Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: One Statistical Goal by the End of the 2023 Season

Can the Bucs run the ball better on a per-carry basis and find a way to increase their number of turnovers on defense in 2023? Those are two statistical goals to consider as we continue our week of debates

jamel pick

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII at the end of the 2002 season they had an otherworldly defense that, among many other notable accomplishments, held all of their opposing quarterbacks to a regular-season passer rating of 48.4. For context, that's a little bit worse than Ryan Leaf's career rating. In the big game itself, that defense set Super Bowl records with five interceptions and three pick-sixes. Those '02 Bucs famously held their opponents to 12.3 points per game.

When the Buccaneers won Super Bowl LV at the end of the 2020 season they were an offensive juggernaut that scored more than 30 points per game and were led by the most accomplished quarterback of all time. Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes, including the playoffs; Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski formed one of the most fearsome pass-catching units in the league; and Leonard Fournette turned into a touchdown machine in the playoffs.

In other words, there's more than one way to feed and nurture a cat.

NFL coaches tend to be a little disdainful of statistics when they are repeatedly lobbed at them during a football season, mostly because those types of discussions tend to obscure the bottom line, which is obviously winning or losing. Most coaches will say they'll happily run the ball 50 times or throw it 50 times if the end result is a victory. That's completely understandable. At the end of a season, however, statistics can help us greatly in telling the story of what happened to a team. For instance, the 2022 Buccaneers only produced 20 takeaways on defense, the second-lowest single-season total in franchise history. As a result, the team only scored 59 points off turnovers, down from 101 in 2020 and 100 in 2021. That clearly played a role in the team's overall scoring dip from the previous two ultra-productive seasons, which in turn was a part in a decline in wins.

So what kind of stories would we like the Buccaneers' statistics at the end of 2023 to tell? No one stat will completely explain the entire narrative, but some could be more important than others. Since we obviously want Tampa Bay to have a good season in terms of wins and losses, we're going to be focusing on some pleasant statistical wishes as we continue our Fourth of July week series of debates. Today, Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are going to kick around not predictions, as we have for much of the week, but goals. Each of us will pick one number we hope to see on the Bucs' team stats page by the end of the season.

This is the fourth of our five discussions. Here's the whole schedule for the week:

Monday, July 3: Which Buccaneer player will make the biggest leap in his performance in 2023?

Tuesday, July 4: If Tampa Bay, hypothetically, doesn't win its third straight NFC South title, which team will?

Wednesday, July 5: Which Buccaneer player do you predict will win a significant individual award this season?

Thursday, July 6: What is one statistic you hope to see regarding the Buccaneers by the end of the 2023 season?

Friday, July 7: What one player would you like to steal from another NFC South roster to add to the Bucs' roster?

We won't be duplicating choices this week, so the order that Brianna and I get to attack this question in matters. Today, I've got the first pick.

Scott Smith: 4.6 yards per rush

I made a point not to get too greedy here. The overall NFL average for yards per carry last year was 4.46, so this is just a bit above that. Thirteen different teams averaged at least 4.6 yards per tote last year, so I'm not even asking for the Bucs to be in the top 10 in this category. This would, however, be a rather large leap from Tampa Bay's own average of 3.39 yards per carry in 2022, which ranked last in the league.

New Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales has made a point of stressing the need for balance in the Bucs' attack after the team also was last in the league in percentage of plays that were runs (33.3%) in 2022. That doesn't mean he is going to force it, however. Canales comes to the Bucs from Seattle, and last season the Seahawks were 22nd in the league with a run-play percentage of 40.7%. This was true despite the fact that the Seahawks also ranked seventh with a per-carry average of 4.80. Seattle didn't necessarily need to run for 150 yards a game (they were 18th in the league at 120.1), but they needed to be efficient when they did run the ball.

What's the main story regarding the Bucs' offense heading into training camp? It is, of course, whether Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask will end up as the starting quarterback who takes over for the retired Brady. Trask has very little NFL experience and Mayfield is three years removed from his best season. Whoever wins the job will have a much better chance of succeeding if the team is running the ball effectively. Fewer long third downs, less predictable play-calling for the defense to ponder, reduced chances of drive-killing sacks and turnovers…all would take some of the weight off the shoulders of Trask or Mayfield.

A 4.6-yard average per carry at the end of the season would tell us several positive things. It would mean the Buccaneers' new-look offensive line, with the potential of four starters in new positions, came together well and performed more like the strong units of the 2020-21 seasons. It would likely mean that second-year back Rachaad White thrived in his larger role and got a reasonable amount of help from Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Chase Edmonds or one of the young backs new to the team. And it would probably mean the team achieved that coveted balance, hopefully in turn adding bite to the play-action game.

Brianna Dix: 30 Takeaways

Since Scott focused on the offensive side of the ball, I am going to go with the defense. As Scott alluded to above, the Buccaneers only accumulated 20 takeaways during the 2022 slate, the second-lowest single-season total in club history. Last season, the Bucs were 26th in the league with just 10 interceptions. Six came in the first four games and the team concluded the season with just four in their final eight matchups, including the postseason. They also had a mid-season stretch of six-straight games with no picks.

The team started strong with nine turnovers and six interceptions over the first four games of the 2022 season. That span was highlighted by a five-takeaway game in Week Two at the Saints where Jamel Dean recorded two interceptions and Mike Edwards took one to the house for a pick-six. However, things quickly fizzled, and the drought commenced.

As a result, Todd Bowles and crew have stressed takeaways during the 2023 offseason, incorporating an increase in ball drills, drops in coverage and change-of-direction to build muscle memory. The goal has been ingrained throughout the offseason program and is the reason Bowles moved Antoine Winfield Jr. back to free safety, where he will be patrolling the post to maximize his range, athleticism and ability to play the ball in the air.

"That's one of the goals that we've been trying to get better on each and every year, but especially this year," Winfield Jr. said. "We've got to have more turnovers because that ultimately leads to offense getting more opportunities with the ball and us getting better chances to win the game."

Playing fundamentally sound football with an understanding of leverage and where the help is on any given play will translate to success for the Bucs' defense in 2023. Tampa Bay had several near-interceptions that were dropped last season that could have shifted the outcome of games. Takeaways not only alter momentum but serve as an energizing catalyst.

"We don't need more opportunities, we need to take advantage of the opportunities we had already," Bucs Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross described. "We dropped a lot of balls. We left a lot of plays on the field and that will be the emphasis this summer – the whole summer – is to make sure we capitalize on the opportunity to make plays and we make those plays."

With the Bucs' new-look defensive line featuring Calijah Kancey and the return of Shaq Barrett, the team's sack-leader over the previous four seasons, the club's pass rush receives an infusion of speed. Several inexperienced quarterbacks line the Bucs' schedule including Bryce Young, Desmond Ridder, C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love to name a few, and the Bucs will be licking their chops. I anticipate an uptick in takeaways for Tampa Bay in 2023 as the revamped unit takes the field.

Latest Headlines