Football Outsiders has gone through every division and seen what each team needs. Here's their conclusion for the Buccaneers: pass rush. Not pass defense, which would have been my suggestion, or cornerback, or even quarterback for those of you who loathe Josh Freeman -- but pass rush. I can't stand this train of thought, and I'll explain why in a later article. But I do want to let you know what Outsiders thought -- and the statistics are pretty stark.
Tampa Bay opponents threw the ball 627 times last season, more than any defense except Washington. Despite all those opportunities, they collected just 27 sacks. Only two teams put opposing quarterbacks on the ground less frequently. And six of those sacks, nearly a full quarter of their entire season's output, came in one game against Philadelphia (a game the Bucs lost, ironically). Michael Bennett led the team with nine sacks, which was not among the top 20 players in the NFL. He was the only Bucs player in the top 50.
I think this is nonsensical, for a couple of reasons. Let's start with the diagnosis. Yes, the Buccaneers struggled to get quarterbacks on the ground. But was that because of a lack of defensive talent? I don't think so. Steve White had an excellent explanation on 620 WDAE (via JoeBucsFan): the Bucs blitzed and stunted so much, they essentially wasted their defensive linemen. Just let them rush, and they'll get there -- but that's not what the Bucs.
In fact, all those blitzes simply forced quick throws -- and with a secondary incapable of stopping any throw, that's not going to help your pass rush, now is it? The only way blitzing that much works is when you have blitzers who can actually beat their opponents (the Bucs don't), or if you have a secondary capable of holding up in man coverage consistently (haha no), or if you design your blitzes so well that you consistently create free rushers. That didn't happen either.
Even so, the Buccaneers will in effect add a few more pass rushers next season -- assuming they re-sign Michael Bennett, which would change the whole scenario. Still, Adrian Clayborn played just three games last season, while Bowers missed eight games before returning and playing at less than 100% the rest of the way. Those are two major talents who should return next week, and they should offer a vast improvement.
Plus, let's face it, where are you going to get that premier pass rusher anyway? There's no one worth signing in free agency. Ezekiel Ansah and Dion Jordan will be gone by the time the Buccaneers get to their pick. Barkevious Mingo has to many question marks to mention. Bjoern Werner might be intriguing, but he has a lot of question marks and doesn't look like he'd be a big improvement over Adrian Clayborn anyway, let alone Michael Bennett, so what options does that leave?
The Bucs are better off figuring out how to run effective blitzes, or just cutting out the blitzing, and upgrading their secondary than by just continuing to pump in defensive linemen.