The 2013 season was another one of disappointment in Tampa Bay. Hopes were high on improvement form 2012’s 7-9 mark, yet a dismal start saw the fractious relationship between coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman disintegrate entirely and an eight game winless start to the campaign. Finishing 4-12 saw the Bucs miss out on the postseason again and ultimately cost Schiano his job.
Offensively the Buccaneers were very poor. Freeman began the season as the incumbent at quarterback, yet struggled in the opening three games. Three defeats and a passer rating of just 59.3 tell their own story. Freeman was benched after week 3, released soon after and picked up by the Vikings. Rookie Mike Glennon set franchise records for a quarterback (2608 yards, 19 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a rating of 83.9) to suggest that he could lead this franchise in the future. Yet even this did not prevent Tampa Bay finishing the season with one of the worst offences in the NFL. Ranked 32nd in total and passing yards, 30th in points scored and 31st in third down conversions, it is clear that major work needs to be undertaken in the off season to try and get the offence functioning at an acceptable standard. Bobby Rainey (532 yards at 3.9 yards per carry) and Doug Martin (456 at 3.6) were less than spectacular at running back and only Vincent Jackson (78 catches for 1224 yards) and Timothy Wright (54 catches for 571 yards) managed to haul in more than 29 receptions. Clearly, major change is needed in Tampa.
Defensively, the Bucs performed better and managed to achieve a plus 10 turnover differential. The defensive unit ranked 17th in terms of yards allowed per game (348), whilst giving up an average of 24.3 points. Lavonte Davis was the undisputed star of the unit, clocking 144 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 interceptions and a fumble recovery. High profile addition, cornerback Darrelle Revis, had a limited impact and missed game time with injury. He accounted for 50 tackles, 11 passes defended and an interception in his first year with the team. Davis was ably supported by Gerald McCoy, who racked up 9 sacks, and Adrian Clayborn, who managed 6 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. There is clearly potential in this unit for new Defensive Co-ordinator Leslie Frazier (fresh from his sacking in Minnesoat) to work with.
Kicker Rian Lindell his 23 of 29 Field Goals, yet missed twice from less than 40 yards. This could be a potential concern for him going into the offseason. Punter Michael Koenen’s net average of 38.3 was also not particularly impressive. Eric Page lead the team in kick off returns (averaging 24.9 yards per return) and also punt returns (10.9 yards per return).
Greg Schiano was living on borrowed time in 2013. His abrasive style of coaching worked well in College Football, but did not translate to the grown men he had to work with in the NFL. The Josh Freeman saga and an eight game losing streak to start the season brought matters to a head and the only real surprise is that he was not released until the end of the season. The fact that the Buccaneers won all four of their games in a five game stretch (before losing three straight to close out the season) suggested that Schiano can win games in the NFL, just not regularly enough. Former Chicago Bears’ Head Coach, Lovie Smith, has been hired to try and build a winning team. Whilst he will use his own expertise to improve the defensive side of the team, it is the offence that needs greater attention and will surely be his focus in the offseason.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Much depends on Lovie Smith’s assessment of Glennon. The rookie clearly impressed Schiano and was given his chance to lead the franchise in 2013. If Smith thinks that he can be ‘the guy’ then they will look to improve other areas in the early part of the draft. If not then they may be prepared to trade up to nab a new franchise starter. Given their needs elsewhere on offense, I would be surprised if they took this strategy. A new running back to put pressure on Martin may well be sought and a pass catching Tight End to give Glennon (or a new signal caller) another passing option would be more astute pick ups.
Strengthening the offensive line will also be a focus; both in terms of run blocking and pass protection. Smith will need to find a new Tackle or two, either in the draft or through Free Agency. None of the players that Tampa are likely to lose to Free Agency featured heavily in 2013, with the 616 snaps played by Daniel Te’o-Neshelm by far the highest. With no big name starters to replace, Smith may also look to satisfy his defensive tendencies by bringing in an explosive pass rusher. Expect a very different looking roster by the time the first regular season game of 2014 comes around.