The Buccaneers made mistakes. The Seahawks made mistakes. But me? How could I possibly make any mistakes? I mean, my mom always told me I was a perfect little man, so logically speaking I am infallible. I can do no rong!
Okay, maybe I am not perfect. Maybe I do miss from time to time.
When I started looking at the total disaster in Tampa Bay this year, I wanted to examine it to find out how Seattle could avoid having a similar collapse. Because I thought that they would? No. Because I thought the two teams were entirely way too similar? No. But because it's possible. Because it could happen. Because it happens to some team every year.
I am a very positive and optimistic person, but I'm not stupid. I know that bad shit happens when it shouldn't, or at least when you don't expect it to. The 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not expect to go 4-12 and lose their last 10 games. They had just come off of a 10-6 season with the league's youngest team and were expecting to make the playoffs. But they had fundamental issues that kept them from not only failing to reach .500 again, but to become what could be considered the worst team in the league.
I looked for patterns. I looked for reasons. At first, I saw that the injury to Earnest Graham turned them into a one-dimensional running team that were forced to go with LeGarrette Blount (an unproven UDFA in his second-year who can't catch the ball) and a host of backups that could not run the ball. So I argued that we needed to re-sign Marshawn Lynch and get him a very good backup. (Some people have wondered about Mike Tolbert, but I think he'd actually work better as a #3 back, not a #2.)
The next thing that I noticed was the three drafts under Raheem Morris and I thought to myself, "Hmmm.. that's interesting." What was so interesting about it?
2011: Coming off of a 10-6 season, Tampa drafts DE Adrian Clayborn in the first (20th overall) and DE Da'Quan Bowers in the second.
What's that? In three years, they spent six of their first seven picks on defensive lineman. Why would you do that?
The first thing that comes to mind is that having a great defensive line is key. Having a great defensive line sets up the rest of your defense. If you can both stop the run and rush the quarterback, you've got a great first step towards stopping any offense and having a great defense. The second thing is.. the second thing is...
Well, I couldn't think of a second thing. The issues I see with that strategy is that you've completely neglected every other unit in the first couple of rounds. Drafting only defensive lineman means that you feel comfortable with your other units and why should the Bucs feel so comfortable?
Sure, they were set at QB. Sure, they don't have to draft a running back that early. But it's not like Tampa Bay didn't have other issues even if those players just happened to be at the top of their draft boards. So I had to go to someone who knows a lot lot more than I do about Tampa Bay, site manager at Bucs Nation, Sander.
Here's what he told me about the Bucs. Why is this relevant to us? Because, Seattle does have some similarities with Tampa such as A.) Being young and B.) We spent three high(ish) draft picks on one unit over the last two years. It's important...
The BOLD is my question. The italics is Sander. The things in (parentheses) is my thoughts on the answer from Sander.
I noticed that Tampa Bay drafted defensive line a lot over the last three years. Why'd they do that? Do you think it's a problem, inherently?
Sander of Bucs Nation: I don't think there's anything wrong with the double drafting strategy, but so far it hasn't worked for the Bucs. The 2009 defensive linemen were drafted for a different scheme than the Bucs ran from 2010 onwards, so it's a little unfair to judge them based on that - but both Roy Miller and Kyle Moore can safely be termed disappointments. Kyle Moore never even managed a sack, while Miller is just a limited run-stopping DT who struggles against double teams. That's not a great combination.
(My thoughts on Sanders answer in terms to Seattle: Moore was a fourth round pick. If a fourth-rounder becomes a regular, it's a bonus, so that can't be too disappointing. While third-round pick Miller is a disappointment. If Moffitt never pans out, that sucks, we should expect a guard of his draft status to become a reliable starter. However, if Kris Durham never pants out, oh well.)
What about Gerald McCoy, who some thought could be just as good, if not better, than Ndamukong Suh?
Sander: Gerald McCoy has looked very good when he has been healthy, and looked like a star early this season before ending the season on IR for a second consecutive year.
(Sound familiar? Russell Okung looks like a stud... when healthy.)
