This SR’s Fab 5 column on the Bucs is exclusively serviced by Discount Garage Doors – the official garage door company of PewterReport.com. If you are in need of a new look for your garage doors or if you are in need of repairs, turn to Discount Garage Doors. Whether it’s a broken cable or springs or a crooked door, Discount Garage Doors can help you out. Click here for a list of locations as Discount Garage Doors services 17 Florida counties and The Villages.
Football season is here and that means HURRICANE SEASON in Florida! Remember Hurricane Irma last year? Get your home and your garage doors outfitted with hurricane protection kits today. Call 866-420-DOOR or visit DGDoors.com to view Discount Garage Doors list of services and garage doors that can be installed to improve the look of your home. And remember, Discount Garage Doors offers FREE service calls. Don’t wait – call today!
Mention PewterReport.com and SAVE 10% OFF your order or service call at Discount Garage Doors!
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.