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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, 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. This High-Scoring Bucs Offense Has Been Years In The Making

New Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht knew that the NFL was changing. League rules were favoring the passing game and the need for a big-time quarterback to lead Tampa Bay was evident, especially in a division that had Drew Brees in New Orleans, Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Cam Newton in Carolina.

The quarterback class in 2014 wasn’t great and Licht wasn’t sold on any of the first-round prospects. Blake Bortles. Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater were first-rounders. Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo were second-round picks. A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger were drafted in the middle rounds.

New head coach Lovie Smith had just signed quarterback Josh McCown to a lucrative free agent, and he was going to be the starter. The Bucs still had second-year quarterback Mike Glennon, who had a decent rookie season. With Vincent Jackson still productive but aging, Licht used his first draft pick on one of the draft’s premier weapons – 6-foot-5, 225-pound wide receiver Mike Evans.

Licht didn’t know it at the time, but Evans became the first key piece to building a Bucs offense that could dominate in the NFC South.

Quit laughing.

Right now many of you aren’t laughing, but had I written this before last Sunday’s 48-40 win in New Orleans most of you would have probably laughed at me for suggesting that play-caller Todd Monken, head coach Dirk Koetter and Ryan Fitzpatrick could have outdueled Brees and head coach and play-caller Sean Payton – beating the Saints at their own game.

Even though I predicted a Bucs win in the Big Easy, in no way shape or form did I predict Fitzpatrick throwing for 417 yards with four touchdown passes and rushing for another.

Twenty-eight points from Tampa Bay’s offense? Yeah – but 48? No way.

Welcome to the new normal for the Buccaneers.

No, Tampa Bay won’t average 48 points per game on offense (remember that Justin Evans’ scoop-and-score accounted for one non-offensive touchdown) the rest of the season, nor will its offense put up 41 points per game. Heck, the Bucs may not score 40 points or more in a single game the rest of the season.

But that’s okay. The offense doesn’t have to.

Tampa Bay’s offense just needs to score 26 points per game.

Last year, all five NFL teams that scored 26 points or more – the Los Angeles Rams (29.9), New England (28.6), Philadelphia (28), New Orleans (28) and Jacksonville (26.1) – made the playoffs. Three of those teams – the Patriots, Eagles and the Jaguars – advanced to the conference championship game. And of course, last year’s Super Bowl featured New England and Philadelphia – two of the highest scoring offenses in the league.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and John Spytek - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht and John Spytek – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Yes, it’s important to have a good defense, but it’s become more important to have a great offense in the modern day NFL. I’m a defensive-minded guy, and it pains me to admit this, but it’s true.

Licht knew this all along as he identified the trend early on. He had seen some high-powered offenses before in his stops at New England, Philadelphia and Arizona, and realized the Bucs had to have one in order to compete in the QB-rich NFC South division.

That’s why every draft pick in 2014 was spent on the offensive side of the ball, and all but one selection – middle linebacker Kwon Alexander – in the Bucs’ 2015 draft was spent on offense, too. Licht found key pieces the Bucs quarterback, Jameis Winston, the team’s left tackle, Donovan Smith, and left guard, Ali Marpet, in the 2015 draft.

Seeing Carolina quarterback Cam Newton win NFL MVP honors while taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015, and Matt Ryan winning the NFL MVP award and leading Atlanta to the Super Bowl the following year only reinforced Licht’s thinking.

The NFC South is a shoot-out division, and New Orleans has its own MVP – Super Bowl XLIV MVP and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. The Bucs beat Brees at his own game and in his own house on Sunday. He was only sacked once and didn’t commit a turnover while completing 82.2 percent of his passes for 439 yards with three touchdown passes.

What you saw on Sunday was the culmination of the work of Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter, who has been at the helm of the offense since 2015 when he joined the team as offensive coordinator. It’s been a long time coming, but now it’s here.

It’s taken awhile, but the Bucs have built an offensive line with three key draft picks in left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet and right guard Caleb Benenoch, a prized free agent center in Ryan Jensen and a veteran right tackle in Demar Dotson, who has signed two contract extensions over the years.

Bucs GM Jason Licht and WR DeSean Jackson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs GM Jason Licht and WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Tampa Bay has two receivers in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson that make a combined $30 million and two other key contributors at the receiver position in Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin, a star on the rise.

The Bucs have a $6.8 million tight end in Cameron Brate and wisely spent a first-round draft pick in 2017 on another tight end in O.J. Howard, a future Pro Bowler. Both have proven to coexist as big-time contributors in Koetter’s two-tight end offensive sets.

