turned the ball over on 19% of their drives. Not all of them were the fault of Jameis Winston, but a career average of 14.5 interceptions per season is a major problem.
Winston will be throwing the ball deep and often and it is because of his situation that Bruce Arians was chosen by the Glazer family. With Winston in the last year of his rookie deal, and no certainty as to whether he should be considered a success or a bust, bringing in a man called ‘the Quarterback Whisperer’ (not just in his own book but also on Bleacher Report articles) makes perfect sense.
It is no overstatement to make either. Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, and Carson Palmer have all been developed by Arians at some point early in their NFL career. As desperate last throws of the dice go, it is about as good an option as it gets.
The running game was a massive problem in 2018, as they ranked 31st in yards per attempt and 23rd in touchdowns. Their offensive line has been unremarkable, and with no new faces, Arians will need to also work his magic there to get more out of this running game.
An even bigger issue though is on the other side of the ball where they gave up more points than every team bar the woeful Oakland Raiders. For a team whose successful times were built on defensive steel, they have not been a top-ten unit since 2010 and not been a top-five unit since that 2007 playoff season.
No surprise then that the appointment of Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator has seen the biggest shakeup in the history of the franchise. Gone is not only the last semblance of Tampa 2 but also the 4-3 scheme that has been a staple in the Bay for a quarter of a century.
All five picks at the top of the draft were on that side of the ball, including White as the fifth overall pick to partner with Lavonte David, Kevin Minter, and Barrett and they have also essentially swapped McCoy for Suh as he is considered a better system fit.
Bowles will need to find ways of generating pressure. McCoy and more recently Jason Pierre-Paul (who might miss the entire season due to a car-crash) have been the only reliable source of sacks for most of the last decade, which says a lot when JPP only arrived at the Ray Jay last year. That improvement might come from their 2018 first-rounder, Vita Vea, who improved as 2018 went on.
Their secondary will also be under the microscope. The group is made up of a lot of first and second round draft picks. If anyone can get this group playing to their potential then it is likely to be Todd Bowles. A drastic improvement in this group could make them a threat to be a top-ten defense this season.
If the Buccaneers somehow make the playoffs, expect countless articles about the Bruce Arians miracle curing of Winston. The true miracle though would be at the hands of Todd Bowles somehow creating a top-10 unit. Expecting that in just one season is almost certainly asking too much too soon.
Record Prediction: 7-9
Image credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports