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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. Bucs Need To Embrace Super Bowl Formula

Defense still wins championships.

Look no further than the final four NFL teams vying to become the Super Bowl LII champions to know that’s true. Minnesota, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and New England all have Top 5 scoring defenses, and the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles are all in the Top 5 when it comes to total defense, too. The Patriots are ranked 29th in total defense, but New England does have the league’s top offense and second-ranked scoring offense to compensate.

Defense wins championships, but points still win games, which is why a team needs to have a way to score enough points – preferably touchdowns – in the playoffs to prevail. A quick look at the final four NFL teams in the playoffs reveals a few common denominators, but having a franchise-caliber quarterback is not one of them.

Oh, the odds-on favorite New England Patriots have Tom Brady, the greatest NFL quarterback of all-time, but what about the other three teams? Who are their quarterbacks?

Philadelphia and Minnesota have two former Los Angeles Rams backup quarterbacks at the helm in Nick Foles and Case Keenum, respectively. Jacksonville has Blake Bortles, a former first-round pick who has definitely not lived up to expectations with the Jaguars.

Other Super Bowl participants have lacked elite caliber quarterbacks, including San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick in 2012, Chicago with Rex Grossman in 2006, Matt Hasselbeck in 2006, Tampa Bay with Brad Johnson in 2002 and Baltimore with Trent Dilfer in 2001 among others, but those teams had great defenses and good running games. Pairing a strong defense with a strong running game to keep opposing defenses honest and off-balance has worked for the Vikings, Jaguars and Eagles thus far, and it’s something the Bucs should try to replicate.

For the record, the 2017 Bucs had neither as their defense ranked last in the league (378.1 ypg) in total defense and ranked 22nd in scoring defense (23.9 ppg) and Tampa Bay’s ground game ranked 27th (90.6 ypg), which is why they were out of the playoff race in early November.

The Bucs had the league’s ninth-ranked offense, but that’s because the team had the fourth-ranked passing game. Let’s look at the top 10 rushing offenses in 2017. Notice that out of the top 10 rushing offenses, all but one – second-ranked Dallas – qualified for the playoffs.

Top 10 Rushing Offenses In 2017
1. Jacksonville – 2,262 yards – 141.4 ypg – 4.3 avg.
Led by first-round pick Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville led all NFL teams in rushing, and that was a big reason why they powered through Buffalo and Pittsburgh on the way to the AFC Championship Game. The Jaguars also had the league’s second-ranked defense (286.1 ypg) and the second-ranked scoring defense (16.8 ppg).

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott – Photo by: Getty Images
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott – Photo by: Getty Images

2. Dallas – 2,170 yards – 135.6 ypg – 4.5 avg.
A big reason why Dallas, which finished 9-7, didn’t make the playoffs is because the Cowboys went 3-3 without Ezekiel Elliott, one of the league’s top running backs, in the lineup due to a six-game suspension. Dallas averaged 7.3 points per game and 96 yards rushing per game in those three losses without Elliott. The Cowboys had the 10th-rated defense (318.1 ypg) and the 13th-ranked scoring defense (20.8 ppg) otherwise.

3. Philadelphia – 2,115 yards – 132.2 ypg – 4.5 avg.
Philadelphia used a backs-by-committee approach that was bolstered by the trade for Jay Ajayi during the season. That running game combined with the Eagles’ fourth-ranked defense (306.5 ypg) and the fourth-ranked scoring defense (18.4 ppg) helped them survive the loss of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who was having an MVP-caliber year before tearing his ACL.

4. Carolina – 2,102 yards – 131.4 ypg – 4.3 avg.
Quarterback Cam Newton actually led Carolina with 754 yards, but Jonathan Stewart added 680 yards and rookie Christian McCaffrey rushed for 435 yards to make the Panthers’ ground game multi-faceted. The Panthers had the seventh-ranked defense (317.1 ypg) and the 11th-ranked scoring defense (20.4 ppg).

5. New Orleans – 2,070 yards – 129.4 ypg – 4.7 avg.
New Orleans’ double-headed monster of Mark Ingram (1,214 yards and two touchdowns) and Pro Bowl rookie Alvin Kamara (728 yards rushing and eight touchdowns) spearheaded the strongest ground game on Bourbon Street in over a decade. The Saints had the 17th-ranked defense (336.5 ypg), which was much improved, but the strength was in the 10th-ranked scoring defense (20.4 ppg).

