When a football team looks as bad as the Buccaneers did Sunday in their 37-9 loss to the Houston Texans, the old adage “the sky is falling” comes to mind. Frustration boils over for the coaches, players, management and the fans. PewterReport.com decided to look at some numbers and facts to try and determine what may be part of the problem, as the Buccaneers currently sit at 4-5 and three games out of the NFC South lead.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED
First, it is important to remember that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a young football team. In fact, the Buccaneers have the youngest roster in the NFL for the second straight year. While the debate will carry on that this is the fault of the Buccaneers for not signing enough veteran players, general manager Mark Dominik, for better or worse, is following a plan he and the Glazers set in motion during the 2009 season to build through the draft and develop Tampa Bay’s talent from within.
Looking at Tampa Bay’s roster there are 38 players with four or less years experience. The average age of the entire 53-man roster is 25 years old. The offensive starters average 25.8 years of age and the defense averages 25.9 years old.
Breaking it down a step further when looking at the skill position players on offense the Buccaneers' average age is 24.3 years.
Now let’s look at the same figures for the defending Super Bowl champs and Buccaneers' next opponent, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has a relatively young team, but its youth is found mostly in the backups – not the starters. The Packers carry 36 players with four or less years of experience. But the average age of the offensive starters is 27.1 years of age and the defensive average age is 27.3.
Looking closer at the offensive skill position players and the number jumps up to 28.7 as compared to Tampa Bay’s 24.3, equating to approximately four more seasons of NFL experience.
VERY LITTLE DEVELOPMENT TIME
NFL scouts, coaches and general managers will tell you the most important developmental year is the one between the first and second seasons of a player’s career. Out of Tampa Bay's 53-man roster a whopping total of 26 players have had no offseason with the Buccaneers. Some were with other teams over the last few seasons, but a majority of the 26 were either brought in during the 2010 season, drafted in 2011 or signed prior to this season. And out of those 26 players without the benefit of any offseason program this year due to the NFL lockout, 13 have started games for the Buccaneers in 2011.
Even the players that have had an offseason with the Buccaneers in the past, such as quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, running back LeGarrette Blount, linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black have struggled this year with their production and could have used an offseason at One Buccaneer Place with the coaches.
KILLER SCHEDULE IN 2011
Now let’s take a look at the schedule this season versus last year. The Buccaneers' opponents last season were 96-112 with a winning percentage of .462. Of the teams that Tampa Bay defeated, only one – the Saints – had a winning season as the other nine victories came against sub .500 teams.
This season the Buccaneers schedule is the second most difficult in the NFL, as opponents they have already or will face, are a combined 65-55 currently with a winning percentage of .541. After facing the undefeated, Super Bowl champion Packers this Sunday, the Bucs will have played the toughest schedule in the NFL through 10 games.
Of the teams that Tampa Bay has played this year, only two – Minnesota, which stands at 2-7 and the winless Colts – have a losing record. Aside from facing the NFC North-leading Packers, which have the best record in the NFL, the Bucs have lost to the best team in the NFC West and second-best team in the NFL in San Francisco (8-1), lost to a team that is tied for the AFC conference lead in Houston (7-3), split with the NFC South-leading Saints (7-3) and lost to two NFC North teams that are poised for a playoff run in Chicago (6-3) and Detroit (6-3).
Tampa Bay just missed the playoffs in 2010 with a 10-6 record, and with the ease of schedule, which is no fault of the Bucs, it may have set up false expectations for the 2011 season. It's worth noting that the Buccaneers had to rally in the fourth quarter to come from behind and beat the likes of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Arizona and St. Louis, in addition to beating San Francisco and Seattle to go 4-0 against the putrid NFC West.
With a much tougher schedule in 2011, a young roster combined with the NFL lockout, which meant no OTAs or mini-camps, the struggles of the Buccaneers maybe aren’t as bad as they appear. In retrospect, adding more veteran free agents in 2011 might have made a difference in the team's games this year and there is a much more likely chance that the Bucs will use free agency more in 2012.
Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris have both publically stated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are by no means a finished product. But will the Glazer family have the patience to see the slower-than-fans-like approach through? The last seven games will go a long way in determining what the future of the franchise holds.
– Scott Reynolds contributed to this report