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Bruce Arians has considerable experience against Seahawks, and he’s bringing much of the same energy

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Analysts and writers who feel the need to make predictions with total conviction — that their opinions are in fact not opinions but infallible peeks into the future — are not football experts at all, but carnival barkers. Over a century of evidence in American sports alone tells us that as of yet nobody can predict what will happen in the next season or even the next game with any level of consistency that would make a reasonable person look twice. So there are no predictions in these previews of opponents of the 2019 Seattle Seahawks — only my thoughts and within those thoughts, an opinion of what I believe they will most likely look like in the coming year and straightforward updates on changes to the roster and coaching staff. But any team could be turning over 30% of their entire roster or 100% of their coaches and in some cases, a complete changeover in ownership and/or how they plan to run their franchise. That makes things even more volatile when looking ahead, especially with over three months to go until Week 1, but it’s worth a look ahead anyhow. These are my thoughts, some of which will be wrong, but if I didn’t believe my experience in evaluating football things was at least a little bit valuable, I wouldn’t be writing these. Hopefully that experience gives you a clearer picture of what to expect, while also expecting that these pictures could be erased at any moment.

Previous previews:

Bengals / Steelers / Ravens / Browns / Saints

The 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Few teams have managed to fly under the radar of awful like the Buccaneers have over the last 15 years. I mean, we all know it, but it feels like the Bucs have managed to escape the same criticisms that the Bills, Browns, Raiders, Jets, and Dolphins have endured despite maybe being more consistently bad than any of them save Cleveland.

Since winning the Super Bowl in 2002, the Bucs have won zero playoff games, not made the postseason since 2007, and finished in last place in the NFC South in 10 of the last 15 years. After firing Jon Gruden in 2008, they’ve run through Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith, Dirk Koetter, and now their sixth head coach in 12 years: Bruce Arians.

There’s certainly some hype around Arians because his worst season out of five in Arizona was 7-8-1 and he helped the Cardinals win 10+ games three times. And I think there are reasonable points to be made out of why Arians could be a good fit for Tampa but if it feels “safer” than someone like Morris or Schiano, what could have been safer than Lovie? In nine seasons with the Chicago Bears, Smith posted four 10-win seasons, including a record of 29-19 over his final three years.

Remember Seattle’s pivotal 2012 overtime win over the Bears that sort of launched the legend of Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and that era’s Seahawks? Well, if Chicago wins that game at home, Lovie very well could have led the Bears to the postseason that year and kept his job. Instead he was fired and went to the Bucs and went 2-14.

That 2-14 team had the following players: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Logan Mankins, Josh McCown, Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Bradley McDougald, Clinton McDonald, Gerald McCoy, Mark Barron, Michael Johnson, Dashon Goldson, Alterraun Verner, Mason Foster, and Akeem Spence. I wouldn’t put that team down for 10 wins every time but 2-14 is like asking for Murphy’s Law for Christmas and getting eight days of Hanukkah.

The 2-14 season delivered Jameis Winston to Tampa Bay but the results have been a mixed bag and that’s only if you’re judging him on football alone.

Under the last three years with Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken, Winston has posted a rating of 89.2 with 7.6 yards per attempt. Last season, we saw Ryan Fitzpatrick take the start seven times and he posted a higher Y/A (9.6 to 7.9) and rating (100.4 to 90.2) with much of the same cast. There’s pretty much no competition ahead for Winston though as Blaine Gabbert has followed his former Cardinals coach to the Bucs to backup Jameis as he takes one more swing at a long-term deal.

Much of that success will depend on the success of the offensive line, which as of now looks like it’ll be the same five as last season: Donovan Smith at left tackle, Demar Dotson at right, Ali Marpet at left guard, Caleb Benecoch at right, and Ryan Jensen at center. Continuity is fine — these five players combined to miss just one start in 2018 and only Benecoch may face any competition in camp for a starting spot — but is this line good enough? And can they expect that much good fortune with injuries again?

The pass blocking seems to be great but the run blocking has been below questionable for awhile.

Peyton Barber returns as the number one back after carrying the ball 234 times for 871 yards (3.7 YPC) in 2018 as Tampa Bay ranked 24th in rushing DVOA. They really didn’t share the ball at all and since the Bucs were a passing team first — and a bad team overall — they likely didn’t have many fourth quarter rushing opportunities as the season trudged on to a 5-11 finish. Ronald Jones, the 38th overall pick out of USC who I know Rob Staton was extremely high on, carried it 23 times for 44 yards.

It’s hard to find many highly touted backs who have ever done worse than that but there’s plenty of optimism that Jones will do better under Arians than he did with Koetter. He might as well because the team didn’t add much to the backfield other than sign Andre Ellington, another former Arians-zona player but one who hasn’t played since 2017. For now, it looks like it’s going to be an unproven run-blocking line with two un-proven or un-exciting running backs and that once again the Bucs will be looking to pass it.

In those situations, they could be well off.

We’ve already talked about the pass blocking prowess of the line and the presumed talent that comes with a player who was drafted first overall, but Winston, Arians, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich may also be boasting the best receiver and tight end combo in the NFL.

Mike Evans ranked third in DVOA and fourth in DYAR last season, finishing with 1,524 yards and eight touchdowns. Still only 25, Evans has posted five 1,000-yard campaigns in five NFL seasons. We wouldn’t expect less at this point, right? He’s joined not by a receiver but by O.J. Howard, who very could develop into the next generation of tight end: Howard ranked first in DVOA and third in DYAR while missing six games. While Arians hasn’t been associated with tight end-greatness in the past, he’s admitted that he’s never had a player like Howard and we shouldn’t expect the coach to try and change him and what he’s great at.

Tampa should not struggle to pass the ball. They finished first in passing yards and second in net yards per pass attempt in 2018 but the areas to clean up are obvious: The Bucs also threw the most interceptions in the league (26), ranked 31st in yards per carry, and were 32nd in defense by DVOA.

32nd.

We should expect the Bucs to improve on defense just by the power of regression but can defensive coordinator Todd Bowles make them respectable enough to compete for a wild card spot in a division with the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers?

There’s talent on defense but they’re also at high risk of having some of the worst starters in the league again.

David is going into his eighth NFL season and Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 12.5 sacks a year ago with 20 QB hits, is going into his 10th. The team also switched out McCoy at defensive tackle for Ndamukong Suh, who went 13 picks ahead of Pierre-Paul in the 2010 draft, and signed veteran safety-linebacker Deone Bucannon, another former Cardinal. That’s the veteran talent, but Pierre-Paul might not even play in 2019.

Bowles runs a 3-4 defense, meaning that the Bucs will be changing away from a 4-3 for the first time in about 30 years. Expect to see 4-3 packages at times but the base will now have four “linebackers,” which might include Pierre-Paul and might not; JPP suffered a fractured vertebrae in an offseason car accident and could be out until at least November. That could make Tampa’s top pass rusher Carl Nassib, who had 6.5 sacks last season but will be playing outside linebacker now for the first time.

Nassib’s upcoming season has been described as him playing as a “6-technique in a 4-3,” so you can expect a lot of moving pieces as the season goes on. They also believe that Noah Spence, a second rounder in 2016 who wasn’t really viewed as a good fit for a 4-3 defense but was drafted by the Bucs anyway, will do much better in the new design. Which is a big part of the downside — and upside — to new coaching and schemes:

Some players will unlock talents they’d never been able to display before and others will find that their talents are being wasted away because they were specifically designed for the previous regime. The fact that the previous regime already held onto players who weren’t a good fit for them tells you all you need to know about why Tampa Bay has been stuck where they’ve been stuck for so long.

The rest of the healthy-ish linebackers outside of David, Nassib, and Spence include Kevin Minter, former Broncos linebacker Shaquill Barrett, Bucannon, and rookie fourth rounder Anthony Nelson, who the team is still figuring out but he could play a role as an edge rusher as well because he has many of the same measurables as Nassib.

But the attention will be on Devin White, the 5th overall pick out of LSU who ran a 4.42 at the combine.

Described as “the fastest linebacker in the country,” White has certainly earned the reputation as an athletic freak among athletes. Who know what that leads to as a rookie, but we can’t discount the idea of first-year defensive players having major impacts on the league since we seem to see it happen more and more often each year.

But the issue isn’t necessarily the upcoming performance of White, it’s Tampa’s relentless pursuit to improve a secondary that is just showing no signs of progress.

The team drafted Vernon Hargreaves in the first round in 2016 and he’s missed most of the last two seasons with injury and has already maybe been called out by Arians for not having his “mind right” to practice. When he’s been healthy he’s been pretty good, but his progress as an NFL corner can’t not be affected by constantly missing games with injuries — and now potentially practices for “mind” issues. They took corner Ryan Smith in the fourth round that same year and he’s yet to take a place in the secondary.

