Don’t tell Bruce Arians and the Bucs that they’re out of playoff contention, because Tampa Bay is still playing meaningful December games in their eyes.
While the Bucs are mathematically eliminated from the postseason, their opponents this week, the 9-5 Houston Texans, have the AFC South Division still on the line to play for. Against a team looking to punch their ticket to the postseason, Arians is looking forward to competing against a playoff caliber team.
“For us, this is a big December game,” Arians said. “This is a good measuring stick. Even without whoever’s not playing, it doesn’t matter, it’s still going to be a team going to the playoffs. We’ve beaten one team that was almost in the playoffs, we went to overtime with the number one seed in their place. That’s the things that I think you judge on, you look back to that rear view mirror and you start evaluating where we’re at next year.”
The Bucs are on a four-game winning streak and have won five of six as they’ve clawed their way back to .500 with a 7-7 record. Playing the Texans is a step up in competition, but as the Bucs finish up their season a week later at home against the Falcons, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bucs can win six straight and end the season at 9-7.
If that were to happen, Arians wouldn’t consider that a success, but did say it would be an encouraging season.
“I’d be pissed the season’s over,” Arians said. “It’s encouraging, because you look back at two plays and you’d be 11-5. I think 11-5 would get us in [the playoffs] with the fumble in Tennessee and the kick against New York. But that’s still in the rear view mirror, there’s too much football left to be looking in the rear view mirror.”
Some of the encouragement for the Bucs comes from the improved play of the cornerbacks, such as rookie Jamel Dean and second-year player Carlton Davis.
“I think the studying of film helps,” Arians said about how they’ve gotten better. “The technique’s gotten better but they’re more anticipatory, they see things coming, there’s a lot more confidence.”
Arians even went as far as to compare Davis and Dean to that of Albert Lewis, a four-time Pro Bowler, a two-time All-Pro, and a player who is in the Kansas City Chiefs’ Hall Of Fame.
“I think Carlton, like Jamel, Carlton reminds me so much of Albert Lewis,” Arians said. “Who is one of the all time great corners in this league, but didn’t have many interceptions because he just couldn’t catch. PBUs was his thing, Kevin Ross was on the other side and he would knock everybody out. But those two guys remind me, Jamel a little bit, but Carlton really, of Albert.”
Each of these corners will have one of the toughest matchups of their young career as they face wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who is widely considered as one of the best receivers in the NFL. Arians said the young Buccaneer corners do have one thing going for them that helps, and that’s their size.
Back in the day you could get away with having smaller corners, but as the game has adapted, receivers are bigger and stronger, making it difficult for smaller sized corners to keep up.
“Length, you got to have length now.” Arians said. “With what used to be with the small forwards and stuff now playing football in high school and college are all playing receivers, some of the best athletes ever that don’t make it in basketball anymore, so the corners have to adapt. You used to have the 5-9, 5-10, physical guy they used to eat off his head now. It’s a different game.”