On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians was asked about his team's -10 turnover differential, and whether that was the single biggest factor in its disappointing 3-7 record. Arians, unsurprisingly, agreed immediately and completely.
This is no new thought, of course. Turnovers drastically change a game, sometimes creating instant and easy scoring opportunities for the opponent, sometimes killing a team's own imminent chance to put points on the board. Every coach knows it's the easiest stat to link to wins and losses. Right now, the top nine teams in the NFL in turnover differential include six of the eight division leaders and a seventh team that would be in the playoffs if they started today. The other two are 5-5. The bottom eight teams in that chart all have losing records. The biggest anomalies are the 6-4 Rams with a -3 differential and the 3-7-1 Cardinals with a +4 ratio.
The Buccaneers could still turn their season around to some degree in the final six weeks, but to do so they'll probably need to reverse that turnover trend, too. It can be done; the Bucs were at +3 after four games this season and had a 2-2 record, including one loss on a missed 34-yard field goal against the Giants in Week Three.
In case you're wondering – and I'm using this topic as this week's intro because I was wondering – the turnover-ratio stat does indeed match up with the Bucs' own season-by season history. Here are the top five full-season turnover ratios in franchise history:
You know what all those seasons also were? Playoff campaigns. Here are the bottom five seasons in that category:
Any playoff seasons in there? Nope. None of those teams won more than five games. The Buccaneers have had exactly two seasons out of 43 (and counting) that included a negative turnover ratio and a winning record; interestingly, they were the 1979 (-3) and 1999 (-4) teams that both went to that year's NFC Championship Game. The biggest anomaly in the other direction is the 2013 team, which finished with a +10 ratio but still only won four games.
To summarize: Turnovers are bad. Now on to your questions.
A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to email@example.com.
With a 2 year investment on our secondary, shouldn't they target an o-line in the next draft?
- johnnoelnitinthorn, via Instagram
That actually makes a lot of sense to me, John, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if that happened. It would surprise me if the Bucs' first-round pick was used on defensive back after six of them were selected in the top four rounds in the last two drafts. The jury may still be out on most of those players, but I think the talent is there and the obvious course of action, at least in the short term, is to find out if those players are the answer. If anything, I might dip into free agency to add a little veteran blood to that young mix.
By the way, though your question doesn't explicitly state it, I assume we're talking about the first-round pick, here, and maybe a high second. After that, I'm personally in favor of worrying less about positional need and going with the best available player on your board.
Anyway, the Buccaneers haven't drafted an offensive lineman with a first-round pick since 2006, when they made the astute selection of future Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph. They haven't taken an offensive tackle in the first round since Kenyatta Walker in 2001. Part of the reason for that is the discovery of two long-term standouts from among the undrafted ranks, first Donald Penn and then Demar Dotson. At 34. Dotson is now the oldest player on the Bucs line and he's a pending free agent in 2020. I've always been a big Dotson fan, but obviously a team has to start planning for the future at some point.
The Bucs did use second-round picks on Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet in 2015, and both have become cornerstones on the line, both of them getting second deals with the team. Since then, the only really notable O-Line pick was third-rounder Alex Cappa, who is now the starting right guard, in 2018. Again, no matter how you feel about any of those players, it's probably time to start infusing some more promising talent into that group.
All of that said, I think things could look a little different by next spring when the Buccaneers are closing in on the decision for their first-round pick. Specifically, I'm talking about the fact that all of these defensive linemen/outside linebackers are pending free agents next year: Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Beau Allen, Carl Nassib, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Sam Acho. I would suspect some of those players will be back but it's kind of difficult to imagine all of them returning. There could be a pretty significant need for pass-rushers on this roster by next April, and early in the first round is the best place to find one of those.
Why wasn't Ryan Griffin put in at the end of the game last weekend?
- griffin.greatness, via Instagram
Username checks out.
I assume you mean for the Bucs' final drive, after Jameis Winston was limping coming off the field moments earlier. Winston was hit low while throwing a third-down incompletion, suffering what was apparently a minor ankle injury, though that injury may have contributed to his sailing his next pass, which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The Bucs' offense got the ball right back after that score and Winston came back out for the final drive. He did lead the team down to the one-yard line before his last pass was picked off in the end zone.
The reason Griffin didn't come in as that Winston convinced his head coach that his ankle injury wasn't a problem. Bruce Arians had no plans to replace him if he was fit to play. Said Arians the next day:
"Yeah, if he's healthy, he's playing."
There's really nothing more to it than that. I can understand your question because it remains a strange thing that Griffin has been on the Buccaneers' active roster for most of the past five seasons (he spent half of 2017 on injured reserve) but has yet to take a regular-season snap. Two separate coaching staffs have liked what they've seen from Griffin to keep him around all this time and express confidence him as a backup, but the stars have never aligned to get him into a game. It's a little weird, really. You would think random chance would have given him an opportunity at some point by now.
