Holy Smokes! It's football time, people. I've always tried to delay thinking about something I'm excited about until the last minute, but with the regular season nearly on top of us, it's time we start previewing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We'll get to the match-ups Friday-Saturday, but first let's get a look at the Bucs profile: strengths, weaknesses, offensive philosophy, defensive philosophy and additions/subtractions.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Weighted 3 year record (50-30-20): 6-10
Weighted 3 year point differential (same): -79
Weighted 3 year offensive passing DVOA: -12.73%
Weighted 3 year offensive rushing DVOA: -11.36%
Weighted 3 year defensive passing DVOA: 2.61%
Weighted 3 year defensive rushing DVOA: -11.28 (negative being bad for an offense and good for a defense)
Football Outsiders Mean Projected Wins: 9.1
Excepting Cadillac Williams and three fifths of their offensive line, the Bucs are an old team. Football Outsiders actually has a very rosy projection for Tampa, but I have a lot of trouble believing it. The Bucs look like a team that is definitely trending down.
Offensive Philosophy: Gruden Style Walsh Offense
I figure we all know the basics of a Walsh or West Coast offense. Within this framework, John Gruden has his own style. Gruden's playbook is more plodding and methodical than Mike Holmgren's or Andy Reid's. If you think of the slant and the hook as the two staples of the modern Walsh offense, Gruden employs more zone busting hook routes and less RAC oriented slant routes. Gruden uses multiple tight end formations both for passing and running. This conservative style is designed to garner first downs but moreover establish favorable second and third downs to set up the power rushing game. Many traditional playbooks use consistent running to set up big gains in the passing attack, Gruden uses consistent gains passing to set up favorable downs, and to create openings for running plays. Consider this next sequence. Both are run from the same formation. A single back, with two wide receivers left and two tights ends right. On the first play, the defense runs a simple man Cover-2. The linebackers each drop into zone coverage, the cornerbacks play man-to-man, the strong safety plays deep to account for the wide receivers while the free safety plays shallow to account for the tight ends. The outside receiver runs a streak route, the inside an elongated crossing route with two cuts. The running back gives run support on the less protected left side. The second tight end runs a simple hook route into the weakside linebacker's zone, while the number one tight end runs a shallow drag route and finds a hole in the zone created by the streaking wide receivers. The Qb spots him and a four yard completion is made.
Next play, same formation, but now the weakside linebacker is given man duties on the number one tight end. The outside WR is once again running a streak, the inside WR runs another crossing route, but this time starts running straight at the free safety and makes only one cut before flattening his pattern. Most importantly, though, the number one tight end immediately pulls hard across the line duplicating the previous play's drag route. Ideally, the weakside linebacker bites, picking up coverage on the #1 tight end and leaving a vacancy. The Bucs instead run a power sweep off right tackle. The #2 tight end leads, targeting the free safety and the pulling right guard seals the inside, likely neutralizing the middle linebacker. The inside receiver breaks off his route and picks up the cornerback. The running back has open field and a lead blocker, easily securing a big gain.
(I promise the images will get better as the season progresses)
Defensive Philosophy: Tampa-2
Monte Kiffin is the chief creator of the Tampa-2 defense. The Tampa-2 emphasizes pressure above actual sacks. In the late nineties and early oughts, Kiffin had future HOFers Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice to disrupt the pass, today, it's rookie Gaines Adams and Chris Hovan. In a typical Tampa-2, blitzes are rare, but the modern day Bucs have had to adjust to their personnel limitations. PFP reports the Bucs sent blitzes of 6 or more men on just seven percent of all plays in 2006, but 10.6% in 2007. With the addition of Gaines Adams and Patrick Chuckwurah, Kiffin hopes he has the players he needs to create pressure up front without additional blitzers. Given their success at getting pressure in the preseason, I would expect Kiffin to stick his guns and fearlessly rush four, and deploy the now famous cover two zone that's the bread and butter of the Tampa-2.
Three Key Additions:
Jeff Garcia: Garcia experienced a very late career resurgence in 2006, and Jon Gruden's system certainly favors his accuracy, timing and decision making, and hides his diminishing arm strength. Eventually, even accuracy and timing fade. Garcia didn't have the most impressive preseason and it's far from outside the realm of possibility that he simply plays his way out of the league in the Bucs first few games. A lot of wiggle room exists for what Garcia may be able to accomplish, he's in the right situation, and his play last season engenders hope that he can still excel in a Walsh type system, but he no longer has Brian Westbrook to dish to, nor the Eagles line to give him time.
Gaines Adams: Without a healthy Simeon Rice, the Bucs' defense failed to establish enough pressure from the front four. Adams is a very similar player to Rice in type. Both are speed rushers, Adams like Rice early in his career is not much help as a run stopper, but isn't asked to be. As a speed rusher, Adams can be expected to contribute immediately. Speed is a tool that peaks at a very young age, speed rushers likewise often make a big impact as early as their rookie season, think Jevon Kearse.
Luke Petitgout: Petitgout is pretty infamous around these parts, notably for his five false starts in the Hawks 2005 week 12 matchup against the Giants. Despite his bad reputation, Petitgout may be overrated. He's quick and relatively athletic, but his reputation as a run blocker has much to do with the otherworldly talent of Tiki Barber. In nearly every season of his career, and despite a diverse cast of right guards and right tackles, the Giants rushed better to the right than to the left. Notably, the Giants have been 27th or worse five of the last seven seasons at running behind left tackle. Petitgout is a better pass blocker, but if you consider his false starts and holding penalties, he still averages more than one play per contest that leads directly to a loss of yards: (False Starts + Holds + Sacks Allowed) / Games Started = 1.04 per contest. Walter Jones by comparison: .48. Alex Barron: 1.54. Yeah, you see how you scum. The man he's replacing, Anthony Davis, is slow--A tough thing to be a in a division with Julius Peppers. Petitgout's an improvement, but not as much of one as most Buc fans expect.
Shelton Quarles: ILB Quarles retired, but was well past his prime.
Juran Bolden: CB Bolden is a similar story, but rather than retiring, he may be playing in the CFL.