The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the biggest splash this off-season, acquiring all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets for some draft picks, and signing big-name safety Dashon Goldson to cement their secondary – an area of dire need following last year. There’s some concern as to whether Revis will be the same player following a devastating ACL injury he sustained early in the 2012 season, but Adrian Peterson’s full recovery and ensuing monster season should dispel most of that worry.
Tampa Bay is a team with promise on both sides of the ball, but can a team that struggled so mightily in the consistency category last year piece together an entire 16-game schedule? That’s ultimately going to be the question.
Tampa has plenty to work with on the offensive side of the ball. They return 10 of 11 starters and have one of the best young running backs in the league in Doug Martin. RotoViz’s similarity scores predict that Martin is going to finish the season as the top back by virtue of his record-setting rookie season and favorable comparison to historically similar players.
The Muscle Hamster wracked up over 1,900 all-purpose yards, snared 49 passes, and tallied 12 touchdowns in his first season. He’s an explosive and well-rounded running back that that will be an integral part of the Bucs offense next year and for years to come.
Tampa Bay also tacked on Peyton Hillis to replace the departed LeGarrette Blount. While Hillis’s overall stock has dropped considerably since his Madden Cover-worthy season, he’s a decent spell back with above-average receiving ability. Should Martin go down though, it’s hard to be comfortable with Hillis starting.
In the passing game, Tampa has some questions to address. Josh Freeman has been consistently inconsistent for his entire career, putting up an exceptional sophomore season before face-planting in 2011. Things started off well in 2012, with Freeman chucking 2,761 yards and 21 TDs to only 7 INTs through the first 12 weeks, but the last 4 games were ugly, with Freeman completing only 50% of his passes and throwing 9 INTs to 5 TDs.
To be fair, Freeman's end of the season slump's blame cannot be placed entirely on his shoulders, as a snake-bitten offensive line – starting guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks were both lost for the season – caused Tampa’s running attack to fall from a robust 4.8 yards per carry through the first 11 weeks to a paltry 3.6 in the final 5 games.
The pass protection also faltered, with Tampa committing an eye-popping ten holding penalties between Weeks 13 and 15 and Freeman constantly trying to elude an oncoming rush. By Week 15’s 41-0 drubbing at the hands of the Saints, only left tackle Donald Penn occupied the position he was slated to play in Week 1, as the Bucs were forced to play offensive line roulette to compensate for the loss of Nicks and Joseph.
All told, nobody has more on the line than Josh Freeman this season. He’s in a contract year and has yet to prove he’s worth the high price for a starting quarterback. An average or inconsistent 2013 will likely see Freeman’s 2013 paycheck dive-bomb to that of a back-up QB or stop-gap starter in the realm of Matt Moore or Kyle Orton, light years away from the contracts Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan received this offseason.
Freeman will certainly have the pieces in place to earn himself a nice paycheck, though. The Bucs line, when healthy, contains several All-Pros and the aforementioned Martin is due for a monster year. Wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams also serve as a devastating 1-2 punch in the downfield passing game and were on pace for a combined 2,500 yards before the wheels fell of the bus in the final five weeks of last season.
Defensively, Tampa Bay has improved considerably from last season’s disaster. The defensive line was the league’s best against the run in 2012, but struggled in the pass-rushing department, recording just 27 sacks. Overall, Tampa’s front should improve by virtue of health alone, with defensive end Adrian Clayborne coming back off ACL surgery and the oft-injured edge-rusher Da’Quan Bowers hoping to stay on the field after starting only six games in his first two seasons.
The loss of Michael Bennett to Seattle certainly hurts, but a healthy combination of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David, Bowers and Clayborne has the potential to be devastating in the trenches.
Tampa’s biggest improvement has obviously come in the secondary thanks to the addition of Revis and Goldson. Coupled with the incumbent strong safety Mark Barron, that trio has the potential to anchor one of the best secondaries in the NFL.
However, the Eric Wright debacle leaves the corner slot across from Revis shrouded in uncertainty, with rookie Johnthan Banks likely to be leaned on to fill the void left by Wright. If Tampa Bay struggles to fill that second cornerback position, teams will have the option of throwing the ball away from Revis all-together, making their biggest off-season investment considerably less effective.
If all goes well: Doug Martin spearheads a top-3 running attack, allowing Freeman to stretch the field with Jackson and Williams like he did in the first half of 2012. Meanwhile, the defensive line dominates up front and opens the door for Barron and Goldson to ball-hawk while Revis eliminates the opposition’s top receiver.
If everything goes wrong: Freeman remains inconsistent while injuries once again destroy the Tampa running game due to a lack of backfield and offensive line depth. The defensive line once again struggles to get pressure on the quarterback allowing opposing quarterbacks to pick on Tampa’s worrisome lack of cornerback depth outside of Revis.
By: Ryan Gilmore