The Bucs Won’t Make the Playoffs: Here’s Why

Introduction

Tom Brady has arrived in Tampa Bay. The same Tom Brady who won six Super Bowls with the Patriots and is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time. Brady finds himself knee-deep in offensive weaponry in Tampa Bay, arguably the best talent he has had since the Randy Moss and Wes Welker days. He has two of the league’s top wideouts, a former track star in the slot, a freakish athlete at tight end, and a defense that ranked seventh in sacks last year, and yet, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still won’t make the playoffs.

In short, the Bucs won’t make the playoffs for these four reasons: Tom Brady’s decline, offensive line troubles, weak secondary/pass rush, and a difficult schedule and division. 

Tom Brady vs Jameis Winston:

Tom Brady is well past his prime, and at 43 years old, he has to go into a Bruce Arians offense that threw the ball 39 times a game last year and compete for another championship. His production has taken such a drastic hit in the past two seasons that it isn’t even insane to ask if Tom Brady is an upgrade over Jameis Winston… Well, the answer is yes, but the question is still worth asking. 

Football Outsiders uses two advanced statistics to rank quarterbacks. The first is Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR), which measures the quarterback’s performance compared to “replacement level.” Last year, Brady ranked 16th in that category while Winston ranked 23rd. The other statistic is Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which compares each quarterback to the “average” NFL QB on a per-play basis. The higher above 0 the percentage is, the better the ranking.

Tom Brady reached a staggering 2.4% last season, ranking 17th in the league, while Winston put up an impressive -9.0% campaign, ranking 24th (those are both bad). To put these numbers in perspective, the best quarterback in this category was Drew Brees with a 39.8% rating, and the worst was Dwayne Haskins with -42.0% rating. Well, I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, Jameis Winston sucks.” Well, Brady wasn’t much better.

Brady was, quite literally, an average quarterback last season. Out of the 34 qualified quarterbacks (200 passes or more), Tom Brady was in the middle of the pack in both of these categories. These statistics peg Brady at only a slightly higher level of football than that of Jameis Winston. Forget the name for a second and think about this logically. Are you prepared to say that an average quarterback entering a new system at 43 years old is going to take a 7-9 team to a 10-win season with almost the exact same roster as the year previous? I certainly am not. 

If the advanced statistics don’t convince you that Brady won’t elevate the Bucs to playoff-caliber, then maybe the more basic ones will. Brady threw the ball 613 times last year with a completion percentage of 60.8%, while Winston threw 626 times with a completion percentage of 60.7%. Pretty similar, right? Well, Jameis ended the year with 1,052 more yards than Brady and nine more touchdowns. This puts Winston’s yards per attempt at 8.2, while Brady’s sits at 6.6, his lowest since 2002.

When meme pages and fan accounts make fun of Brady for checking the ball down, they aren’t blowing smoke. Brady throws the ball short a lot, and this Tampa Bay offense has deep threats at every offensive skill position and they don’t have a third-down back in Ronald Jones. This offense just doesn’t seem like a fit for what Brady’s game has been in the past few years. If this was 2007 and Brady’s arm strength was as strong and plentiful as his hair, then this offense and weaponry would be a match made in heaven. It’s not 2007. Brady can’t throw the ball deep 25 times a game like Winston did. Bruce Arians is going to have to make some adjustments, or this season could go very poorly. 

It would be naive not to mention the 29 interceptions that Winston threw amid all these statistics; however, Winston’s QB Rate rounded out to 84.3 while Brady’s was 88.0, his second-worst since 2006. By no means am I saying that Jameis Winston is a better quarterback than Tom Brady at this point in time; that would be ludicrous. What I am saying is that Brady is not enough of an upgrade over Winston to elevate this 7-9 Bucs team to a championship, or even a playoff contender.

Jameis

Offensive Line:

The Bucs Offensive Line ranked 22nd in pass blocking last season, allowing 47 sacks with an adjusted sack rate of 7.6%. On top of that, their veteran OT Demar Dotson is still on the market and is unlikely to resign. The only other signing that the Bucs have made this offseason was OT Joe Haeg on a one-year deal worth up to 3.3 million. He played in 16 games for the Colts last season but didn’t start any.

Haeg is not going to fix the glaring offensive line issue for the Bucs. In fact, he is a downgrade from Dotson. I expect the Bucs to draft an OT in the first round this year, but a rookie tackle going up against Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Dante Fowler Jr., or even Brian Burns seems less than opportune. 

