The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are no strangers to high expectations. It seems like every year, the offseason breeds new expectations for this team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.
This offseason has been a little different. The initial hype surrounding the arrival of Bruce Arians and his staff was significant, but it died down after a while. Questions crept in about the defense. The secondary, Gerald McCoy and the pass rush were all uncertainties. All of that, perhaps, has distracted from the potential of Tampa Bay’s offense. No more, it seems, as Kyle Brandt of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” explained his high expectations for the unit during Tuesday’s show. In fact, Brandt said he has the Bucs as the team that will field the most explosive offense in the NFC South:
“I’m most fascinated by Tampa Bay because when you look at their offense, if you just pull up the roster, you say ‘well, they didn’t really add anybody.’ They added Bruce Arians. And Bruce Arians — let me tell you something — his first year with the Arizona Cardinals, he took offense No. 32 — worst offense in the league — and brought them to 12, all right? You can say ‘well, they added Carson Palmer.’ Fine. We showed that graphic. Tampa Bay with the third offense in all of football is incredible and I’ll do you one better: they had the No. 1 passing offense — better than the Chiefs, better than the Saints, better than everybody. So, if you add Bruce to what was already the No. 1 passing attack... And Peter says Michael Thomas — I’m gonna get on the Mike Evans horse again. I think it’s gonna be his year, too, under the new coach, new coordinator. And I’ll say one thing: there’s a very pivotal name on this team, and it’s Ronald Jones, the running back from USC. Every camp has a guy — there’s always one guy in every camp — who’s like ‘he looks great, night and day from last year.’ It’s Ronald Jones on the Bucs because Jameis is saying ‘huge difference, don’t even recognize him, this is the breakout year.’ Sneaky Tampa was effective last year because their defense was so bad. If Arians can do the Bruce Arians things to Jameis — one last job — this offense... Through the roof.”
For the most part, it’s hard to argue with Brandt. Adding Bruce Arians to the mix is a huge deal, given his track record. What’s notable about the addition is that, as Brandt mentions, Arians has a lot of good to work with. The Bucs aren’t asking him to take a terrible offense and make it elite. The 2018 version of the Tampa Bay offense was good. No. 3 in total offense and No. 1 in passing offense is a solid foundation for Arians to work with.
Now, was the offense elite last year? No. In fact, those numbers are probably misleading in some ways. Red zone efficiency was inconsistent, the ground game was iffy and turnovers were a big problem. But that’s where Arians can make a difference. He doesn’t have to overhaul everything with the offense. Some tweaks with Jameis Winston, a different coaching staff and a different playbook could take this group to the next level, as Brandt suggests. It’s not hard to see the Bucs being productive on the offensive side of the ball in 2019.
As far as Brandt’s subpoints go, there’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Big years out of Mike Evans are practically expected at this point, and whether Ronald Jones II emerges as a big playmaker or continues to struggle is a pivotal question for this offense and team. But the underlying surprise here, to me, is that Brandt thinks the Bucs will be more explosive than the rest of the teams in their division. Maybe it’s a hot take, or maybe it isn’t.
The Saints are consistently strong on offense, obviously. There are worse things than having Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas at the forefront of your attack. That would be why Nate Burleson and Peter Schrager had New Orleans as the most explosive offense in the division. But the other two teams — the two that weren’t picked — aren’t exactly slouches either. The Panthers, with a healthy Cam Newton, are solid offensively. Christian McCaffrey can be unstoppable and there’s enough at receiver to round out a good group that can score points with the best of them. The Falcons’ core of Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley is very dangerous as well. But Brandt has the Bucs above all of them this year. That’s a big prediction, folks.
So, here we are. High expectations and the Bucs don’t usually mix well. Will things be different in 2019?