Two big reasons behind Tampa Bay's playoff run
At 6-6, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently sit just one game out of a Wild-Card playoff spot in the NFC. How is that possible, just one year after having the worst record in the league? Let’s look at two big reasons why:
1. No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston is taking steps toward becoming a superstar QB.
Winston posted the best grade of his rookie season and was a large part in the Buccaneers’ downing of the Falcons this week. He again displayed some impressive passing and poise, as well as his very own movie-moment when he asked in the huddle who wanted to score the go-ahead TD before hitting Mike Evans for the game-winner.
As the year winds down, Winston is almost level with the end-of-season cumulative grade achieved by Teddy Bridgewater last season as the best rookie quarterback performance we have seen since the otherworldly class of 2012. He currently ranks No. 18 in our PFF grades, and if you removed his disastrous Week 1 performance against the Titans from the equation, he’d be approaching top-10 status in our grades.
He has earned the majority of his positive grade at the intermediate level, completing 60 percent of passes thrown between 10 and 19 yards downfield for 1,331 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
2. The defense has undergone a resurgence, led recently by Lavonte David.
Tampa Bay’s defense has been a big part of the Buccaneers unpredictable success, too. Two years ago, Lavonte David had one of the best defensive seasons of any player, and last season he was ranked fifth among true stand-up 4-3 OLBs. But surprisingly, this year David’s play had fallen off a cliff – until recently. Over the first nine games of the season, he had eight negative grades, including some horrendous outings in which he was exposed both in coverage and against the run.
David is now coming off of three consecutive impressive games, and in the win against Atlanta, he made nine tackles and two assists, with eight of those being defensive stops. He was thrown at seven times, and though he allowed six to be caught, they went for just 56 yards and he picked the other pass off.
In fact, the Buccaneers defense held the Falcons to one touchdown in the game, with the rest of the scoring coming via the boot of kicker Shayne Graham. Remember, this is a Falcons offense that was flying high earlier in the season and boasts dynamic playmakers like Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman.
Maybe David was playing hurt over the first half of the year, or maybe he just found himself in an ugly funk of play, but whatever the reason for his poor performances, it looks like we are seeing the David of old return, thus corresponding with the Tampa Bay defense looking far more formidable during the stretch run.
This is a quarterback-driven league, and the Bucs will go as far as Winston can take them, but for a young quarterback trying to carry a franchise on his shoulders, having the best players on defense finally live up to their ability is a huge boost. David was a big part in the victory against Atlanta.