Yet another adjustment that Brady will have to make next season is his time to throw in the pocket. He is used to a nice clean pocket, having been with the Patriots for 20 years. They have had very good pass protection for most, if not all, of his career, ranking fifth last year with an adjusted sack rate of just 5.3%. Another thing to consider is that Winston is pretty shifty in the pocket. He avoided sacks either with his agility or his strong build and scrambled 31 times last year for 7.4 yards per carrying.

Brady, who wasn’t the most nimble of quarterbacks even in his prime, will not have that luxury; this will most likely lead to more sacks and a higher chance of injury. If the Bucs don’t draft one of the many talented OTs in this draft class within the first two rounds, their draft is a bust. What you should take away from this little rant is that the Bucs need offensive line help even more now that they have Brady and if they don’t get it, they stand no chance in an NFC South with great edge rushers. 

This film shows just how quickly the pocket collapsed on Winston last season.

 

Defense:

The best area of this Bucs team is the defensive line. Former sacks leader Shaquil Barrett will continue to wreak havoc in opposing backfields next season alongside seasoned veteran Ndamukong Suh. While this tandem seemed to be an unstoppable two-man wrecking crew last season, they weren’t nearly as efficient as basic statistics show. Last season, the Bucs ranked seventh in sacks with 47.

However, due to Winston’s 29 interceptions, they were on the field far more than they should have been. Consequently, their adjusted sack rate suffered, ranking 20th in the league at 6.7%. It’s not that their pass rush was bad; it just wasn’t top-tier. However, I can’t say the same for their run defense. 

The Bucs ranked number two in run defense by Football Outsiders. Overall run defense is ranked by Adjusted Line Yards, which assigns the offensive line a responsibility on every run play based on the following values: Losses at 120% value, 0-4 Yards at 100% value, 5-10 Yards at 50% value, 11+ Yards at 0% value. The Bucs got a grade of 3.14, which is second to only the Jets at 3.00.

The worst offensive line in adjusted line yards was the Miami Dolphins with a grade of 3.17. Essentially, that means that the worst run-blocking team in the league was better than a team going up against the Bucs on any given play. Yeah, that’s pretty good. The Bucs didn’t lose any significant front seven personnel, so their run defense should not suffer this coming season.

In the secondary, the Bucs were above average, but not great. Their total DVOA ranked fifth overall in the league, their pass DVOA ranked twelfth, and their rush ranked first. Their secondary was fine last year, but they still lost nine games with one of the top run defenses in the league.

Their defense should improve overall with less field time, assuming that the offense turns the ball over less under Brady than they did with Winston, but I don’t think their secondary will make the jump to elite status because of this. While the Bucs will continue to dominate against the run, barring future injuries, their secondary and pass rush aren’t good enough to shut teams down on the defensive end like the Patriots did for Brady last season. 

The following film shows the Buccaneers’ defensive highlights from last season, but the play that was most impressive to me was when they stuffed Christian McCaffrey on fourth and one inside the five to save the game (0:19 timestamp).

Schedule:

The Bucs are in arguably the toughest division in football in the NFC South. We have the Saints fresh off a 12-4 season and finally having found a capable WR2 in Emmanuel Sanders, the Falcons having signed game wrecker Dante Fowler Jr. and two-time NFL rushing touchdown leader Todd Gurley, and the new-look Panthers with a completely revitalized coaching staff as well as new QB Teddy Bridgewater and sub-4.4 wideout Robby Anderson. Six games are going to come against those three teams, which is not promising.

The rest of their schedule consists of road games against the Bears, Broncos, Giants, Raiders, and Lions, as well as the Packers, Vikings, Chiefs, Chargers, and Rams at home. Apart from the division games, it seems like the Bucs could win all of those away games, except I might give the Broncos a slight edge, but the home games all seem like nightmares. I can see the Bucs losing every single out-of-division home game this season (yes, even the Chargers and Rams).

The Bucs didn’t beat a single playoff team last year and now they have to play five games against playoff teams from a season ago as well as four games against the two greatly improved teams in their division. I just can’t see Tom Brady making a big enough impact on the Bucs to have them in a position to take the division or even a wildcard in an extremely competitive NFC.

Conclusion:

Tom Brady is still the greatest QB of all time, that time just doesn’t include the present. Brady has been steadily declining for the past two years and I don’t see his production going up entering a new, more vertical system at 43 years old. The Bucs have a fairly difficult schedule in one of the toughest divisions in football and Tom Brady isn’t enough of an upgrade to get them to the playoffs. 

Sources:

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/B/BradTo00.htm

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/W/WinsJa00.htm

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/qb/2019

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/offensive-line/2019

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/defensive-line/2019

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/nfl/team-defense/2019

https://www.buccaneers.com/news/buccaneers-2020-free-agency-tracker-tom-brady-joe-haeg

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