As the players report at One Buc Palace, we thought it might be interesting to have a roundtable with our brother bloggers from Tampa Bay's NFC South rivals on how they view the Bucs as competition. Joining us were Ricky Tiernan of Canal Street Chronicles (Saints), Cat Scratch Reader (Panthers)'s Jaxon and the Falconholic's Dave Choate.
It was an interesting myriad of answers, beginning with the primary question - how do the Bucs' NFC rival bloggers view the Bucs' place in the NFC South - are they a contender?
"I don’t see why not," Jaxon says, "They appear to have addressed the glaring weakness, the secondary. The offense should still be strong. A key will be the pass rush and whether Josh Freeman can raise his game."
Ricky Tiernan agrees, saying, "Tampa has to be considered a contender now."
But Dave Choate gives us a Lee Corso special (not so fast, my friend), "They're on the cusp, at least. The Bucs have a lot of dynamic young pieces on defense and an offense with sky-high potential, so it's hard to imagine them being anything less than a pain for the rest of the NFC South. That said, there are still question marks around the pass rush and the passing game, questions that may be sufficient to keep them behind the Falcons and the still tenacious Saints."
Next we asked how much better is the Bucs secondary assuming Revis is healthy and the addition of Goldson and Banks?
"The Bucs have improved tremendously in the secondary," Choate says, "The Falcons and Panthers have some strong pieces, but it would be tough to argue against this team having the best secondary in the division, at least on paper. The biggest questions that need to be answered? How Goldson will mesh, whether Revis is truly healthy and whether Banks can acclimate to the pro game early on. Lot of promise here."
"I see it the same way," adds Jaxon, "Starting a rookie CB is always risky but with a vet secondary behind him they can minimize the impact of his eventual mistakes."
According to Tiernan, though, the Saints aren't scared of Revis Bay, "Any offensive coordinator or quarterback that doesn't stay awake the night before a game involving Revis must be taking some great medications. He is a difference maker, at least in his prime and before the injuries. He can and probably will still play at a high level and his football instincts and knowledge are going to be part of his ability to disrupt really good offenses.
The Saints, speaking of good offenses (spectacular, really) will see him on the other side of the line of scrimmage twice this year. The Saints are in big trouble. If you believe the 'on paper' aspect. Truthfully, Drew Brees and Sean Payton are too heads up and talented to let one defensive player crush their game. Add in Goldson into the mix and I can see trouble, but not necessarily doom.
Darrelle Revis is only one player. He cannot cover all receivers on the field. Everyone knows the Saints will fill a field with receiving options from wide receivers, to tight ends, to running backs (Revis on Sproles, I have $50 on the little squirrel). Revis does not scare a team like the Saints. Do I wish we had him on our defense, however? Of course."
Buc Fans have a love-hate relationship with the quarterback who set franchise record for yards and touchdown passes last season but how do the NFC South Bloggers feel about Number Five?
"I have him on my fantasy team," Choate says, "So (I feel) much the same way (as Bucs fans). Freeman's arm strength and ability are not in question, but his decision-making holds a very dynamic offense back. If he can put it all together, the Buccaneers will be utterly terrifying. If he continues to make major mistakes and swing between wildly effective and wildly inconsistent, however, I expect Schiano to cast longing, meaningful glances at Mike Glennon."
"Honestly I thought you guys over-drafted him at first," added Jaxon, "He then played lights out in 2010 only to become turnover prone the past two seasons. I’m wondering if he has any upside left but regardless I think with a strong running game your offense will score enough points to win any given Sunday."
But Tiernan thinks the problem isn't Freeman but the Bucs' receiving core, "The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a real head scratching QB on their roster. I am not sure who would win a competition between Freeman and Sanchez of the Jets. I like Freeman better so my money is on him. I think the real question should be the receiving core which I will address in another question soon. Other than Vincent Jackson, can the Bucs REALLY think they have a decent receiver on their roster? Name him, please! Of all off season acquisitions the Buccaneers did literally nothing to help themselves here. Blaming Freeman is ridiculous. This is not even my team and I am angry. Imagine how Josh Freeman feels. Stop. Just stop."
