|Tampa Bay's consistent struggles to defend the pass proved costly in the 2012 season. (US Presswire)|
Tampa Bay showed marked improvement in several key areas in the first season under coach Greg Schiano, but deficiencies in key areas cost the Buccaneers a chance to make a playoff run.
Judging the Buccaneers' season as a whole is difficult because the team was so inconsistent. The offense looked almost unstoppable at times but floundered down the stretch. The defense gave up yards and points in bunches in some games, but was largely stout in others. Schiano's team played with emotion and fire in stretches and looked listless in others.
The Bucs were a bit erratic on offense, frustrating fans by exploding in some games (27 or more points in six consecutive games in midseason) and disappearing in others (a shutout at New Orleans in Week 15, only 13 points in Week 16 against the Rams, only 10 in Week 3 at Dallas). The skill positions are clearly loaded, as RB Doug Martin and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams all had great seasons. But season-ending injuries to the team's two best offensive linemen, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, didn't help the cause. And questions still remain as to whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer at QB, as he was alternately fantastic and frustrating to watch.
First, give high marks to the players and coaches for taking a defense that was last in the NFL in rush defense in 2011 and turning it into the NFL's No. 1 rush defense (82.5 yards per game allowed) only one season later. But teams didn't necessarily need to run the ball that much because the secondary was so porous. Tampa Bay finished in last in pass defense (297.4 yards per game allowed) and only 29th in total defense (379.9 yards per game allowed) and 23rd in scoring defense (24.6 points per game allowed). There is much work to be done in the offseason.
Special teams: B-
This group was steady but not spectacular this season. K Connor Barth was in the top half of the league in both field goals made and accuracy by percentage. PR Roscoe Parrish, acquired early in the season, was a strong under-the-radar addition, solidifying a spot that had been a weakness. But the punting and coverage units were below average, and there weren't many game-breaking plays from the specialists. Special teams didn't cost the Bucs often, but they weren't necessarily a huge asset, either.
In many ways, the team Schiano inherited didn't resemble the one Raheem Morris left behind when he was fired after the 2011 season. But give Schiano and his staff credit for taking advantage of the new talent -- and helping to direct the front office to identify that talent in the first place. It's clear the Bucs have a strong-willed leader now, and so long as the players and coach continue to be on the same page, the years to come should be promising.
Cumulative GPA: 2.6