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And now on to the first SR’s Fab 5 of 2020. It’s going to be a very good year, Bucs fans!

FAB 1. Arians’ First Year Was A Success

Make no mistake. Bruce Arians is not happy with Tampa Bay’s 7-9 record in 2019, which was his first season as the Bucs head coach.

It was his worst record as a head coach, as he previous worst finish was in Arizona in 2016 when the Cardinals finished 7-8-1.

Yet, Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay was a success in many ways. First, let’s look at the tangible, measurable ways Arians and his coaching staff improved the Bucs on offense and defense.

Offensively, the Bucs achieved many statistical milestones, starting with quarterback Jameis Winston. The prolific young passer gets knocked for his career-high and league-leading 30 interceptions, but his 33 passing touchdowns were the most in franchise history and were the second most scoring strikes in the NFL this year behind Lamar Jackson’s 36.

While Winston became the first 30-30 passer in league history, he also became the first 5,000-yard passer in Tampa Bay, and just the eighth quarterback to reach that lofty mark in NFL history. Winston’s 5,109 yards were the most in the league this year, and naturally the Bucs finished first in passing offense, averaging 302.8 yards per game.

Arians and Leftwich also saw wide receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both reach 1,000 yards and make the Pro Bowl in 2019, which was the first time that honor has gone to a pair of Bucs receivers in the same season.

Arians and first-year offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich took the offense to new heights as the Bucs averaged 28.6 points per game, which ranked third in the league and was the highest-scoring average in team history. That’s because Tampa Bay eclipsed the 400-point mark for the first time ever, finishing the season with 458 points.

“The things we did offensively were historic – some were historic in the wrong way and some were historic in the right way,” Arians said.

Defensively, the Bucs were the best at stopping the run, leading the league by allowing just 73.8 yards per game. The next closest team was the New York Jets, which had an 86.9 average – allowing 13 more yards per game. Outside of the strike-shortened 1982 season, the 1,181 rushing yards allowed in 2019 were the fewest in franchise history.

Not only was Tampa Bay’s run defense the best in team history, it was actually the 11th-best run defensive performance since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, according to Buccaneers.com.

Bucs ILB Lavonte David and DT Vita Vea
Bucs ILB Lavonte David and DT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Spearheading that effort was inside linebacker Lavonte David, who was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team, and once again led the Bucs in tackling with 123 stops in 2019. David surpassed the 1,000-tackle mark in his career, passing Bucs legends John Lynch, Shelton Quarles and Lee Roy Selmon on the way. David, who now has 1,005 tackles will move past Hardy Nickerson (1,028) next season and into third place behind Ronde Barber (1,428) and Derrick Brooks (2,198) in franchise history. David and Hall of Famer Ray Lewis are the only NFL players to record 1,000 tackles, 20 sacks and 10 interceptions in their first eight years in the league.

David wasn’t the only headliner on defense. Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett sent shockwaves throughout the league with an early barrage of sacks that turned into a league-leading 19.5 sacks by season’s end. Barrett’s previous career-high was 5.5 during his rookie season in Denver in 2015. In fact, Barrett had only accumulated 14 sacks during his four years with the Broncos.

Barrett’s 19.5 sacks broke Warren Sapp’s single season sack record of 16.5 set in 2000 and paved the way for the Bucs to record 47 sacks, which was the second-most in Tampa Bay history.

Bucs’ Most Sacks In A Season
1. 55 sacks in 2000
2. 47 sacks in 2019
3. 45 sacks in 2004
4. 44 sacks in 1997
5T. 43 sacks in 2002
5T. 43 sacks in 1999

The Bucs also drafted a playmaking force in middle linebacker Devin White, who was the fifth overall pick in 2019. White finished second on the team with 91 tackles, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, three pass breakups, 2.5 sacks, two defensive scores and one interception – all despite missing two and half games due to a knee injury.