6. Buffalo – 2,017 yards – 126.1 ypg – 4.1 avg.
LeSean McCoy (1,138 yards) powered Buffalo’s rushing attack, which was aided by 427 yards rushing from quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Bills had the 27th-ranked defense (355.1 ypg) in Sean McDermott’s first year, and the league’s 18th-ranked scoring defense (22.4 ppg).

7. Minnesota – 1,957 yards – 122.3 ypg – 3.9 avg.
The Vikings had the league’s top defense (275.9 ypg) and the NFL’s top scoring defense (15.8 ppg), but Minnesota also had a good ground game to complement Case Keenum. Latavius Murray (842 yards and eight touchdowns) led the way with help from Jerick McKinnon (570 yards) and rookie Dalvin Cook (354) before his season-ending ACL injury.

Rams RB Todd Gurley - Photo by: Getty Images
Rams RB Todd Gurley – Photo by: Getty Images

8. L.A. Rams – 1,953 yards – 122.1 ypg – 4.3 avg.
Los Angeles had a monster year from Todd Gurley (1,305 yards and eight touchdowns) that helped Jared Goff settle into being a starting NFL quarterback in his second season. The Rams had the 19th-ranked defense (339.5 ypg) in Wade Phillips’ first year as coordinator, but also the 12th-ranked scoring defense (20.6 ppg).

9. Kansas City – 1,903 yards – 118.9 ypg – 4.7 avg.
Kansas City had the league’s leading rusher in Pro Bowl rookie Kareem Hunt, who gained 1,327 yards and scored eight touchdowns while quarterback Alex Smith contributed 355 yards and a pair of scores on the ground. The Chiefs had the 28th-ranked defense (365.1 ypg), but made up for it with the 15th-ranked scoring defense (21.2 ppg).

10. New England – 1,889 yards – 118.1 ypg – 4.2 avg.
Surprise! New England of all teams has a Top 10 rushing offense, led by Dion Lewis’ 896 yards and six touchdowns. Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and James White all combined to rush for 818 yards. The Patriots had the 29th-ranked defense (366 ypg), but Matt Patricia’s unit was bend, but don’t break, evidenced by the fifth-ranked scoring defense (18.5 ppg).

Three other teams made the playoffs without the benefit of a top 10 running game. Let’s see how they did it.

13. Atlanta – 1,847 yards – 115.4 ypg – 4.3 avg.
Despite battling injuries, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017. It’s not a top 10 rushing attack, but it’s close. That ground game along with a studly defense was what got Atlanta back in the playoffs. The Falcons had the ninth-ranked defense (318.4 ypg) and the eighth-ranked scoring defense (19.7 ppg).

Falcons RB Devonta Freeman - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Falcons RB Devonta Freeman – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

15. Tennessee – 1,833 yards – 114.6 ypg – 4.1 avg.
Derrick Henry led Tennessee with 744 yards and five touchdowns, while DeMarco Murray (659 yards, six touchdowns) and quarterback Marcus Mariota (312 yards, five touchdowns) helped beef up the rushing yards. The Titans had the 13th-rated defense (328 ypg) and the 17th-rated scoring defense (22.2 ppg).

20. Pittsburgh – 1,667 yards – 104.2 ygp – 3.8 avg.
It’s a bit surprising that Pittsburgh only had the 20th-ranked ground game despite having Le’Veon Bell’s 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns, but he was essentially a one-man-gang. The Steelers’ rushing attack was good enough to combine with the fifth-ranked defense (306.9 ypg) and seventh-ranked scoring defense (19.2 ppg) to win the AFC North.

The combination of Tampa Bay’s running game (ranked 27th), scoring defense (22nd) and total defense (32nd) didn’t come close to being good enough for a playoff run this year. If the Bucs want to rebound from a disastrous 2017, they’ll need to bolster the defense and the ground game. Follow that formula, as Minnesota, Philadelphia and Jacksonville did to go from being non-playoff teams in 2016 to knocking on the Super Bowl door in 2017, and the Bucs can make the leap into the postseason, too.

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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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Pete Wood

I’m just not buying that the Titans are any sort of model of NFL success. I would argue that the Bucs had a better draft in 2017. If the Titans have more starters from 2016, it is solely because they had so many second round picks. I am not convinced that the Titans are on the way up and would not be surprised if they are out of the playoffs next year with a losing record. The team I think the Bucs should look to is Jacksonville. Those guys, thanks to perhaps the best drafting in the league, are going… Read more »

FLBoy84

Curious if the Jags fans are going to start contributing to Chris Baker’s charity since he inspired their team with his “3 wins in the playoffs” comment in the preseason. Wait.. what.. he didn’t say playoffs??

