February 2, 2023

Bucs Life

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: First 10 Games

18 min read

WELL, IT COULD’VE BEEN WORSE!

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL so far this season. They entered 2022 as the odds on favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and started the season in promising fashion with convincing road wins against the Cowboys and Saints.

That’s when the wheels started coming off.

The Bucs proceeded to lose five of their next six games on their way to a 3-5 record, including three at home and two against two of the worst teams in the league. The offense couldn’t score on anyone. The defense couldn’t stop anyone. And the Bucs couldn’t beat anyone, but themselves.

After that fifth loss, which was at home against the Ravens, Lavonte David stepped up as the veteran leader that he is and called for a “PLAYERS ONLY” meeting. Since that meeting, the Bucs are 2-0 and back to .500 at 5-5 for the season with wins over the Rams and Seahawks. I don’t know what was said in that meeting and probably never will, but apparently it was exactly what the team needed to hear. The defense has played on a different level in those two games and the offense is starting to get things rolling as well. They still haven’t played up to their full potential for a full game yet, but at least they are headed in the right direction now. With that being said, here is my GOOD, BAD & UGLY from the first 10 games of 2022, as well as a few other insights from the season so far.

THE GOOD

The Defense

Despite the lapses between Weeks 4-8, the Buccaneers defense is still one of the best in the league statistically. They are ranked 6th in scoring defense allowing just 18 points per game. They are 7th in total defense allowing just 310 total yards per game. They are 6th in passing defense (193 yards per game) and 15th in rushing defense (117 yards per game). They are 8th in sacks (32) and 10th in third down percentage (38%). They have now dropped down to 14th in turnover differential (+1) after going five straight game without forcing one. That was their longest streak since 2008, which they finally ended against the Seahawks with Devin White’s strip sack and Anthony Nelson’s fumble recovery.

Despite dealing with multiple injuries at safety, the Bucs secondary has handled their business for most of the season. Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean have been locking down the outside, while the combination of Antoine Winfield Jr, Mike Edwards and Keanu Neal have been patrolling the middle of the field. That unit is playing well and will be even better as soon as Logan Ryan can come back.

Their run defense has had it’s moments this season, but they’ve come around over the past couple of weeks. A big reason for that could be the return of Akiem Hicks to the interior defensive line after he missed six straight games with a foot injury. Since he’s been back in the lineup, the Bucs have only given up 68 rushing yards to the Rams and 39 rushing yards to the Seahawks.

Another big reason for the defense’s return to domination is Devin White’s play. He started the season with two great games against the Cowboys and Saints earning NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. After that, his play fell off considerably going all the way through Week 8’s loss to the Ravens where he was heavily criticized for his lack of effort on some plays. He responded to those critics with two of his best games of the year in Weeks 9 and 10.

If this defense can get healthy and stay healthy, they will help this team finish this season strong. The Bucs are 4-1 this season when the defense has held their opponents to 18 points or less, with the one loss being 14-12 to the Packers. If the offense can continue to improve each week, and the defense can continue to shutdown opposing offenses, the Bucs could end up being one of those teams nobody wants to see in the playoffs.

The Special Teams

The Buccaneers special teams has been lights out all season long. From rookie punter Jake Camarda to veteran kicker Ryan Succop to young kick returner Jaelon Darden, this unit has helped the Bucs win games when their offense wasn’t getting their job done. Succop has now made 22 of his 25 field goals (2 misses, 1 blocked) and all 13 extra points. Darden has averaged 21 yards per kickoff return and ranks in the top ten in the league with 10.6 yards per punt return. And the rookie Camarda has been impressive to say the least. He’s punted 46 times with zero blocked. He’s put 16 inside the 20-yard line with just 6 touchbacks. He’s forced 13 fair catches and allowed just a 8 yards per attempt in 15 returns. He’s averaging 49 yards per punt and his longest punt of the season of 74 yards tied a franchise record. He’s been a nice weapon to have, which is not something most teams can say about their punter.

