• Travis Hawkins

Know Your Enemy: Previewing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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For the second straight season, the 49ers will travel to Tampa to take on the Buccaneers. The Bucs got the better of the 49ers 27-9 on a hot day in mid-November but it was one of the few bright spots in a 5-11 season.

The Buccaneers were a tale of two extremes in 2018. On one hand, they possessed one of the league’s best offenses, leading the NFL in passing yards per game. The Bucs also ranked third in total yards per game (415.5) and 12th in points per game (24.8). On the other hand, Tampa Bay had one of the league’s worst defenses. finishing the season ranked 27th in yards allowed per game (383.4) and 31st in scoring defense giving up 29 points per game.

No Risk It, No Biscuit:

Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht cleared the decks of the Jolly Roger and hired former Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to be the new skipper for the Bucs. On paper, Arians is a perfect fit for the offensive personnel in Tampa with his aggressive “no risk it, no biscuit” mentality. Among the players who stand to benefit from the Arians hire is quarterback Jameis Winston, whose aggressive style of play leads high rewards but can also lead to turnovers.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the Arians hire is the fact that he brings Todd Bowles with him to coordinate the defense. Bowles served as the defensive coordinator for Arians in Arizona for two seasons (2013 and 2014). Like Arians, Bowles is known for an aggressive style of play and has had past success under Arians. Bowles had a top-10 defense in each of his two seasons as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator and he has his work cut out for him in order to get the Buccaneers’ defense to that level.

Draft Starts With “D”:

Clearly, defense was a priority for the Buccaneers on draft day, as they used six of their eight selections on that side of the ball, including the first five selections. Tampa Bay took speedy LSU linebacker Devin White with the fifth pick in the first round. The Bucs placed a particular emphasis on improving the secondary selecting defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd round), Jamel Dean (3rd round) and Mike Edwards (4th round) with consecutive picks and added depth to their defensive line with Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson in the fourth round.

Free Agency Additions:

The Buccaneers also added some defensive help via free agency by adding defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh from the NFC champion Rams, linebackers Shaquil Barrett, late of the Broncos, and Deone Bucannon, formerly of the Cardinals and safety Kentrell Brice. The Bucs also added a couple of names that will be familiar to 49ers fans in punter Bradley Pinion and quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Wide receiver Breshard Perriman, a former first round pick of Baltimore, also signed with Tampa Bay after one season with the Browns.

Free Agency Losses:

Tampa Bay also saw quite a bit of talent walk the plank after the 2018 season. Gone are wide receiver Adam Humphries, linebacker Kwon Alexander (now with the 49ers), defensive end Vinny Curry, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, punter Bryan Anger and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

With Bruce Arians at the helm confidence is never in short supply, but can Arians live up to the title of his book and be the “Quarterback Whisperer” for Jameis Winston? Without Ryan Fitzpatrick backing up, Winston should have a much longer leash, which could be a double-edged sword. This is a very important season for Winston and the entire Buccaneers franchise. Another double-digit loss season and the team will likely move on from Winston.

If the Buccaneers are going to exceed expectations this season, (Las Vegas has the Buccaneers’ win total over/under at 6.5) it will be the defense that takes them there. When Week 1 kicks off in Tampa, the Bucs defense could have four rookie starters and Kyle Shanahan will no doubt be looking to test those rookies early and often.

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