The Past: If the Packers under Aaron Rodgers have a curse against Kyle Orton, the same can be said with Rodgers and the Buccaneers. Out of three games against Tampa Bay, Aaron Rodgers has lost 2 of them and more interestingly has played historically bad in those two losses (4 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and only 431 yards in two losses). However, even the curse of the buccaneers wasn’t enough to slow down the 2011 Packers, who beat the Bucs 35 to 26 with Rodgers throwing a more usual 3 touchdowns, but still giving up one interception. While the Packers did keep their winning streak alive at 10-0 in 2011, the Bucs game highlighted the severe problem of the Packers, namely that their defense was atrocious; LaGarrett Blount rumbled his way to 107 yards on 18 carries which included a 54 yard touchdown run, where several Packers players bounced off Blount on his way to the end zone. The passing defense wasn’t much better, Josh Freeman, who was already starting to decline was able to put up 342 yards and two touchdowns on a defense that was so focused on creating turnovers (which it did, good for 2 interceptions) that it often forgot to tackle or play properly. Since then the Bucs have turned into one of the perennial bottom dwellers of the NFL, including such gaffs as signing Darrelle Revis and cutting Josh Freeman before his rookie contract came up while the Packers have not seen as much success as their 2011 season but have been a playoff contender every year since.
The Present: Where to start? In short the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are terrible; Football outsiders ranks them as the 31st ranked offense with equally putrid passing and running games (31st and 29th respectively). Their problems mostly start at the quarterback position; while they decided that Josh Freeman wasn’t a franchise quarterback, they also didn’t find anyone in the draft, but drafted Mike Glennon and then from all accounts didn’t play him due to politics. Instead they turned to Josh McCown, who had an aberration of a season in Chicago that warranted ex-Bear Lovie Smith to sign him away to Florida. Obviously its not like McCown magically turned into a viable starter while sitting on the bench in Chicago, and naturally he’s struggled this season and was benched and re-inserted throughout the season.
Running back is a similar issue; Doug Martin aka muscle hamster had one of the best rookie seasons in recent history for running backs but has been beset with injuries and now looks to be in a timeshare with a “bunch of guys named dave”. The offensive line hasn’t been helping matters either, even to the point that its dragging Evan Dietrich-Smith down (17.1 grade with the Packers last year, -5.4 grade with the Bucs this year). No matter what the Bucs decide to do the Packers defense should be more than capable to shutting them down.
On defense things don’t get much better, but they do ranked slightly less poorly at 22nd overall (26th against the pass, 12th against the run). Again the Bucs dropped the ball on their draft, letting 7th overall pick safety Mark Barron go in a trade to the St. Louis Rams for a measly 4th and 6th round pick. Against a angry Packers offense and a game where I expect Aaron Rodgers to be brutally efficient, the Packers should come out throwing and quickly score, which is the Packers preferred game plan.
The Future: The Bucs are a horribly managed team from top to bottom. While the Raiders might hold the crown for the most mismanaged team in the NFL, at least Raiders fans can point to the fact that Al Davis was devoted to football and might have let his old age get the better of his franchise. The Glazer family has no such excuse; the Glazers are rumored to have almost no input into their own team and its also been rumored that they’ve been funneling profits from the Bucs to help them stay afloat in Europe, where they own Manchester United. Furthermore the decision to hire Lovie Smith and then not give him an offense (which he has already proven he can’t run) was a flawed premise that has resulted in one very bad team.
It doesn’t get much better from a economic standpoint; the Bucs have just over $1.7 million in cash space, which is definitely enough to get through the season (as they are already out of the playoff race) but isn’t really enough to sign their own free agents or to make a big splash in free agency, which the Bucs always try to do. Perhaps their big splash this year could be considered the trade of Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, who they got for a 4th round pick and Tim Wright. Unfortunately, Mankins is due $6.25 million this year (highest in the league for a LG) and $7 million for the next two years, which is probably not the best use of salary cap for a franchise currently in a rebuilding mode. The Bucs are also on the books for $108 million next year so they will likely have to stay out of free agency or alter some contracts in order to bring in more pieces.
In terms of free agents, the Bucs took care of one of their own by resigning Gerald McCoy during the season to a fair contract which will likely be blown out of the water by Suh this offseason (which is itself due to the ineptitude of the Lions). Ironically, the team doesn’t have many star players or draft picks that need resigning do to poor management so there aren’t many free agents they need to sign. the biggest name in the next couple years is Lavonte David, who is due in 2016 and Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins in 2017.
As mentioned before the Buccaneers and the draft aren’t good friends and the Bucs are a team more inclined to sign and trade rather than draft and develop. Interestingly for Lovie Smith, his first draft with the Bucs netted only offensive players; Mike Evans started off slow but has developed into a good compliment to Vincent Jackson, sort of in the mold of Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jefferies. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has gotten a sizable amount of snaps but has graded poorly in all facets except run blocking, which isn’t pretty much opposite of what teams are expecting from highly drafted tight ends now. 3rd round pick Charles Sims has gotten a smattering of playing time, but is still 4th on the depth chart at running back according to Ourlads. Offensive lineman Kadeem Edwards and Kevin Pamphile haven’t gotten many snaps (if any) and the entire draft class is rounded out with Robert Herron, who hasn’t seen a snap at wide receiver this season. Again not much of this is all that surprising considering the philosophy of the Bucs which is to pay a premium for proven talent, which most of the time has lead to buyer’s remorse.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.