THE BAD

The Losing Streak

In one stretch of the first 10 games, the Bucs lost three straight and five of six games between Weeks 3 and 8. During that streak, the Buccaneers were one of the worst third down AND redzone teams in the league and they owned the worst rushing offense in NFL history.

The Bucs defense wasn’t much better during that span, allowing nearly 150 rushing yards and 20+ points four of the six games. Luckily, the Bucs were able to right the ship against the Rams to end that streak and get a second straight win against the Seahawks in Germany. Now they’ll be looking to extend their new streak to 3 games on the road in Week 12 against the Browns.

Injuries

Next man up“. That’s the players and coaches politically correct way to say injuries aren’t an excuse for losing. But let’s be realistic. If that “next man up” was good enough to be a starter, they would be a starter. It’s not so much an excuse as it is a fact. When a team has a starting player get injured and the next guy on the depth chart is suddenly thrown into the starting lineup, there’s going to be a drop off in play. It’s inevitable.

For the Bucs, it wasn’t just injuries. They lost their All-Pro left guard Ali Marpet to “retirement“. They lost their starting right guard Alex Cappa to free agency. Then came to injuries to Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen and Marpet’s replacement Aaron Stinnie. They had to replace their entire interior o-line before the first snap of the regular season. That is a huge hole to climb out of. When you add the fact that the “next men up” to replace them were a second year center who’d never taken a regular season snap and a rookie left guard who played right tackle in college, that hole becomes a crater.

The o-line was just the beginning. The Bucs have had a string of injuries at wide receiver and in the secondary as well. After free agency, they were supposed to have the best and deepest receiver group in the league. Unfortunately, I don’t think that group has played a single game together this season. Chris Godwin got hurt again. Julio Jones was out for five of the ten games with a knee injury. And Russell Gage has been battling a hamstring all season. If this bunch can ever get healthy and stay that way, then maybe this offense would take off. It just hasn’t happened yet.

THE UGLY

The Offense

Oh how the mighty have fallen. What was once a top five offense under Bruce Arians has turned into the epitome of mediocrity. They are now ranked 17th in total yards per game (341 yds), 27th in points (18 pts per game), 5th in passing yards (270 yds per game) and 32nd in rushing yards (71 yds per game). They are 20th in third down percentage (39%) and 28th in redzone percentage (46%), which is nearly 20% lower than where they were last year. Oh and did I mention that they also lead the NFL in drops too. They are averaging a league worst 3.1 yards per rushing attempt, which is flirting with the worst average in NFL history. They are also 28th in touchdowns averaging less than 2 per game.

“Ugly” isn’t even the word for it.

However, there has been some positives over the last two games. Even though they didn’t score a lot of points against the Rams, they were able to score when it really counted at the end of the game. Against Seattle, they were 10 of 15 on third down and scored touchdowns on three of their four trips into the redzone with the fourth being the final drive of the game where they took a knee at the Seahawks 20-yard line. It’s something to build on. Now that they have their left guard situation fixed with Nick Leverett and their receivers are getting healthy on the bye week, hopefully this offense will start producing like we thought they would before the season began.

INJURY UPDATES

LG Luke Goedeke

After missing the last three games with a foot injury, he is now back practicing with the team and could be available to play versus the Browns on Sunday. Todd Bowles has yet to announce whether Goedeke will return to the starting left guard spot or if Nick Leverett will remain there for the rest of the season. He claims he’s waiting until Goedeke is “100% healthy” to make a decision, but if he wants to keep his job then he’d better stick with Leverett.

RB Giovanni Bernard

He was just designated to return from IR, meaning he may begin practicing with the team and be promoted to the active roster as soon as he’s 100% healthy. With the emergence of Rachaad White as the Bucs third down back, I’m not sure there’s much of a role for Bernard at this point, but it’s nice to have the added depth in the backfield.

C Ryan Jensen

From what I’ve heard, he’s getting better each week. That means he probably doesn’t need surgery and that there’s a slight chance he could make a return at some point this season. I wouldn’t expect him back anytime soon, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s back for the playoffs.

S Logan Ryan

He suffered a foot injury during the Bucs Week 4 game against the Chiefs. He missed the next two games before he was placed on short-term IR. He is now eligible to return from IR, but there’s been no word on his status or when he could be designated to return.

