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Two steps forward, one step back


In a very short span on a mid July off-season, just before the veterans take the field for training camp in 2013, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were dealt some unfortunate news that affected their roster. On July 12th, place kicker Connor Barth torn his Achilles tendon at a charity basketball game. A week later, the Bucs’ starting cornerback playing opposite of Revis, Eric Wright, was traded to the 49ers for a conditional pick in 2014 – the reason was a DUI arrest in L.A.

Let us first address the place kicking dilemma. Quickly, the Tampa organization signed PK Lawrence Tynes. He kicked for the NY Giants last season and was a productive kicker for the team as he averaged 9.1 points per game with an 84.6% accuracy rate. Except, his leg wore out in the latter parts of the season missing a 43, a 36, and a 30 yard field goal attempts, respectively in three separate, consecutive games. Tynes does not possess the long-legged accuracy of Connor Barth as Barth was very accurate from 40 yards and above, six made field goals from 50 yards and further. Here is an article dedicated to the place kicking situation. As long as the team hovers around the 40 yard mark and below, then Tynes should be more than capable of handling the place kicking duties early in the season. But this now puts more pressure on the offense to produce more as Barth is no longer available to bail out the offense if the offense cannot push deeper towards the endzone.

Next, CB Eric Wright is a veteran presence on the secondary who would complement Revis as well as be a stop gap to help ween the organization’s youthful secondary players such as returning cornerback Leonard Johnson and 2013 second round draft pick Johnthan Banks. Banks is a talented corner who improves the Buccaneers’ depth, but it is not fair to expect him to deliver a solid performance as many cornerbacks take years to develop that type of consistency; 2012 first round draftee CB Morris Claiborne, selected 6th overall, struggled as a starter for the Cowboys. What can the team expect out of this secondary for 2013 now that Eric Wright was jettisoned?

In 2012, the secondary had the following personnel: FS Barber (now retired), SS Baron, CB Talib, CB Wright and a plethora of inexperienced, young defensive backs that included undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson. Surprisingly, there were many changes that occurred only at the cornerback position. In the first four games, the Bucs were treated with Talib and Wright. That duo was a part of a defense that gave up 22.75 points per game (PPG). Then Talib was suspended for four games due to a performance enhancing drug violation, Adderall. This forced the prompting of a Wright-Johnson duo which gave up 22.0 PPG in a six game stretch. In that six game stretch, the offense put up a juggernaut performance as well in scoring 34 PPG. Finally, Wright had to serve his suspension for the same infraction as Talib from game 11 – 14 and no longer played the last two games of the year due to injury. The cornerback situation was dire for the last six games, but astonishingly, the defense only let up an additional 3 points per game average; going from 22 PPG for the middle six games to 25 PPG for the last six games. (Note, the PPGA average is an adjusted average that removes any offensive interceptions returned for touchdowns by our defense.)

At worst, we have seen a defense give up 25 PPG without any starting quality cornerbacks from last year. But this year, the secondary does have a significant upgrade at the safety position. This off-season, the Bucs replaced cornerback-turned-safety-for-a-season Ronde Barber with Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson. Goldson should help reduce four touchdowns of 80 yards from last year to hopefully nil this year. So take comfort that the opponents will not get back into the game sooner with Goldson watching the defense’s back. Then factor in CB Revis, when healthy, is an improvement over Talib or Wright. As denoted in the previous paragraph, Wright and Johnson duo actually helped the defense lower the PPG allowed average. But now we are replacing Revis in for Wright. In an article written by ESPN’s Ashley Fox, she focused in on elite cornerbacks and listed only a few in the NFL. One of those elite is Revis.

The problem lies in who will be starting opposite of Revis. There is second year returnee Leonard Johnson. Another option is 2013’s 2nd round pick Banks. On talent alone, Banks is the second best cornerback the Bucs have after Revis. It is a problem, but necessarily a deficient one. Recall the acquisition of free safety Goldson, who will now be roaming or shadowing the corner playing opposite of Revis.

Still, whoever plays opposite of Revis will often be primed for exploitation. The Bucs must do something else to aid the weak corner position. Actually, the Bay did do something, but not necessarily directly to help the secondary. They drafted DT Akeem Spence and DE William Gholston in the fourth round as well as drafted DE speedster Steven Means in the fifth round. I do not view any as starters, but rather quality depth. Getting a healthy Adrian Clayborn should also be of great help to the defensive line. If the defensive line can produce more pressure on the quarterback than last season, then they will help mask the weak corner.

There exists a lot of "ifs" for the defense. We go from having strength in experience and depth on the corners to 2012, but slightly better. Should that be the case, then the winning component for the Bucs again must rely on the offense. The offense cannot be Jekyll and Hyde this year like it was last year, posting a 34 PPG average for six games to only follow it up with 17 PPG average for the last six games. The offense not only lost their long distance scoring threat in Barth, but they also lost their best pass catching TE without replacing him in the off-season.

2013 will most definitely be interesting to watch the Buccaneers because we do not know what to truly expect out of this bunch due to many factors in flux. Nor do we know who to rely upon: the offense or the defense. The organization took two steps forward, but one step back. That is still an improvement. I still expect the team to post a record better than 7 – 9, but not quite the playoff feeling until certain questions are resolved in the first four games of the year. By then we all should know how composed this team is on both sides of the ball.