Licht has shored up the quarterback position with Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in 2015, and a veteran backup in Fitzpatrick, who is smart and has plenty of starting experience through his 15 years in the league. Licht and his college scouts found a capable runner in Peyton Barber and have invested a second-round pick in a very talented player in Ronald Jones, who showed in the preseason that he will need more time and experience in order to contribute.

On Sunday in New Orleans after five years worth of drafting and free agency moves, it all came together for Tampa Bay with a 400-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers and a running game that rushed for 113 yards.

This offense is so loaded with weapons that a capable backup quarterback like Fitzpatrick can simply play point guard and just distribute the ball.

The Bucs don’t want to have to win this way – in a 48-40 shootout – every week, but at least they can due to the deepest and most talented wide receiving crops and tight end unit in the league.

Koetter said it the other day – protection beats coverage. Every offense has built-in, inherent advantages, such as they know what the play is and they know the snap count. The perfect offensive play, the perfect blocks by the nine other guys other than the ballcarrier, the perfect pass – all beat the perfect defense.

Just ask former Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who had perfect coverage on St. Louis Rams wide receiver Ricky Proehl in the 1999 NFC Championship Game, only to miss breaking up a perfectly thrown touchdown pass from Kurt Warner by an inch in the end zone in an 11-6 loss.

That day, the Bucs defense shut down the Greatest Show On Turf, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Rams. Tampa Bay’s defense was dominant in Super Bowl XXXVII, with five sacks, five interceptions and scoring three defensive touchdowns in a 48-21 win against Rich Gannon, the NFL MVP and Oakland, the best offense in the league that year. But Jon Gruden’s offense was better than the Raiders that day and put up 28 points alone in that game, which was enough to win.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Tampa Bay won’t win many games allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 400 yards while completing 82.2 percent of the passes attempted – especially when the defense surrenders 40 points. Mike Smith’s defense has to play better in the secondary and with its pass rush.

But the difference is that Tampa Bay’s offense has finally reached its potential to the point where its defense can surrender a ton of yards and points and still win. In the NFC South that’s critical.

Below are the offensive rankings and the corresponding records of each NFC South team since Licht took over as general manager in 2014.

Spoiler alert: the Bucs have had the lowest scoring offense in each of those four years.

2017: 22.1 ppg – 15th – 10-6 record (playoffs)
2016: 33.8 ppg – 1st – 11-5 record (playoffs)
2015: 21.2 ppg – 21st – 8-8 record
2014: 23.8 ppg – 12th – 6-10 record

2017: 22.7 ppg – 12th – 11-5 record (playoffs)
2016: 23.1 ppg – 15th – 6-10 record
2015: 31.2 ppg – 1st – 15-1 record (playoffs)
2014: 21.2 ppg – 19th – 7-8-1 record (playoffs)

New Orleans
2017: 28 ppg – 4th  – 11-5 record (playoffs)
2016: 29.3 ppg – 2nd – 7-9 record
2015: 25.5 ppg – 2nd – 7-9 record
2014: 25.1 ppg – 9th – 7-9 record

Tampa Bay
2017: 20.9 ppg – 18th – 5-11 record
2016: 22.1 ppg – 18th – 9-7 record
2015: 21.4 ppg – 20th – 6-10 record
2014: 17.3 ppg – 29th – 2-14 record

Having a Top 10 offense doesn’t automatically mean a trip to the playoffs as the Saints found out from 2014-16. In those years, New Orleans’ scoring defense was one of the worst in the league, allowing 26.5 points per game in 2014, 29.8 points per game in 2015, and 28.6 points per game in 2016. The Saints defense dropped its points allowed by a touchdown per game last year, and that, combined with a high-octane offense, allowed New Orleans to win the NFC South.

Bucs WR Mike Evans - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

Last year, the Bucs scored 30 points or more in three games, including a 30-20 win at Miami and a 31-24 victory against New Orleans and a 33-30 loss at Arizona while averaging almost 21 points per game. If you gave Tampa Bay 26 points in every game a year ago – even the games in which it scored more – the Bucs would have been 10-5-1. The tie would have come from the Green Bay game, as the Bucs lost 26-20 in overtime.

That’s what an average of five more points per game can do for Tampa Bay this year. That’s why the magic number for the Koetter-Monken offense this year is 26 points per game. And that goal is finally attainable.

On Sunday, the Bucs had 24 points via the offense by halftime, and wound up needing 48 to win the game. Thankfully, this offense was built to be a scoring machine.