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Horse

Don’t forget they are in a weaker conference too than the NFC and especially NFC South.

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Horse

I meant NFC South being the toughest to play in.

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Buc 1976

Horse I agree NFC south is a much better Division and will be for years to come.

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FLBoy84

Definitely agree Scott that LIcht has seemed to miss the boat when it comes to stocking positions with more than one potential starter for depth. Koetter likes to use the “our guys” line a lot. Team might need to do a better job evaluating “our guys” and grade them more on actual production than perceived promise and potential. Something’s wrong with the current formula. New England seems to be one of the few teams that can plug in their no-name depth guys and not lose too much production. Maybe Licht needs to remember he doesn’t have BB on the sidelines… Read more »

FLBoy84

Don’t get me wrong guys, I’m a fan of most of what Licht has done since he’s been here, but stocking positions with players actually capable of pushing the starters for playing time isn’t one of them. While the need to maintain salary cap space for upcoming contracts is understandable, missing the playoffs for the past 10 plus years while consistently being in the Top 5-10 in available cap space each year doesn’t seem to be working. Understand FA is a crap shoot as well, as most pundits lauded the under-the-radar signing of Baker as a great move. Doesn’t mean… Read more »

ahenneke

I agree that NFL teams can sometimes make the play-offs with a great defense, and a solid running game helps. But to make the play-offs on a year-to-year basis, teams need a franchise QB. That has been proven over and over. It also helps to play in traditionally weak divisions like New England, but that’s another story. I would be willing to wager that the Jaquars and Vikings don’t have the same success next year, although the Eagles will with Wentz returning. New England gets by with a mediocre defense because they are often playing with a lead, making the… Read more »

FLBoy84

Might wanna throw RB in there with OG as an offensive need.

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cheveliar

We like the “Informative” Scott Reynolds!!!! Nice read dog. I always knew you had it in you. LOL

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surferdudes

I think making the playoffs in your fourth season as a Q.B. is living up to expectations. Bortles was key last week in the Jags win, you act like the Jags defense won that game Scott, they didn’t, Bortles did, to me he is a franchise Q.B.. Should’ve promoted Robinson, and fired Licht. Licht has shown he doesn’t know how to build a team. His first draft was Evans, over Donald, big mistake. You build from the front back, Licht hasn’t shown in anytime in four years he gets that. When Coughlin was with the Giants he’d draft 2 D… Read more »

FLBoy84

Enjoyed the Licht/Robinson comparison as well, well researched (ht to Trevor I’m assuming). And noticed Joe Flacco’s name was missing in Fab 1. Are we really considering him “elite” now?

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e

I agree, Scott, that I hope that Koetter has a more “nose to the grindstone” approach this offseason. It seems pretty obvious that the OL & DL are where the upgrades need to take place. Nelson seems like a great prospect, but why not a guy like Ohio St. C Billy Price who is the unquestioned captain of that O-Line and shows all of the leadership that you look for, beyond simply a guy that blocks? Moving Ali back to his natural guard position would help set up both the running game and passing game. Last thing, not a huge… Read more »

chefboho

Agreed. And I feel like markcwalton will get lost in the shuffle because of so many good rb’s entering the draft this year. Would love to get him in the third round. He can catch the pass out of the back field and has great wheels

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Graham

Hindsight articles are fun. “But what Licht should have done immediately there after is not believe that the real Martin was the 1,400-yard guy in the contract year, but rather the sub-500-yard guy the two previous seasons in 2013 and ’14, because that’s who he is – evidenced by two more sub-500-yard seasons in ’16 and ’17. He should have signed Martin and then signed another highly talented running back or do what the Titans did and draft Henry with a premium pick even though they just acquired Murray, who signed an extension worth $6.3 million per season.” Tell me,… Read more »

Pete Wood

It’s funny to me that most of the pundits and fans seem very happy with Bucs free agent moves and draft picks at the time. Graham is right about twenty twenty hindsight. There was universal relief when Bucs signed Martin to a new contract. Most fans were thrilled to keep him. And, pundits from the local to the national level all praised the signing of DJax. Let’s be real here. The only draft picks that I have not liked the past few years were Hargreaves and that second round picker. Would I have preferred more defense overall? Sure. But, I… Read more »

Naplesfan

The best running backs often get drafted well back of the first half of the first round. All the hype and PR went to Leonard Fournette last spring … but the guy who will win OROY this year is Alvin Kamara, a third rounder. Good drafting isn’t just about picking decent first rounders … it’s about finding talent throughout the draft, particularly in the mid-round Day 2 picks. Licht has been pretty uneven in finding value. He’s had a couple of good ones, like Justin Evans and Kwon Alexander , but he’s also had some stinkers, like ASJ and Noah… Read more »

