Don’t just blame Jameis Winston for the Bucs’ hard times

2010 was a great season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They finished 10-6, which was their best finish since going 11-5 in 2005, and were led by a young and promising core that included Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams, and Aqib Talib. They nearly made the playoffs over the team that would win the Super Bowl in the Green Bay Packers, but just missed out in part because of a tough 23-20 OT home loss to the 6-10 Detroit Lions in Week 15. They looked good for the future, but since that, the franchise has seen rough times.

They haven’t won double-digit games since that season and they haven’t made the playoffs either. Their records from every year since are as follows:

2011: 4-12

2012: 7-9

2013: 4-12

2014: 2-14

2015: 6-10

2016: 9-7

2017: 5-11

2018: 5-11

2019: 2-6 so far

The Bucs have gone through five coaches this decade and can’t seem to find consistency.

They drafted Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. They drafted him in hopes that he would give the quarterback position some stability and consistency, along with some success. As the records above state, this hasn’t happened.

Most people are quick to blame Winston for this and they have valid reasons. Winston, for one, got suspended for three games last season for inappropriate behavior toward an Uber driver, and that has caused distractions and added to his already long list of poor decisions. But the main reason is his inability to keep possession, despite having a top-five receiver in Mike Evans.

In his first professional pass, he threw a pick-six to Titans’ cornerback Cody Sensabaugh, and that has set the tone for his tenure. In his rookie season, he was tied for sixth in interceptions with 15. The next season, he was third with 18 interceptions, then in 2018, he was tied for fifth with 14 in only nine games played. He’s had turnover problems for sure, but looking at the Bucs’ the last couple years, their defense has been the real problem with this team, particularly in the secondary.

In 2017, they were 32nd in both total defense and pass defense and were 23rd in rushing defense. Last season, they were 26th in total defense, 27th in pass defense, and 24th in rush defense. This season, they are first in rush defense, but they are only 23rd in total defense and 31st in pass defense.

The secondary has struggled despite drafting Florida DB Vernon Hargreaves III in the first round in 2016. Their unit usually consists of a mix of struggling youth and past-their-prime defensive backs. Despite finishing 32nd in pass defense in 2017, they made a puzzling choice taking Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea over Florida State safety Derwin James, who put on a dazzling display as a rookie for the Los Angeles Chargers.

With this, the Bucs have been in many shootouts that Winston has had to do his best to keep up in. Let’s look at this season alone. They had to score 55 points to hold off the LA Rams, they lost at home 34-32 to a quarterback making his first career start, and just yesterday, they lost 40-34 to the Seattle Seahawks. While Winston does make costly turnovers, he does throw for a lot of yards when he plays. In his first two seasons, he eclipsed 4,000 yards and 3,500 yards in 2017, a season where he missed three games due to injury. His yards per game this season has been 300.9 and that is fifth in the NFL. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been awful either. He has been productive and puts up yards to keep his team in most of the games they have played this season.

You may notice in the season where they had a winning record of 9-7 in 2016. That’s due to a great five-game stretch the defense had in the middle of the season where they allowed less than 22 points each game and the offense didn’t have to score a bunch of points to win them. This included a 14-5 win over the Seahawks. However, it didn’t last as they were torched in weeks 15 and 16 by the Cowboys and Saints. 

If the defense can have stretches where they play like they did in 2016, the Bucs can maybe find themselves in another wild card race. Yes, Winston produces many untimely turnovers, like his fumble against Seattle yesterday in the 4th quarter that led to their defeat, but the defense has not helped matters at all. The Bucs led the NFL in passing yards in 2018 and finished 5-11. That sums up how bad this Bucs’ defense is.

With the next couple drafts, the Bucs need to bolster their secondary and pass defense or else they are going to continue to waste the great talent that is wide receiver, Mike Evans. He has put up insane numbers in the first five and a half seasons of his NFL career and the Bucs have done nothing with it.

Jameis Winston needs to have better decision making, but one thing that would really help the Bucs is having a defense that can help the offense out and one that doesn’t force the offense to win shootout after shootout.

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