Brian Price is an interesting story, a player that fell to the second round. Here's what Sander told me about him:
Brian Price is a different story, as he's shown flashes but injuries have slowed him down. From what I understand, Price had a rare condition where his pelvic bone never grew together, and his tightly wound hamstrings ever so slightly pulled his pelvis apart. It's pretty nasty. That's why he missed most of the 2010 season with injury. To fix that problems, doctors used huge screws to pull his pelvic bone back together. To do that, they had to sever and then re-attach his hamstrings. Understandably this has really limited his play in 2011, as he was out of shape and still recovering from that surgery this season.
So, why the heavy emphasis on defensive line two years in a row from 2010-2011?
Sander: The reason why this double drafting made sense for the Bucs was really that they had to completely re-vamp their defensive line in a short amount of time. They needed two new defensive tackles in 2010, and they needed two new defensive ends in 2011. With the importance of the defensive line in the NFL the strategy made perfect sense.
But they have a lot of (admittedly injured) talent on that defensive line right now, and continuing to spend high picks on that unit instead of fixing other problems on those positions would make little sense going forward.
(Seattle has spent high pick on Okung, James Carpenter, and John Moffitt. So, a lot of people have wondered about David DeCastro, G, Stanford as a possible first round pick for Seattle. Though many people would like to replace Robert Gallery, I feel safe in saying that it is not going to happen. And to spend yet another high pick on an offensive lineman seems like a terrible idea while Seattle has so many other needs to fill. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have DeCastro, but how many drafts in a row can Seattle focus on just one unit?)
So, how much of it had to do with changing schemes and coaches in Tampa, that they had to continue to draft in the same unit?
Sander: The problem wasn't so much scheme, as that the 2009 picks on the defensive line just turned out to be not very good. They wouldn't have been very useful in the scheme the Bucs ran in 2009 either.
As far as the 2010 draft?
Sander: That said, scheme problems did hurt Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. In their first year, the defensive line was coached by Todd Wash (who is now with the Seahawks if I'm not mistaken). Wash put an emphasis on staying in your gap at all times and was averse to players getting up field aggressively. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price struggled to adjust and play fast at the same time. In 2011 the Bucs hired Keith Millard and Grady Stretz as their defensive line coaches, which helped as they preached an aggressive, shoot-your-gap style defense. Early in the year when everyone was relatively healthy that defensive line was playing well as a result. It does speak to the importance of getting the right scheme and the right coaches for your players, certainly.
(I wonder if Price fell because of the crazy bone problems he had and if anyone knew about it? Including the Bucs. Changing personnel coaches might not seem like a big deal to the mainstream media, but if it means you're going to change how you play defense or offense, that also means you're going to need to find the players that are able to play that style. If Seattle did lose Tom Cable or Darrell Bevell, they'd need to find a guy whose basic philosophy didn't cause Seattle to change dramatically which players that they'd need to find to run that scheme. Why? Because Seattle isn't 4-12 and a few years away from competing. They could be one year from the playoffs and 2-3 years away from the Super Bowl.. if things break right. There is plenty of talent in Seattle, but if you change the wrong scheme, you could find yourself even further away.)
So, why DID the Bucs collapse so badly in 2011?
Sander: Basically, the lockout hurt the team, which is still extremely young and inexperienced. A few young players couldn't repeat their 2010 play, most notably Josh Freeman and Mike Williams. A few key injuries then hurt a team that was playing reasonably well, and things started to go downhill. Once they got down, things started to spiral out of control as the team didn't seem to have the capacity to move on from a bad play. There are a lot of different factors at play there, but the lack of mental toughness stands out for me.
(Sander believes that the Bucs are indeed better than their 4-12 record, and linked to an article he wrote about it here. He makes some very valid arguments, most importantly that Tampa was the youngest team in the league by far, and in every unit, and the lockout put them potentially at more of a disadvantage than any other other team. They also had the toughest schedule in the league. Now, not every young team in the league struggled. The Packers were the 2nd youngest team in the league. The Panthers were the third youngest team in the league and not only got respectable, but blew out the Bucs. The Bengals were the fourth-youngest team and made the playoffs. The Seahawks were the fifth youngest, and I'm not sure how they did.
So, what's the difference between Tampa's youth and the rest of those teams?
1. Green Bay is the second youngest team BUT: They have a veteran head coach, Aaron Rodgers, have drafted superbly in recent years, and just won a Super Bowl. They're talented youth. Maybe the most talented youth ever.
