The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in the bottom five in the NFL in rushing defense in each of the last three years. They were dead last in 2011, and that’s not just because of the rise of divisional foe and dynamic rushing quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.
Tampa Bay proved to be the most favorable matchup for fantasy owners of opposing running backs in the 2011 season. That won’t be the case in 2012.
A bit of context: The Buccaneers gave up 2,497 total yards rushing and five yards per carry during the 2011 season. Those marks were good for last in the NFL. They allowed 28 rushes of 20 yards or more, also last in the league.
The Buccaneers surrendered the most points in the league, and a lot of them were due to the ground game. It started off bad (with Adrian Peterson running for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in Week 2) and ended even worse.
From Week 5 on (12 games), opposing running backs converted 340 carries into 1,858 yards (5.5 average) and 18 touchdowns against the Buccaneers. They also received 57 passes for another 502 yards and five more touchdowns.
That’s an average of 33 touches, 197 total yards and two TDs per backfield, per game.
But with the offseason coaching change in Tampa Bay comes a defensive overhaul. It starts with the return of 2010 third overall pick Gerald McCoy, who played only six games in 2011.
The team added Lavonte David and Mark Barron in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL draft and shifted longtime cornerback Ronde Barber to the free safety position. That was made possible by the arrival of free-agent acquisition cornerback Eric Wright.
Will the Buccaneers defense be better than its 2011 showing in 2012?
All five of the aforementioned players are expected to be starters in new head coach Greg Schiano’s defense.
Stopping the run has to be a point of emphasis for the new coaching staff. If there was one glaring deficiency in the team it inherited, it was defending the ground game. The Buccaneers surrendered a whopping 521 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground in their final two 2011 contests.
Tampa Bay still has to meet with the Carolina rushing committee of Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert twice this season.
They’re also scheduled to run through a gauntlet of premier running backs in the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarco Murray, the Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles, the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson (in late October) and the Oakland Raiders' Darren McFadden in the first half of the season.
With all of that (presumed to be healthy) talent lining up across from them, it is not advisable to run with the Buccaneers defense as a starting unit in 2012.
Look for the Bucs’ rushing defense to be middle of the pack this season because of their schedule. If they don’t improve, they could find themselves on the wrong end of 3,000 yards rushing this year.
But there’s nowhere for this team to go but up. They’ve got to get better.