OLB Shaq Barrett

Unfortunately, he’s done for this season with a torn achilles. The normal prognosis for his injury is 6-7 months. That puts him out until at least April, but he should be good to go for training camp.

G Aaron Stinnie

He was injured during the Bucs preseason game with the Tennessee Titans and has been on IR ever since. He tore his ACL and his MCL, which means he’s done for the year and won’t make a return until next season.

LB KJ Britt

He suffered an ankle injury in the game against the Panthers and was placed on IR soon after. Sunday will be his fourth game on IR and he will be eligible to return after that whenever he’s healthy enough. That would be a much welcomed addition as thin as the Bucs are at inside linebacker.

STAT LEADERS

PASSING : Tom Brady – 282 for 427/66% comp/2,805 yards/12 TD’s/2 INT’s

RUSHING : Leonard Fournette – 135 carries/462 yards/3.4 ypc/3 TD’s

RECEIVING : Mike Evans – 49 catches/76 targets/671 yards/3 TD’s

TACKLES : Devin White – 76

TACKLES FOR LOSS : Devin White – 8

SACKS : Vita Vea – 6.5

PASSES DEFENSED : Jamel Dean – 6

INTERCEPTIONS : Jamel Dean – 2

FORCED FUMBLES : Devin White – 2

 

UNDERACHIEVERS

OFFENSE : QB Tom Brady

Yeah, I said it. It’s not all his fault, but he is partially to blame. Sure, his o-line isn’t what it was last year, his receivers drop balls at an alarming rate and he has no run game to lean on, but he is Tom Brady. He just hasn’t played like it this season. At this point last year, he had nearly 30 touchdown passes. This year he’s got just 12 of them. He’s overthrown guys. He’s underthrown guys. He’s missed wide open guys. He’s made bad reads. He just hasn’t been that same player. Yeah, he’s had flashes here and there. He’s made some throws that remind us that he is in fact “the GOAT“. But the consistency hasn’t been there. Is all his off-the-field stuff to blame? Maybe. Going through a divorce is mentally and emotionally taxing, especially when kids are involved. Hopefully, now that it’s done and over with, he can concentrate on football again. Afterall, he is 2-0 since his divorce was finalized.

DEFENSE : LB Devin White

He may be leading the Bucs in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles, but he’s struggled with “leading” the Bucs this season. After a strong start to his season being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, his play fell of in a big way. He was playing out of position, missing assignments and missing tackles. In fact, he had one of the league’s highest missed tackle rates at one point this season. It all came to a head during their home loss to the Ravens when White was caught jogging on a few plays. When that happened, he started to get criticized by the media and the fans for playing lazy football. He responded to his critics by having two of his best games of the season against the Rams and Seahawks. Hopefully, that fire inside him continues to burn and he keeps playing like one of the best inside linebackers in the game.

THE DRAFT PICKS

RD.2 : DT Logan Hall

Technically, he could’ve been the Bucs first round pick but they gambled with trading back and selected him in the beginning of the second round. In any case, he’s been a slight disappointment as far as I’m concerned. I thought he would’ve made more of an impact than he has so far, especially against the run. He’s only totaled 8 tackles this season in 10 games, but he does have 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. I’m not saying he’s a “bust“, but I’d like to see more from him in these last 7 games.

RD.2 : LG Luke Goedeke

I think we all know where I stand with this one. It’s too early to say he was a bad draft pick, but it was too early to thrust him into the starting lineup. He played right tackle in college. Not only that, but he played right tackle at Central Michigan, which is a smaller Division-1 school. Not only was he tasked with making the jump from college football to the NFL, but he was asked to play a whole different position. It just wasn’t fair to him. He could still end up being a pretty good offensive lineman, but he’s not ready to be a starter yet.