White lived up to his draft billing and closed out his rookie year with back-to-back NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month honors for November and December. Since the league began recognizing Rookie of the Month awards since 1996, White is just the fifth defensive player to achieve that feat, joining joining Jevon Kearse (1999), Kendrell Bell (2001), Dwight Freeney (2002) and Brian Cushing (2009), according to The Athletic’s Greg Auman.

Did the Bucs win enough games for anyone’s liking? No.

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images

The Glazers, front office, coaches, players and fans all would have loved to seen less interceptions, fewer touchdowns surrendered and more made field goals en route to a 10-win or 11-win season. The Bucs were actually close to accomplishing that feat.

“We will quit beating ourselves and then we’ll be hard to beat,” Arians said. “The penalties, the turnovers – there were very, very few missed assignments anymore. The accountability is there. They play extremely hard and we’ll be a tough out [in 2020].”

Aside from the notable offensive and defensive superlatives, the biggest reason why Arians’ first season in Tampa Bay was the way the Bucs finished the year. After a dismal 2-6 start that seemed to ensure a third-straight 5-11 record, the Bucs rallied down the stretch and finished 5-3, including four straight wins at one point. With a 7-9 record, the team improved by two wins over last year.

Tampa Bay’s 5-3 finish over the second half of the season was tied for the second-best in team history. One has to think that with a healthy Chris Godwin and/or Mike Evans down the stretch the Bucs win at least one of their last two close losses to either Houston or Atlanta to finish or 8-8 – or perhaps even 9-7.

Best Second-Half Finishes In Tampa Bay History
2016: 6-2*
2005: 6-2**
2002: 6-2**
2000: 6-2**
1999: 6-2**
2019: 5-3
2010: 5-3*
2007: 5-3**
2001: 5-3**
1997: 5-3**
1996: 5-3
1981: 5-3**

*indicates a winning season **indicates a playoff season

Only twice has a Bucs team finished 5-3 and not had a winning record or made the playoffs. The first was in Tony Dungy’s first year in 1996 when Tampa Bay started 2-6, but finished 6-10. That strong finish set up a hot 5-0 start in 1997 that resulted in a 10-6 playoff team the next year.

The second was last season in Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay. Could that hot finish be the catalyst a hot start in 2020?

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians – Photo by: Getty Images

“I think we turned it around,” Arians said. “The last month or so we were very competitive. Still should have won those last two ball games – learn from those mistakes and build on it. Add new players like we always do. Try to keep the best we have and move on.”

There wasn’t a winning record in Tampa Bay, nor was there a playoff berth. But a very good Bucs offense got even better under Arians, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles fixed a defense that was in desperate need of fixing.

More importantly, Arians did what he was hired to do. He changed the culture in Tampa Bay. Instead of hoping to win, now the Bucs take the field expecting to win.

“I’d give up about a few hundred thousand dollars to be practicing this week,” Arians said in his post-season press conference. “Because I just know if we got in the tournament, we could do some damage.”

Just wait until 2020.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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Alldaway 2.0

Coaching matters in the modern NFL

Arians took the 2nd youngest team in the NFL with an unfavorable schedule and guided them to a better path in 2019.

Very exciting future in 2020 for a young squad that will have even more young, talented additions. Talent does matter in the NFL. But as Arians staff showed you need coaches to teach this young talent into a cohesive and focused group.

Bucs didn’t lack talent because it was apparent that this talent needed some focused leadership.