2. The Panthers still went 6-10 and had a rookie head coach, but Ron Rivera had 14 years of coaching in the league with six as a defensive coordinator. Raheem Morris joined the Bucs in 2002, but had never been a d-coordinator before becoming the head coach and is younger than Ronde Barber. The Panthers also had the best rookie quarterback and had veterans at key positions like Charles Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, and Steve Smith.
3. The Bengals have one of the longest-tenured head coaches in the league. They also were a border-line playoff team that couldn't beat any really good teams and had a soft schedule otherwise.
4. Seattle was 7-9 and their youth showed in terms of penalties and discipline, They won 7 games because Pete Carroll is the second-oldest head coach in the league, experienced, with a quarterback who was very familiar with his offensive coordinator while they got unexpected performances from Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner.
From Sanders article: While the easy 2010 schedule is constantly brought up, the incredibly tough 2011 schedule is never mentioned. But it should be: the Bucs have had the hardest schedule in the league by Football Outsiders' numbers. It should be obvious when you take a glance at the teams the Bucs had lost to until week 12: the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Texans, the Green Bay Packers. All of those teams are playoff teams, or really close to it. The Bears might miss the playoffs, but the Bucs played them when they still had their original starting quarterback.
(I'm not going to sit here and talk about the strength of Seattle's schedule in 2012. The only true way to know how hard it is, is to find out after the 2012 season is over. Not every team you think is good is good. Not every team you think is bad will be bad. We just have to wait and see. A lot, A LOT, of success in win-loss record is determined by SOS and the Bucs had the hardest SOS they could have imagined. That doesn't excuse the fact that they got blown out at the end of the year however...)
Sander: The result for the Bucs this year is ugly. The players have lost it, are not playing hard anymore and appear to have quit on their coach and their teammates. That's a shame, and whoever the Bucs hire to take over for Raheem Morris will cut a few players who have played their way out of Tampa Bay because of that.
Thank you so much to Sander from Bucs Nation for answering my questions. Here are some conclusions:
I think when you spend so much draft capital on a single-unit, you put yourself at risk. Seattle has now spent high picks on LT, RT, and RG over the last two drafts. That's fine.. for now. I like the strategy because offensive line is the most important "unit" that there is, in my opinion. But enough is enough. Don't spend a high pick on a RT again or on a LG. Why? Because now you're ignoring other areas, so when a guy like a Brian Price gets hurt (in the case of TB) and then Gerald McCoy gets hurt, what are you left with? Shitty defensive tackles that have to start, and weak players at other units because you spent all of your picks on the defensive line.
In the case of Tampa, maybe McCoy becomes an All-Pro DT and Claiborne becomes a Pro Bowl defensive end while Bowers turns into an exciting, high-motor defensive player of his own. But what that cost them in the short term was a 4-12 disaster season and the head coaching career (for now) of Raheem Morris. What if instead they had tried to find a value DT or DE in the fifth round and taken a running back to support Blount (and could catch the ball) or a cornerback? They drafted Aqib Talib in the first round in 2008 and he worked out for awhile but now he is in a heap of legal troubles. Now they have to address just about every unit on the roster. The Bucs are drafting high and they could basically draft the best player available... let's just hope for their sake that it's not a DT or a DE. (I don't think there is one of that caliber available at that position anyway.)
When Seattle drafts 11th or 12th, then they have a decision to make to (assuming they don't trade up or down.) What if the absolute best player available is DeCastro. Do they take him? Or do they roll with the five guys that they thought would be their starters at the beginning of 2011?
It's not like I'd be mad if they took DeCastro, because Steve Hutchinson was one of the five-most important players on our 2005 Super Bowl run, but I'd still probably give one of these: "Sigh.. ugh.. yeah, yeah, I get it... ugh.. he's so good but... ugh..."
It's not the wrong pick, it's just the pick that is so much like the last couple of years that it doesn't get me excited. I trust that John Schneider will do that right thing, and by that I mean I believe that whatever he does is the right thing, but in my opinion it will involve something that has nothing to do with the offensive line until at least the third round.
Everything else that Sanders has said is absolutely correct and does apply to Seattle, a team that may only get younger from 2011 to 2012, and a great blueprint for what not to do between now and training camp.
Thank you so much for your time Sander. My only regret is that I didn't ask you ANYTHING about being an NFL fan that lives in the Netherlands.