Identity Crisis

January 20th, 2020

Enjoy Ira’s new column. And remember to visit Ira’s good friend Sean Sullivan, general manager of Bill Currie Ford. He personally will take care of you!


When it comes to getting the dirty job done, the Bucs come up short.

A lot of factors have contributed to the NFC’s longest playoff drought. There have been too many giveaways, not enough takeaways and an annual issue at kicker.

But when you really come down to it, this franchise lacks an identity.

When you don’t have an elite quarterback, and Tampa Bay certainly does not, you’d better be known for physicality. You’d better be willing to mix it up in the trenches and emerge the victor.

Too soft?

The Chiefs and Packers aren’t overly physical, but Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers tend to camouflage weaknesses up front. In contrast, the 49ers and Titans advanced to the conference title games by beating you up, then beating you down.

The 49ers, built in John Lynch’s image, are the NFL’s No. 1 example of a team you don’t like to play against. Even if you manage to hang with San Francisco, you have the bruises to nurse the rest of the week.

The Bucs led the league in passing yards and rushing defense, but that 7-9 record suggests this is not a complete team. And until Tampa Bay addresses a dreary ground attack, this dog won’t hunt.

Unless Jameis Winston morphs into Brett Favre, a dismal run game will continue to haunt this franchise. This is not a recent phenomenon, either. In the past seven seasons, only once (2015) has Tampa Bay’s run game ranked better than 22nd.

Blame the offensive line, blame the backs, blame the scheme, blame the play-calling, blame the officials … whatever. At the end of the day, the Bucs have to do a far better job of imposing their will at the point of attack.

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL, but it’s not enough. A robust ground game sets the tempo, eats up clock and keeps your defense fresh.

Just ask the Packers and Vikings, who just got manhandled by San Francisco’s unheralded offensive line. The 49ers ran for 186 yards against Minnesota and topped that with 285 yards on the ground in the NFC championship game.

Jimmy Garoppolo attempted eight passes Sunday — eight. Who’s counting? Ryan Tannehill kept handing the ball off to Derrick Henry as the Titans upset New England and Baltimore on the road.

Yes, Kansas City’s run game is rather pedestrian, but they have Mahomes. Nobody else does. When you include the postseason, Mahomes has thrown 87 TD passes and only 18 picks in his first two years as a starter.

That’s crazy good, and so is his 27-8 record.

The Bucs are proficient at picking up big chunks of yardage, but they’re terrible at wearing you down. Listen to the NFL’s most complete tight end, George Kittle, describe San Francisco’s philosophy.

“It’s my favorite part of football — moving a man from Point A to Point B,” Kittle said after crushing Green Bay’s spirit. “It’s the greatest feeling you’ll ever feel. Our coaches said before the game, ‘We’re going to run it until they stop it.’ “

The Packers never did.

Taking Notice

The Bucs also tend to run it until they stop it, which usually means they stop running it early.

When Lynch and Kyle Shanahan formed the blueprint for the 49ers, they kept coming back to the same word: aggressive. When they started off 0-9 in 2017, they never wavered. Instead, they doubled down on physicality.

“They took it to us,” Vikings receiver Adam Thielen said after Minnesota was mauled at Levi’s Stadium. “They punched us in the mouth.”

When’s the last time a Tampa Bay team displayed overwhelming physical superiority? It’s been awhile, my friends.

While scouring the free-agent market and the 2020 draft, the Buc brain trust needs to find guys who play with an edge on both sides of the ball. When Robert Saleh held his first press conference as defensive coordinator of the 49ers in 2017, he was asked what he looked for in a player. His answer was both brief and telling:

“Extreme physicality,” he said.

Hopefully, the decision makers at One Buc Place have taken notice.

Finesse is fine. Nasty is better.

Ira with his good friend and Bill Currie Ford general manager Sean Sullivan. Ask for Sean at Bill Currie Ford. He will help you personally and give you a special JoeBucsFan discount.

Ira Kaufman launched his professional NFL beat coverage in 1979, back when Earl Campbell was the toast of the league and Lee Roy Selmon was defensive player of the year. After a lifetime at The Tampa Tribune, “The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports” joined in July of 2016. His twice-weekly podcast and three columns per week appear here year-round and are presented by Bill Currie Ford. Tampa Bay’s only Hall of Fame voter is a regular on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio and a part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show, in addition to his other appearances. 

29 Responses to “Identity Crisis”

  1. Defense Rules Says:

    Yea verily Sage … “Finesse is fine. Nasty is better.”

  2. The Coroner Says:

    Will someone – anyone at One Bucs’ Place listen?