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Hockey Duckie

Football Outsiders does rate Strength of Schedule to us biased fans an unbiased ranking. While travel schedule was unfavorable, the opponents we faced this year were favorable. FBO Strength of Schedule rating 2018: 7th most difficult 2019: 18th most difficult Arians does deserve credit, but also blame. With this weak schedule and added talents, the Bucs should have won more games. In the last six games, we faced only one winning team in Houston. In the last eight games, we faced only two winning teams in NO and Houston along with two teams that won only 5 games (Arizona) or… Read more »

Pete Wood

Great article. Just two observations. I’m not as crazy about Gay as earlier in the season. The Atlanta game made no sense to me and it makes me question his future with the Bucs. The Giants game he missed a key field goal, but had pretty good stats for the game. The fail against the Falcons makes no sense. I think the 9-7 prediction is too conservative. Bucs could have been 11-5 this year easily without some very ill-timed mistakes. If everybody plays their best, Bucs can easily win eleven games next year. But, I also understand the reluctance to… Read more »

Hockey Duckie

Gay had two bad games: NYG and last game of the season. Why should you still be high on Gay: 11/14 (78%) on 40-49 yards and 5/8 (62.5%). Before the last game, Gay was 11/12 (91.6) on 40-49 yards FG attempts. Tampa hasn’t has a long range weapon like this in a long time. We were so abysmal at kicking from distance last year that we cycled through two kickers and had to forgo some kicking opportunities from afar b/c we knew we didn’t have the talent. Another reason to be high on Gay: He was one of the two… Read more »

Pete Wood

Well said, Duckie. You’ve convinced me.

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Buc stops here

I would hope everyone noticed they played better in the second half the season – but that was keyed by the defensive improvement, not the offense. The offense did the same thing – put up incredible numbers in every category, including turnovers. Keep that performance and get rid of the turnovers and you have a winning record. Problem is, Winston historically has done this every year. He also threw a lot of turnovers his second year in college as he threw for 3907 yards, 65.3% completion rate, 25 touchdowns, 18 interceptions. He has not done better than that in his… Read more »

Hockey Duckie

Strength of Schedule and Koetter’s guidance =Strength of Schedule = 2018: 7th most difficult 2019: 18th most difficult = 2018 Winston Splits = Before Benching (earlier in the season) Games: 4 Comp Pct: 64.9 % TDs: 6 (or 1.5 per game) INTs: 10 (or 2.5 per game) Sacks: 13 (or 3.25 per game) Multiple INT games: 4 After Benching (last seven games of the season) Comp Pct: 64.3 % TDs: 13 (or 1.86 per game) INTs: 4 (or 0.57 per game) Sacks: 14 (or 2.00 per game) Multiple INT games: 0 As you can identify, Winston was taking great care… Read more »

Buc stops here

Hockey Ducky, you can break up any Winston season and make him look better. Even this year there were games scattered all over the schedule where he played well (well for Winston was 1 INT) and they won. That is why they were 7-9 – he took care of the ball at times.

The problem is can he stop having games where he is not taking care of the ball? That is the open question at this point if it can ever happen.

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matador

You’re defending Winston using a year when he threw 14 INTs in 11 games and blaming this year in the heralded BA?

That’s a 17 INT pace plus who knows how many fumbles and that’s the data set you’re using to support him? C’mon man the totality of his career stats tells the story

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Hockey Duckie

Clearly you wish not to accept the turn around Winston did after his benching. Winston bucked his history under Koetter, finally. You can only lead a horse to water with facts.

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TheDavid1121

I never seen such a bad take until i read this garbage

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swashbuckler2002

I understand the case for Rojo as the most improved offensive player. Going from 44 to 724 yds is certainly a big leap. I think He should be doing better than that though, and I still can’t tell if the problem is with the coaching staff limiting his touches or with Rojo himself. My vote for MIOP would be Alex Cappa. The guy looked like a boy among men last year, and he really stepped it up this year. I though it would take him two more years at least to become even an average starter, I was happy to… Read more »

awwdembucs

Quite beating ourselves. THAT is number ONE!

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scohad

All phases of the Bucs improved? What about special teams? Does the special teams coach get held accountable? I just see no aspect of special teams that is good except maybe kickoffs.

