Marc Sessler of NFL.com believes the Buccaneers are ready to make it to the playoffs in 2013, for the first time in seven years. He gives five reasons. all of them sensible. One, Josh Freeman has a lot of talent and he believes he will improve. Two, the overhaul in the secondary. Three, a great run defense and an improved pass rush. Four, Doug Martin. Five, the Buccaneers have a plan and have been aggressive in pursuing it.
Point two intrigues me most, in part because of the comparison Sessler makes.
2. Darrelle Revis, perhaps the finest player in New York Jets history, now anchors a secondary that boasts one of the NFC's better safety combinations in Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. Eric Wright and rookie Johnthan Banks will battle for snaps opposite Revis Island, and this deep lineup should help the Bucs mimic what the Houston Texans pulled off in 2011 under Wade Phillips, going from No. 32 to No. 3 against the pass
As much as we've talked about Josh Freeman, the improvement in the secondary may be a lot more important. Last season the Buccaneers got 10 injury-hampered games out of Eric Wright and just 4 out of Aqib Talib -- and beyond them, the Bucs turned to E.J. Biggers and a slew of street free agents and undrafted rookies. Several games were last in the final seconds when the Bucs' defense collapsed, most notably in games against the Giants, Redskins and Eagles. Those three games could have made the difference between a losing season and a playoff appearance.
That situation should be much improved this year with Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks having been added, while perhaps Eric Wright can stay healthy this year. Even Leonard Johnson in his second year as the fourth cornerback should be an improvement over Leonard Johnson in his rookie year as the third cornerback.
But the concern remains the pass rush. The overhaul of the Houston Texans from the league's worst pass defense to one of the best in 2011 wasn't accomplished just through a new secondary, but through a new defensive line as well. The 2011 Texans added Johnthan Joseph as a starter at cornerback, but kept Kareem Jackson at the other spot and moved Glover Quin to safety. Jason Allen was their nickel back, and he wasn't new to the team either.
Instead, the real change was schematic, moving to Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 defense, while overhauling the front seven as well. Brooks Reed and J.J. Watt greatly improved the pass rush, even though Mario Williams missed most of the season with an injury. Connor Barwin returned from an injury to man the other outside linebacker spot, giving the pass rush a further boost.
The Buccaneers have helped their front seven this season, but hurt it as well. Letting Michael Bennett walk won't help their pass rush a bit, but in exchange they do get back a healthy Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers who can finally spend an offseason not rehabbing an injury. Bowers was clearly limited by an injury last season, which kept him out for the first half of the season. Add to that the addition of Derek Landri, William Gholston and Steven Means the Bucs have certainly addressed their defensive line -- but unless Da'Quan Bowers really blows up this season, they didn't just add J.J. Watt.
Still, we should keep in mind Sessler's penultimate line, too.
Of course, there's another scenario where Freeman collapses, Glennon is rushed into action and the offense fractures to pieces by Week 8. On defense, Revis might never be the same guy again.