5 Ways the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Can Salvage Their Season
The 35-28 outcome is particularly hard to swallow given the 28 unanswered points the Saints scored before the Bucs finally responded midway through the fourth quarter.
And although the Bucs find themselves with four losses through six games, is all really lost? Do the Bucs have a fighting chance at turning things around and getting to .500 or, dare I even say, getting a playoff berth?
If so, what do the pewter pirates have to do to keep their season from turning into a repeat of the disastrous 2011 campaign?
5. Continue to Put the Game in Josh Freeman's Hands
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For all of the skeptics that questioned his ability and called for him to be cut, traded or to take snaps anywhere but here, Josh Freeman has responded in kind.
It's no coincidence that since offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan has opened the playbook up past the table of contents, Freeman has put together a three-game span where he has thrown for 1,047 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, with an average quarterback rating of 107.7.
Yes, the Bucs are 2-4 and yes, their defense has still allowed too many points and too many big plays, but geez, isn't it fun to watch ol' No. 5 chuck the ball around?
In that same three-game span, the Bucs have scored 88 points (29.3 per game), while in the three games prior, they scored 60 points (20 per game).
All of which begs the question, why would Sullivan and Greg Schiano wait until Week 4 to remove the handcuffs from Free?
The Bucs have clearly realized their greatest offensive asset and should look to Freeman to continue to carry the load moving forward.
4. Continue to Play Stifling Run Defense
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The Bucs have completely reversed course from a season ago when they were the worst in the NFL in rush defense.
This season, the Bucs have allowed the third-fewest yards on the ground (76 per game), as well as the lowest per-rush average in the league (3.1 per carry).
With the likes of Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden, Michael Turner, LeSean McCoy and Steven Jackson still remaining on the schedule, it is imperative that they continue to shut down opposing backs for them to have any chance at victory.
3. Learn How to Win the Close Games
While the losses are what they are, it is worth noting that all four defeats have been by seven or fewer points. In fact, the losses have been by a combined 22 points.
Again, what's done is done and there's no changing what has already transpired, but eventually the Bucs are gonna have to figure out how to win the close ones.
Sure, they beat Carolina in Week 1 by six points, but I think we can all agree that the Panthers are a terrible team this season.
Nevertheless, the 10 remaining games on Tampa Bay's schedule are against teams with a combined record of 34-28, with the Falcons accounting for "12" of those 34 wins (the Bucs face 6-0 Atlanta twice over the next 10 games).
Therefore, the other eight opponents are a combined 22-28. Suffice it to say, the Bucs are bound to be in a handful of nail-biters over the next two-and-a-half months.
They must figure out how to win the close ones.
2. Discover Their Pass Rush
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There's no other way around it—the Bucs' pass rush is horrendous.
Through six games, they have sacked opposing quarterbacks eight times. Yes, eight. As in, fewer than both J.J. Watt and Clay Matthews, who have 9.5 and 9 sacks, respectively.
Their lack of pressure against Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday allowed the All Pro to throw for 377 and four touchdowns. The same could be said for the 510 yards they surrendered to Eli Manning or the 323 to RGIII.
The loss of defensive end Adrian Clayborn certainly won't help the cause, although defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has consistently been the most disruptive player along the line, accounting for three sacks.
With the return of Da'Quan Bowers looming on the horizon, the Bucs will be getting some reinforcements, though how effective the second-year defensive end will be remains to be seen.
Due to the lack of a successful pass rush, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has felt compelled to send additional rushers in the way of linebackers and defensive backs, which has led to the defense surrendering numerous big plays through the air.
1. Improve Their Pass Defense
How bad has Tampa Bay's pass defense been? It has surrendered 28 passes of 20-or-more yards, and seven have gone for 40-or-more yards. Both of these stats are among the worst in the league.
Oh, and the Bucs have allowed 1,938 passing yards (323 per game), a 66.1 completion percentage and an average QBR of 87.8.
On four occasions, opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 300-plus yards, including Eli Manning who posted a 510-yard performance in Week 2.
Although I will say this, there's really nowhere else to go but up—right?
Kidding aside, it is pretty clear that for the Bucs to have any chance whatsoever of saving their season, improving their pass defense has to be priority No. 1.
For even if Freeman continues on his torrid pace and the Bucs play lights-out rush defense the rest of the way, if the other teams continue to pick apart their secondary at the current rate, everything else is minutiae.