But consider this: The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs finished the season with a league-worst 2-14 record…and had five players named to the Pro Bowl. That same talent has shined through in 2013 for the Chiefs, who are the league’s only remaining undefeated team.
Do the Buccaneers have that kind of talent? I’d like to think so. I’d also like to think this talent will lead to victories soon, perhaps as soon as the second half of this very season. Perhaps as soon as Monday night against the Miami Dolphins. Either way, this much is clear, in my opinion: There are some Buccaneers deserving of recognition for their strong play in the first half of the 2013 season. And so I’m going to recognize. Below, I hand out the midseason hardware for Tampa Bay’s top performers on offense, defense and special teams. In each case, I’ll name three candidates for the award and then make my final selection.
So, let’s get started.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
We start right off with the toughest sell in this whole undertaking, because Tampa Bay’s offense ranks 31st out of 32 NFL teams so far. Not only have the Buccaneers failed to build on last year’s promise, when they finished the season ranked ninth on offense, but there has been a massive upheaval in personnel thanks to injuries and a dramatic switch at quarterback.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Buccaneers’ offense has been devoid of positive signs. We start at quarterback, where rookie third-rounder Mike Glennon has been starting since Week Four, replacing the since-departed Josh Freeman. Freeman threw for 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2012, but his passer rating after three starts in 2013 was 59.3. Glennon has five starts under his belt and an 83.1 passer rating to this point. To give those numbers some perspective, Glennon ranks just under Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick and just above Tom Brady and Alex Smith in that category.
No, I am not trying to compare Glennon to any of those established NFL quarterbacks, especially Brady. Rather, I’m hoping to provide evidence that the former North Carolina State star has not been overwhelmed by the NFL game. Glennon has stepped into a very difficult situation and been…well, more than just adequate. Quite frankly, he has been a bit of a revelation, and his veteran-like play has kept the Buccaneers’ offense from devolving into a total mess.
Simply by righting the ship and pointing Tampa Bay’s offense in a direction that seems quite promising, Glennon has been one of the team’s most valuable players on that side of the ball in 2013.
Here’s another thing Glennon has done: He’s gotten the ball to Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay’s most effective offensive weapon this season. Since Glennon took over as the Bucs’ starting quarterback, only Cincinnati’s A.J. Green has been targeted by more passes in the entire NFL, and Green has played one more game than Jackson in that span. Head Coach Greg Schiano says that Glennon has keyed on Jackson not because he’s forcing it to his most reliable target but because he has followed his progression and Jackson has been the best option more often than not.
That’s clear in the numbers. Jackson leads the Buccaneers (by a comfortable margin) with 43 receptions for 634 yards and four touchdowns. No other Buccaneer player has nearly that many yards from scrimmage, and the only teammate in the same stratosphere is RB
If this award is the hardest sell, than Penn is the hardest candidate of the three to push for it. Offensive linemen don’t have much in the way of statistics to fall back on, and their success is often measured as a unit. Still, it cannot be ignored that despite all the struggles that Tampa Bay has endured on offense, the team ranks ninth in sacks allowed per pass play. The Buccaneers’ rushing attack has also stayed right at the middle of the league rankings, which seems like something of a victory given the injury to Martin and the fact that the Bucs have been fighting back from scoreboard deficits on almost every Sunday.
The Bucs’ interior line has had a serious of upheaval stemming from
Final Verdict: Vincent Jackson. Bottom line, he’s been the team’s best offensive player on a weekly basis and the Bucs would be in trouble in the second half without him.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Candidates: LB Lavonte David, DT
Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 17th in the NFL this year in terms of both points and yards allowed, and that’s an improvement from 2013, which was expected after the additions of Darrelle Revis and
David, a second-round pick in 2012 out of Nebraska, was a revelation as a rookie, ranking second in the entire NFL in tackles for loss to Houston’s J.J. Watt. If David was all over the field in his debut season, he has been that and more in Year Two.
The most visible development in David’s game has been his pass-rush. The Buccaneers have sent him into the backfield on delayed blitzes frequently, especially in the season’s first month, and he has made it pay off. With five sacks at the halfway point, he’s a threat to be the Bucs’ first double-digit sacker in eight years, and he’s essentially the NFL’s best pass-rusher among 4-3 linebackers. That’s not all. David also leads the team with 70 tackles, and has added 11 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits, an interception and five passes defensed.