  3. BrianBucs Says:

    Ira, so very, very true.
    Nothing is more demoralizing and degrading to a defense than Just running and ramming it down their throats.
    Arians’ style of offense doesnt do well in today’s NFL.The 5 QB’s in the league that threw for the most yardage this year didn’t make the playoffs.
    To win today you have to run the ball, play good defense, and DON’T TURN THE BALL OVER.
    I hope Licht and Arians read Ira’ s post.

  4. Bill Gootee Says:

    “When you include the postseason, Mahomes has thrown 87 TD passes and only 18 picks in his first two years as a starter.“

    But Winston threw for 5,000 yards! (Sarcasm, dripping with sarcasm)

  5. LordCornelius Says:

    This is why smart posters here have been saying for years that you don’t build teams with skill players & secondary players in the draft. You build your trenches / your front 7 first.

    Give me a team with elite front 7 + elite OL over elite WR + elite TEs all freaking day.

  6. Jim Says:

    Good, Ira…keep it up! A balanced, physical team…

  7. Hodad Says:

    Licht, and Arains don’t want a bruising ground game. As Ira said, Licht’s first ever pick was a receiver. They want to run the ball enough to keep defenses honest, so Lameless can keep slinging it. We see what’s been winning in these playoffs. Solid D, solid run game, a QB that doesn’t turn it over. The only team to make it passing is KC, they have Mahomes, we have Jameis, enough said.

  8. Boogie Says:

    Get Derrick Henry on this team by any means!! He’s an UFA and Tennessee might not be able to keep him. Draft some o lineman, plug Henry back there and use Ronald Jones as a change of pace back. A tough runner like Henry with an upgraded o line will help this team reach the next level.. oh yea and resign/tag Jameis

  9. tmaxcon Says:

    bucs have not been nasty since sapp walked out the door worse yet under the captaincy of lvd and cancer93 they set the bar for Wussified football to an all new low level. bucs are known for 1 thing and one thing only…. LOSING

  10. PSL Bob Says:

    Although, I agree totally re the Bucs needing to get an aggressive RB to pair with Rojo, there’s another side to this story. It’s not letting a another team impose their will upon you. By the end of the season, some very good teams with stout RBs were having trouble running against the Bucs. If you’ve got an aggressive front 7, the other team is going to have to pass, can’t eat up the clock, etc. Our young defensive backs are improving. If the organization is able to keep the front 7 together, add a good safety in Rd 1 of the draft, a RB in Rd 2, and prop up the O-line in the remainder of the draft and FA, this team will be solid, assuming Matt Gay’s melt down over the last 2 games is fixable. With these tweaks, the 2020 Bucs will make it to the playoffs with or without Jameis.

  11. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    There is no question that we have failed to invest in our Oline & RBs……yes, we have 3 2nd round picks in the two groups……but that’s not enough.

    We are at least starting to see what building the defensive front seven can do…..with the secondary improving, look for a very good defense next year.

    We absolutely, positively need a RT & RB……

    The Glazers must be asking themselves…..”How did John Lynch do this so quickly and the Bucs are still struggling?”

  12. bucsfan951 Says:

    geez it’ll take over 3 years for mahomes to match this last seasons int total of Mr Winston but 5000 yards and 33 tds!

  13. Mike Johnson Says:

    You’re spot on here Ira about the identity..Calling card thing. I think what happened to us is we got away from this because we were so busy trying to create this Mega Offense. What was the identity which won us our initial Superbowl? DEFENSE baby! We were feared around the league. That was our calling card. Instead of building on it? We tore it down and went after Offense. Which is not bad IF..your offense can score more than your opponent. Our di and cannot! Say what you want. But we went downhill after our defense did so also. I’ll take an average Qb anyday. But give me a Kick-A…Defense. Look how we improved this season once our defense woke up. Watch this yrs SB. It will be the defense that wins it..Guaranteed.

  14. Jonathan Limpchimpi Says:


    Here’s hoping your Chiefs win their first title in 50 years…likely before you were born ( despite Steve I. painting you as a fossil on the podcast. ) 🙂

    Covering the Bucs vs the Chiefs is on par with going from a Caddy to a Fiesta…so you’re used to this.

  15. martinii Says:

    And the Truth will set you free or in this case Build the trenches with Big Nasties and the rest will fall into to place.

  16. Ed Says:

    Excellent article, very good observations about the toughness of a team. This SuperBowl is tough to pick. The Niners defense has can pressure quarterbacks but Maholmes is like a Russell Wilson in the sense that he buys time, he goes back and he moves side to side and he runs for first downs. He’s a very cool cat who has an even better arm than Winston and doesn’t make the dumb throws.

