It wasn’t long ago that the Buccaneers had trouble when it came to putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The secondary obviously suffered as a result, bringing the defense down as a whole.
But things changed in 2019. With the addition of Shaquil Barrett—who went on to lead the NFL in sacks—and Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay’s pass rush took a huge step forward in 2019. How big of a step? Well, it led the entire NFL in total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus:
With 359 pressures a year ago, the Bucs finished four ahead of the division rival Saints. And the best news for Tampa Bay is that the four defenders who led the team in pressures last season are back in 2020:
It’s no surprise to see that Barrett led the way for the Bucs’ pass rush, but what feels significant here is that it was Vita Vea who was second on the team with 56 pressures. Vea continued to develop into a force on the interior of the defensive line in his second year, but the box score rarely shows the impact he makes for the defense. His pressure numbers at least paint some of the picture, at least when it comes to the passing game.
After seeing such success in 2019, the Bucs made an effort to keep the front seven together this offseason. By franchise tagging Barrett and re-signing both Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul, they were successful in that effort. Now, the question heading into the new season is whether or not the pass rush can continue to trend upward. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Barrett took a step back (it would be hard to take a step forward after a 19.5-sack season...), but if the team can get a full year of the Barrett and Pierre-Paul pairing off the edge, that would be a massive help.
The Bucs will also need to prove that their pass rush has enough depth to survive what is sure to be a trying 2020 season. Carl Nassib is gone, and the young guys in position to take his place are unproven.
So, we’ll just have to see what the new year has in store. It may be difficult to replicate the numbers from 2019, but the pass rush will certainly be a key to success for Tampa Bay as it looks to make a run to the playoffs.