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Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor: Guard, Ali Marpet

If the offensive line is going to rebound, their leader will need to show them the way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Week 11 was a disaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Losing big at home to a division rival is never fun. Losing by and large because of your own mistakes is even worse.

Quarterback Jameis Winston never looked comfortable on his home field as the New Orleans Saints’ pass rush got continuous pressure on the fifth-year quarterback. We all know the results, so we won’t rehash them here.

We’re here to talk about the future. And it starts with the Atlanta Falcons. And if the Buccaneers’ offensive line can’t give their quarterback some sense of comfort, then it’s going to be another long outing for the team, and another weekend with a Sunday lost watching an underwhelming franchise produce underwhelming results.

If it starts up front, then it starts with the leader. The Captain. Ali Marpet.

Marpet has been singularly impressive since joining the Bucs franchise in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He was drafted along with Winston and fellow line-mate Donovan Smith.

In fact, just about the entire 2015 draft class for Tampa Bay was about the offense. Quarterback, interior and exterior offensive line, wide receivers, running back. One linebacker, the only defender drafted that year, was Kwon Alexander.

The only three members of that class still with the team, are the quarterback and his two linemen. Two of those three are also Captains on the team. Leaders.

There’s that word again. Earlier this season, head coach Bruce Arians stated a team with leaders doesn’t lose two games in a row. They not only lost two in a row, they lost two more after it, before beating the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10.

So does the team have leaders? We know they have Captains.

If Ali Marpet is the leader his Captain’s patch would indicate his teammates believe he is, then it’s time to show it. His unit isn’t alone in causing the team’s struggles, but they have a part to own in it.

Fixing the offensive line, or at least improving it, would go a long way in allowing the offense to get back on a successful track. Scoring always helps win games.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are scoring an average of 30 points per win. In those wins, Winston has been hit (sacks and QB hits combined) an average of just over 10.5 times per game. In their seven losses, he’s getting hit more than 13 times per game.

In the last three games, he’s been hit fourteen times in every single one. That puts him on pace to get hit 84 more times over the next six games with at least seventeen of those being sacks.

Only the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants have gotten their quarterbacks hit and sacked more this season.

We’ve all said, perhaps the Buccaneers could win if they had an average defense. And this still holds true. However, maybe it’s time to wonder what Winston and the offense might do with an average offensive line. The 16th ranked offensive line (Buffalo Bills) has allowed Josh Allen to get hit in the pocket 77 times this season. 37 fewer times than Winston.

In 2018, Tampa Bay gave up the fifth most hits on their quarterbacks. In 2017, they were one of just ten NFL teams to give up 100 or more hits to their passers. 2016, they were in the Top-5 giving up 144 combined hits, which was an increase from Marpet’s and Smith’s rookie seasons when the line surrendered 136.

It’s not all on Marpet of course, but again, leadership isn’t about individual performance. The offensive line needs leadership. The kind of leadership the Atlanta Falcons defense has experienced in the past weeks leading to a stunning turnaround over the past two weeks.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a chance to stop their opponent’s touchdown prevention streak, and they’ll have a chance to get a win. But the offensive line will need to improve from the three straight fourteen hit games they’ve given up at the expense of their quarterback.

In order for that to happen, the Captain needs to steer them in the right direction. That is why Ali Marpet is this weekend’s X-Factor.