BY IRA KAUFMAN
A proud unit built on the application of pressure itself feels increased pressure.
As the Bucs prepare for Sunday night’s season opener in Dallas, the Tampa Bay defense faces increased responsibility for the team’s success. It’s unrealistic to maintain Buc’s offense to the same standards it has adopted since Tom Brady’s arrival.
Byron Leftwich’s band have set the bar high for the past two years.
In 2020, Buc’s offense ranked third in points (30.8) and seventh in total yards. Last year was even better as Tampa Bay finished No. 2 in both scoring (30.1) and total yards.
The 2021 Bucs were also second in the league in third down conversion rate (47%) and red zone scoring. reaching the final zone on 66% of their deep drives.
Because of all those touchdowns, the Bucs went a healthy 15-9 under Brady when the opposition scored at least 20 points. But what if all this glorious production suffers a setback?
After all, the Bucs are entering a new season with at least four new offensive starters. Even if Shaq Mason proves to be an upgrade over Alex Cappa at right guard, there will be significant drops.
Rookie Luke Goedeke is not Ali Marpet. Nobody is confusing Robert Hainsey with evil presenter Ryan Jensen. Whoever gets the most shots at the tight end will surely be operating in the immense shadow of Rob Gronkowski.
And we haven’t even mentioned Chris Godwin. Julio Jones and Russell Gage are good additions, but Godwin was an elite receiver when he went down with a torn ACL. Who knows when, or if, it will regain its stellar form?
Tampa Bay’s offense has been remarkably consistent since Brady’s arrival. In Brady’s 39 games as a Buccaneer, Tampa Bay scored at least 27 points 28 times. That’s a very impressive 72% that can make up for Tampa Bay’s struggling defense these rare days.
The Bucs still have solid weapons in Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette, but even if the pass protection holds up, there are fewer holes to go through. Unlike so many receivers posing as tight ends in the league, Gronk was a willing tackle – a potent force in a ground game that improved dramatically during his 2-year tenure.
The Bucs were rightly confident of beating Fournette on the right side behind Tristan Wirfs and Gronkowski. This duo was broken up because Gronk is now beating beers on game day.
Can the Bucs still average 30 points this fall? Maybe, but it seems unlikely. And if that number drops to 26 or 27, Todd Bowles will need his defense to get stronger.
While it’s not fair to say that Brady’s band have carried this franchise for the past two seasons, Buc fans have
giddily enjoyed the ride after so many years of offensive futility.
You could also say that Brady’s age will catch up with him… but I’m not going there. Brady has been hearing those guts since he turned 35. That was four Super Bowl wins ago. He’s showing no signs of wear and can’t wait to frustrate all those lightning linebackers who are sure to show up this fall.
But the cast around Brady just isn’t the same. Injuries and retirements have rearranged Leftwich’s depth chart. An offense that has retained all of its starters from a champion team faces a huge challenge.
The Bucs will need more support on the other side of the ball. Over the past two years, Brady and company have done most of the heavy lifting.
Fair is fair.
This is the season that the defenders of Buc win the bet.
It’s a new look for the iconic show starring Buccaneers legend Derrick Brooks and JoeBucsFan.com columnist Ira Kaufman. TAMPA TWO is back — in the studio! Another great presentation from The Tampa Bay Identity and Joe.