RD.3 : RB Rachaad White

He has really been coming on as of late. So much so, in fact, that he was named the starter for the Bucs game against the Seahawks. A big part of that was the uncertainty surrounding Leonard Fournette’s passport situation, but still he did start. And he responded with his first career 100-yard rushing game. He’s the second leading rusher on the team with 60 carries for 222 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry which is slightly ahead of Fournette’s 3.4 yards per carry. He also added 20 catches for 135 yards. What’s even more impressive is that he’s third on the team in yards after catch (135) trailing only Fournette (358) and Chris Godwin (232).

RD.4 : TE Cade Otton

With injuries to either Cam Brate and Kyle Rudolph for most of the season, Otton has taken a hold of the Bucs starting tight end role and he may never give it up. He now has 26 catches for 281 yards, averaging just over 10 yards per catch. Not only that, but he’s 5th on the team in yards after catch. There’s no doubt that this offense misses Rob Gronkowski in every way possible. But Otton is certainly trying to ease some of that pain with his play on the field.

RD.4 : P Jake Camarda

He might be the Bucs best rookie so far this season. He has the Bucs ranked 7th in gross yards per punt (49.0) and 5th in net yards per punt (43.8). In the last 3 games, he’s averaged 53.4 yards with a long of 66, 59.5 yards with a long of 74 and 61.0 yards with a long of 63 yards. That 74-yard punt against the Rams tied a Bucs franchise record. That 59.5 yards per punt in that same game was the highest average by a punter with at least five punts in any game this season. Add in the fact that he has 4 tackles on special teams and not only do the Bucs have themselves a helluva punter, but they have a pretty good football player as well.

Tampa Bay caught criticism from some experts for taking Camarda when “The Punt GodMatt Araiza was still on the board in the draft. Turns out it was a pretty good decision. While Camarda has been one of the best punters in football, Araiza was released by the Buffalo Bills after he was accused of gang-raping a 17-year old female with two other men at San Diego State University in 2021. Whether the Bucs knew about this situation before the draft or not, they made a wise decision going with Camarda.

RD.5 : CB Zyon McCollum

The Bucs fifth round pick has probably exceeded expectations at this point of the season. He hasn’t played bad on defense when he has been in at cornerback. It’s a big adjustment for most players. It’s often said that the hardest position to make the jump from college to the NFL is corner. Maybe that’s true. But where he’s excelled has been at his gunner position on special teams where he’s one of the Bucs leading tacklers. He could eventually play his way on to a more consistent role on defense, but for now he’s right where the Bucs need him to be.

RD.6 : TE Ko Kieft

He might have been my favorite draft pick and he’s definitely one of my favorite players on the team. Kieft is just a football player. Period. He may only have 4 catches for 52 yards this season, but his versatility and blocking ability has led to him playing a big role in the Bucs offense.

RD.7 : OLB Andre Anthony

The Bucs final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft is their only draft pick not on the roster still. Anthony was waived at the end of training camp and was never re-signed. He is currently on the Chicago Bears practice squad.

BIG BUCS OF THE SEASON

OFFENSE – K Ryan Succop

With so many weapons to pick from on offense, it’s a shame that I have to resort to choosing the kicker as the Bucs Offensive Player of the Year so far. But he’s the only one that has consistently performed his job at a high level for all 10 games. He has made 22 of 25 field goals and all 13 of his extra points. Both of his misses were from 50+ yards with the other being blocked. Tampa Bay went into training camp with two kickers and they could have chose the younger, cheaper option in Jose Borregales. They went with the veteran Succop and that choice is paying off.

DEFENSE – DT Vita Vea

Whether it’s been the addition of Akiem Hicks on that defensive front or simply him just progressing as a player, Vea is having his best year as a professional. He now has 6 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, both career-highs and his 26 tackles is just 9 tackles short of his career-high with 7 games left. There’s no doubt that playing beside Hicks helps, but it shows how much of a game-wrecker Vea can be when he’s not being double and triple teamed every snap.

BAD BUCS OF THE SEASON

OFFENSE – WR Julio Jones

It’s not that he’s been bad. He just hasn’t been available. When the Bucs signed him in free agency this offseason, some people were asking “Why?“. Why sign a guy that old that’s had so many injury issues over the last few years? The Bucs answer was that Jones was 100% healthy and ready to go. That turned out to be not so true.

