PFF Preview 2011 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

| September 2, 2011

Hands up if you saw the Bucs finishing 10-6 last season.
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Even the most fanatical of Buccaneers fans were shocked to see such a turnaround given their struggles in 2009, but by beating teams with losing records and with some impressive performances from their core young players, they almost managed to sneak into the playoffs.
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While they did barely miss out, their showing has set a level of expectations that they’re now expected to match. Will they be able to rise to the occasion, or will 2011 be a come-down year for a Bucs team that on the surface may not have made the leaps forward that other teams in their division have? Let’s look at some reasons to be confident in another run at the playoffs, and some reasons that suggest that these lofty expectations will not be met.
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Five Reasons to be Confident
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1. The Rise of Josh Freeman

When you watch Josh Freeman, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger. What separates Freeman from a lot of other quarterbacks in the league, is his ability to calmly deal with pressure. He’s able to deal with it so well in fact, that it often makes people forget about the woeful protection that his offensive line provides him. Freeman had our fifth highest grade of all quarterbacks when pressured, and is the type of impact player who gives your team a chance to win on a consistent basis.
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2. He’ll Run Through, Around and Over the Top of You

Who else could we be referring to other than LeGarrette Blount? The big bruising sophomore running back took the NFL by storm last year with a series of highlight reel runs where he literally jumped over players. It’s rare to see a player who will drag defenders 10 yards down the field, burst through tackles with ease, and hurdle right over defenders on a regular basis. As a running back, Blount forced more missed tackles than any other player last season, and it was a big part of why he was considered to be the most elusive back in all of football last year.
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3. The Real McCoy

If there’s one piece of information we would like all of you to remember, it’s that Ndamukong Suh wasn’t the only defensive tackle drafted in 2010. The Bucs picked up Gerald McCoy with the third overall pick, and although his numbers weren’t as flashy, in some respects he was even more impressive than Suh. McCoy displayed the kind of physical ability that you’d expect to see out of a high draft pick, and while he wasn’t a star against the run, he didn’t display the typical rookie tendencies that you would expect from a first-year player. Furthermore, he had our tenth highest grade of all pass rushing defensive tackles, finishing in the top 20 out of all defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends in our pass rushing productivity rating.
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4. Outside Linebackers

Though you can say that they overpaid for Quincy Black, the Buccaneers are bringing back two of the better outside linebackers in the league. Black has mainly featured as a two down linebacker and isn’t exactly the flashy type, but he gets the job done. He doesn’t miss many tackles, is solid enough in coverage, and can generate pressure when he blitzes. He’s reliable, and reliability at the linebacker positions is something you need when you have the erratic Gino Hayes playing on the opposite side. Hayes, Tampa’s weak side linebacker, noticeably slowed down in the latter parts of the season, but remains one of the league’s more aggressive ‘backers. Though he had a lower rating than Black, he has the potential to be a big time playmaker.
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5. Youth Movement

By getting rid of so many veterans who weren’t getting the job done, Tampa Bay was able to get their young guys some experience that could prove to be invaluable in the coming seasons. Wide receiver Mike Williams has the ability to improve on a very impressive rookie campaign, and by cutting out errors like the one that saw Cody Grimm give up a long touchdown in week three, should be less of a worry. Even the development of players already mentioned (Freeman and Blount) should continue. It all adds up to a team on an upward curve.
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Five Reasons to be Concerned
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1. An Overrated Offensive Line

One of the greatest perplexities out there, is the fact that Donald Penn is a Pro Bowl Tackle. It’s not quite as mind blowing as the amount of money that Tamp Bay gave to Davin Joseph, but you get the point. The Buccaneers have an offensive line that gets more credit than it should. We all had a laugh at Penn’s ‘backside block’ in the preseason and the fact that people were chalking it up to rust, but the sad truth is that Penn has looked rusty since the backend of 2008. Far too inconsistent, he simply concedes too much pressure for a franchise left tackle. The 2010 numbers do not lie – Penn just has Josh Freeman to thank for keeping his sack totals down.

As for Joseph, you can’t blame a blocking scheme for a player performing that badly. Our second lowest ranked guard in 2010, our ninth lowest ranked guard in 2009, and our 17th lowest ranked guard in 2008, there’s been nothing to suggest that Joseph is or will become one of the league’s best guards, or even an average one.

What about the rest of the line? Well maybe they will improve this season, but even then they’re still returning the guys that finished 30th in our offensive line rankings.
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2. Lack of Offseason Improvements

The Bucs had plenty of cap room to work with this offseason, and what did they do? They overpaid a linebacker who has never played more than 600 snaps in a season; they overpaid two offensive linemen who have grossly underachieved in recent years; and they overpaid a punter who is in essence overrated because of a skill set (kick offs) that is less important than ever. They had money to spend and they wasted it. You can buy the arguments that they are building through the draft, and to a degree that makes sense, but you must supplement your drafting with good free agent picks up when the opportunity presents itself. Tampa Bay pursued players like Doug Free and didn’t get them, which showed that at the very least that they wanted to bring guys in, but they simply failed to upgrade their roster.
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3. Banking on Rookies

All the reports coming out of training camp have been great in regards to the rookies that the Buccaneers selected, but as we all know, what happens on the field at training camp and in the preseason isn’t necessarily a reflection of what will happen during the regular season. Raheem Morris and his young roster have to hit the ground running, and that isn’t always the easiest thing in for a young team to do. We’ve seen young pass rushers like Chris Long come in and take time to adjust to NFL offenses, and we have seen the struggle out of the gate like Derrick Harvey. While this may very well be a positive point by the end of the year, right now the Bucs’ pass rush is a big question mark.
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4. A Tough NFC South

The Saints had problems with their run defense, so they brought in Aubrayo Franklin and Shaun Rogers to help strengthen their defensive front. The Falcons had problems making explosive plays on both sides of the ball, so they drafted Julio Jones and signed Ray Edwards. The Buccaneers may have done better when it comes to addressing their pass rushing issues in the long term, but right now they look like they’ve fallen a step behind the NFC South’s dominant duo.
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5. Too Soon?

Could 2011 be a case of taking one step back to take two steps forward? 10 wins is pretty impressive for any team, but with all of those wins coming against sub 0.500 teams (minus a win against a second string Saints squad) it will be hard for the Bucs to build on their win total against a tougher schedule. This all goes back to the point that while the Buccaneers have some weapons on both sides of the ball, they also have some holes that they’re looking to fill for the long term as opposed to right now. Whether or not their long term investments will pay off immediately remains to be seen.
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So there you have it, your 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Should they have made a splash in free agency instead of overpaying for their own free agents? Very possibly, but what’s done is done and the future does look bright. It’s just the present that is a worry. A tough division, a tough schedule, and a tough deal in coping with increased expectations may be a lot for this young team to handle. Only time will tell.

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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • http://www.mlive.com/forums/lions Asteroth

    While I agree McCoy is a solid player and will likely have a very good career, it’s a little off-putting that you have to take a little swipe at Suh, each and every time you mention McCoy.

    It’s a disservice to both players.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

      Apologies if it came across that way. It’s more to highlight that as good as Suh was (and he was very good), so was McCoy.

      Guilty of perpetuating the link between the two talented players because of where they were drafted. Perhaps it’s time to branch out and give them their due as individuals.

  • mauhadeeb

    “Our second lowest ranked guard in 2010, our ninth lowest ranked guard in 2009, and our 17th lowest ranked guard in 2010″

    How does Penn have two different rankings for the same year? Is that meant to be 2008?

    • Rick Drummond

      Yep, 2008 it is for the third one.