In 2017, they took Justin Evans in round two and he’s currently dealing with injuries in and around his foot that cost him the end of last season and big parts of this offseason. He’s a young player worth holding out hope for but it wasn’t just injuries that set him back in 2018, as he still has to take some share of the blame for the NFL’s third-worst pass defense by DVOA. In 2018, the Bucs used two second round picks on cornerbacks, selecting M.J. Stewart at 53 and Carlton Davis at 63. Davis had 12 starts as a rookie and is expected to be in the lead to reclaim that role in 2019. Stewart is expected to be in the competition at safety with Evans and a handful of others, including Jordan Whitehead, a fourth round pick last year.

And add three more early-ish picks to the mix in rookies Sean Bunting, Jamel Dean, and Mike Edwards — all day two picks this year — and you can see why Arians would be hyping up the secondary right now. But hype is all it possibly could be until the games get going and this will be one of the youngest and least experiences secondaries in the league.

They’ll need more help up front.

Much of the pressure will be put on defensive tackle Vita Vea, who had 28 tackles and three sacks after being the 12th overall pick out of Washington a year ago. He’ll be in the mix up front with Suh, Nassib, Nelson, Beau Allen, Spence, with a few others. The middle will feature White, David, Barrett, Minter, Bucannon in some combination. The secondary has had a lot invested into it but has yet to succeed.

It’s hard to envision at this point what exactly will make Tampa Bay significantly better on defense than they were a year ago besides regression and maybe White, if he’s really special.

When Bowles was the defensive coordinator for Arians in 2013, the Cards put on a show that ranked them second on that side of the ball by DVOA, second only to Seattle’s championship unit. That team was talented (Calais Campbell, Tyrann Mathieu’s rookie season, Patrick Peterson, John Abraham, Daryl Washington, Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Dan Williams, and Tony Jefferson not even starting yet) but things dropped off in 2014 and they finished 29th in passing yards allowed, 23rd in net yards/attempt, and 26th in yards per carry allowed.

But Arizona went 11-5, finished fifth in points allowed, and Bowles was hired to run the New York Jets. What happened to the Cardinals the next season without Bowles? They bounced back on defense, ranking third by DVOA, including fourth against the pass and second against the run. The team went 13-3 but got blown out by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship.

As always, talent and health always wins out over who the coordinators are, which has been just as much the case in Seattle where Pete Carroll has made a ton of coaching changes over the last 10 years. I’m not sure I see enough talent on defense in Tampa Bay for the Bucs to consistently win next season — barring a break out season from the player who might have the most to prove of any player in the NFL this year.

Jameis Winston.

Perhaps now one of the more underrated starters in the league, Winston ranked right in the middle of the pack in DYAR and DVOA but eighth in QBR and he’s only 25 this year. On throws to Evans, Winston had a rating of 94.2 and on throws to Howard, he was at 114.1. The pass blocking is more likely than not to be good again, Evans and Howard exist, and by all accounts the coaching staff is more experienced at getting the most of the passing game than the last regime was.

A third option emerged last season with Chris Godwin, who caught 59 passes for 842 yards and seven touchdowns, though he was a lot more productive with Fitzpatrick than he was with Winston. Breshad Perriman looks to grow beyond the growth he had with the Cleveland Browns last season when he was at least not-a-huge-detriment: Baker Mayfield went 15 of 24 for 277 yards and two touchdowns on throws to Perriman, a rating of 130. Perriman is not DeSean Jackson but the big play potential is there. Cameron Brate rates as a pretty good number two tight end.

The writing is on the wall for Winston to post career-best numbers right in time for him to be an unrestricted free agent in 2020 and put the Bucs in a potentially awkward position of deciding if this is the $150 million type of quarterback for them. This despite the fact that Arians is as close to retirement age as any coach in the league. And I know, Carroll is right there in age too and the Seahawks extended Russell Wilson, but ...

Did you just compare Winston to Wilson? There’s some assurance at this point that Wilson will be good without Carroll, there’s no assurance that Winston couldn’t post a career-year under Arians and then go on with the downside of his career.

That’s a long-term question though. In the short term, the Seahawks host the Bucs in Week 9 and we know they’ll enjoy the comforts of home, an advantage that can never be overlooked. Maybe Tampa will begin to see some second half returns based on a first half of the year in which Arians is just trying to figure out which new starters should stick and which ones shouldn’t, but I’m expecting struggles in 2019 for the Bucs.

I’d also expect them to win a couple of games that they “shouldn’t” have won because the talent to throw punches back and forth with any team in the league does appear to be there. Can Arians do for the Bucs what he did for the Cardinals?

He’s obviously not afraid to try the same strategy, same players, and he’s even more aware of Carroll’s tendencies as any coach still left in the NFC West.