That said, I'm not sure it would have made much difference if Griffin had come into the last game at that point. Would one drive have proved anything, whether he fared well or poorly? To me, that's doubly true given the situation, with the Saints protecting a 17-point lead and mostly interested in running out the last five minutes on the clock. It wasn't exactly a representative situation of what Griffin will encounter when and if he gets his first extended playing time in a game.
Excluding any Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame members, what past Buccaneer, in their prime, would you take to have on the current roster?
- jakemanternachcreative, via Instagram
Aargh! Two months earlier I could have had Ronde Barber, and given the Buccaneers' struggles in the secondary and need for big plays on defense, you can't deny he would be a big help. But, alas, you have your Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame caveats, and Barber just went into the Ring of Honor in Week Three of this season. So he's off limits.
That's okay. There are plenty of other good choices.
Before I really get into it, let me list who I CAN'T take thanks to those caveats. I don't want anyone thinking I'm an idiot because I don't throw prime Derrick Brooks onto this team (or any team). The Hall of Fame knocks out Brooks, Warren Sapp and Lee Roy Selmon, and for anyone trying to get sneaky, Steve Young too. Young was a Buccaneer in 1985 and 1986, and while things didn't go well for him or the team those two years, it would be hard to argue against adding a quarterback of his incredible skills to the current Bucs. You said I get this player at his prime, and he had to be a former Buccaneer, but the question doesn't specifically say his prime came during the Buc portion of his career.
Anyway, Young is off limits, as are Randall McDaniel and Tim Brown. The Ring of Honor additionally takes out Barber, John Lynch, Doug Williams, Mike Alstott, Paul Gruber and Jimmie Giles.
I've got my top two answers but let me go through a few names that I also considered. Since I can't have Barber, I could go with Donnie Abraham, who is perhaps the second-best cornerback in franchise history. He was certainly good at getting his hands on the football, with at least five picks in five of his six seasons in Tampa. No matter how you feel about the Bucs' young talent at cornerback, that sort of playmaking would be a welcome addition to the secondary. Alternately, you could also go with Brian Kelly, Ricky Reynolds or Mike Washington for the same reasons.
I'm not going that direction, however, I'm going to let the Bucs' young secondary develop and instead give them help in a different way. You might be able to guess what I mean by that.
But first, I also should note that the Bucs have a pretty good history of linebacker play, and there are some players in that group who would be a welcome addition to any team, starting with Hardy Nickerson and Shelton Quarles. Richard Wood, Cecil Johnson and Hugh Green are some other good names from a little farther back, though that was before my time and I have to admit I don't have a good feel for how those former Buc greats would translate to today's NFL.
All of that said, that's not a huge need for the Bucs right now. On the vast majority of their snaps, the Bucs only play two off-ball linebackers at the same time anyway, and I think they're doing alright in that department with Lavonte David and Devin White.
In the end, I narrowed my choices to two players, both of whom might someday be ineligible for this exercise by becoming Ring of Honor members: Simeon Rice and Warrick Dunn.
Dunn is ultimately my runner-up, but I'm sorely tempted. The good thing about him is that I think you could add him to the backfield the Buccaneers already have without diminishing too much what Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber are already doing. I think Dunn would be a dynamic addition to that stable, not a replacement, and in particular I think Bruce Arians would have a whole lot of passes thrown his way. I know the Bucs' defense is currently more needy than the offense, and I did go in that direction with my top pick, but Warrick Dunn would really add a new dimension to the passing game. He certainly had plenty of experience playing a complementary role with another back during his Thunder & Lightning days in Tampa.
But Simeon Rice is the best edge rusher in team history not already in the Ring or the Hall, and that's too good to pass up. That's just too hard of an asset to find, in any season for any team. You can never have enough pass-rushing talent. I could add Rice to the current team without diminishing what Barrett, Pierre-Paul and Nassib are doing, and if I get Rice with a multi-year contract too I'd have some more flexibility heading into that aforementioned wide-open free agency picture next spring.
From 1998 through 2005, Rice had the most sacks by any player in the NFL, an incredible 101.5 over those eight seasons. He never really slumped at any point during that span and he was a terror for opposing offenses. And you know what, we have a real-life analog for this very question because, in the spring of 2001, Monte Kiffin and the Buccaneers actually believed that Rice was the one missing piece on their defense. That was literally the sales pitch Kiffin and the Bucs made to Rice in free agency. And they were right! Rice put the Bucs' defense over the top and to its absolute peak in 2002. Now, the current defense doesn't have Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch or Ronde Barber already lurking on it, so prime Rice might not instantly propel it to the top of the league, but I'm willing to be he'd make a big difference.
You want to help the Bucs' young secondary develop? Give them a guy chasing quarterbacks into bad plays game after game after game. Give them Simeon Rice.