There was a lot of hype surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into the season. A loaded offense with a young upstart quarterback hoped to finally get over the hump and into the postseason. Instead it has been a season full of disappointment in almost every facet of the game. The Tampa Bay defense is one of the worst in the NFL in every major category, and the offense has failed to produce the splash plays and points everyone expected in the preseason. Here are three statistics (among many) that show how much the Bucs have struggled in 2017, and how much needs to change.
1. Sacks and pressure
No team in the NFL has fewer sacks than the Buccaneers, with a measly 17 tallies in 13 games. That’s three less than the next closest team and an average of just over one per game, putting them on pace for under 21 sacks this season, which would be the franchise’s lowest mark since 1994. Two interior defensive linemen, Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, lead the team in sacks with five and three respectively. No true edge defender has more than two sacks on the season.
According to Pro Football Focus Elite, Robert Ayers, Noah Spence and Ryan Russell are 24th, 61st and 64th in pass rush productivity across the league among edge defenders who have played 25 percent or more of their team’s snaps. Spence has obviously missed a good portion of the season after being injured early, but if he is to be the starter on one side next season, the Bucs will need someone to bookend him to keep the 32 year-old Ayers in his preferred rotational, versatile passing-down role. If they can find one game changer off the edge in this year’s draft, perhaps North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, it could be transformational for the Bucs’ defense.
2. Big plays in the passing game
Surely a vertically-based offense with DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and athletic tight ends in O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate is one of the more explosive units in the league, right? Not even close — the Buccaneers have managed just three passing plays of 40 yards or more this season, tied for second-worst in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus Elite, Jameis Winston has an adjusted accuracy mark of just 30.2 percent on passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air, the 34th-best mark in the entire NFL among quarterbacks who have played at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.
That’s not going to get it done, and it’s not the protection’s fault either. Adjusted accuracy eliminates plays when the quarterback is hit as he throws. Winston has to be the guy to step up next season, and a better offensive system will help him as well. Dirk Koetter’s offense was criticized across the league this past week as being one of the more predictable schemes in the NFL, and without a stable rushing attack, it’s easy for teams to play two high safeties and stymie the Bucs’ downfield threats.
3. Pass defense
The Buccaneers’ pass defense has been an absolute sieve all season, allowing the most passing yards per game of any team in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks are completing a ridiculous 68.4 percent of their passes against Tampa Bay, while also averaging eight yards per pass! Despite their conservative approach in positioning their corners and safeties, the Buccaneers have still given up 10 passing plays of 40 yards or more and 48 plays of 20 yards or more (both tied for fourth-worst).
These flaws in coverage have been the key components in surrendering more yards per play than any other team in the NFL, and the second-most yards per game. Tampa Bay has by far the worst third-down defense in the league, allowing teams to extend their drives 48 percent of the time. Vernon Hargreaves has been a disappointment, Brent Grimes is aging, and the safety play has been very inconsistent despite flashes from rookie Justin Evans. Combine these concerns with a complete lack of a pass rush, and the Buccaneers are an unmitigated mess that several offseason moves must rectify.