|Tampa Bay will look to 2013. (CBSSports.com)|
As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Buccaneers. For more of our End of the Road series, click here.
What went wrong
The beginning of the season didn't go well as the team adjusted to new coach Greg Schiano, losing three of the first four games (though the team was competitive), and now as we inch toward the end of the season, the Buccaneers have fallen in four straight. In three of those contests, they lost by a total of 11 points. So, still competitve. And then there was the 41-0 loss to Saints in Week 14 that led to rumblings that the team is physically worn out from Schiano's aggressive coaching style.
The real culprit to the ultimately unsatisfying season, though, is the defense. Ronde Barber led the team with four interceptions, but considering he's 37 years old and won't be around much longer (we imagine), that's not a great stat. Overall, Tampa Bay has the league's worst pass defense (though interestingly, the NFL's best run defense), and the Buccaneers allowed nearly 25 points per game. Their offense was decent, but not good enough to overcome that on a consistent basis.
What went right
This is basically the first instance of these End of the Road posts where we can talk about how the team actually had some success in 2012. Unlike the end of the Raheem Morris era, where the squad seemed to quit in his lame duck period while, by its own measure, played undisciplined football, Schiano brought some much-needed structure to the organization. If you didn't like that -- ahem Kellen Winslow Jr. -- the team didn't have a problem sending you away (the same could be said if you've run afoul of the law, like cornerback Aqib Talib).
Then, the team went on a four-game winning streak from Weeks 8-11 to put it at 6-4 and to bring up talk about the possibilities of a march to the playoffs. Clearly, that didn't happen.
But quarterback Josh Freeman found some stability after a turbulent 2011, and though he didn't play as well as he did in 2010, he has to feel more confident entering this offseason than he did last year. The Buccaneers did a great job drafting running back Doug Martin, because no matter what you call him, he's rushed for 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season (including that ridiculous 251-yard, four-touchdown performance from Week 9). In his first season in Tampa Bay, receiver Vincent Jackson (62 catches, 1,228 yards, eight touchdowns) was a solid No. 1.
WithSchiano in his first season, he's not going anywhere, and most of the young core players that he'll want to build around should return for 2013.
But you also have to wonder if Schiano's coaching philosophy has begun to wear on his team. He took a ton of criticism in Week 2 when he had the Buccaneers go all-out when the Giants were in their victory formation at the end of the game, and there was a report earlier this week that one anonymous player said Schiano's style made him feel like he was back in college (and not in a good way). Look, plenty of successful college coaches have been failures in the NFL (see: Petrino, Bobby; Spurrier, Steve; Saban, Nick), and some of that probably has to do with coaching with a college-style mindset. Even one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, Sid Gillman, had that problem when he went from the University of Cincinnati to the Los Angeles Rams before the 1955 season.
At this point, though the Buccaneers had some good moments this year, we still don't know if Schiano can overcome the obstacles that former college coaches like Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh have navigated successfully in the pros.
The Buccaneers second first-round draft pick of 2012, Martin, certainly outplayed the team's first first-round pick, safety Mark Barron, who struggled during his rookie year. Even though Barron's job is safe, Tampa Bay needs plenty of help in the secondary. Eric Wright lost four games to a drug suspension and Barber, the starting free safety, is near the end of his career. After trading Talib to the Patriots, Tampa Bay has been forced to use a seventh-round pick from 2009 (E.J. Biggers) and an undrafted free agent (Leonard Johnson) at cornerback.
In their mock drafts, NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang and Dane Brugler have Tampa Bay going with a cornerback at No. 14 in the first round (the absolute latest projections have the Buccaneers picking 12th). Rang thinks it'll be Alabama's Dee Milliner, while Brugler predicts the Buccaneers will go after Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
A second receiver and a tight end also would be helpful to draft.
2013 will be ...
... better than 2012 and could be as good as 2010, when Tampa Bay went 10-6 and nearly made the playoffs. Will the Buccaneers be a playoff contender in 2013? I'm leaning toward no, but as long as Schiano doesn't lose his team, Tampa Bay's young players could help propel the Buccaneers toward a showdown with Atlanta and New Orleans to decide which squad is the best in the NFC South.
Freeman will need to have the best season of his career for that to happen, and Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy and Da'Quan Bowers will need to stay healthy to stabilize that defensive line. Though I was skeptical of Tampa Bay hiring Schiano in the first place, I kind of like the direction the Buccaneers are headed.
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