It’s hard to imagine the Buccaneers’ defense being anywhere near as effective as it has been without David. He has been a significant part of everything the team has done on that side of the ball, from rushing the quarterback to stopping the run to pass defense. David never comes off the field when the Bucs are on defense, and that’s probably going to be true for years and years to come.
David has also had his transcendent moments, such as the first half of the Bucs’ Week Seven game in Atlanta when he seemed to be in on every single tackle, many of them behind the line of scrimmage. The same can be said of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who on some weekends has appeared unblockable. That was certainly the case last weekend in Seattle, when McCoy spent a good portion of the afternoon in the Seahawks’ backfield.
McCoy won’t be able to match David’s stat line – McCoy has 20 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and six quarterback hits – but anyone who has watched the Bucs in action will know what his presence has meant to Tampa Bay’s defense. Tampa Bay started the season with a sack barrage – 12 in the first three games – and while those numbers haven’t kept up, McCoy has been as dominant as ever. If the current iteration of Tampa Bay’s defense is going to emerge as one of the league’s best, it’s going to be because it is getting such disruptive play from the three-technique defensive tackle position.
As numbers go, they are even less helpful in presenting the case of CB Darrelle Revis, who is in his first year in Tampa after six seasons with the New York Jets. Revis’ stat line through eight games inclues 25 tackles, one interception, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. There is nothing there that jumps off the page, but then that has been the case for Revis through much of his NFL career. When you excel to a ridiculous level at covering opposing receivers, your opportunities to rack up stats become limited.
The thing is, Revis has been nearly as effective as ever, despite the fact that he is still rounding back into top form following his serious knee injury in September of 2012. Pro Football Focus, in fact, has Revis as their top-rated cornerback in the entire NFL. In recent weeks, with his leg starting to feel better and better, Revis has begun to take on more man-to-man coverage responsibilities, the kind of work that earned him the much-deserved nickname of Revis Island.
As Revis gets closer to being the absolute shut-down cornerback that made him one of the NFL’s most valuable players over the past half-decade, he will only become more important to the Buccaneers’ defense. He’s already indispensible, a player the Bucs can deploy to subtract one of the best players on the opposite side of the ball.
Final Verdict: Lavonte David. In reality, David, McCoy and Revis are probably nearly equal in their value to the Bucs’ defense, but we have to go with the numbers on this one. The addition to sacks to David’s production has made him the Bucs’ most productive player.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR
These three have offered three very different types of contributions, even if they all fall under the umbrella of “special teams.”
Jonathan Casillas’ main value to the Bucs’ kick-and-return game has been as an ace cover man on punts and kickoffs. He leads the team with seven kick-coverage tackles, and the next closest player has only three. Casillas has also been consistent with his production throughout the season, recording at least one stop in six of the team’s eight games, including each of the last four. That’s more of an accomplishment than it used to be, because the huge touchback total posted by Michael Koenen (more on that in a minute) has greatly reduced the tackle opportunities on kickoffs. The Bucs rank eighth in the NFL in opposing kickoff return average and third in average opponent kickoff drive start.
Of course, Koenen has a lot to do with those last two numbers, too. He has kicked off 32 times this season, with 25 going into the end zone and 19 resulting in touchbacks. While his touchback totals have come down in the last two weeks (just three in his last nine kicks, partly because opponents have been more aggressive in taking the ball out of the end zone), he still has Tampa Bay ranked 10th in touchback percentage, behind mainly teams that play in domes.
And, oh yeah, Koenen happens to handle the Bucs’ punting duties, too. While he isn’t among the league leaders in gross or net punting average, he has been consistent and, when called upon, good at angling his kicks to the sideline to limit returns. Golden Tate’s 70-yard return in Seattle threw off the Bucs’ net punting numbers, but Koenen has blasted at least one 50-yard punt in all but one game this year. And, he also holds for placekicks, a job of underrated importance and difficulty.
Page has carried the torch for the Buccaneers’ return game. He has all but one of the Bucs’ punt returns this year and all but six of their kickoff returns. He has averaged 9.2 yards per punt return and 25.4 yards per kickoff return, leading the Bucs to a seventh-place ranking in the latter category. Though he has fumbled once, Page has mostly been sure-handed on punts, which is why he has held onto the job, even though the Bucs have tried out a couple other options.
Final Verdict: Koenen. Other than field goals and extra points, the point of all other types of special teams is field position. Given his work on kickoffs in particular, no player has done more to help the Bucs in the special teams battle in the third phase of the game than Koenen.