The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost at least one starter to injury in every game this year. Don’t believe me? Just take a look.
Week 1 vs Dallas Cowboys: CB, Sean Murphy-Bunting
Week 2 vs Atlanta Falcons: OLB, Jason Pierre-Paul
Week 3 at Los Angeles Rams: CB, Jamel Dean and TE, Rob Gronkowski
Week 4 at New England Patriots: CB, Carlton Davis III and FS, Antoine Winfield Jr.
Week 5 vs Miami Dolphins: LB, Lavonte David
Week 6 at Philadelphia Eagles: CB, Richard Sherman
Granted, Sherman was a starter because of the injuries suffered by Murphy-Bunting, Dean, and Davis. But the fact still remains, the Bucs lost another starter last Thursday night against the Eagles, making six starters down, in six weeks.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Buccaneers started the year without Jordan Whitehead, so you can go deeper than the regular season if you want, and we’re not even talking about key contributors like running back Giovanni Bernard and wide receiver Antonio Brown who is basically a starter as the team’s third receiver.
The team’s injury report has looked like the starting lineup for other NFL franchises at times this year. But is it a unique situation?
I asked that question to Buccaneers.com’s Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith when he joined me on the Locked On Bucs Podcast for a first trimester review of the team.
“Yes, I have seen this before,” Smith told me. “The thing that makes these kind of situations is when you have injuries concentrated at one position group.”
That answer kind of surprised me at first, but when he followed up with the focus on the injuries being mostly coming from the secondary, it made a lot of sense.
Through six games, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has yet to have the same secondary group on the field for two consecutive games.
Considering the defensive backs were considered the weakest part of a Super Bowl caliber defense, this is made to feel even more troubling because of that perception.
Smith also pointed out teams in 2021 like the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants who are going through similarly bad stretches for injuries on their roster.
Just last night the Browns were able to defeat the Denver Broncos despite playing without their starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, and their two top running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
As the New York Giants prepare to try and help out the Buccaneers with a win over the Carolina Panthers this weekend, they too have a staggering amount of injuries, theirs coming on the offensive side of the passing game.
Wide receivers Kenny Golladay, John Ross, Kadarius Toney, and tight end Kaden Smith are all potentially going to miss this weekend’s game, along with running back Saquon Barkley.
Other receivers like Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton have missed time as well. In fact, backup running back Devontae Booker is one of the Giants’ Top-5 yard producers this season, because of the banged up playmakers they’ve been dealing with.
Smith didn’t stop there though, as he recalled another banged up Bucs squad, from the past.
“At this point it’s probably five or six years ago, when we were going to play Carolina,” Smith said. “And we had so many guys on the defensive line injured, and there was a stretch of the season when Gerald McCoy and all those guys were out at the same time...That’s a hard thing to overcome.”
Best I can tell, the game Smith was referring to came in Week 5 of the 2016 season. Entering the weekend, defensive ends Robert Ayers and Noah Spence were listed as ‘Questionable’ while defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald were tagged as ‘Doubtful’.
Ayers, McCoy, and McDonald all ended up missing the game, and Spence played sparingly. Instead, the Buccaneers’ defensive front was led by William Gholston, aided by DaVonte Lambert, Akeem Spence, and Channing Ward.
Tampa Bay surrendered a combined 130-yards rushing to Panthers running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker the year before drafting Christian McCaffrey.
The Buccaneers won that game, thanks to three field goals from Roberto Aguayo, including the game winning 38-yard kick.
Man, those were the days.
As the weeks go bye, Bucs fans seem to get more and more comfortable with the idea their team can win in spite of these injuries. And Smith echoed that sentiment from within the organization.
“(This) doesn’t feel like a disaster,” Smith told me. “If you break it down. Three of your four starting defensive backs...from Week 1 are all out. That’s pretty scary. And you’re using guys you signed in September...The results, considering all that, haven’t been that bad.”
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been giving up a lot of yards this NFL season. Nobody can deny that, at this point. But yards don’t win games.
Points win games, and even with the injuries, the Bucs defense is doing enough to keep opposing team scores lower than what their own offense puts up.
As the defense continues to heal and mend from the injuries, they should only get better, or at least stronger.
Like Smith said at the end of our injury conversation, “They’re still playing well enough for us to win, and reinforcements are coming...”
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