    The D-Coordinator for the Chiefs, Steve Spagnuolo is a good one and he will look at the film and make sure his defense sells out against the run. They have to make Jimmy G beat them. If they play straight up run defense they have the ability to beat the Niners. They did an exceptional job with Henry.

    The Bucs have to rework their identity like Ira says. The new cornerbacks are tough, Devon White is tough, but the offensive line isn’t except for Cappa and our center. They need some more help in that line, they need to go for some roadrunners. Running backs will be there in the draft, they are a dime a dozen, who ever heard of the guy on the Niner’s, he’s bounced around the league and was cut by different teams.

    Don’t be a fool Licht and give Winston a whole lot of money, he can’t carry this team, spend it wisely on offensive linemen, draft a quarterback in 2nd or 3rd round, bring in another quarterback and bolster both sides of the lines. That is where the money has to go, not on Winston.

  17. Pelsbuc61 Says:

    The problem with this franchise is that they gave Licht the keys and he thought JW was all world and drafted offense instead of defense. We all know JW is garbage and will want absurd money preventing this franchise from signIng the defensive players they need to sign to bring back the true identity of this team. Lynch figured it out in SF in less than 2 years!

  18. WestChap Says:

    JPP last year and Suh/GMC swap this year marked a huge uptick in physicality and mindset for the D. Jensen and Cappa were meant to do the same for O but Jensen’s aggression seems to get out of control too often and it took Cappa 2 years to be ready.

    We had to fix the secondary… and it took half the season to do so. Now, we need some hog mollies this year… Trent Williams PLEASE! And 2 in the first 3 rounds of the draft. You can call Dot and Donovan many things, but nasty or dominating don’t fit… plodding and serviceable maybe.

  19. Ghost of Darrell Henderson Says:

    I like Sean Sullivan, especially his takes on the draft.

    JBF should allow Sean to write a guest column once a week on a trial basis, at least until the draft. I’ll bet he would do it for free if you would allow him to plug Ford once in a while, like Joe plugs Rachel Watson.

    Errr, or like Joe wishes he could plug her.

  20. geno711 Says:

    I am one of those that wants to invest in the right tackle very badly that being said how quickly are we all forgetting New England. Not to say they did not have any physicality but they won with precision from their offense and defense not huge physicality.

    When I went up to Gillette Stadium and watched Josh Freeman’s last game with the Buc’s, the big difference I noted was in pre-game warm ups was the precision that Brady was trying to accomplish in his 7 on 7’s while Josh Freeman was just lobbing balls to his receivers in the warm ups. When Brady missed his target by more than a foot, he was upset with himself.

    This year is an example that there are lots of ways to get to the playoffs and win in the playoffs. Get better in all the areas we can. If that primarily becomes Right tackle who is physical and a running back that is physical that is fine.

    If that is trading Chris Godwin for the best safety in the league, Jamal Adams, and then signing back the defensive guys to be elite defensively then do that.

  21. Defense Rules Says:

    Sounds like it’s almost unanimous Ira … Bucs’ fans want a smash-mouth football TEAM. Like you said: NASTY.

    It’s fascinating to analyze this year’s playoffs winners. All of the teams that advanced to the semi-finals had solid defenses: 49ers (#8), Chiefs (#7), Packers (#9), Titans (#12). Even the teams that lost in the 1st & 2nd rounds had solid defenses: Patriots (#1), Bills (#2), Ravens (#3), Vikings (#5), Saints (#13), Eagles (#15). Houston (#19) & Seahawks (#22) were the only 2 exceptions in terms of ranking in the Top-15 defenses.

    Bucs are finally on the right track in terms to restoring their defensive identity. We’ve definitely got the makings of a Top-15 defense IF we re-sign guys like JPP & Suh to lead the charge, and obviously Barrett. Nassib is in the ‘nasty’ mold too & fits right in. BA’s saying all the right things about doing what it takes to have a top defense, but I won’t feel comfortable until the Bucs’ management ‘puts its money where its mouth is’ as the old saying goes.

  22. LordCornelius Says:

    The could have / should have been drafts of TrenchWarfare philosophy vs Jason Gump philosophy of team building:

    2014 – Aaron Donald DT R1, Weston Richburg C R2, Gabe Jackson or Trai Turner OG R3

    2015 – QB Winston R1, + Smith & Marpet in R2 again (the one year he went high on trenches we got 2 cornerstone starters hm).

