If you don’t pay attention outside of the NFC West or even outside of the Arizona Cardinals, you may not know that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are really close to being a really good team.
To prepare us for Sunday, Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation was kind enough to drop by and give us a look at the up and coming Buccaneers.
How close is Jameis to becoming one of the elite QBs in the NFL?
I'm not sure how you would define 'elite' -- that's always a tricky question -- but I would expect him to be a top ten quarterback this season. That's certainly what he was in week one, but then the Atlanta Falcons don't have the best of defenses. Overall, Winston has all the tools needed to become a very good quarterback, though: he has a good arm, he has a good feel for the pocket (and improved in that aspect), is generally accurate and has an outstanding feel for and understanding of the passing game and opposing defense. He also has the necessary aggressiveness to make tough throws that other quarterbacks might pass up -- though sometimes that leads to a few too many turnovers.
So when would I expect to be elite? Say, a top three quarterback? That might be as early as next season, if his development continues the way it has.
The Bucs have invested heavily along the line, how has their return on that investment looked?
If you mean the offensive line, then it's mostly looked good -- though not necessarily because of all that investment, ironically. The Bucs appear to have a pretty good group now, with quality starters at every position and a few good backups -- which is why they haven't slowed down in J.R. Sweezy's absence. 2014 fifth-round pick Kevin Pamphile has looked outstanding at left guard every time he's been asked to play there, and last year's second-round pick Ali Marpet looks like a future Pro Bowler.
The one question mark would be left tackle Donovan Smith, who was up and down as a rookie. He'd shut some pass rushers down, but he'd also get beat a little too easily, especially on inside moves by quicker defensive ends -- he didn't seem to have the foot quickness to adjust properly. But he's looked a little better so far this season, and Jameis Winston's pocket awareness generally stops him from being a liability.
Defensively, what is Mike Smith doing that is different from Lovie's defense?
Actually, Mike Smith isn't doing all that much different. He's blitzing a little more and he's playing a little more man coverage, but the core principles are still the same. It's a 4-3 defenses with speedy linebackers and athletic defensive backs who can jump routes. There are some differences in technique -- apparently Lovie Smith never asked his defensive backs to backpedal -- but this is less a paradigm shift than an incremental change. The biggest difference is the personnel: the Bucs drafted just one defensive player under Lovie Smith and most of the free agent signings disappointed. This year, Robert Ayers and Brent Grimes have proved to be useful additions, while Vernon Hargreaves has seized a starting role as a rookie.That talent infusion made a big difference.
Who is the Bucs X-FACTOR for the game?
The Bucs' X-factor? That's got to be Charles Sims. The Bucs' second string running back is also the main receiving back, and racked up over 1,000 total yards from scrimmage last season. He also broke about ten ankles on one play last week, so there's that. I expect him to be most dangerous on screens, in part to slow down the Cardinals pass rush.