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Hockey Duckie

2015 is GM Licht’s best draft. *1st round: QB Winston (Pro Bowl) *2nd round: LT Smith *2nd round: RG Marpet *4th round: LB Alexander (Pro Bowl 2017) We couldn’t keep Alexander b/c of salary cap reasons, not because of lack of talent. Because we didn’t retain Alexander, we went out and drafted LB White in the first round. That 2015 was a great foundation to build upon. The two rookie OL helped the Bucs become one of the most potent running teams in the league that year with both Martin & Sims averaging 4.9 yards per carry and Martin finishing… Read more »

EricNV

The 2016 defensive front 7 couldn’t hold a candle next the 2019 front 7.

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MichaelMyersIsABucsFan

Winston has been a bust. Marpet has been really good and Kwon and Smith were both ok for the Bucs. 2015 was an ok draft.

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Can’t blame the Bucs for taking Winston that year. Remember, it was him or Mariotta – and you know where Mariotta ended up. On the Bench while Tannenhill brought the Titans a winning record – and now two playoff wins by taking care of the ball and making a few plays when needed. That was something Mariotta could not do (and neither can Winston).

if the Bucs are not drafting Winston or Mariotta that year and still needed a QB, what should they have done? Passed on both?

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Who is Mariotta?

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Misspelled – Marcus Mariota (one t not two).

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In that draft, the top two quarterbacks agreed by all were Jamis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Mariota has flamed out badly in Tennessee (which is now in the AFC championship game because they had Ryan Tannenhill as their backup QB). So my point is people try to blame Licht for drafting Winston but in that case, there were no good quarterbacks taken that year the Bucs picked first five years ago. Licht could not win no matter who he chose.

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Spitfire

I think counting out teams like the Bears or the Titans of interest for Winston is a mistake. I still think it would be an injustice toot be able to see Winston have a year here behind a solid Oline. If he was somewhere like Indy or Dallas behind their lines he’d probably be leading them to a Super Bowl. No matter who the QB is next year, they will continue to run for their life or be flat on their butt if we don’t improve the Oline. There are solid pieces there, we just need to upgrade both Tackles… Read more »

EricNV

We need to draft a good LT in the 1st round, and put him as a starter at RT. See if that pick lights a fire under Donovan Smith’s ass. If it doesn’t, slide the draft pick back to his native position in 2021 after cutting Smith.

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Buc stops here

Considering the Titans have beaten the Patriots and the incredible Ravens with Tannenhill at quarterback and stellar running and defensive play, I doubt very much they would dump a QB who is taking care of the ball for a turnover machine like Winston.

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matador

Winston is a QBK. No one is going to risk being his third or fourth victim. He’s going to clipboard heaven just a matter of whether it’s this year or next

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LIBucsFan93

Where Arians went drastically wrong with Winston was his “No risk it, No biscuit” mantra. Winston needs to be reined in and Arians let Winston sling it at will. Their was NO accountability when it came to Winston. There were at least 3 games where Winston should’ve been pulled after his bone headed turnovers. Luckily for the Bucs some of those early turnovers came against some of the worse teams in the league. If the Bucs are thinking of keeping Winston in the hopes he somehow miraculously stops turning the ball over they are severely diluting themselves! Rate this item:Thumb… Read more »

EricNV

Apart from the London game against Carolina, which other two games would you pull him out of?

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EastEndBoy

The big problem with claiming the 2019 draft is the best of the bunch is recency bias. The last draft often looks the best until it doesn’t – regularly because the team will have kept all (or nearly all) of the players on the roster. Wait 3 years and see how many are still on the roster. If Gay doesn’t get better (more accurate) next year he won’t still be around (kickers are a dime a dozen…..hence why you don’t draft them in round 2 or 5). SMB may have (I’ll take PR’s word for it) shown the most progress… Read more »

bucballer

That’s all good and great. I have just one question. Two actually. Did the Bucs perform better this season…year1 under BA… than they did in Kotter’s last year. The answer is yes! Did the Bucs get better, as a whole, in the second half of the season as opposed to the way they played in the first half of the season? The answer, again, is yes! We had a couple of more wins this season than we had the previous season. I expect the team to improve a bit more in year 2 of BAs system. With the draft ahead… Read more »

twspin

Was their an improvement? Yes/ Was it enough? NO. I won’t say how much better we will be next year. Nor should you. Remember, there are 31 other teams who will try to improve also. But I would hope for a 10-6 or better. We shall see.

