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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. The Best-Case Scenario For The 2019 Bucs
It’s time for the Buccaneers to rise up and stop underachieving.
It’s time for Tampa Bay’s players to be held accountable and play up to their potential.
It’s time for this franchise to end the decade-long playoff drought in 2019.
What has to take place for all this to happen this year in Tampa Bay? Let’s take a look at the best-case scenario and all of the elements that would need to take place for the Bucs to reach the postseason and become a perennial playoff team under new head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians’ Coaching Staff Makes A Difference
Bucs general manager Jason Licht helped lure Arians, the former Cardinals head coach, out of retirement to help end a decade-long playoff drought in Tampa Bay and get the team back to the postseason. Aiding Licht’s sales pitch was the fact that Arians’ entire coaching staff from his days in Arizona was available to join him in Tampa. Arians has a track record of winning in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Arizona and the best-case scenario is that he changes the fortunes of the Bucs in 2019 and makes an instant impact. With Licht only making a few tweaks to the roster in terms of personnel, the implication on back-to-back 5-11 seasons was that the lack of success in the win column was due to poor coaching. Arians’ arrival validates Licht’s judgment that Dirk Koetter and his staff didn’t use the talent properly and the Bucs begin to have success immediately.
Winston Becomes A Franchise QB
Arians is known as the “Quarterback Whisperer” for his development of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, and Carson Palmer in Arizona, and Licht and the Bucs are hoping – rather expecting – Arians to do the same thing for Jameis Winston by taking his game to the next level. Arians has the help of quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich to help in this endeavor. The early word is that Winston loves the rapport he has with all three, especially Leftwich, who is like a big brother to him and relatable because he’s played quarterback in Arians’ system before. How Winston goes, so go the Buccaneers. If he can have a career year and cut down on turnovers Tampa Bay will have a chance to make some noise in the NFC and in the division.
Bucs’ Ground Game Surprises
There aren’t too many believers in Tampa Bay’s ground game outside of the running backs themselves and Arians and his staff. But imagine if Peyton Barber is motivated by a contract year to rush for 1,000 yards and Ronald Jones II has a bounce-back year and rushes for 600 yards. The Bucs averaged 95.2 rushing yards per game last year, but if Tampa Bay rushed for just 20 yards more per game to 115 yards per game in 2019 the team would move up from No. 29 to No. 16 in the league’s rushing rankings. Of course improved blocking up front from the offensive line would have to occur as well, and that’s what the organization is counting on with better coaching from coaches Harold Goodwin and Joe Gilbert.
Defense Rebounds Under Bowles
The Bucs are expecting Todd Bowles’ knack for using personnel and his aggressive 3-4 blitzing scheme to make better use of the talent on defense. Tampa Bay’s new acquisitions, including veteran linebackers Deone Bucannon and Shaq Barrett and veteran safety Kentrell Brice should help, in addition to rookie linebackers Devin White and Anthony Nelson and rookie defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean and Mike Edwards. There’s nowhere to go but up for defense that ranked 27th in total defense, 26th in passing defense and 31st in scoring defense, surrendering 29 points per game. If Bowles’ scheme works as expected, the newcomers rise up, and the Bucs give up one less touchdown per game this year, Tampa Bay will rank in the middle of the pack in terms of defense. A 16th-ranked defense coupled with a Top 10 offense should be enough to make the Bucs winners in 2019.
Tampa Bay’s Kicking Woes Are Over
The best-case scenario for Licht is that the biggest recurring problem on the Bucs’ roster – the kicking duties – is finally solved in 2019. Whether it’s the accurate leg of Cairo Santos or the booming leg of rookie Matt Gay, if either can become a steady consistent force when it comes to field goals and extra points, the end result should be a few more wins in Tampa Bay. And for Licht it would not only bring a sigh of relief and some piece of mind, but also aid in his efforts to remain with the Bucs in his capacity as general manager.
Group Effort Makes Up For The Loss Of JPP
Replacing Jason Pierre-Paul’s 12.5 sacks and pass rushing ability will be a challenge to a team that has just one defensive player that has achieved double-digit sacks – defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and that was with 10 sacks as a rookie in 2010. But the best-case scenario is that Carl Nassib, who had a career-high 6.5 sacks last year, rises up in a contract year and reaches 10 sacks or comes pretty close. Nassib and Suh leading a collaborative effort that includes production from blitzing inside linebackers White and Lavonte David that leads to 40-plus sacks is among the best-case scenarios for Tampa Bay this year. The Bucs had 38 sacks with JPP last year in a defense that wasn’t nearly as aggressive as what Bowles brings to Tampa Bay. Anything less than 40 sacks this year and Pierre-Paul’s loss will really be felt.
Bucs Rookies Rise Up
Tampa Bay’s 2019 draft class was met with skepticism from draft analysts, media members and fans alike, but the early reviews from OTAs were rather glowing. If rookie defensive backs Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Edwards can carve out roles early and either push Carlton Davis, Vernon Hargreaves III and M.J. Stewart towards greatness or push them to the bench it will be a big step for the Bucs secondary, which has lacked playmakers over the last couple of years under Mike Smith. If White is as good as advertised as the fifth overall pick, and challenge others for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, while the Bucs get some pass rushing contributions from outside linebacker Anthony Nelson, the defense stands a chance to really make a turnaround under Bowles. Speed receiver Scotty Miller making the team and contributing helps the Bucs offense, but the real coup de grace for the rookie class would be Gay winning the kicker job and having a great rookie year.
Bucs Make The Playoffs
Finally, the ultimate best-case scenario for Tampa Bay is to end the team’s playoff drought that began in 2008, which was Jon Gruden’s last year with the Bucs. Since then, the team has gone through four different head coaches over the last decade and is on its fifth with Arians, who keeps saying talent isn’t the issue. If his coaching staff and schemes can truly make a difference, Winston improves, the Bucs’ ground game comes through, the kicker situation is resolved, the rookies rise up and the loss of JPP is overcome, there’s no reason why the Bucs can’t challenge for a wild card spot in the NFC in 2019. Only two head coaches have produced winning records in their first season in Tampa Bay – Gruden with a 12-4 mark and a Super Bowl in 2002 and Dirk Koetter in 2016, just missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Arians leading the Bucs to a long-awaited postseason berth – and perhaps beyond – would truly be a best-case scenario in 2019.