Next we asked can Doug Martin keep it going or was he a one year wonder?
"I'm really not sure running backs are as prone to sophmore slumps like quarterbacks," Tiernan said, "I really don't see Martin having one in the least either. This guy is good! I have a problem with the job the Saints have done stopping the run in the recent past but not, however, the same problem with Doug Martin. Last year, Game 1: Martin rushed for 16 times for 85 yards and no TD's. Game 2: Martin rushed 9 times for a meager 16 yards and no TD's. But DM is the kind of back that can explode on you. Ask Oakland: 25-251-4 TD's. No one should take Martin for granted like that."
"There's no reason he can't," Choate added, "Martin's incredibly talented and a nice fit for an offense with a great run-blocking line. He'll just need to avoid wearing down at the end of the season."
"He won’t catch anyone by surprise this season so you can expect to see more defenses choose to stack the box against him," says Jaxon, "It may still not matter. Those are phenomenal rookie stats for a RB and I don’t see why he can’t match it this season."
Then we asked our bloggers to tell us how their respective teams would attack the Bucs on both sides of the football?
Dave Choate (Falcons): "Offensively, you have to test that secondary. Julio Jones against Banks is, by any objective standard, a matchup that favors Atlanta. Exploit the lack of an elite pass rush by giving Matt Ryan time to connect on short timing routes and counting on the physicality and agility of the Falcons' receiving options to gain you more yardage. Punish the front seven with heavy doses of Steven Jackson. There's a lot of talent in the secondary, but you've got to trust Atlanta's high-volume passing attack to get things done, even so.
Defensively, you go after Freeman. It goes without saying that hitting Freeman, getting a hand in his face and generally being disruptive can affect his timing and force him to make less than optimal throws. For an extremely opportunistic defense like Atlanta's, that's the best way to turn the tide, especially because Doug Martin figures to run fairly effectively against this D."
Ricky Tiernan (Saints): "Offensively - Open the bar. Spread wideouts in the slot, down the sidelines and tightends across the middle. Tampa Bay has improved defensively. Not enough to stop the Saints onslaught. Tampa also doesn't know anymore than any other team what these wideouts are capable of. They do, however, know about Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, and Lance Moore. Add to the mix the young guns catching passes from Drew Brees. The commitment to running adds a new wrinkle. Defensively - Stop the run, cover VJ, and get the offense back on the field. My main problem is the lack of weapons (see my rant above) Freeman has to work with. Off paper, do the Bucs really think stopping Drew Brees and company is going to be easy? Even for a defensive unit from NO bouncing back, does the Tampa D scare anyone?"
Jaxon (Panthers): "With Mike Shula at OC we are still unsure of what the offense will look like. My guess is that since we got killed up front in both games against the Bucs I expect us to try and run the ball more effectively as well as stop Martin from ripping off 5 to 10 yard runs like he did in both games. Martin will be a big challenge for our rookie DTs."
Next, we asked if the Bucs front seven (number one against the run) was underrated and can they duplicate their 2012 numbers against the run?
"Why run when passing was so much easier?" Jaxon says, "As the Bucs secondary improves teams will challenge the front seven in different ways. So I’m not seeing a repeat though the run defense will still be very good."
"I would say no," says Choate, "I expect the pass defense to improve significantly, but the run defense will drop a little bit just due to year-to-year fluctuations. The Falcons will be better equipped to attack the Buccaneer run D with Steven Jackson and bruiser Bradie Ewing blocking up front, but it'll still be tough sledding. The Bucs should still be a Top 12 rush defense."