Devasher

Licht, who gave Doug Martin a top 5 leaguewide contract for a RB with the first two years guaranteed didn’t believe in Martin at all? So when he kept Doug at his inflated top 5 salary even though it wasn’t guaranteed this year due to his drug suspension and still had to serve the remaining 3 of his 4 game suspension this year you think that shows a lack of belief in a him? 😂 If we want to go the hindsight route, then Jason could have merely drafted Devonta Freeman in the third round in 2014 instead of Charles… Read more »

Graham

What kind of contract do you think Doug was going to get elsewhere as a free agent coming off his 2015 season? You think he would have signed here without any guaranteed money?! The fact Licht was smart enough to put language in the contract that got the Bucs out of it if Martin got himself suspended was brilliant. My guess is they were all set to take Dalvin Cook with the 19th pick and release Martin until OJ Howard fell. When that happened they made the decision to give Doug another chance. Justin Evans, Chris Godwin, and Beckwith are… Read more »

Devasher

NFL contracts ALL have clauses for outs when a player is suspended due to drugs/PDA’s. Remember Eric Wright? Do you think Mark Dominik was just really shrewd when he magically inserted that into Wright’s contact? No, it’s common for ALL NFL contracts to included clauses like that. LOL First, Licht failed to take on Martin’s option year, which would have been the one year he played well, allowing Martin to become a free agent when he otherwise would not have. THEN he compounded his previous mistake (par for the course for him) by keeping Martin around and not renegotiating his… Read more »

macabee

A few thoughts regarding free agency and the up-coming draft. I do not believe the Jason Licht strategy of waiting until the end of free agency to get value (not hiring top dollar free agents) has worked – we get Chris Baker instead of Calais Campbell. Incredibly, six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency, a period formerly reserved for desperate teams to throw money at anyone, made the playoffs: the Patriots, Titans (yes Jon Robinson, a Licht understudy), Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and the Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team). Maybe it’s time to… Read more »

Naplesfan

Certainly agreed that a strong running game and a strong defense are keys to championship football. But let’s not make the same mistake the Bucs have repeated over and over again since the Super Bowl team of relying upon superstar running backs and failing to build and maintain the strongest possible offensive line. A super running back like Cadillac Williams or Doug Martin may temporarily boost the running game, but when these backs are continually running into brick walls they inevitably get injured too much and their productivity drops off the proverbial cliff. Been there done that twice now. But… Read more »

Bob Will

The biggest thing that gets me about all of this is adjustments. Look at all the playoff teams, look at the teams that just lost and they are making adjustments. They fire some coaches and hire others, special teams, OC’s, DC’s. They evaluate why they didn’t make the Super Bowl and they are making changes. I agree with keeping our head coach but when we look at the rest of the staff and say, “Oh no we did fine this year we are keeping everything as it is.” Are we crazy? If you make no changes you will get the… Read more »

FLBoy84

Had a similar reaction when no changes were announced, but in hindsight, it’s easy to see how some of the coaches might’ve gotten a little complacent after the D in particular started to come around during the last half of 2016. Hard to imagine they all just magically forgot how to coach overnight. Thinking they’ll have a better approach in 2018. And hard to put all the poor production and results strictly on the coaching staff, as most of the players, if they were being completely honest. would probably say they could’ve executed their assignments better and left some plays… Read more »

Pick6

the biggest difference between the bucs and titans is that 2015 season. while the bucs ascended to mediocrity under lovie smith, the titans continued to be horrible. that led to them getting a king’s ransom from the eagles for the right to draft wentz, and they turned that incredible haul into multiple starters and all pros. while the titans parlayed the #3 overall into multiple premium picks over the next 2 drafts, the bucs took their smaller quantity of picks and used 2 of them to trade up for a kicker who is no longer with the team. Rate this… Read more »

Horse

I could care less about comparing Titians and Bucs; I’d stay focused on NFC and especially the South. I’ll stick to the only thing I have heard out of Licht’s mouth, ” our need is DE and RB”. We shouldn’t be discussing any Center or Guard under 6’2″; same for DE’s. I’m hoping Licht will find a way to pick up more draft picks and not for trading back up. Time for GM and Head Coach get tough with their players in how they practice in 2018. I remember we practiced very hard in Orlando during the preseason of our… Read more »

