The theme of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season so far has been close, but no cigar. For a third straight week, they lost a contest to an NFC East team after being close in the fourth quarter with a chance to win. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about as the Bucs have yet to lose to a team below .500 but they’re still falling short, which means they have work to do.
Chief among the concerns in the bye week is how to make quarterback Josh Freeman more comfortable in the pocket. He’s in his third offensive system in three years and he looks out of sync right now. He’s completing just 54.6% of his passes with just five touchdowns and four interceptions. His yards-per-attempt average (6.6) is also a concern considering the Bucs thought they improved the receiving weapons around him with the acquisition of Vincent Jackson.
However, Freeman hasn’t received much help from his running game, which has churned out a paltry 91 yards per game on a 3.6 yards-per-carry average. The Bucs longest rushing play of the year is 17 yards – all but one other team in the NFL has made longer runs.
The biggest concern might be the defense that gave up a whopping 419 yards per game through September (30th in the NFL). The pass defense, which was also supposedly upgraded in the offseason, has allowed a league-high 343.5 passing yards per game.
The good news is that the Bucs schedule eases up a bit after the bye week as they host the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, who are a combined 1-7. After that, they visit Minnesota and Oakland. People making their NFL picks shouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs can manage three wins in that four-game span but that’s only if they can iron out some kinks in the bye week and get some momentum. If not, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bucs lose three of those four games either.
We knew it would be a season filling with growing pains and transition for the Bucs but their bye week – and the month of October – will determine whether this team is going to grow and compete in 2012 or whether there’s still plenty more rebuilding to do for Greg Schiano’s squad.