Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aqib Talib's Loss Not a Terrible Blow

Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterOctober 14, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 16:   Aqib Talib #25 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers breaks up a pass intended for Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants in the first half on September 16, 2012 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib was suspended for four games on Saturday for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, the team announced through a release to the media.

Talib’s suspension will begin immediately and will last through Week 9.

There won’t be any appeal to the suspension, according to Talib, who made apologies and comments in the Buccaneers’ release. The substance that triggered the positive result was Adderall, and Talib admitted to taking one pill near the beginning of training camp. He did not have a prescription.

Losing a starter for four games is usually a blow to any team, and the Buccaneers will definitely miss Talib. But the damage to Tampa Bay’s defense won’t be that bad.

Tampa Bay’s pass defense is ranked last in the league, giving up 345.3 yards per game through the air. That figure is definitely skewed by the 510 yards Eli Manning tossed against the Bucs in Week 2, but both Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III went for more than 300 yards against this defense, too. The only quarterback not to eclipse the 300-yard mark was Tony Romo, who tallied 297 yards through the air.

While you can make this bad Tampa Bay pass defense worse by taking out Talib, how much worse can it get?

Talib fell on his sword in his statement, making it sound like his remorse was so heavy about the guilt he felt he wouldn’t even try to appeal. Instead of remorse—and there’s surely much weight on his shoulders—it’s possible that Talib’s not appealing because of the timing of the opponents on Tampa Bay’s schedule.

Tampa Bay will play the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday in the first game of Talib’s suspension. Not only does Kansas City have the 23rd-ranked passing offense in the league, but the Chiefs will be without starting quarterback Matt Cassel.

Next week the Buccaneers have the brutal task of taking on the New Orleans Saints, an offense that would likely shred the Tampa Bay secondary even with Talib in the game. After that the Bucs face the Minnesota Vikings (26th-ranked passing offense) and the Oakland Raiders (12th-ranked passing offense) who pass only because they can’t run effectively.

This four-game stretch is the best time period for the Buccaneers to be without a starting cornerback. That’s likely why Talib isn’t appealing the suspension.

After Oakland, the Bucs play San Diego, Carolina, Atlanta, Denver—and the passing attacks just keep coming for the remainder of the season.

Losing Talib will be a blow, both schematically and to the talent pool. Tampa Bay may have to find ways to help Talib’s replacement in man coverage, or play more zone.  E.J. Biggers is the likely fill-in for Talib with Brandon McDonald working as the nickel corner.

Biggers just returned to action after being sidelined by a broken foot, and he played well upon his return. Against the Redskins, he played 33 snaps in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus (paywall), and only gave up one reception. The sample size is incredibly small, but allowing just one reception per 33 cover snaps is a great statistic.

Talib has the worst cover-snaps-per-reception ratio at seven snaps per reception. Wright isn’t much better at 7.2, while McDonald comes in at 9.5 snaps per reception.

There will be a dropoff in skill from Talib to Biggers or McDonald. But it may not be as bad as many think. And there’s no better time to throw a replacement cornerback into the fire for four games than the four-game stretch that begins right now.