JustaBuc

Wow. I know this wasn’t the point of this Fab 5, but Mariota is starting look very suspect right now. Not a bust, but suspect af. How the heck are you going into a complete nosedive in production on a playoff team that’s supposedly built around keeping as much pressure off of you with a good line and a great running game? 15 games – 281-of-453 (62 percent) passing for 3,232 yards 13 TDs / 15 INTs with 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost and a 79.3 QB rating. Like what?!! That’s getting close to like Blake Bortle’s rookie numbers. Not… Read more »

Garv

When we saw how much better the running game was with Peyton Barber in there over Doug Martin, even with a depleted OL minus the Bucs two best starters, doesn’t it seem likely that a good running back can make an OL better just as much as the other way around? Imagine having great running back? If Barkley happens to fall to 7? Bucs have to take him IMO. Right away Jameis gets better. One of his strengths is play action. Imagine it with a legitimate threat! Of course if he’s not there and the only one of the top… Read more »

Horse

Garv, agree with you. It is one of the priorities.

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scubog

Gee, a lot of really nice comments respecting each others’ opinions and philosophies on how to construct a play-off team. Bravo fellow commenters! Fact is, there are a number of ways to achieve success. To me, having a stout Defense that can limit the opponent’s ability to score, makes having a high scoring offense of our own a lesser priority. As Sapp used to say, “Just give me 17 points.” That said, having a great ball-control running game that maintains possession of the ball, also limits the opponents’ ability to score. Do both and victory will be a much easier… Read more »

Horse

Scubog, Amen!

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drdneast

This was really a great read, Scott and it solidified many of my preformed opinions. First off, it really clarified the performances of Mariota’s and Winson’s last three years. Mariota has really benefited from having a solid running game and defense to play with. In the meantime, Winston has had to shoulder the burden of carrying the offense himself while not being able to rely on a defense that has been lackluster except for an 8 game stretch in 2016. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t worry to much about Winston’s INT’s, it’s the fumbling that drives me nuts.When… Read more »

Horse

Drdneast, do you think you were the only one who said the same thing? Despite the pleads for the last couple years to draft defensive ends, it could have easily been the correct moves that they chose except they chose the wrong players. We got to live in the now, not the past. Let’s hope they do better this time in drafting.

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jvato24

I agree, Get a Beast Running game and every stat on Offense and Defense will Improve .. Get some Big Backs

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martinii

Nice thing about this time of year is that everyone is right and no improvement idea should be ignored. If you choose you can Bash everyone and everything about the Buc’s or you can focus on minor improvements that in your mind would push the Buc’s into the playoff’s and possibly beyond. Remember what reality hands us at the end of the season may be totally different. That being said, I agree with Macabee, Defense has historically been our strong suit as proven by the Dungy years and the very chemistry of the team. Until the last few years offense… Read more »

surferdudes

Since there has been no change to the coaching staff, or front office, I’m not expecting much change to our record in 2018, 7-9, 6-10 seems reasonable. I believe the Glazers should’ve brought in an outside consultant to assess the whole organization. They could use a Tom Coughlin type, vice pres of football operations, to at least make some recommendations on F.A., and the draft. Maybe the Glazers should mend fences with Dungy, and just pay him for some different opinions. Licht, and Koetter seem fixed on certain players, like Martin last year. While we were screaming for Barber, they… Read more »

Freeman Strickland

The Bucs do a good job limiting the commitment of guaranteed money to the first year or two of a contract. That makes it all the more puzzling that they do no “overstock” more. CB Haden mentioned in the article is such a failure to overstock. The one that has made me crazy all year is LT Andrew Whitworth who left the Bengals for the Rams in 2017 and had his third straight Pro-bowl year. I still hope for the best with Donovan Smith, but “overstoking” with a guy like Whitworth could have helped Smith’s professional development and allowed a… Read more »

drdneast

I have no reason to doubt your word Horse. But the overwhelming number of and Pewter Report wanted the Bugs to draft Bargreaves. This year they wanted the FSU kid who had a history of injuries in college. Not surprisi fly, they followed him to the NFL.
I also have blundered as a GM. I urged the Bugs to resign Martin and then ,esp hi for another year. Unfotunaly since Martin got his big money, I believe he has lost his hunger for the game

Ll

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owlykat

If you study Licht’s philosophy in our drafting most of the time he ignores our real needs such as great linemen on both sides of the ball and instead drafts trying to take the best player available. So we had a great TE and could get another TE in later rounds who could both block and catch, Auclair, just as big as his first choice last year but he still used his first choice on another TE we didn’t really need, instead of taking the highest rated DE which we badly needed. Remember his first draft when he spent a… Read more »