Your Buccaneers 2014 Season PredictionSeptember 3rd, 2014
Bucs icons Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks have publicly cautioned Tampa Bay fans to relax and give Lovie Smith’s defense a little time to grow and become dominant. It’ll get there, they believe, but right out of the gate is too much to ask. (You can read Brooks’ direct comments here)
Joe’s not going to argue defense with the Hall of Famers.
Just look at big-money defensive end Michael Johnson struggling a bit in preseason while adapting to lining up wide, something he didn’t do in Cincinnati. Cornerback Alterraun Verner has been open about the required adjustments to his game and how it will take a little time. Adrian Clayborn, to name another, is playing a new position at left defensive end. On Monday, Gerald McCoy told media he believed Clayborn’s transition could be the key to the Bucs season.
The point here is that Joe is not all-in out of the gate with the Bucs having an elite defense. The defense will be fine, yes, but elite through September? Doubtful.
Just days after being hired in January, Lovie Smith said a great, turnover-machine defense could win eight games a year on its own. Thrown in game-changing special teams, Lovie said, and 10 wins could be had — all without a good offense. A good offense with a special quarterback can get you more, he said.
So Joe is going accept Lovie’s premise. But the problem is Joe has little confidence in the Tampa Bay special teams or offense, and the defense is likely to have that adjustment period.
Right now, Joe simply can’t blindly expect 35-year-old Josh McCown to have his first good full season as a professional starter. That would almost be an NFL miracle, especially in a brand new offense.
Yes, McCown has weapons, but two of them are 21-year-old rookies: Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Mike Evans. The Bucs appear to be expecting a lot from those two, and rookies often need time. Ironically, Mike Williams and Tim Wright, the two guys they replaced, both had spectacular, record-setting rookie years.
The offensive line has much to prove, so Joe just can’t bank on the Bucs offense putting the team on its back.
And rookie offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford? At best, Tedford and the offense have had a small setback in their development with Tedford being absent and limited after a medical procedure that’s been kept secret.
Gambling on fourth down
On special teams, Lovie is gambling with rookie kicker Patrick Murray, a guy who was out of football last year and played college ball at Fordham, where the pressure is minimal. A big field goal against Bucknell doesn’t compare to what Murray will face on Sundays. Joe’s not saying Lovie made the wrong call, but Joe can’t count on Murray for the sake of a preseason prediction. Kickers do make a huge difference, especially on defense-first football teams. Bucs fans experienced that pain last year.
As for the return game and coverage teams, the Bucs’ were average in preseason without many errors. That’s nice, but that won’t change games. For a team that expects to force a ton of punts, the Bucs don’t have an experienced or explosive return man.
There’s no shame in the new Lovieball regime needing a little time to establish itself in the tough NFC South — with the fourth best QB in the division and the league lead in free agent signings.
The Bucs certainly will improve and impress at times, but as much as Joe hopes that will be enough, don’t count on it.
Bucs finish 7-9 in 2014.