While Tiernan thinks the Bucs defense will still be solid against the run, he has a bone to pick with another defensive aspect, "It goes without saying, that the pass defense in the NFC South is vital. If you don't have a stout PD you will most assuredly finish in the bottom of said NFC South. Recently, no teams in the NFC South have had more than a decent Rushing combination. It does, however come down to who can shut down the most weapons.
Praise goes to the Bucs for the #1 rush defense but I also have to address one part of the defense; The famed Schiano kneel down rush. Not many teams could do more than roll their eyes. I just can't see this as more than being meanspirited and a bully. While it is perfectly legal, and most in the league have refused to address it, I am surprised the Bucs' fanbase have not. Its classless. It's not 'how they used to roll'. Since hiring Schiano, however, it is everything to this team. It won't work in the NFL and Coach Schiano needs to drop this nonsense."
The Bucs blew several leads last season - have they done enough on defense to finally close out those games?
"A lot will depend on Freeman and his ability to protect the football along with the improved secondary," Jaxon says, "So my answer is ‘I hope not’."
"They have the tools, but the execution will need to be there," adds Choate, "Schiano and company made some odd calls in those games a year ago, Freeman is always a wild card and the D may still fall a little short of elite, and the pass rush doesn't look great on paper. Those are challenges that can be overcome, however, and it only takes a couple of games of holding on to give this team a winning record and a shot at a playoff spot."
"Please refer, for the most part, to my comments about the lack of offensive weapons," says Tiernan, "I am still at a loss of how a team would/could spend this much in an off season, and not add one ounce of help for an inconsistent QB. This is not Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers. Josh Freeman is a QB I can see having a pretty decent career. In these circumstances, I just do not see it. The Bucs added zero weapons for Freeman. In this division, in the entire NFC, I don't think he stands a chance of another year in this situation. I don't conclusively see a QB of any caliber succeeding in the situation the Bucs have placed Freeman in."
Which player (or coach) must step up for Tampa Bay to be a factor in the NFC South?
"Coaching, without a single doubt," Tiernan says, "God Bless the actual team putting themselves out there."
"Freeman. Without a doubt," says Choate, "If he turns into the quarterback his tools have always suggested he can be, the Buccaneers are equipped to make serious noise."
"One of your two DEs, Bowers or Claiborn has to turn in a double digit sack performance," Jaxon says, "They need to get pressure which is part of why the secondary struggled. The Bucs defense as a whole needs to get pressure on the QB."
As a follow up we asked our bloggers to pinpoint the weakest position on the Bucs.
Tiernan again went to the offensive side of the ball, "You really have to point at the receiving core on this point now and I know that is odd. Defensive deficienies have dominated in the past but I still beg the question; How hage they helped Josh Freeman? It will come back this year and in years to come."
"Still the pass rush," Choate says, "Where is it coming from on a consistent basis? Without a pass rush that can threaten Ryan, Brees and Newton, there will be a major strain on a secondary that should be good but still needs time to gel."
"Honestly I’m not sure," says Jaxon, "I’m thinking you could use a LB or two, maybe another CB and we need to see what Carimi can do at RT. I’m always wary of other team’s cast offs."
Did our bloggers have any parting shots?
Ricky Tiernan (Saints): "The entire division got stronger and the Bucs took great strides on defense this off season. They may have done the most work on that side of the ball than any other NFC South team."
Dave Choate (Falcons): "I think this will be a roughly 9-7 year for the Buccaneers, a year where they'll make real strides but still struggle to hold some leads and punish tough opponents. Given their youth and their strong foundation, however, this year ought to serve as a warm-up for a potential juggernaut in 2014 and beyond."
Jaxon (Panthers): "We are hoping for a split with you this season."
Thanks so much to Ricky, Dave and Jaxon for joining us. Be sure to catch our rivals' blogs at Canal Street Chronicles (Saints), Cat Scratch Reader (Panthers) and the Falconholic. We'll also be having more "View From the Opposing Sideline" segments this season.