It's been a long, up and down season for the Buccaneers in 2012. They did some things better and a few things worse - but what did we learn from this season?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished off the 2012 season with a solid performance against the NFC's top seed by beating the Atlanta Falcons 22-17 in the Georgia Dome. It was only the fifth time Atlanta Quarterback Matt Ryan has lost at home in his five year NFL career.
The victory put the Bucs at 7-9 for the 2012 season, the first of the Greg Schiano era. What did we learn from this season?
1. While the season as whole was a failure (any time you're not playing post season football is a failure), there were many positive signs this year:
- The Bucs scored more points this season than any Bucs team in history.
- Tampa Bay had the number one run defense in the league.
- Doug Martin had a fantastic rookie season with a number of highlight reel runs. He finished 5th in the league in rushing (1,454 yds) and had nearly 2,000 yds of total yardage on the season.
- Josh Freeman rebounded from a terrible 2011 with a record breaking campaign - posting career highs in passing yardage (4,065) and touchdown passes (27) while maintaining a +10 touchdown to interception ratio (27 TDs, 17 Ints), or 1.6 (don't ask me how that rating is compiled, I have no idea). His 81.6 QB rating was the second highest of his NFL career.
- The Bucs led the league in tackles for loss with a remarkable 95 (led by Lavonte David's 19).
- The Bucs barely missed on two receivers have 1,000 yds receiving with Mike Williams falling four yards shy. Williams and Vincent Jackson combined for 135 catches, 2,380 yds and 17 touchdowns. They also combined for 41 plays of 20 yards or more.
- The Bucs were explosive, with 69 plays of 20 or more yards this season. By comparison, the 2011 squad had just 44 plays of 20+ yards.
- The offensive accomplishments were achieved by the team despite suffering devastating losses of both Pro Bowl guards in the offensive line.
- The Bucs finished 4-4 on the road including wins against playoff teams Minnesota and Atlanta.
- The Bucs led in 15 of 16 games this season and in their 9 losses, only two were more than a single score.
2. When you go 7-9, you have to do some things poorly. Here are the lowlights for 2012:
- When Freeman was "Good Josh", he was great, having 7 games with at least 90 QB Rating. When he was "Bad Josh", he was downright terrible, with 8 games under a QB Rating of 80. Consequently, the Bucs were 5-2 in games he had 90 or better QB Rating and 2-6 in games where was under 80. The Bucs were also 0-1 when he was "Mediocre Josh", with a QB Rating of 83.2.
- Tampa Bay finished 3-5 at home.
- Tampa Bay lost to six games to non-playoff teams including losses to Philadelphia (4-12), St. Louis (7-8-1) and twice to New Orleans (7-9).
- The Bucs blew three games in which they held a double digit lead.
- They blew leads in 7 games this season.
- Josh Freeman finished with a completion percentage of 54.8%, worst since his rookie season (54.5%).
- The Bucs' secondary nearly set the NFL record for most passing yards allowed, falling just shy of the 2011 Green Bay Packers' dubious record by 38 yds.
- Despite a constant blitzing attacking style on defense, the Bucs managed just 27 sacks on the season - just four more than last season.
- The Bucs had two players suspended for adderall.
3. An oddity in the NFC South Standings, with Carolina finishing the season strong with 4 game winning streak, the Bucs, Saints and Panthers all tied for second place in the NFC South. However, because the Bucs swept the Panthers, the Panthers swept the Saints and each team finished 3-3 in the division, the tie-breakers went to conference record - where the Bucs were the worst (4-8). As a result, Tampa Bay officially finished last in the NFC South for the second straight year.
4. Thanks to their fourth place finish - the Bucs schedule at this point is slightly easier then the rest in their division. The 2013 opponents are:
Home: The three NFC South teams, Arizona (5-11), San Francisco (11-4-1), Buffalo (6-10), Miami (7-9), and Philadelphia (4-12).
Away: The three NFC South teams, St. Louis (7-8-1), Seattle (11-5), New England (12-4), NY Jets (6-10) and Detroit (4-12).
5. Greg Schiano's first campaign ended short of the playoffs but you have to admit - it was an exciting season. Every game close and down to the wire - big plays all over the field - it was one of the more fun losing seasons in recent memory. You have to feel this 2012 squad deserved a better fate. Still, a three game improvement and a competitive team was really where this football team is right now. 7-9 seems about right for this squad.
6. It's no great analysis to say the Bucs need to work on their secondary. There will be a hole at Free Safety if Ronde decides to hang them up (although Ahmad Black does have some potential there). At corner, it appears that the Bucs may take advantage of Eric Wright voiding the guarantee in his contract and dumping one of their prizes of the 2012 Free Agency class. I think the Bucs need at least two starting caliber corners in free agency and for them to draft another.
7. In addition to the secondary: some other big needs to fill include another pass rushing defensive end. Michael Bennett is an unrestricted free agent while Adrian Clayborn and DaQuan Bowers both have injury concerns. Tampa Bay managed just 26 sacks this season (3 more than last season) and putting a lot more heat on the quarterback would help their woeful secondary.
The Bucs also need a starting caliber RT, a tight end to replace Dallas Clark. either re-sign Roy Miller or find a replacement for him at DT and yes - a quality backup quarterback to push Josh and also be there if the worst happens and Freeman goes down.
8. Schiano will need to decide if Bill Sheridan is running the defense the way he wants. Sheridan was terrible in New York and his Bucs defense was not very good this season. Ultimately, Schiano is a defensive minded coach and while his offense did it's job in most games this season, it was his defense that cost them games.
Of course, Sheridan can point to the roster and say he couldn't do much with what he had. However, on this same staff there's a coach that invalidates that argument.
Offensive line coach Bob Bostad's starting lineup out of training camp was Pro Bowl left tackle Donald Penn, Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks at LG, Jeremy Zuttah at Center, Pro Bowl Guard Davin Joseph at Right Guard and Jeremy Trueblood at Right Tackle. During the course of the season, Trueblood was benched for poor play while the Bucs lost both Joseph and Nicks at guard, forcing Zuttah to switch positions.
The Bucs were playing with the likes of Ted Larsen, Demar Dotson and Jamon Merridith. Yet Tampa Bay still only allowed 26 sacks, had a 4,000 yd passer, nearly two 1,000 yard receivers and a 1,400 yard rusher.
Schiano was hired late last off-season and as a result didn't get his choice picks for staff positions. He can rectify that this off-season if he chooses to.
9. My thoughts for the playoffs: I like Denver coming out of the AFC and I think Washington will win the battle of rookie QB's and really make a run in the playoffs.
10. Be sure to cast your vote for BucsNation's End of the Season Awards! Your votes will decide who we, as a site representing BucsNation, name as our award winners. We're the only site covering your beloved Buccaneers that gives you that voice.
Here are the big three:
Polling ends Saturday morning at 8am.
Later in the week, we'll post up polls for Special Teams Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the year, Assistant Coach of the year, Best Game of 2012 and Worst Game of 2012.
Folks, I want to thank you for reading my columns this year. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with you. While we haven't always agreed we all are here for one reason - the love of this football team.
It was a rollercoaster ride with momentous highs and crushing lows but we did have fun didn't we?
I hope I was able to provide a little entertainment for you throughout the year. Happy New Year and I hope you'll be reading me again in 2013.