Jones played Week 1 in Dallas, but eventually left the game with a knee injury. He then missed the next 2 games with what they were calling a partially torn PCL in his knee. He played Week 4 against the Chiefs, but then he missed the next 3 games with that same knee injury. He has now played in their last 3 games with no apparent setbacks with his knee. He’s played in just 5 games out of ten, totaling just 11 catches on 21 targets for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hopefully, this bye week has allowed his knee to heal more and it won’t be such an issue moving forward. If he can stay healthy, it would go a long way towards helping this offense play up to it’s full potential.

DEFENSE – DT Logan Hall

He hasn’t been “bad“, but I was expecting more from him as the Buccaneers first pick of this year’s draft. With just 8 tackles, 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss, he’s slightly underachieving for a first round draft pick. Then again, he’s not a starter. He’s a rotational guy right now. That happens when you play behind guys like Akiem Hicks, Vita Vea and Will Gholston. I’m not labeling him a “bust” because he’s not. He has the ability to be a good football player. But I would like to see more from him in these last 7 games.

BUCS PLAYERS TO WATCH

OFFENSE – RB Rachaad White

He showed everyone what he could do when given the opportunity to start in Week 10 against the Seahawks. I expect to see more of an even split of snaps between him and Leonard Fournette for the remainder of the season. I’ve been impressed by the rookie so far and I’m excited to see how he plays with more opportunities over the next 7 games.

DEFENSE – OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka

He’s had a decent 2022 season so far, but I want more from him. With Shaq Barrett out for the remainder of the season, it’s time for the second year pass rusher to step his game up. He’s totaled 22 tackles and 5 tackles for loss this season and his 3.5 sacks is good enough for 3rd on the team, but I need more. The team needs more. And I think he’ll give it to us.

REMAINING SCHEDULE

WEEK 12 : @ Cleveland Browns

 

WEEK 13 : vs New Orleans Saints

 

WEEK 14 : @ San Francisco 49ers

 

WEEK 15 : vs Cincinnati Bengals

 

WEEK 16 : @ Arizona Cardinals

 

WEEK 17 : vs Carolina Panthers

 

WEEK 18 : @ Atlanta Falcons

 

THE WRAP UP

The Bucs are 5-5 through their first 10 games of this season. It sucks. But it’s the record they’ve earned with their play so far. They’ve owned it. They’ve accepted responsibility for it. Now it’s time to do something about it. When we look back on this season, I think we’ll be able to say that the final game-winning drive against the Rams was the turning point. That was the moment in this season where this team decided they were done playing losing football. When they decided they were done being losers. In the Buccaneers latest episode of “The Current“, there’s a clip from that game where Chris Godwin is heard telling Tom Brady and Mike Evans that “This is the drive. This is where we turn things around!“. Evans responds by asking “For this game?” and Godwin replies “For this game AND this season!“.

I think he’s right.

The Buccaneers played like a different team against the Seahawks in Munich. They played more like how we all expected them to this season from the start. And it all started with that final drive against the Rams. Germany was the next step. Now it’s time to build off of that and continue to get better every week. That step of the process begins this Sunday in Cleveland.

THE LOOK AHEAD

The 5-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be looking to extend their current winning streak to three games when they travel to Cleveland to take on the 3-7 Browns this Sunday. Luckily for the Bucs, this will be Deshaun Watson’s final game of his 11-game suspension so the Browns will still have Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. They’ve got their own streak going on having lost two straight and six of their last seven. However, don’t let their record fool you. Four of their seven losses have been by 3 points or less, so they could easily be 7-3 and tied with Baltimore for first place in the AFC North. This isn’t a “gimme win” by any means and the Bucs have proved there are no such games on multiple occasions this season. This will be a test for Tampa Bay. It’s a test of where they are mentally and where they are headed for the rest of this season. A win gets back the momentum they had before the bye week and helps them build steam moving towards a playoff push. A loss could take the wind out of their sails. We’ll just have to wait and see which Buccaneers team shows up on Sunday.

Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!