Two big reasons behind Tampa Bay’s playoff run

Jameis Winston has been fantastic since Week 1 this season, but the Bucs are also being fueled by Lavonte David and the defense.

| 2 years ago
Lavonte David

(AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • Mr_Assault

    ““It is possible [David’s play suffered due to covering for Alexander]. I know early on that was a little bit of it. We talked to him about that. Just focus on his responsibilities and not worry about if Kwon was lined up right or if he understood what the call was. Early on, that did have something to do with that. I don’t know if he would admit that but now that he is confident — as we all are — with Kwon doing his job, you just have to do your job.” From DC Frazier.

    It doesn’t explain for poor tackling, but gives some insight.

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  • crosseyedlemon

    Lovie Smith put together a pretty solid defense when he was the Bears coach so given enough time you would expect him to do the same with the Bucs. The Falcons are making every opponent look good lately so how legitimate Tampa is as a playoff contender remains to be seen.

  • caradoc

    Bucs still have too many holes in the secondary to be serious about playoffs. The offense is coming along nicely, but the defensive “resurgence” has come during some questionable circumstances.

  • Kornel Hartung

    They have to win out the next three games (NO, @STL, CHI), to have a positive record, and a chance to reach a wildcard spot (week17: @CAR, nothing more to say).