    In just 2 years we would have had an O-line completely revamped from the draft and no need to chase it in FA, plus the top DT tandem in the NFL. That is how you flip a team immediately. Sure we’d be down at some skill positions but give me O-line / D-line over that all day.

    2016 – Laremy Tunsil OT / Michael Thomas WR (we would need one by now since we put off skill players the first 2 years of the rebuild) / Yanick Ngokue DE (went like 10 picks after Roberto lol)

    in 3 years we could have had monster teams going forward if Licht dominated the draft. FA $$ would have gone to CB/S and WR as needed.



    Front 7 with

    DT-Aaron Donald
    DT-Gerald McCoy
    DE-Yannick Ngokue
    LB-Lavonte David
    LB-Kwon Alexander

    + tons of $$ spent on CB/S / LB /etc as necessary since we wouldn’t be chasing O-line with huge contracts.

    ANd sure hindsight is 20/20…but I can say that

    -there were lots of people high on Donald here
    -EVERYONE wanted an OG in round 3 over Charles Sims – and both taken there were great
    -EVERYONE wanted any player besides Roberto Aguayo, and we all wanted more pass rush/defensive help
    -it was split but MANY on here wanted Tunsil or Rankins over Hargreaves

  23. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Agree with Ed’s take.

    I also agree with IRA!!!

    How can we even consider letting Suh or JPP go. There is a reason we have the best run defense in the league. We are mean up the middle…mean on the edges and now we’re getting mean in the defensive backfield. Devon White is a devastating hitter with 3 forced fumbles and incredible speed.

    IMO the largest need for the D is to re-sign these guys!!! If there is a cap casualty it should be “Blameless” not a single player on the D.

    I’m Ok keeping Blameless if any cap cost comes from HIS side of the ball. That would be Perriman and Brate. I like both players but if Blameless eats up the cap they are the first to go.

    Then we MUST sign one of those “big uglies” available this year at tackle…agreeing with IRA it shouldn’t be simply the biggest and best but the biggest and meanest. If we had Jensen..Cappa and new Mr nasty on the right side…Marpet and Donovan have demonstrated good to excellent pass pro..we could have a stud OL with the right pick in the first round.

    We have ROJO…our next RB should be an Alstott type….somebody who can go “beast mode”. Dillon seems to be a likely choice since Najee is staying at Bama but there are others. IF BA decides to go for a QB and Eason falls to the 2nd..perhaps..otherwise any QB can come later as a project player.

    Anthony Nelson showed some promise as a depth player on the DL…if we keep EVERYBODY…Nassib…Gholston..and obviously Suh and JPP to go with Barrett and Vea…I get excited just typing those names in one group. But I’m sure we’ll look at another solid DL to groom for Suh’s replacement.

    For all the gnashing of teeth about Licht….he or his scouts have done quite well with UDFA’s…hard too find a QB there but RB’s..yea.

  24. Chesapeake Bucco Says:

    Give you a team with elite front 7 + elite OL ? Doesn’t exist. Lucky for any team to have 3-5 good OL starters and few decent backups.

  25. Defense Rules Says:

    StPete … Spot on. What I wouldn’t give to find another Mike Alstott to pair with RoJo.

  26. Buczilla Says:

    Great article Ira. “Extreme physicality” is not a trait that anyone on our offensive line displays outside of Jenkins and Cappa. Not everyone on the line needs to be a bully, but adding one at right tackle and drafting a running back that actually has more than average talent would go a long way towards a respectable running game.

    Rojo would be great as a third string running back and that is about where his talent level lies. I don’t see any Elliott’s or Barkley’s in this year’s draft class, so we can draft a bruiser and a fast dude at running back after round two. Geez teams do this ALL (see Pittsburgh) the time. I don’t understand why it is so hard for our front office.

  27. Losing hope Says:

    Ira is the only objective voice on this site. Truth is truth and he was 100percent on point with EVERYTHING he said. Hats off and much respect

  28. TampaTown Says:

    Wow what an amazing article Ira! Hat tip to you Sir. One question. If the 49ers are trying to copy the 1997-2002 Bucs, why aren’t the Bucs trying to copy the SuperBowl winning Bucs?

  29. 1sparkybuc Says:

    Jameis has played four and a half years with a sh!t defense, one in contention for the worst in league history. In the last 8 games, the defense was decent, and the Bucs went 5-3, with a QB with a fractured thumb on his throwing hand. I believe they would have beaten Houston and Atlanta and finished 7-1 with Evans and Godwin in the lineup. Oh yeah, not much of a ground attack in any of those five wins. Jameis can win when it’s a team effort and not all on him.