The Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will always be intertwined due to the fact that they were the two expansion teams of 1976. In the draft that year, the Bucs got lucky and won the right to pick first overall, taking Hall of Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon. That left the Seahawks to pick second, which is where they selected ... Steve Niehaus. I would have rather had Dave Niehaus. (For you Schadenfreude people out there: Tampa Bay picked first overall the next season after going winless and chose running back Ricky Bell, a fairly large bust. The second overall pick was Tony Dorsett.)
Seattle won seven of the first eight meetings between the two teams, beginning in ‘76 and going through 2007, when Jon Gruden was the head coach. But the Bucs have won three of the last four, and in the loss, they led 21-0 before succumbing to the Hawks largest comeback ever back in 2013.
That game should serve as a reminder that anything is possible; Tampa Bay fell to 0-8, Seattle improved to 8-1 and later went on to win the Super Bowl, but the Bucs jumped all over the Seahawks in their own stadium in the second quarter and pushed them to overtime. The two meet again this Sunday afternoon in Tampa, and while Seattle has many similarities to the 2013 team, the Bucs don’t.
That team had Mike Glennon at QB, Mike James at RB, Vincent Jackson as the number one receiver, Darrelle Revis at CB, and Mark Barron at S. This Bucs unit is much different, and has won four of their last six games. To get to know them better, I sent 5 Qs over to Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation and in kind, he returned 5 corresponding As.
Q: The Seahawks will be without safety Earl Thomas and cornerback DeShawn Shead, putting some backups to the test this weekend against the Bucs passing attack. How much has quarterback Jameis Winston improved from his rookie season to this season? And how much has he improved from Week 1 of this season to right now? How sure are you at this point that Winston will be a star in this league year in and year out?
A: Winston has had an interesting second season. At the start of the year, he looked more or less like he did at the start of last season -- that is, not all that good, but still promising. He's since improved, and has had some very good games, as he did last week. Overall, he's better than last season, but we're talking incremental improvements rather than big jumps. His statistics bear this out, too: he's slightly better overall, with less support from the running game, but we're not seeing a massive jump in any category.
The one thing that stands out about his performances so far is inconsistency -- he'll be outstanding one game, and then disappointing the next. If he can get that straightened out, he certainly should turn into a star in the NFL. He'll probably always have some down games in every season, that seems unavoidable, but the good should start outweighing the bad as he gets more experienced.
Q: According to DVOA, the Bucs actually aren't really bad on offense, defense or special teams -- they also aren't that good, basically ranking just below average in all three phases of the game. Which unit, offense or defense, do you think is on a more defined path to being top-5 in the NFL? And if it's offense, does that say more about Winston and Mike Evans or more about the defense lagging behind?
A: I'd say the offense is on much more of a defined path than the defense. There's more young talent at every level than on defense, that talent is consistently performing at a higher level, and having a franchise quarterback means the most important part has been taken care of. Assuming, of course, Winston continues to develop the way he has. Mike Evans is a star, Ali Marpet looks like a Pro Bowler at right guard, and there are key pieces to build around.
On defense, the Bucs have some talent but most of that is older (Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, Brent Grimes), and the young players (Noah Spence, Vernon Hargreaves) are mostly rookies and their future is somewhat undetermined. There's a potential path there, but there needs to be a sustained effort to improve that side of the ball with young talent for that path to be realized.
Q: Seattle has issues with great pass rushing defensive tackles. Is Gerald McCoy as good this year as he's been in years past?
A: McCoy is still as good as he's always been, which is to say a perpetual Pro Bowler. Last season was a down year for him, mostly due to injuries, but he's back to his disruptive self. As usual, that disruption doesn't translate into double-digit sack numbers, but he makes a few splash plays per game, and always jumps off the tape. So, yeah, that could definitely be an issue for the Seahawks offense.
Q: There's Evans and then there's .... Adam Humphries? Cameron Brate? I know nothing about these players. Is there anything special there with those two that could blossom in the future or could be dangerous this weekend? Are there other weapons on offense to pay attention to right now?
A: There's always Doug Martin, but I assume you're mostly talking about the passing game here. Humphries and Brate are useful players, but I wouldn't expect them to turn into anything more in the future. Humphries is your standard diminutive slot receiver, but he doesn't quite have the explosiveness or short-area agility to turn into a real weapon. As for Brate, he's a useful and reliable underneath and intermediate target but lacks the athletic ability to be a real threat as a tight end. He's certainly valuable and the Bucs like targeting him in the red zone, but I'm not seeing the potential for that much more.
As for other players, there's veteran Cecil Shorts who finally had a decent game last Sunday, but special teams ace Russell Shepard is worth keeping an eye on. He's in his fourth season and has primarily played on special teams, but he's been productive whenever he gets the chance to play wide receiver. He also has the explosiveness to be an actual threat to defenses, a player they need to account for.
Q: Tampa Bay is 1-4 at home this season. Anything to that? Or is it just a coincidence that they've struggled in those games? Should we expect weather to play a factor?
A: I mostly think it's a coincidence. They just went into Arrowhead Stadium and played what was probably their best game of the year against a good team. Unless being in Tampa magically saps Bucs players' strengths, I can't imagine there being a causal relationship between that game being in Kansas City, and them playing better than they have at home. The Bucs haven't had a true home team advantage since Jon Gruden left nearly a decade ago, but that doesn't mean they're actually worse at home than on the road. As for the weather -- I wouldn't expect it to play much of a role, especially given the fact that it's a late game. The heat won't be stifling, and unless we have a lightning delay, it shouldn't be particularly relevant.
Bonus: When and why did you start following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
A: Hah, ages ago, and mostly because I was watching the NFL and needed a team to follow. I liked the fact that there was a pirate ship in the stadium, and also the whole 0-26 start to the franchise, then turning into a contender and Super Bowl winner, and then struggling again history. For your readers who don't quite get this question: I'm Dutch.