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  1. Hopefully, the big win has started building some momentum in the locker room, which seems to have been missing for so long… I really hope that they can start to get RoJo involved a little bit in the offense soon. With the best set of WRs & TEs in the NFL, that is a lot of space for a back to cut loose in. RoJo has the tape to make a huge difference in the running game and take the pressure off of the D a little bit.

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  2. Good read Scott. I appreciate you giving some of the players on defense positive reviews without questioning the scheme and Mike Smith. The win in New Orleans was a total team effort and Davis, Smith, Evans, and Nassib played above most fans and onlookers expectations.

    I hope the Bucs build on their performance. I have faith that they will. Great offense is so critical in today’s NFL and I am really happy the loyal fans will get a chance to watch explosive offensive plays from this team. It may not be your fathers Bucs but we should celebrate that. It’s impossible to live up to the greatness and legend of the 1997-2002 Tampa Bay defense.

    Its a new day in Tampa Bay!

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  3. Offense is going to have to score 35-40 points a game until this Defense finds itself.
    We are about to play the best team in the NFL from last year and so far they are playing the same way. The Defense must get aggressive in this game and take some chances. The Eagles Defense is good and it will be tough for the Bucs to score like last week. I sure hope we are focused and in the now at this point. Go Bucs! Lets surprise the NFL!

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    • Agree horse, the BUCS are going to have to play their asses off Sunday.

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  4. Licht has had years to build the team and the losing record speaks for itself. Look at the 1st and 2nd picks of this years draft and remember Sapps’s words.

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    • Which Sapp quote or words are you referring to? The guy said a lot of things.

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      • cause he loves to hear himself!!! Love Sapp but I don’t know if he would be the one I’m quoting.

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    • Sunshine your name should be darkgloomyben! Licht has done a great job getting the players, and it really is up to the coaches to make them successful. No one is perfect in draft or signing FA’s, but you can’t forecast injuries, and if he hadn’t traded back to have 3 2nd round picks (2 used on CB) who would TB’s CB be? Ronald Jones…who didn’t have him as a 2nd rounder predicting success, uh no one. Should have picked Guice…he gone with injury and I’m sure darkgloomy ben would be killing Licht for that one too if he had drafted him.
      He’s made the best moves possible in the time he has had, and the talent on this team is as good if not better than it ever has been.

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    • sunshine ben
      90% of the people who comment on this site think the following
      Jameis Winston is a winner NVP of next 5 Super Bowls
      JJP is a allpro and the team lucking to have him
      Veta Fat Vea is a monster who will wreak havoc on the O lineman in the NFL
      And that Rojo is lighting fast powerful quick 1500 yard guy.
      Also Jason Licht is a football genius.
      They also think de nile is a river in Egypt.
      You say anything bad about the players above they will hammer you
      negative comments they will tell you you are stupid
      and that you not a Bucs fan and to go somewhere else get lost.
      Welcome to Pewter welcome to bizarro world.

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      • The only negative thing I have to say is that on 3/4 of your posts I have to ask Siri to decifer them because your English is broke as hell. The problem with some posters is that no matter what happens, they complain. That’s the key problem with you. This team is 1-0, beat a super bowl contending team with a bunch of injuries and rookies starting their first game, and then we get to hear you complain about Jameis who isn’t even playing or in the building. That’s the annoying part. You just can’t seem to have one constructive post without talking about Jameis. Maybe mariota and his brittle, interception throwing ass would’ve made you happier? I’m just trying to understand you bob, not hate on you, but negativity is something you should try to move on from

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      • I need clarification, Buc-Ass-Bob. What is an NVP? Who is JJP? Did Vea have another middle name added? If so, is “Fat” short for something?

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    • Sapp himself couldn’t beat out the legendary Santana Dotson when he was a rookie and many questioned the selection of D. Brooks. Withholding such a critical judgement makes more sense to me than trying to be negative simply because Vae and Jones didn’t start week # 1.

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    • I’m betting it’s his quote of a quote, “If if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, then everyday would be Christmas.”

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  5. “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”, DEFENSIVE FOOTBALL

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    • Then Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Alex Smith put nails in the Bears, Chargers, and Cardinals coffins.

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  6. After both teams scored with their opening possessions I was texting back, and forth with my son, and said we’re going to have to out score them to win. I didn’t think we could hang with them, but now believe we can hang with any team. We stay healthy on offense, we have a good chance to win every week. Of course turnovers were, and usually are the difference, and for all their faults the defense came up with two of them. For that reason alone I can’t bash them this week. Let’s all send some positive vibes to Ryan Smith. Got to love the young man’s attitude, and team first mentality. We’re so quick to discard players without giving them the time to grow into what they can become. So keep fighting Ryan, we want you to be great.

