The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have many strengths, but not so many hidden ones. Even just a glance at the roster will give you a pretty good idea of where they’re good and where they may not be. Good at: pass defense, moving the sticks through the air. Bad at: run defense, big passes (though that should change with DeSean Jackson), running the ball.
It’s not that easy, though, as Football Outsiders managed to dig out two hidden areas of play where the Bucs excel, and all of these could be termed...clutch (though I kind of hate that term).
Offense: Second-half play
Tampa Bay's offense last year ranked 28th in DVOA for the first half of games, but improved to sixth in the second half of games, including fifth in "late and close" situations (second half or overtime, score within eight points).
This whole slow start thing Jameis Winston has going has been with him since college, and it may be here to stay. That’s a bit of a shame: it’s much easier if less exciting to win games by just pounding your opponent from the start instead of having to play catchup late.
But hey, a win is a win. And there are worse ways to win than with consistent comebacks. As long as the Bucs can keep up that up and can keep from getting blown out of the water early in games (a competent running game should help there), I’m fine with this.
Defense: Defending the most important passes
Tampa Bay's defense ranked 12th overall in DVOA last season, but the Bucs ranked third in DVOA against passes in the red zone and second in DVOA against passes on third down.
Now this is a lot more interesting, to me at least. The Bucs have had this thing going on for ages: they’ll let teams walk up and down the field more or less consistently, until they get to third down or the red zone, when they suddenly clamp down.
I think safety play is a big part of that: on third down passes you know more or less what to expect, you can bring extra pressure if necessary, and there’s often no need to guard against the run. Teams will also rarely go for the deep fake, preferring to aim for the sticks--which gives safeties an easy target to play too.
But this effect should be even more pronounced in the red zone. The Bucs’ safeties have lacked range for years now, and they can’t really effectively cover half let alone the whole field—but that’s not necessary in the red zone. The field is so short there that no matter how fast your safety is, he can only cover a small part of it anyway—and the Bucs do have the players to do that. Keith Tandy in particular excels in the red zone.
Of course, these splits may just be coincidences and may not carry over to next season. As far as I know, Football Outsiders has generally seen little year-to-year correlation between red zone defense performances, or between specific times of play. You’re good at football or you’re not, and if patterns appear that may just be randomness.
I think that’s more likely with the defense than with Jameis Winston, though. Winston’s early-game hiccups have been such a consistent part of his game for years on end that it’s hard to see that suddenly disappearing—though it would be nice. Having him play top-notch football throughout a game instead of mostly in the second half would provide the Bucs with a massive boost.