- Tampa Bay's defense will put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, especially within the NFC South, but the real question is how their own quarterback responds to the blunt approach of a new coach.
The 2019 NFL season is just a few weeks away, so Andy Benoit makes a few predictions for each NFL team. Today he analyzes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who finished 5–11 and fourth in the NFC South last year.
New head coach Bruce Arians struggles to salvage Jameis Winston. Winston can read coverages and play from within the pocket—two vital traits for an NFL quarterback. But the 2015 No. 1 overall pick continues to be wildly inconsistent in his mechanics and especially his decision-making. Though a poor deep-ball thrower, Winston is excellent at deep-intermediate routes, but even here, he too often throws late across the middle, which is a great way to be intercepted. Arians, who can be notoriously blunt, emphasizes to Winston the virtue of checkdowns. The problem is that Arians’s system does not engender safe play; it is heavy on downfield route combinations, often with five eligible receivers out in patterns, with one-on-one blocking up front. Arians’s greatest successes have been with Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer—three aggressive downfield throwers. Winston would be a fourth, if so much of him didn’t need to be reprogrammed.
The ground game remains hot and cold. Stylistically, Tampa Bay’s road-grading O-line fits Arians’s inside zone scheme, as does nimble fourth-year pro Peyton Barber, who might be football’s most underrated tailback. But should we really expect much from this ground game? Last year, with the same players and the same inside-zone scheme, the Bucs ranked 31st in yards per attempt.
Young defensive backs play a key role. Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay’s 2018 second-round cornerback, struggled early as a rookie but improved down the stretch. At 6' 1", he has the length to be strong in press coverage, which happens to also be the specialty of 2019 second-rounder Sean Bunting from Central Michigan, one of three DBs taken with Tampa Bay’s first four picks. If these defensive backs can jam receivers, that will give new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’s signature blitzes time to get home.
Opposing guards and centers hate playing the Bucs. Bowles’s blitzes often attack the interior of the offensive line. With speedy linebackers—fifth overall pick Devin White of LSU, veteran Lavonte David (currently dealing with a knee injury) and ex-Cardinal Deone Bucannon—and no true edge rushers aside from maybe ex–Broncos backup Shaq Barrett, Bowles relies on his preferred inside pressures. That’s a great way to attack Cam Newton, Matt Ryan and especially Drew Brees, the pocket-oriented passers of the NFC South.
BOTTOM LINE: History says a risk-taking QB like Winston won’t change (especially when the scheme doesn’t). Given that, and the defensive overhaul, this team’s turnaround is at least a couple years away.
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