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  7. Hey Scott, your Fab 5s the last couple of weeks haven’t been showing up on the Articles page. Fyi. Thanks to you all for all the great work you do.

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  8. I think Sapp said he would have taken two hookers in the second round.

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  9. Scott
    On Fab 1 I am not laughing. I am wincing. I wanted Aaron Donald who is IMO the second coming of Warren Sapp.
    Great defense still beats great offense.

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    • I wanted Aaron Donald, too. Due to work, I couldn’t watch any of the first round of that draft but was incredibly disappointed we went elsewhere with the pick. At that time. I wanted Mike Evans, didn’t hate the pick, but definitely wanted Donald more. I don’t know if I was on drugs strong enough to forget that I was on them, or what. But for whatever reason, I thought we could find a way to get both. Not sure if I would want a do-over on that.

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  10. Our defense will have to step up in Sunday’s game because the Eagle’s D won’t be as easy as the saint’s D. Our young secondary will come through and shine this week!!

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    • Im not an expert(obviously!) but it seems the Eagles run a similar defense to the Saints. Single high safety with pressure packages. That means single coverage. Protection beats coverage. Julio Jones had 10 catches for 169 yards vs. the Eagles last week.

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  11. GO BUCS if we can keep the score close,and Philly’s D on the field the Bucs can have their way in the 4th QT.

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  12. Buc-Ass-Bob, I usually don’t comment on peoples spelling or punctuation on blog posts but in your case I am going to make an exception.
    If your are going to use the expression at least use and spell it right. “Denial is not a river in Egypt.” What a complete moron.
    Why such a hater of all things Bucs continues to come out here also proves you are a troll. We had a troll out here before who was as negative as you about the Bucs and he lived in Arizona of all places. Fortunately he finally left with a little persuasion.
    As for the Fab 5, as usual I enjoyed it as always but of course I take issue with at least one point.
    I have only seen Chris Conte blow one coverage and that was against Phoenix two years ago. He has been beaten by some receivers but you find me one DB that hasn’t and it was uaually in one on one coverage.
    I also haven’t seen a lot of missed tackles. But I have seen him come from across the field where he was supposed to be and make some TD saving tackles and I can remember him doing that twice against Atlanta in the first game last year. I have also seen him give up his body to insure a tackle.
    Other than Mark Cotney and John Lynch, this team hasn’t had a better safety. If you could name one, I would love to compare them with each other.
    The last over priced one we had here, “The Hawk” was run over on more than a few occassions, committed countless personal foul penalties and intercepted I think one pass in the three years he was here.
    So get off Conte and find another scapegoat. I think the coaches know player personnel better than you.

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    • Mark Cotney’s partner Cedric Brown was pretty good.

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    • LOL!

      You decide to pick on a commenter about his spelling and punctuation, and in doing so you made two such errors yourself! Pot calling kettle black alert!

      You don’t like his perspective? Well, he doesn’t like yours.

      And last I checked this is a free country. Not liking Licht is not trolling. Making personal attacks as you did IS trolling and abusive behavior. Downvote him and state your opinon and leave it at that.

      Finally, last I checked Scott didn’t appoint you as keeper of the gate at PR … so STFU about disinviting other commenters from a site you don’t own or control.

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  13. We should sort through the players named Evans in next year’s draft and pick one 😀

    Not sure which Eagles team we will get tomorrow, the Bengals Ravens game showed how unpredictable this part of the season is. But it’s great to have a shot at going 2-0 and the Steelers I saw at the end of the Browns game don’t scare me… though sometimes Big Ben heats up and those days there’s nothing anybody can do it about it.

    My thinking about this season has actually flipped a bit, I think winning in the first half of the season is critical given the lack of depth in several important spots, OT, DB and RB in particular. And, while I’m hoping it just takes the DL a bit to gel I also worry about GMC. On the flip side though, we have a few folks who could contribute later eg Grimes Rojo Vea so I could be wrong.

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  14. I don’t agree that good offense beats good defense, and that having the 29th ranked defense is no big deal as long as the offense is playing well. All it would have taken last week to turn a glorious win into a gut wrenching loss was for Fitz to not make a first down on the Bucs last offensive play.

    The defense has got to get a lot better. Counting on the offense making every third down conversion and never losing a turnover is not a recipe for success in the NFL. NFL defenses are mostly a lot better than what the Saints showed last Sunday

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  15. What about O. J. Howard?

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