Two playoff games.
Zero sacks allowed.
That’s a big reason why Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are in another Super Bowl.
The last team to make it to the Super Bowl without giving up a sack in the playoffs? You guessed it.
The Patriots in 2003.
Here’s another fun fact. Drew Brees and Trent Dilfer have the same number of Super Bowl rings. One.
Which is one more than Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and a few other Hall of Fame quarterbacks have.
There is no question that having a dynamic, playmaking quarterback is a huge part of reaching the postseason and winning championships. But, protecting your quarterback is just as important. Maybe even more so.
As far as the least amount of sacks allowed in the 2018 regular season, seven of those teams made the playoffs. That’s 70 percent.
And of the Top 10 rushing teams in the NFL this season, six of those teams were in the postseason, including the Patriots (fifth, 2,037 yards) and the Los Angles Rams (third, 2,231 yards), who will face off on Sunday.
The Buccaneers were ranked 29th in rushing last season, and ranked 16th in the number of sacks allowed. That stat could have been worse if not for the ability of Jameis Winston to escape sacks and even Ryan Fitzpatrick to a degree. And while 16th is middle of the road, they were the fifth worst team in the NFL in giving up quarterback hits (109).
The bottom line is, the Bucs can acquire all the skill position players they want, could raise Johnny Unitas from the grave and put him under center, but until they can run the football and protect the passer, getting into the playoffs will be a difficult task. New Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians said that the offensive line was an area that needed to be upgraded in speaking with the media after his initial press conference on January 10.
“I think offensive line, looking outside in, is an area we need to work on,” Arians said. “Some guys that have talent need to get better and more consistent.”
Tampa Bay’s 2018 offensive line was underwhelming to say the least, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. The weak link in the Bucs line was without question right guard. Caleb Benenoch was really bad, and what does that say about rookie Alex Cappa, the team’s third-round pick, that despite Benenoch’s poor play, he couldn’t beat him out for the starting role by the middle of the season?
Center Ryan Jensen, who was signed to a huge contract that makes him the league’s highest-paid center at $10.5 million per year, graded out decently, at least in the eyes of the organization, and left guard Ali Marpet, who received a big contract extension at the start of the season, was as solid of a guard as you will find in the NFL. That’s quite remarkable since he was playing his third different position in the last three seasons.
The tackle positions were a point of much frustration at times for fans and the team alike.
Right tackle Demar Dotson, who is rapidly approaching half-price coffee age at McDonald’s, (he’ll be 34 in October), was adequate in pass protection, but struggled at times with his run blocks. Coming off knee surgery in the offseason, he may have still been feeling the effect of not being 100 percent healthy. Of course we also don’t know if some of that was communication issues playing next to Benenoch.
The poster child for the fan’s frustrations was left tackle Donovan Smith. While the turnstile duo of Benenoch/Cappa was clearly the biggest issue, fans – and the media – gave Smith a pretty hard time most of the season. PewterReport.com had Smith on its post-game Most Disappointing lists many times last season, and rightfully so with occasional mental lapses and mistakes.
The biggest frustration with Smith was is that he is not playing up to his full potential, evidenced by the fact that he gave up a career-high 6.5 sacks last season in a contract year. Smith has enough quickness to be an effective pass protector, plus the size and strength to swallow up defensive ends and pave holes for the running game. He can be dominant at times, then look lackadaisical at other times.
Playing left tackle in the NFL is quite difficult, but Smith frustrates many with his perceived laziness at times. And at that position, if a tackle takes a few plays off, or gets sloppy with his technique bad things are going to happen. Bucs fans and the team would love to see a nastier and more consistent Smith in 2019.
And yet, while this fact may drive some fans crazy, Smith isn’t going anywhere this year. The organization knows that quality left tackles are extremely hard to find. It would be hard to say that any left tackle in this year’s draft, in which the quality is below average at the position, would play better as a rookie than Smith will in his fifth year. And do the Bucs trust a rookie to protect the blind side of a player the the team is hoping becomes a franchise quarterback in his contract year? Smith will be back in 2019 with at least the franchise tag – if not a contract extension.
So how does Tampa Bay’s offensive line get better under Arians?
The first hope is coaching. Former offensive line coach George Warhop was not a good talent evaluator to begin with and didn’t do a good job of developing the players the team acquired through free agency and the draft outside of Marpet and – to a degree – Smith. Let’s not forget that Warhop also held the title of run game coordinator as well under Dirk Koetter, and being ranked 29th in the league in rushing is a damning statistic.
Joe Gilbert now takes over an offensive line that needs a new voice in their ear along with a new philosophy and new leadership. New run game coordinator Harold Goodwin will work with Gilbert and oversee the offensive line, and also be a part of the hoped revitalization in 2019 and beyond.
The Bucs will also need to add more talent, even if the coaching is an upgrade. This draft isn’t very good or deep with offensive tackle talent, especially on the left side, but there are a number of interior offensive linemen Tampa Bay could choose from to add to the unit. Particularly at guard, with names like Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom, who is featured in PewterReport.com’s latest 2019 Bucs’ 6-Round Mock Draft, Oklahoma’s Ben Powers and Wisconsin’s Michael Deiter and Ben Benzshawel. Then there are some players that played tackle in college that might end up being guards in the pros, like Kansas State’s Dalton Risner.
In free agency, the pickings are slim outside of New England left tackle Trent Brown, but he is expected to re-sign with the Patriots. Keep an eye out for former 49ers and Cardinals guard Mike Iupati, who is slated to become a free agent. While he isn’t a long-term solution due to his age (31) and injury history, he could be a veteran stop-gap player while a draft pick is groomed, and other players like Cappa are developed.
At the end of the day, football is a pretty simple game. The team that block and tackle the best tend to win more games in the NFL. The Bucs defense, led by Todd Bowles is expected to significantly improve, and on the offensive side of the ball, the big question mark is how this O-line will shape up.
Tampa Bay will have to forge a better running game and do a much better job protecting Winston up front. If you don’t think that’s important, just ask Brady and the Patriots.