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EricNV

Year 2 under Arians should be a lot better for Winston. Licht had best find a FA or decent 2nd / 3rd round QB in the draft just in case Jameis doesn’t progress.

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twspin

Man, I’m hoping you are dead right here!

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bucballer

Why shouldn’t I? I can’t be optimistic about my favorite team? Then why be a fan? I said I think they should be better next year… I did not quantify this improvement! This defensive line… ifkey guys r resigned… with a full season with JPP, with LB White getting some experience and the game beginning to slow down for him, the young defensive backfield gaining very valuable experience, RoJo, Evans, Godwin continue to improve as players, why wouldn’t/shouldn’t a Buc fan be optimistic about next year, year 2 for the BA administration? Of course they should improve! So u don’t… Read more »

toofamiliar17

Quick correction to an erroneous assertion in Fab1: “Tampa Bay’s 5-3 finish over the second half of the season was tied for the second-best in team history.” We finished 7-1 in 1999, while you guys have it as 6-2 here. And even if we hadn’t, 5-3 wouldn’t be “tied for second”. Because there are five seasons BETTER than those in which we finished 5-3 (which is of course the case whether you account for 1999 as 6-2 or 7-1), it would be correct to say that it is in an 8-way tie for sixth (we also finished 5-2 in the… Read more »

scubog

I absolutely think this coaching staff is the best we have had in quite some time. Best thing it did was instill confidence. While the results on the field should be the biggest indicator of the drafting acumen of Jason Licht, the team is clearly improved when you watch the performance. One thing is certain……..the team doesn’t give up. When watching the teams in the play-offs, I’m sitting there thinking that they are no way better than the Bucs unless we beat ourselves. Looking forward to the Draft talk and endless speculation. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes… Read more »

Horse

Agree

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toucan

The Bucs were 2-6 in the 1st half of 2019 mostly because the defense,especially the DB play, was poor.As the season went along the DBs showed great improvement.Hopefully, Gay resolves his accuracy issue in the off season.Maybe an O- line addition will improve the run game and take some of the pressure off the QB.Hopefully, #3 studies film to see throws he should not have attempted. That is a lot of improvement to seek but the players seem capable of correcting those issues which will lead to a better season next year.Dotson said it best about #3 ” who out… Read more »

Horse

Looks like Jameis is going to come back so I will just accept it and hope he improves. Go Bucs!

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SappAttack

Newcomer Award should be
OLB Shaq Barrett not CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

Special Team MVP Award anyone other than Matt Gay. You can’t cost us two games and be the MVP. Sorry

Lots to be optimistic about next year!

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MiltonMack21

Beckwith letting his idiot friend drive ruined his career.

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MikeJ813

I think the most important thing the coaching staff did this year was change the culture in Tampa bay. When was the last time we heard Soon to be free agents voice that they would love to stay in Tampa bay. The previous year it would be maybe 1 or 2 guys just cause they would make more money year but this year the whole free agent class is dying to be back in Tampa, the culture change Was amazing

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DMIbucs98

Adding a pass rusher and cutting a weak cover defender around mid season was a huge momentum boost. We all see how the two go hand and hand. I can’t think of anything that exemplifies that more than what the Bucs showed. Also saw the growth in White after he came bacc from injury. It looked like the first few games he was too happy to be there and the game was a little fast for him. The optimism is minimal but it’s still there. Everyone is young including some of the coaches and that’s where I hold my hope.… Read more »

MichaelMyersIsABucsFan

Also this was not a successful year for Arians or the Buccaneers, they didn’t make it to the playoffs and all signs point to them taking a big step back next season unless they improve the QB position.

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